Economics & Marginalia: August 25, 2023

Hi all,

Through the summer, I’ve had a few excuses for the links showing up at random times, or disappearing: technical disasters, our automated system crashing, unexpected illnesses and the like. But for the next two weeks, it will be none of these things that keep these links away from you: I am going on an honest-to-god holiday, the kind with beaches, pools, Dashiell Hammett and John Mortimer by the pool (in book form, I’m not having a holiday with a medium) and my son eating all the prawns off my plate. I haven’t quite finished my whole to-do list, so I’ll be working for another couple of hours yet, but once I cross off the last item from that list, I’m closing my laptop and ignoring my emails for the first time in a long time. Everyone here needs a break, between work, unpacking a house and adjusting to a new nursery with “too many children” as my son puts it, we are all mentally running on fumes. If the remainder of the links reads like a man who has mentally turned on the out-of-office and is sitting by the pool with a glass of port, that’s because this is exactly who is writing them.

  1. On the subject of holidays, Planet Money have a fantastic show about something that has always puzzled me: why do Americans get and settle for so little paid vacation timeThe US is literally the only rich country in the world without mandated paid leave for workers; and it’s behind many developing countries in this, too. What makes this show so good is that it gives you a sense of what an outlier the US is, what that means in practice for welfare and lifestyles and then starts running through—and eliminating—plausible explanations. It also features a quote from Daniel Hamermesh which captures perfectly what it feels like to be an economist most of the time: “I like that one... He's probably wrong, but at least I can't prove he's wrong. And that's pretty good compared to all the other explanations.” Transcript here.

  2. This one is related, and also from Planet Money, but I thought it deserved it’s own link. Greg Rosalsky, who writes the Planet Money newsletter, writes about his impending fatherhood and his—again, rare in the US—ability and choice to take a substantial amount of paid parental leave. This, again, hooks the economics and comparisons of the US with the rest of the world to the human welfare implications. It is a super interesting one, and I am a big fan of the Norwegian system of giving fathers non-transferable parental leave. Even as someone who deeply loves their job, it’s a regret of mine that I didn’t take more time off (than my already generous allowance) to spend with my son when he was born.

  3. My colleagues Bernat Camps Adrogué and Mark Plant are the people to read if you’re interested in SDRs and the challenges they pose for policymakers. Here, they argue that some of those challenges are more in the minds of said policymakers than realrecycling of SDRs is likely to be less costly and less complicated than they imagine, and can do a lot of good.

  4. I really enjoyed this essay from Raghu Rajan on why classically liberal economics is on the retreatHe trenchantly quotes HL Mencken (“for every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong”) to explain why populist solutions—well tried, tested and seen to fail in the past—have re-emerged in political debate, and hold an advantage they haven’t had for a long time. I think there’s a little more to it: it’s a bit too easy to conclude that the dunces are in confederacy and we who once had the answers are simply unable to have our solutions heard. The challenges we face now and the economy we’re trying to steer through have both changed (I think back to the recent Emi Nakamura interview I linked), but there’s definitely more than a grain of truth here.

  5. More on mental health interventions for development from VoxDev, a growing and increasingly impressive literature. This intervention, in Bangladesh during the Covid-19 pandemic had impressive results on both mental health outcomes and material wellbeing, including food insecurity; and some discussion of why results seemed to persist (it appears that mental health management techniques learned during the intervention were put to continued use by at least some participants).

  6. More from Ken Opalo’s substack, this time on why the US should decouple it’s policy in West Africa from France (the tl;dr is that France’s Africa policy is really bad, and it’s really unpopular, which seems like a pretty good pair of reasons). It really is a tour-de-force: a history lesson, analytically sharp and all through, extremely readable. It’s one of the best new resources for people interested in development, and I’m constantly impressed by the amount of work that seems to go into it.

  7. Last weekend, we all watched the World Cup final, and saw the Lionesses beaten quite soundly by a really impressive Spanish team. It was really encouraging to see how the whole of the UK seemed to be watching the football, a watershed moment for women’s sport. It was all very happy until the Spanish team went up to collect their silverware and the creep who runs their FA took it upon himself to forcibly snog one of their players (it really was as bad as that makes it sound); their team is, understandably, now refusing to play until he steps down, which will hopefully be in the next few hours. Later that weekend, we watched Misbehaviour, a film about women’s rights activists disrupting the Miss World beauty pageant. My wife commented that it seems like we’ve come so far, but then an imbecile in a position of power objectifies a woman again and you realise how far there still is to go. What a clown.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and see you in three weeks!



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.