Even after a week in Hong Kong, I still get culture shock returning to the UK. People complaining about crowds here after I’ve been fighting my way through Causeway Bay at rush hour make me feel like Crocodile Dundee; my four pounds at lunchtime now buys me a soggy disgrace of a sandwich instead of this magnificent bowl; and the phrase “it’s really hot today” means wearing a slightly thinner jumper rather than a slow descent into a puddle of human sweat. Still, there are benefits to being back, including writing the links again, my favourite task of the week even when my RSS feed is an avalanche of geekery. Once more unto the breach:
- Every once in a while, the stars align and my central interests in life collide to form a supernova of incandescent geekery. It happened when Kirk Goldsberry introduced spatial mapping to the analysis of professional basketball and it is happening again now, as a few economists decide to surf the zeitgeist with articles and books about the economics of the Marvel superheroes. Starting gently, Tim Harford investigates whether the Malthusian-with-an-Infinity-Gauntlet, Thanos actually had a point when he wiped out half of humanity in Infinity War. After all, in Endgame [redacted] tells [redacted] about a pod of whales he saw swimming in the Hudson. Was Thanos right? Was Malthus? Lest you succumb to homicidal mania in pursuit of ecological balance, Tim Harford is here to put you right. Thanos is not right (and while I’m at it, the doughnut is just a nice pair of trousers lacking the suspenders of sound analysis). Planet Money dig deeper. Ever wonder why Jessica Jones has a job, and everyone in Luke Cage’s life complains that they need him to make some money? It’s because they’re producing public goods without the benefit of a taxation system to pay for it. Why doesn’t Superman take over the world? If he can instead defend the institutions that do the hard work of governing properly without doing so, why bother? (Transcript).
- Why do economists love taking on the frivolous in this fashion? I do it a lot myself, and most of my explanation of economics in teaching takes the form of metaphor and similie. David Evans, himself one of the best communicators in economics, summarises a paper that demonstrates that clarity pays off handsomely in influence. I can hear all the non-academics facepalming now (“really? Did we need research to know that incomprehensible gobbledygook is ignored?”) but the message is important for those of us who do any analysis or research. Explain yourself simply and it’s simple to understand.
- Meanwhile, always resist the other temptation, to pimp up your finding to make it sound much more than it is. The twitter feed @justsaysinmice digs into sensationalist headlines and points out when the findings are based entirely on trials conducted in mice. Economics needs a version of this, for all the partial equilibrium results trumpeted as solutions to problems like unemployment.
- Really excellent VoxDev video in which Erick Gong shows results that find that people who are given HIV tests and are surprised to discover they are positive are less likely to take due precautions in future sexual activity. He calls this the ‘nothing left to lose’ effect. I call it the ‘people are effing appalling and maybe Thanos was right’ effect.
- When is a conditional cash transfer unconditional? When there’s an election round the corner. Eliana La Ferrara drops knowledge, covered in the Economist.
- Rich parents tend to have rich kids. Part of this effect is simply though inheritance, after which the only skill a rich child has to show is the ability not to fritter away a fortune on wine, women and amateur dramatics. Part of the effect, though, is what this research summarises as nurture: having (most likely) well-educated parents and a stable home life, as well as the various connections a rich parent affords you (one would imagine). This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it should make you even more committed to doing something about inequality.
- Good news for exports geeks: a VoxDev piece digs into the data on the domestic content of Chinese exports and suggests that its extraordinary growth was at least partly due to bucking the global trend in declining domestic content in exported goods. Unfortunately, it’s not so good on how you replicate this.
- Lastly, it’s playoff times, a magical time of year when the committed witness 4am buzzer beaters from absurd distances by Dame Lillard in a state of fatigued hallucination. But the best story of the playoffs by far is Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis lays a strong claim to being the greatest player in the world now and has a good chance of becoming a champion in the next couple of weeks. He is also a refugee, the son of Nigerian refugees to Greece. He was stateless until one month before he finally joined the NBA, still selling sunglasses on a Greek beach to make money, with his asylum application being processed. He’s now a Greek Olympian and a proper feel-good story.
Have a great weekend, everyone!