Economics & Marginalia: January 13, 2023

Hi all,

We’re two weeks into the new year now, which is plenty of time for us to have broken resolutions (email at weird hours for me), to feel like we’ve been hit by a tidal wave of work (some time around January 5)  and to be totally exhausted (January 1 by around 5pm, but then, I’ve got a toddler running off an energy source more potent than that thing Tony Stark had installed in his chest). It’s also enough time for the internet to have cranked back into action, so there’s absolutely masses of economics, statistics and general nerdery for me to pick from each week again. So, without further ado, to the links.

  1. This one did the rounds last week, but it’s interesting enough to cover this week, too: Michael Park, Erin Leahey and Russell Funk have a paper out in Nature which argues that genuinely innovative, ‘disruptive’ science is declining over time, a new take on the ‘innovation is slowing down’ / great stagnation view of the world. What’s new about this one is the measure they use: they look at networks of citations and assess how much new papers or patents change the direction and clustering of citations in the future as a way of assessing how much they mark a fundamental change or break with the past. Here is the paper, and a short summary article in Nature; one of the authors was even interviewed on a podcast on The Ringer, which usually features in the pop culture section of the links. My own take is that in the fields I am most familiar with there has been a gigantic amount of change in my life time. What constituted development economics In 1993 is totally, totally different to what is out there today, and not only for the good. Technologies are completely different, not just in speed or penetration but type; and consequently not just forms and modes but content of communication is completely different. And though I know none of this is comparable to, say, the invention of electricity, or paper, or the printing press in terms of how it has affected objective measure of things like life expectancy, or income, I do wonder if the impact on subjective lived experience hasn’t been similar.
  2. Why is it that the US is allowed to have 15 elections for speaker until the result that they wanted from the beginning was achieved, but the UK has to make do with one referendum on Europe each generation? I think the latter probably matters more in the grand scheme of things, too. Anyway, for watchers of US politics (and those, like me, on the fringe), 538 has a very good primer on how McCarthy may have fallen prey to the winner’s curse: paying a price for something that is more than it was worth (or perhaps the better take is that it was a Pyrrhic victory—one achieved at too great a cost).
  3. Planet Money were on a roll this week. Two very good, very different pieces. First, on the main show, they ran a superb piece on the economics in children’s books (transcript). It’s great on two counts. First, it genuinely illustrates how much you can teach your little one about the economy and how the world works from their reading matter (though it remains a complete mystery to me what circumstances have befallen Mr. Magnolia to leave him with only one boot, when he can nevertheless afford the upkeep of some very fat owls who are learning to hoot, green parakeets who pick holes in his suit and his dinosaur, that magnificent brute). Secondly, there’s an incident where some children see parallels to modern race relations in one of their books and their teacher shuts that conversation down faster than Muhammad Ali after he cuts the light out in his hotel room. What is happening in the US education system? And secondly the newsletter covers the (enormous) contribution of immigrants to US innovation. Migration is good for you, part 24,932,111,947,937 of an ongoing series.
  4. Part 2 of Dietrich Vollrath’s blog on the European growth slowdown is even better than part 1. Please read it. You will not regret it.
  5. Ken Opalo’s blog is as superb as you would expect. His first piece looks at African economic growth and climate change, with the superb tagline ‘poverty is not a viable climate strategy’. It is excellent, covering both some basics and providing genuinely new (to me) insights about how this all interacts with African politics and geopolitics. His latest considers whether Zanibar would have been better off fully independent from Tanzania—a topic dear to my heart after having lived in both places.
  6. A really super write-up of work by Darin Christensen, Oeindrila Dube and co-authors on how a healthcare intervention had payoffs both in ‘normal’ times and during the Ebola outbreak. VoxDev is a huge public good. I hope you all use it.
  7. Lastly, Twitter has been through the wringer in the last couple of months. It can be a totally toxic place at times (I use the mute function with great enthusiasm, which makes it more tolerable), but there are a few great accounts that provide a splash of colour and joy to your time line. So here are a few of mine, in no particular order. Random Restaurant is basically a bot that reports photos from restaurants scraped from google searches; it takes you around the world every day, and often makes me hungry. Bayt al Fann does long threads on Islamic art and culture, and recently featured a thread on rice dishes that was so mouth-watering I tried to eat my computer screen. Depths of Wikipedia returns random bits of excellence from Wikipedia articles, one of my favourite things on the internet. Will Wilson posts some of the best bird photography I’ve ever seen (from Rwanda primarily). And lastly, LeBron History reminds you just how lucky we are to be basketball fans during LeBron James’s career. Follow them all!

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.