Links round-up

Hi all,

It’s hard to lead off the links with anything other than the resolution last week of one of the most interesting sporting events of the year, one full of surprises. I am, of course, talking about the England-India One-Day series which culminated in England absolutely hammering India through stylish batting and devilish legspin – a turn-up for the books if ever there was one. With Sri Lanka also doing their best impression of a competent cricket team, it’s been a pretty good week.

  1. How valuable – or costly – is having a ‘very stable genius’ in charge of your country? It’s hard to assess this kind of question, since we have only one of each country, and can’t exactly randomise the President (though the election in 2000 was pretty much a coin toss, given that the presidency was decided by the sturdiness of a few sheets of card in Florida). To get around that problem, and to estimate the Trump effect on the US economy, four researchers constructed a ‘synthetic US’ made up of a weighted average of similar economies, and assess how the real US economy has fared compared to the synthetic one since Trump was elected (a similar exercise for the UK finds our GDP 2% lower than it would have been but for you-know-what). They find … no effect. Trump has neither benefited nor cost the US economy anything so far, though to be fair, the results of his trade wars will take time to show. This shouldn’t surprise you – the US President has always had relatively little impact on the economy.
  2. Under normal circumstances, I’d be hesitant to try and sell you guys an increasingly techy blog about baseline surveys, but it’s really, really well-written. Alaka Holla opens with a tale of Catholic guilt and scavenged pencils in Haiti and somehow gets from there to a link to some Matlab code. More than that, though, she demonstrates how research is a series of choices and trade-offs under uncertainty, and how difficult it can be to know what the best option is.
  3. Sanjeev Gupta at CGD makes the obvious but extremely important point that simply raising tax revenues is not an outcome to celebrate if the proceeds are spent poorly. He focuses on the efficiency of spending, which is a clear margin for improvement, but there’s also a strong case that the choice of what to spend on is pretty shoddily structured in many developing (and developed) countries.
  4. “…it’s cost us life-changing amounts of money… It’s cost us take your hand off my leg, you creepy boss money. It’s cost us this relationship was fantastic when it started, but now you’re ignoring me money…” Women invest their savings at a far lower rate than men do. In a world where the returns to capital are higher than the returns to labour, this is a big deal – it means that the gender gap is built to keep getting wider, even as incomes become more equal. Planet Money investigate (transcript).
  5. It’s typical to ask why so many people migrate, even when it appears so costly; but actually, when you consider how large the returns to migration are, the real question is why so few do. Research into rural-urban migration in India suggests that part of the problem is informal social insurance – people can’t move freely when the only mitigation to income shocks that actually works depends on their presence.
  6. Interesting long read from the Guardian on Somaliland’s struggle to be recognised.
  7. And finally, the football-related marginalia: first, I ignored the World Cup final in the intro, but if you want to find a footballer who isn’t nauseating, N’Golo Kante seems like a good bet – this video of him being too shy to ask to hold the World Cup himself is kind of moving. Also an article from the Atlantic that channels Tim Harford’s book Messy to argue that less structure is better for football talent development, rather than more. And finally, I’m just old enough to have been introduced to basketball via Magic Johnson and football via Maradona; watching the latter warm up before a semi-final is one of the most amazing displays of sporting skill I’ve ever seen. Turn the sound up. He’s in rhythm with the music!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

It’s a lovely, sunny day in London which is, against my better judgement, putting me in rather a good mood. It’s a good day for a walk, if you’re so inclined – there’s a pretty popular one trending on social media for London-based readers. In any case, the weather is doing its best to placate put-upon Brits, be they Federer fans, cricket fans, or football fans (fans of the greatest athlete alive should be happy, at least). Anyway, if the sunshine isn’t helping you, maybe the links will (although, poor you if this is your last chance to greet the weekend in a good mood: economics is rarely cheerful these days).

  1. To break a habit, let’s start with something positive (and no, I’m not referring to Sri Lanka’s performance against South Africa). Markus Goldstein writes up a detailed but extremely accessible summary of a new paper by Alesina and co-authors about migration. They use a clever survey experiment to investigate views about migration and redistribution and how they are affected by information. Unsurprisingly, most people dramatically overestimate the number of migrants in their country, and are pretty poorly informed as to the dominant countries of origin and religions among them. Also unsurprising: those respondents randomly selected to answer questions about migration before answering an (incentive compatible) redistribution question are less generous in redistributing. So far, so depressing. There is a ray of light, however: information on the true number of migrants in the population, coupled with a story about how hard migrants work lead to more support for both migration and redistribution. Positive economics, which simultaneously achieves the near-impossible: it makes me hate the Daily Mail even more.
  2. Ok, the first link was (kind of) positive, so I feel like I should balance it out with some depressing research. This will not exactly stun the mothers on this list, but this VoxEU piece finds that women bear almost all of the labour market costs of childbearing, which come from time off work, movement into more flexible work (flexibility being traded off against income), and other labour market margins. What’s more, this is barely changing over time. It seems to be worst for those mothers whose parents also adhered to this gendered view of work, with their own mothers making career sacrifices.
  3. Tim Harford is a genius of exposition. He explains convergence, conditional convergence and the effect of globalised competition and supply chains thereon in about 500 words, and illustrates it with a football example. Especially for the non-economists, this.
  4. Dietrich Vollrath discusses Mariana Mazzucato’s new book, The Value of Everything. I’ve long been of the opinion that economics degrees spend far too little time covering the history of economic thought, with the result that economists tend to be self-reflective in only a fairly narrow sense. Debates about different kinds of evidence or the merits of RCTs are valuable, but within economics there are too few debates about the fundamental concepts we use, and whether they’re the right ones for a science of social welfare. Vollrath argues that Mazzucato’s questions are genuinely thought-provoking in this fashion, but bemoans the lack of an alternative that does better.
  5. This interview with Betsey Stevenson is very US-centric but is worth reading to see how a top class labour economist thinks (transcript). She also puts into words a vague discomfort I’ve had when hearing about ‘skills mismatch’ in labour markets, largely rejecting them as a major issue (in developed countries). She points out that the unspoken clause to the sentence “we can’t find skilled workers” is “at the wage we offered” and offers the not-unreasonable solution of raising wages.
  6. Finally, given that the links have been longer and more serious than usual this week, a piece of idiocy for the weekend: The Rock is in a new movie where the bad guy appears to be a building he needs to lay the smack down on. Remarkably, this is not even the dumbest movie he’s been in, and The Ringer provides a handy guide to creating your own hypothetical Dwayne Johnson movie.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

I had plans for a scintillatingly witty and complex intro paragraph (I know, first time for everything, right?) but a fire alarm in the building and an impending train departure requires that I go for speed over wit. So I’m just going to do a round of my usual intro subjects: the weather (sustained glorious weather in England, a sign of the impending apocalypse – some suggest July 13 for some reason); the cricket (Bangladesh trying very hard to be as bad as any team can manage); and LeBron James (now a Laker, and even more amazingly, playing with a man who once blew into his ear in an attempt to distract him – watch it, it’s even better than it sounds).

  1. The first shots have finally been fired in the Trade War on Everyone; it’s going to take months or even years to tell who loses (spoiler: everyone), but it’s a very good time to talk about what the global economy looks like right now. Planet Money do it beautifully by taking an iconic product: the American Flag (transcript). You can guess where this is going. All those flags you see being waved at the MAGA rallies? Made in China. The MAGA hats? Made in China. The guy who runs the factory making them? Bought a car manufactured in the US, designed in Germany. Trade wars in a global economy that looks like this are like getting your friends, families and acquaintances together for a barbecue, filling the sprinkler system with hydrochloric acid and then turning it on. At some point, everyone is going to get hurt.
  2. So, an apology in advance. This week’s links involve me bigging up two friends, but I should stress: they deserve it. First up is Dan Honig, who came and spoke at DFID recently. Duncan Green writes up a glowing review of his new book Navigation by Judgement. Dan’s research is important because he’s one of a relatively small group of people doing rigourous work that looks at how bureaucracies can perform difficult functions better. The answers are not necessarily the way we’re moving, either.
  3. Secondly, one I missed last week: Young 1ove, an NGO co-founded by another friend Noam Angrist, showing what it means to take evidence seriously (parts one and two). They agreed a plan with donors and partner Governments which set out what evidence would be considered robust and rigourous enough to scale up their HIV-reduction intervention nationally, and then ran a strong RCT to see how well it met those tests. It fell short, so all the parties involved agreed that it shouldn’t go to scale in that form; instead they’ve gone back to their theory of change to work out what went wrong and why. It’s hard to stress what a great example this is. The key was the early commitment by all parties as to what ‘success’ should look like.
  4. One of the clearest signs of FiveThirtyEight’s enormous superiority to most other media outlets is the fact that they have a ‘File Under: Meta-Science’ category on their website. This week, their brilliant lead science writer Christie Aschwanden looks at the liberal skew of psychology. It’s kind of incredible: only 6% (out of 500 surveyed) identify as conservative, and more than one-third expressed a willingness to discriminate against conservative colleagues in hiring decisions. That’s incredibly worrying.
  5. Tim Harford on a genuinely intriguing and radical idea: using auction markets and complete asset listings to both equate demand and supply more closely and tax wealth. Think about it for a few minutes and you’ll start seeing problems, but it’s a genuinely innovative idea.
  6. Is this the best paper title ever? I haven’t read it, but Alex Evans pointed this out to me and it has to be in contention: “’A Diamond is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship Between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration”. It still doesn’t beat this one (Figure 2 is the best thing that the internet has ever produced, btw), but it’s up there.
  7. Lastly, three pieces of marginalia: natural justice in action (lions eat poachers edition); FiveThirtyEight dig into which teams waste the most time in the World Cup (for all the borderline xenophobia in the British press, England are fifth, and Brazil actually play faster once they’ve taken a lead rather than waste time); and using Pareto efficiency to choose the optimal Mario Kart character.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

The links are early this week as I’ve just realised I’m going to be away from my computer all day; this also makes them bleary-eyed and probably substantially less coherent than usual. In fact, I briefly thought I might actually still be asleep and dreaming this – the first thing I have bookmarked for the links is a report on England whitewashing Australia in the cricket, and I opened the newspapers to see most people reacting calmly to England losing in the football (well, except the Daily Mail, but it’s known that Mail readers require apoplexy like normal human beings require oxygen, so we’ll quietly ignore them). Anyway, to the links.

  1. When Raj Chetty wins the Nobel Prize in Economics, I wonder what the Nobel committee will cite as justification? They will be spoiled for choice. There’s the research on taxation and social insurance; his behavioural work (including one paper, which escapes me for the moment, where he proves the same point about anchoring effects of prices using both observational data and an RCT!); and of course the incredible stuff he’s doing at the Equality of Opportunity project. He summarises his latest research on intergenerational mobility at VoxEU. It’s brilliant, and I cannot recommend it enough. He and his co-authors make novel discoveries about how inequality is transmitted across generations; they communicate these clearly and accessibly in both text and through diagrams; and they start to get towards what we can do about it. This is important economics, in every sense.
  2. Not every project is as glamorous as that, though. Ying Feng and co-authors do some heavy lifting to provide more evidence for a proposition that most practicing labour economists in developing countries have pretty much accepted for years, and one I’ve long-advocated in DFID, with success: unemployment is not really a relevant concept in developing countries. The intuition is basically that only the elites can afford to be without any kind of work in developing countries; for almost everyone else it makes sense to take whatever employment for whatever returns they can get, no matter how unproductive. They demonstrate how this pattern is precisely the opposite of what is observed in developed countries.
  3. More on the Stanford prison experiment: Vox publish an interview with the original researcher in which he defends its credibility. It’s a pretty awkward conversation, but does a lot to demonstrate both what was wrong with the study and what value it might still have.
  4. One thing about the World Cup: it is throwing up rather a lot of good incidental writing. Branko takes a trip down memory lane, remembering every World Cup he can recall, all the way back to 1962. It’s a lovely piece of writing, ending on a note only Branko would make: “Greek Olympics were held continuously for four centuries. Who will win the 2318 World Cup? Will countries compete?” FiveThirtyEight are in on the act, too, confirming what we all suspected – injury time is a complete and total travesty, bearing virtually no relation to the amount of time that actually should be added on the games (sometimes as much as 20 minutes!).
  5. One for the non-economists wanting to learn more: Tim Harford lists his unconventional introductions to economics, though he leaves out his own Dear Undercover Economist, an excellent way of understanding how economists approach problems. I would also add Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise, about statistics and prediction rather than economics, but invaluable. Related: Planet Money compare Smith and Keynes, and come to the conclusion that they were both right (transcript).
  6. And lastly, two pieces that demonstrate convergence of intelligence in the animal kingdom: how people are over-using the exclamation point (this has been a problem for at least ten years, and appears to be getting worse); and crows are apparently even smarter than we thought, and can build things from mental concepts or ideas they have in their heads.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

Poor old England. Only they could set a cricket world record and be overshadowed by Egypt vs. Russia or some such thing. It’s an amazing turn-up for the books: England, of all teams, have the most exciting one-day cricket side in the world. Think about that. It’s a sentence that Spike Milligan would have rejected as too outlandish for his nonsense poetry even two years ago. Speaking of the World Cup, though, a friend of mine e-mailed to tell me that I’m all wrong: this is a golden age of British football writing. Is this true? I’ve read precisely one article about football that actually attempts to expand our understanding of the game in the last four years. Is anyone else actually advancing what we know about the sport, or is it the same tired ‘analysis’ of different formations and players, driven by confirmation bias and prejudice?

  1. Speaking of prejudice, remember how last week I suggested that the news about the Stanford prison experiment might mean that people aren’t the pits? My goodness did I speak too soon. This last week has left me more bereft of hope in humanity than any in my life so far. Where do we start? We’ve had a policy of, not to put too fine a point on it, doing horrible shit to children in the name of reducing migration. And worse, it’s actually more popular than not among Republicans. Hungary have made it a criminal offense to offer help to some of the most desperate and needy people on the planet. And it appears that anti-terrorism law has been used to deport high-skilled migrants for undertaking legal corrections to self-declared tax records. I am ashamed to be human this week.
  2. Meanwhile, what does actual evidence tell us about migration? That violence and appalling economic conditions drive child migration. And that even those coming from places suffering from conflict driven by climate change do not increase conflict at their destination. Lock them up!
  3. Keeping on this general theme of the world being full of terrible people, let’s talk about bail hearings in New York City. “Because the assignments are random… we can identify whether defendants are being treated equally regardless of who hears their case. They are not.” Anna Maria Barry-Jester, one of 538’s brilliant data-driven journalists, digs in to how much the bad luck of being heard by one judge rather than another can affect your life. This is not peer-reviewed research and isn’t perfect, but is nevertheless indicative of how good journalism can be with proper attention to rigour and evidence.
  4. What’s that? You’d like some peer-reviewed research to feel bad about? Martin Ravallion is here to help. He unveils a novel way of assessing the ‘income floor’ in a society (that level below which incomes are unlikely to be able to fall below for a sustained period), and finds that it has been falling, in the US at least. It appears that they’ve run this analysis for a number of other countries – so keep an eye out.
  5. I’ve seen research (proposed and in progress) recently looking at how developing countries can select better teachers through clever contract design. Lee does a little digging and discovers it’s unlikely that there are many substantially better educated people than the ones already selected.
  6. Two gender links from the other perspective: 538 on what men think it means to be a man, and Stefan, Kathleen Beegle and Joachim De Weert on the developmental impacts of fathers.
  7. Has anything made me feel good about the world this week? Well, Japanese and Senegalese fans apparently clean up after themselves at the World Cup, Kitty Pryde is getting married to Colossus (this one is fictional, btw), and I managed to convince a friend of mine that ‘Albariño’ is a Brazilian footballer. So, slim pickings. Listen to Baloji. That usually cheers me up.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

I am not a football fan. I used to watch a lot, and even went to the World Cup in 2010 (though it was only a three-hour plane journey for me back then). But gradually, two forces drove me away from the sport: hysteria and over-exposure. The hysteria was a problem among both fans and journalists: among the former, it was increasingly difficult to have a conversation about the sport that didn’t descend into ‘two legs bad, four legs good’-type parroting. Among journalists it was even worse: a good goal made a player a genius, and a bad performance made a team a disgrace to the nation, when the average was normally true: they were… alright. And overexposure meant that one of the great joys of international football, seeing players you had never heard of run rings around their more famous counterparts has disappeared: there are scouting videos out there of players so young that they resemble ultrasounds. In other words, bah, humbug.

1.       So what do you read about the World Cup if you don’t want to live through the relentless volatility and knee-jerk idiocy of the British football press? One big problem in most football writing is ‘over-identification’,  where pundits over-interpret every piece of information that precedes the final outcome, using them to explain it even when most of them were ‘noise’ that had no causal importance. So, proceed over to 538, where they are running a model-based prediction system for the games, which helps you think about what the underlying mechanisms are, and what is idiosyncratic about each result. If your care more about what makes a country great at football, the Economist ran an excellent deep-dive that goes beyond football: “In Senegal, coaches have to deworm and feed some players before they can train them…”. And if you want good-humoured but unscientific coverage that takes pop culture seriously, read The Ringer.

2.       On to matters that actually are as important as life and death. Markus Goldstein covers the Pam Jakiela/Owen Ozier paper about how ‘gendered’ languages translated into worse outcomes for women that I blogged about for the CSAE conference here, going to much greater depth about the actual size and type of effects they find. The extent to which language shapes culture or is shaped by it (or some complex and probably impossible to specify combination of the two) is always going to shape responses to this research, but it is fascinating and more policy relevant than it first seems.

3.       538 continues to impress me with its science writing, with Maggie Koerth-Baker this week digging in to why nuclear power is dying out in the US. This strikes me as a very bad thing: nuclear power seems pretty safe, and produces new carbon. Win, I would have thought.

4.       Nick Bloom gives a three-minute primer on his research into management interventions in India, focusing on how the intervention both boosted firm performance lastingly and spilled over into other areas of the firm than the one supported initially. He glosses over what for me is the most compelling finding of the paper, though: that other firms that weren’t initially supported neither die out nor learn to implement the good practices themselves. When something as fundamental to the economic world view as the equalising forces of competition has its limits shown, we have a lot of thinking to do.

5.       Speaking of the fundamentals of economic thinking: this RCT by Dean Karlan, Benjamin Roth and Sendhil Mullainathan (what a team!) shows that helping people get out of debt or avoid debt through a one of cash transfer or financial literacy support is a temporary fix: they usually fall back into debt. This isn’t surprising to me: when so much of the economic system doesn’t work, you’d expect small improvements not to snowball because there are so many barriers to that. Problems are more reliable and less constrained than opportunities. So problems win out in the longer run, unless you fix that system.

6.       Cardiff (Garcia!) and Danielle from NPR on the phony war phase of the US vs. everyone trade war. They point out that the big guns haven’t been fired yet, so the real damage hasn’t been done yet (transcript).

7.       This week in bad science: apparently the Stanford prison experiment was juked like hell, and maybe people aren’t just the worst (I can believe the first part, but the second?).

8.       And lastly, at the end of a long one: more writing in memoriam of Anthony Bourdain. I really love the New Yorker piece, in which his evolution towards feminism is charted in particular.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

So I was all set to write an upbeat intro with a little gif of me doing a dance of happiness at how sunny it is (and the fact that my wifi works in the garden), and then I saw the news about Anthony Bourdain. Bah. I remember buying my copy of A Cook’s Tour in 2001 in Oxford and reading about half of it in a single sitting – I enjoyed it much more than the bombast of Kitchen Confidential. Even better was his essay in Medium Raw, My Aim is True. It celebrated the work of one of the many invisible people involved in restaurant cookery, a Dominican prep cook, whose job was just to bone fish. It managed to get across the thrill of just watching someone brilliant at their work, and the focus on simple things that allowed him to achieve that state, while being an advert for Bourdain’s instinctive support for underdogs. Gah. Depression sucks.

  1. Have you seen those incredibly cute videos of kids doing the ‘marshmallow test’? The idea is that kids who are better at delaying gratification go on to have much better life outcomes when they get older. Well, IGNORE THE CUTENESS. THEY ARE LYING TO YOU. It turns out that rich kids, who probably bathe in marshmallows anyway, are way better at delaying gratification (not a surprise to anyone who’s read Scarcity, for all its overclaiming) – and it’s that socio-economic advantage, not the ability to delay gratification that explains most of their better life performance. The Atlantic reports.
  2. A few people have asked me what I think about Kate Raeworth’s idea of ‘doughnut economics’. I’ve not read the book, so I’ve been cautious in assessing it, but fortunately Branko Milanovic has, and his review confirms my fears. Branko’s review is really about trade-offs – at root, the fundamental subject of economics. Most things can be achieved, if we exert enough effort and spend enough resources on them. What’s interesting, and important for public policy, is the fact that doing these things require sacrifice. So, stop growing? Fine, but either you need coercion (to redistribute as much as we’ll need to) or you need to accept that much of humanity will remain in misery. Keep growing? Sure, but then you need to accept environmental degradation – at whatever rate technology allows for. Anyone on either side pretending that these trade-offs are unimportant or can be glossed over is lying to you.
  3. On this very topic, Owen Barder offers some structure for thinking about development-national interest ‘win-wins’. It’s a useful way of thinking about things, and makes clear that there are costs to a lot of this.
  4. “I find that a decline of ten homicides in an average municipality of this region caused six fewer children from there to be apprehended at the US border…” Michael Clemens uses a novel dataset and design to generate causal estimates on the effect of reductions in violence on illegal migration, and dings the US Government for wanting to reduce aid in an attempt to curb immigration, arguing that it would be counterproductive. He points out that migration is shaped by policy more than anything else, and those policy choices can make a huge difference.
  5. David Evans summarises a paper by Nava Ashraf and co-authors which suggests that teaching girls how to negotiate can have a causal impact on the likelihood that they will attend secondary school, a very cool intervention. They claim that it doesn’t seem to have a cost elsewhere in household spending, but I don’t buy that – it comes from something, even if it’s worth it.
  6. 538  on the death toll from the Puerto Rico Hurricane, and how the estimates are constructed and reported. They have some of the best science writers out there right now.
  7. Lastly, and for no other reason than I’ve been listening to it all day – The Screaming Eagle of Soul, Charles Bradley being awesome.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

So, in the two weeks since the last links, the news has uncovered a resurrection, multiple (simultaneous) personalities and the biggest brain-freeze in history (if the Cavs lose a close series, I will never forgive JR Smith for wasting this Thanos-level LeBronnery). If it weren’t for the inevitable and reassuring England batting collapse in the first test, I might have thought the universe was warning me about neglecting the links. Still, it meant I got to go to the Farne Isles and watch unsuspecting day trippers get dive-bombed by the Arctic Terns, so it was worth missing a week…

  1. He’s not facing stiff competition, but there’s a case to make that among English economists, Andy Haldane is Elvis (by which I mean less that he’s liable to die on the toilet and more that he’s got charisma to spare and can command a room with his voice). Last year, Haldane called for ‘a little more conversation’, arguing that Central Banks need to be more vocal and accessible, explaining their decisions better, and using narratives more effectively to retain credibility.  So I found this quite interesting: A Supreme Court judge and Central Banker from Norway team up to analyse whether the minutes of various central banks and courts satisfy their criteria for openness, clarity and functionality. I’m not sold on their criteria, or that the minutes are the right place to look, but this is part of an important trend: thinking more about communication and the transmission of beliefs and analysis.
  2. I don’t need to remind anyone who reads this how much I love Michael Clemens’ work. This blog for CGD about what the revamp of the US farm work visa system should look like is both excellent in itself, but also an example of Michael using his profound academic expertise and knowledge to generate concrete and practicable policy proposals. He’s speaking at DFID in a couple of weeks and it goes without saying that it’s a seminar to block the diary out for.
  3. Okay, so the trade wars have begun, the standoff with North Korea is more on-again off-again than [searches for any TV relationship other than Ross and Rachel] Veronica and Loganso what better time for a primer in the theory of repeated games with Robert Axelrod. And it being Planet Money, it’s a pleasure to listen to/read.
  4. Apparently, Starbucks closed all its shops for a half day on Tuesday morning to do ‘diversity training’, an activity that often amounts to little more than someone standing in front of a group full of sullen office-workers finding ways of saying “don’t be racist”. Maggie Koerth-Baker at 538 wonders if they missed all the research that shows this stuff just doesn’t work. What does? Well, we’re not really sure: a VoxEU write-up of Victoire Girard’s research on political quotas and caste discrimination in India finds effects, but ones that do not last beyond the lifetime of the quota.
  5. Duncan Green summarises an extreme, but archetypal example of a bad business environment, from research by Esther Marijnen.
  6. Two very different pieces on what makes political systems ‘work’. First, Julia Azari from 538 summarises her research on what ‘norms’ actually are, why they’re not always difficult to violate, and the importance of values. Secondly, an amazing experiment from China, in which researchers from Stanford helped some students bypass internet censorship – finding that low demand for uncensored news is just as important as censorship. Presumably, these authors will not be planning any holidays to China after they publish this…
  7. Am I just an old man, or does all music sound the same now? The Pudding gets into the numbers, but I’ll be honest, you need to read this just for the Snoop gif – pure genius. Maybe songs in the 60s and 70s were a bit samey. But when they sounded like this, who needs variety?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

What are the ethics of movie spoilers in the intro to a links round-up? (don’t worry, I’ve avoided them.) I finally saw Avengers: Infinity War on Wednesday and it’s been on my mind, not least because of the use of an odd mix of unreconstructed Malthusianism and a kind of repeated strategic trolley problem to motivate the film: with a little basic economics and a primer on game theory, the whole thing would have lasted about five minutes. Maybe the sequel next year will feature two new superheroes: Empirical Economic History Man (by day, mild-mannered Max Roser) and Strategic Man (a.k.a. Avinash Dixit). As an aside, I rushed out of a great seminar by Esther Duflo to make it to the cinema, the steepest slope from good economics to bad in history?

  1. Would you, too, like to be better prepared for the coming of an economically illiterate tyrant? (What do you mean, ‘too late’?) Then a pretty good place to start would be this list of the best books on economics and economic thinking, compiled by Diane Coyle, Tim Harford and others. It’s not exactly the list I would have chosen (which is kind of the point of these lists), but there are some great books selected, including Oliver Williamson. I’m disappointed that there’s no specifically development-focused book there, but lots to learn from nevertheless, and several I haven’t read.
  2. Of course, to understand much modern economics, you need to at least have a basic grasp of how statistics are used. My go-to book on this is still The Signal and the Noise, and it’s no surprise that Nate’s website, 538 carries much of the best, most accessible writing about statistics for laypeople – most of it written by Christie Aschwanden. Here, she examines the go-to statistical test used in sports science and shows that it’s poor scientific practice. It boils down to this: statistical tests basically make a trade-off between correctly rejecting ‘wrong’ results and accidentally rejecting ‘correct’ results. You want to do more of the former, but doing so increases the chances of the latter. Bad science plays around with this trade-off, increasing the chances of your result being accepted, but at the cost of increasing the chance that it should really have been rejected.
  3. Charles Kenny and Justin Sandefur argue that, after accounting for how effectively the Government spends money, taxation in some developing countries is not just regressive, it might be increasing poverty. Get the basic systems Governments fund to work and this effect might change.
  4. John Sutton explains the challenge (and payoff) of attracting FDI.
  5. And, Dietz on the rest of the Paradox of Mark-ups he introduced last week. I cannot think of a blogging macroeconomist who is both so accessible and challenging at the same time. A learning experience, every time he blogs.
  6. So, I hate Duty Free shops. I hate the way airports are structured to corral you through as many as possible, and I hate the idea that my last moments in a country should be concerned with a sort of placeless accumulation of crap. However, Karen Duffin and Robert Smith at Planet Money do something interesting with the idea of duty free: they illustrate the concepts of the race to the bottom and arbitrage by examining the history of the establishment of Duty Free shops and the effect of their spread. (Transcript).
  7. Lastly, on books: I tend to use either a bookmark or my memory to hold my place in a book (my current bookmark, a picture of The Thinker bought at the British Museum, is the most pretentious thing I own by a considerable distance). Apparently, I’m doing it wrong – bacon, a handsaw, even a piece of broccoli are all apparently bookmarks returned inside library books. And lastly, Michael Ondjaate’s favourite books to re-read. Amazingly, no sign of Rumpole or Bertie Wooster.

I’m away next Friday, so see you in two weeks! Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

With the basketball on a temporary pause between series (and LeBron James playing so well that people are actually now digging into the numbers to work out on exactly what metrics Jordan was better – the summary seems to be: at his peak, Jordan was better; but taking the whole career, LeBron seems to win), and the weather pretty inoffensive, I’m struggling to think of how best to open the links. There is the cricket: but I’m not an IPL-watcher, and Ireland’s first Test hasn’t started yet. So, cricket and weather, then I’ve exhausted my small talk: I may have hit peak Englishman.

  1. Very often, over a standing coffee appointment we had, my colleague Matt would hit one of his pet peeves: that the economic concept that is simultaneously most useful and most abused is opportunity cost. Fortunately, Tim Harford agrees, which is a good indication that the argument is sound. The biggest abuse of opportunity cost that Tim mentions also applies to DFID: we assume that time is costless, when it is actually an incredibly precious commodity. This applies to our interventions, where we too often fail to account for the opportunity cost of poor people’s time (“hey guys! Come to this 3-day training workshop, it’s free!”) and we too often ignore the opportunity cost of our own time (“hey guys! Come to this hour-long meeting that doesn’t have any obvious objective! It’s free!”). Even Matt and I made that mistake: the opportunity cost of ranting about opportunity cost was time spent on other topics where we didn’t already agree.
  2. Dietz is back! This is definitely only one for the economists, but he remains the clearest interlocutor of good macroeconomic research out there. In this post, he explains how mark-ups affect general equilibria. Read it and become a better macroeconomist.
  3. In an article that was clearly designed to maximise its chances of getting into the links, Jordana Cepelewicz looks into a new model that uses energy budgeting to explain migration – the migration of birds, that is. It’s modelling at its best: the use of a simplified set of behavioural rules to explain (part of) why complicated things happen. I was really struck by this quote: “[For humans] it doesn’t seem rational that birds will travel thousands of kilometres each way… but… [this] taxing journey is energetically favourable”. Actually when I see the extremes that humans will go through to make a better life, it seems the most natural thing in the world.
  4. David Evans and Muthoni Ngatia on the long-term effects of an education intervention (spoiler: none). Maybe I’ve misunderstood this (a skim of the underlying paper didn’t clarify either), but is it surprising that a free school uniform today doesn’t affect outcomes after eight years? Surely the kids would outgrow it within a year – why would we expect a one-off reduction in outgoings to have such long-term effects?
  5. Eric Posner and Glen Weyl bemoan the death of the economist as grand philosopher, blaming the specialisation of the academy for the paucity of systemic thinkers like Adam Smith and Karl Marx. In an interpretation that would no doubt irritate them endlessly, perhaps this is simply a case of diminishing marginal returns? The grandest ideas have been had; the biggest impact is now on more modest additions to knowledge. In a way, this ties in with what Lant often argues: what we already know about economies accounts for most of what matters in them – we just need to apply it somehow.
  6. This week in ‘research that suggests what seems blindingly obvious’: expanding exports of goods made with labour of a given skill level increases support for free trade among those workers (uses an IV. Usual health warnings apply).
  7. Lastly, The Ringer scientifically explores the art of the low-blow. Extremely useful for the manspreading jackasses on the tube at rush hour.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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