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Economics & Marginalia: August 11, 2023

August 11, 2023

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Hi all,

I have to open by apologising for the very patchy appearance of the Links this summer: its been a combination of last-minute leave plans, technical snafus with our emailing system and a pile-up of deadlines that means the different demands on my time have been fighting like they’re on a dock in Montgomery (a serious take on that here). It’s over yet, either: there will be another break at the end of August and in the first week of September; in the Autumn, regular service will be resumed. In the mean time, I have—tentatively—seen a break in the deadline pile-up and I’m ‘celebrating’ by going on a close friend’s stag night tonight. He very sensibly has asked someone else to do the organization; left to me we would have a wine tasting in the early evening, watch a Marvel movie and some YouTube videos of Mahela Jayawardene batting and then be asleep by 10pm. Any hopes I have that tonight may follow that pattern were dashed when a message in the group chat complained that a proposed club closes too early. It closes at 3am. Wish me luck.

  1. While we’re talking about appropriate stag weekend activities, how about museums? I am a noted museum junkie and have often wished I could kidnap and miniaturize Neil MacGregor so I could carry him around the British Museum in my pocket, but most museums lack enough economics. Tim Harford has recently been musing about what he’d put in a museum of economics, and it prompted Planet Money to brainstorm ideas. There are some good ones here: particularly the giant stone disks used as currency in the Yap Islands in the Pacific (transcript). I’ve been thinking about what my contribution to such a museum would be, and I think my contribution would be my son’s jumpers. Not just because he and they are awesome, but because we bought a number of them in factory outlet shops in Hong Kong, where designs blatantly ripping off pop culture figures were being churned out: Ait-Man, Sidperman and Sooperman jumpers, all appropriately but slightly incorrectly illustrated. A testament to IP laws and the creativity of the market in navigating regulations.
  2. Ken Opalo has an excellent primer on the recent spate of Sahelian coups (is it a spate, or just an outbreak?). I know very little about the Sahel, and found these enormously illuminating. Highly recommended.
  3. There have been two very good write-ups of recent research on the health impacts of psychotherapy interventions in VoxDev in the last couple of weeks. In the first, Anett John and Kate Orkin use a visualization intervention to increase the uptake and use of a simple, cheap technology that meaningfully reduces the chances of diarrheal outbreaks, a major killer in parts of Africa. The visualization techniques apparently increase self-efficacy (that is, the belief that you can affect things that matter for your life) and this loosens a constraint to the use of chlorine tablets, an effect that is evident several years later. A second study, by David Murphy, uses a psychotherapy intervention to help reduce alcohol abuse, among rural populations where incredibly potent home brew is commonly drunk.
  4. Living in the UK and traveling abroad occasionally, I am really struck by how badly we seem to be doing compared to our peers; a feeling that is only strengthened when I travel up to Northumberland to visit my in-laws. Driving around the North East you see some of the deepest and most striking deprivation in the UK. As John Burn-Murdoch’s superb new FT column shows, the UK is basically one prosperous city, London, surrounded poor and stagnating mini-economies. Something is going very wrong here, and it does not seem like any of the political parties has a plan to fix it.
  5. More on the Ariely/Gino fraud case: NPR, who have often cited and used them, on the allegations here (transcript), and Andrew Gelman on one of the ways in which these sorts of cases go on so long: even when it’s an open secret that people are crooks, most people, most of the time, ignore it.
  6. I thought this piece from Development Impact, on the kind of impacts we should expect from public works programmes (most famously, India’s M-NREGA) was very good. Emanuela Galasso and Kathleen Beegle use a new meta-analysis to set out the different mechanisms through which a public works programme might meaningfully affect economic outcomes.
  7. And finally, the new season of Only Murders in the Building has finally dropped. One of the great joys of the first couple of seasons was the way in which Martin Short’s character existed just on the edge of being an outright jerk (always pulling back just in time and getting our sympathy back). The Ringer miss him out in their ‘Jerk Week’, but don’t worry: both Larry David and George Costanza are in it. They even have a proper classification of all the horrible people in pop cultureAnd on that happy note…

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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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.