Economics & Marginalia: April 23, 2021

April 23, 2021

Hi all,

What a week. This week’s links are a bit of a mood rollercoaster, because well [waves hands frantically at all of this going on around us]. Honestly, my son is seven months old. He’s now lived through a two strict national lockdowns in response to a rampaging global pandemic, the development and deployment of effective vaccines in a handful of rich countries while the poor are left hanging, escalating humanitarian disasters in Brazil, India and – unrelated to the pandemic – Yemen, the storming of the Capital by a man wearing horns and runic tattoos, the near-death of football and the Home Office somehow discovering new moral depths to plumb. I hope things slow down from here, so, once he’s old enough to read it, he can step back from the chaos of the daily to appreciate the grand sweep of progress Charles Kenny documents in his new book for middle-schoolers, Your World, Better.

  1. Let’s start with the downer. Things might be brighter in the UK – cases down, vaccines rolling out, spring finally tentatively poking its head out from behind winter – but make no mistake. The pandemic is worse now than ever. This brilliant, coruscating piece by my colleagues Amanda Glassman and Rachel Silverman gets the mood music right. Right now, every single place approaching normality is guilty of a massive moral failure. Get the vaccines out – everywhere. Donate treatments – everywhere. Start coordinating – everyone. Vaccine hoarding, export bans – make no mistake, these are killing people in the rest of the world, just as surely as a bomb would. And we don’t even have to be altruistic to do this – how many mutations, how many infection risks can we forestall by acting more quickly to help in the worst affected corners of the globe? The Economist has a good take on the complexity of Africa’s vaccination drive – with some places running out fast, and others not even using all their doses. So this isn’t simple. But nor is it beyond the wit of the international community. Like Amanda an Rachel say, there’s only one job right now, and we’re not doing it.

  2. It’s not all awful news though: in what must be the most promising breakthrough for human welfare in as long as I can remember (and yes, I include the covid vaccines here), the Jenner Institute has developed a vaccine against malaria that clears the WHO’s 75% efficacy threshold. This is massive – as Berk says, many researchers who devoted their lives to this had given up hope that it was possible, and the stakes just couldn’t be much higher. Malaria infects hundreds of millions of people every year, kills around half a million people annually, and it’s by far most deadly among the youngest, those under 5 – the OWID explainer is worth reading in full. I said it on twitter, but we may as well start carving names on the Nobel prize. If this isn’t a mirage, it’s a complete game changer.

  3. Do I count the whole European Super League saga as good news or bad news? On the one hand, it was the greatest display of naked greed and avarice since Imelda Marcos’s shoe cabinet. On the other hand, it collapsed faster than the England top order. Rather than laugh, though, I think we can learn something about the broader world from it. Firstly, the whole episode speaks to Branko Milanovic’s argument that capitalism is increasingly commodifying aspects of life that were previously outside the scope of what was bought and sold – and Branko takes no pleasure from being right as he writes about it. But more than that, the speed with which it collapsed, and the way it prompted a Government inquiry into the game in England brought to mind Daniel Treisman’s argument that most autocracies fall not because of irresistible historical pressure or choice, but miscalculation. I suspect that the blowback to the ESL will cause changes to football’s governance far more reaching than the protagonists anticipate.

  4. My ex-colleague Noemie brought this to my attention: one of Markus Goldstein’s typically careful breakdowns of a fascinating study, this one suggesting that prior exposure to an NGO significantly impacts on how effective a new interventions with the community is – even when not implemented by an NGO. It’s worth noting (as Markus carefully explains) that the results weaken as time goes on, but this is still very striking.  Also on DI this week, David McKenzie’s lessons for development from reading recent sociology and political science journals.

  5. This week in inequality is really bad, guys, seriously: Gaurav Chiplunkar and Penny Goldberg develop and calibrate a model which estimates the aggregate effect on the economy of the barriers faced by women, and find that removing them would dramatically increase productivity and welfare. And another VoxEU write-up finds that unequal representation on juries has substantial and negative effects on the sentences faced by black people.

  6. recently speculated that when dealing with risks of death, people seem to engage in a kind of mental accounting whereby they put risks from different activities in separate buckets and assess them independently, even when they have direct bearing on each other – hence people being scared of vaccine blood clots even when the risk of death is many multiples smaller than that of dying from Covid if unvaccinated. Tim Harford has a slightly different take on the same phenomenon, considering how different risks engage emotions and the illusion of control.

  7. Lastly, some good news and happiness to round out the week: first, Wole Soyinka will be publishing his first novel in around 50 years later this year; Prof is one of my favourite writers and this is the literary event of the century so far for me. It sounds funny and pointed, so bang on brand for him. And secondly, also from LitHub, a round-up of the 50 greatest sartorial trademarks of writers. The photos are glorious: Joan Didion looks like she’s about to drop a Garbage-style mid-1990s indie album, James Baldwin is the cool uncle you wished you had, and Gay Talese looks every inch the man who once wrote a story titled ‘Frank Sinatra has a cold’.

Have a great weekend, everyone!



CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.