Economics & Marginalia: December 8, 2023

December 08, 2023

Hi all,

Every once in a while, a moment acts to define an era, marking the precise second that the tides have shifted. Like the first scene of Pulp Fiction, on its release in 1994: at the moment Miserlou starts playing, that was it: this was what every film was going to be like for the next 10 years. The opening bars of Appetite for Destruction. When Jackson Storm accelerates past Lightning McQueen. It felt a little like we had one such moment this week, when Rishi Sunak was giving a press conference, promising to pass legislation that effectively changes what the truth is so he can deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, just minutes after we heard of the passing of Benjamin Zephaniah. It felt like it marked something in how this country is changing (for now, at least). But not all changes are lasting, and we can only hope that England shifts back to an understanding of those who seek refuge more like Zephaniah’s and less like those in power. After ending last week on the loss of Shane MacGowan (more on his literary genius here) and opening this one on the loss of Zephaniah, I’m hoping to have a boring, easy intro next week.

  1. I don’t often start with self-promotion, and I’m not sure this one counts anyway: yesterday, I hosted the most recent Future of Development seminar, the series I organise with Shanta Devarajan of Georgetown University. This edition was about environmental degradation in low and lower middle income countries, and how policy can help to mitigate or forestall it, and it featured two outstanding speakers: Seema Jayachandran from Princeton and Rohini Somanathan from the Delhi School of Economics. We were enjoying the discussion so much, that we over-ran by a couple of minutes and would happily have stayed on the line to keep talking if I hadn’t had to race off to collect my son from nursery. The video of the talk is here: it’s highly recommended, and topical given COP.
  2. Another nice new OWID piece by Saloni Dattani: on pandemics through history. The main article is interesting, but what I really loved was the appendix which describes a number of the major historical pandemics and their frankly ludicrous death tolls (I’m looking at you, bubonic plague and Columbian exchange). It’s also very carefully sourced, so you can dive deeper into any part that captures your interest. Also OWID-y: we have about a month until Hannah Ritchie’s book on climate change (which is VERY impatiently awaited in our household) is released. If it was out for Christmas, I’d just buy 20 of it and all my friends and family would get the same thing.
  3. The Development Impact Job Market Papers series is still going, and still going strong. There’s so much to learn here: a piece on how the underlying labour market contracting structure determines the extent to which farmers invest in training for their workers; one on how assassinations undermine local service provision in Mexico; and a really clever paper that uses data from the 2008 de Mel, Woodruff and McKenzie RCT in Sri Lanka to estimate the macroeconomic effect of capital misallocation across firms; and much, much more.
  4. I liked this a lot: Planet Money on how we are, contrary to popular cliché, constantly re-inventing the wheel, and why it’s good for us (transcript).
  5. [There was an unscheduled break in the links-writing here, as my son insisted on a bumper crop of bedtime stories before flopping asleep on the wrong bed.] Here is Jessica Hullman on the act of pre-registering research. Her issue is that pre-registration itself is not an insurance against sloppy thinking: you can easily preregister a poorly conceived analysis. Having now done two pre-registrations (on two papers that are in progress) I’ve found that it’s very hard to write a good pre-registration report; and even when you do, you always get people asking you to do additional stuff, most of which makes sense. The ultimate point is that I agree with Jessica: it’s a useful exercise, but can hide or even introduce a multitude of sins to the research process.
  6. There is a very odd trend on twitter of people having vicious arguments about whether feelings or data are more indicative of how the US economy is doing (data says: good! Sentiment says: terrible!). Planet Money (again!) talk to Claudia Sahm in her attempt to get to the bottom of it (transcript). Meanwhile, perhaps Dani Rodrik has found a way to square the circle: he talks about ‘good jobs’ and how the wellbeing effects of the kind of work people have may be much larger than is first apparent in the data (you may need to register or subscribe).
  7. Finally, there is a new Hayao Miyazaki movie in the cinemas very shortly. I’ve been watching his films for decades now (being available in Hong Kong, where I grew up, well before they were popular in the anglosphere); the Ringer have an appreciation for one of the (ironically) unsung heroes of these films: the composer Joe Hisaishi. They are right: he is a genius. He not only scores these beautiful animations, but many of Beat Takehshi’s movies, ranging from the unspeakably violent to the unspeakably lovely. His score to A Scene at the Sea (an early Kitano movie about two deaf-mutes) is an all-time favourite of mine. And on that note…

Have a great weekend, everyone!



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