Economics & Marginalia: January 27, 2023

Hi all,

You’ll have to forgive me if the introduction to the links seems a bit distracted: England are in the final stages of an absolute thriller against South Africa in a one-day international, with Jofra Archer easing back into international cricket by being absolutely carted for 81 runs in his ten overs and then going for a duck when batting (sincere apologies to American readers baffled by the preceding section. This glossary may be helpful; then again maybe not). As I write this sentence, it’s over: England were in it till the very end, though I couldn’t follow it. My son arrived in the office, firmly told me that I’m not allowed to follow the cricket anymore, because he needs to watch videos of owl babies, and imposed a 45 minute delay in writing these. Very few people can impel me to ignore the cricket without protest, so it must be love (and the fact that he wants birding videos, proof that the apple never falls far from the tree). In a few years he will be asking me about constrained optimization, I’m sure of it.

  1. Speaking of constrained optimization, most of us are forced to prioritise between interest ideas or topics by the limitations of time and the declining number of new ideas our brain generates as we put it to work for long stretches of time. One of these constraints does not seem to apply to my colleague Charles Kenny (it’s possible that neither do, but that would involve him either having multiple clones like Hugh Jackman in the Prestige, or a time machine like Doc Brown). His most recent paper is fantastic, an exploration of a number of ideas around how and why progress (in the form of new ideas, and advances in our ability to do or make) arises, why it is slowing, and why there is so much untapped potential progress left for us to liberate. I was lucky enough to read an early version; it made my mind race following these ideas around. I recommend it hugely (and the blog). If that’s not enough, he has also written this week about why and how to make sure the World Bank remains a Development bank. CGD don’t take institutional positions: you’ll find others here who disagree with him (this thread, featuring CGD past and present in the form of Todd Moss and Amanda Glassman is worth your time, too). Still—it should make you think twice, wherever you end up.
  2. In the very first edition of Paper Round (of which! A NEW EPISODE will shortly be recorded, after a near year-long hiatus) we talked about a paper drawing on BRAC’s Graduation programmes work; both Matt and I love the programme but had a lot of questions about exactly how it works and for whom it will work. On Development Impact, Berk Ozler uses a new paper to ask similar questions. Similar programmes often fail, and there’s a lot to learn about why.
  3. In a faintly similar vein: a new meta-analysis of water treatment interventions finds that they are wildly, astonishingly cost-effective ways of saving young lives. Doing meta-analysis well is difficult, and I really like this blog by Witold Wiecek for explaining how they went about it. Also from the same blog, Andrew Gelman on providing probabilistic expert advice. Essentially, he relates a story (prompted by a paper with similar findings) suggesting that in court and criminal procedure settings, experts are asked (or choose) to offer concrete yes/no or true/false assessments, though their underlying assessment is not binary but based on some estimated likelihood of one or the other being true. This seems puzzling to people who are used to thinking in probabilities and parsing the information a probability offers them. But in court cases, like in policymaking, the true process of decision-making isn’t collaborative search for truth, but something more like a adversarial game in which opposing viewpoints are pitted against each other; expressing doubt is only a tenable strategy when you think the other side are also behaving the same way with the evidence. That’s not to say there’s no room for being the person in the room trying to read the evidence with nuance (most of my career has been trying to be that person), but it does mean it’s not what many people do.
  4. Planet Money on what’s been happening to shipping costs since the pandemic (transcript). It’s quite mind boggling: shipping companies thought higher demand (and hence prices) during the pandemic reflected permanent changes in how the economy worked; in response they ordered the building of new ships. Now economies are getting back to normal, they’re panicking: prices are falling and they’re about to get a huge bunch of new ships online to increase supply even further.
  5. This is one for the researchers: Daniel Millimet on why we run robustness tests, and how we should report and use them in our papers. It reminds me of this older piece by Nick Huntington-Klein, which I’ve referred to in the past. Both very much worth reading.
  6. Ricardo Hausmann arguing that, for industrial policy, the question is not whether we should use it but how: the whether has been settled, and now the only question is if it gets done well or badly. I liked this a lot; but in general I find that pieces that are pro-industrial policy tend to be a bit blasé about the risks of rent seeking; pieces that are anti, too dismissive of its benefits. It’s hard to do justice to both sides.
  7. “For parents of young children, ‘tired’ isn’t a state of being that can be sloughed off with a few good nights’ sleep. It’s an innate condition — the thing I say reflexively when people ask me how I am.” My wife and I have started asking each other “apart from tired, how are you” because the answer is always the same. But everyone always talks about how tiring parenting is; people don’t talk nearly enough about how much fun it is—how every day there’s something hilarious or joyous or puzzling to get your head around (like the 3 days in the dead of winter, in the coldest bit of the UK that my son decided to abandon all clothes for). This piece from FiveThirtyEight, from which that opening quote comes from gets towards it: asking about all of the experiences parents have, and how they vary across different groups. I’ve actually found it really hard to find any pop culture that really captures it for adults: why isn’t there an Office or Parks and Rec-style comedy about a nursery, for example? In a parallel universe, Ron Swanson is taking care of your child, and it’s comedy gold. In the meantime, here is Christopher Walken reading Three Little Bears.

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.