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Economics & Marginalia: June 14, 2024

Hi all,

The Silence of the Links last week came during one of CGDs ‘summer Fridays’, a day off we’re entitled to every other Friday during the ‘summer’ (a phrase for which scare quotes are required in the UK, as this year’s summer has been by turns arctic and monsoonish). While I love writing the links, a day in the garden with the three-year-old wins out every time. But it means a lot has happened and been written since the last Marginalia: Luka and the Mavs have been pulverised in three consecutive games by the Celtics; the election campaign in the UK has had more twists and turns than a season of Santa Barbara, with Ed Davey putting aside his comic hijinks to release one of the more moving campaign videos I’ve seen and Dawn Butler releasing a rap, not to mention the return of Nigel Farage; and most shockingly of all, Americans appear to have discovered cricket, prompting one of the truly great pieces of cross-cultural translation I’ve encountered. And there has been a *lot* of good economics. I may not get through it all this week.

  1. The demise of hyperglobalisation has prompted a response more akin to the hater funeral meme than genuine mourning, but Dev Patel, Justin Sandefur and Arvind Subramanian make a compelling case that it deserves much more affection than it is getting in (this is in Foreign Affairs and may be gated for you, but I was able to read it the first time for free). The whole piece is excellent and well worth reading, they make two points that I find particularly compelling. The first is that the improved economic performance of developing countries (and particular those in Africa) in the 2000s was not because they wholeheartedly embraced the Washington Consensus, but because they just stopped doing incredibly self-destructive stuff. The WC played a role in that, but it was not part of an ideological conversion in the developing world. The second is that, with the end of hyperglobalization, the growth paths of rich and poorer countries are diverging again. If this is sustained, I think this gap, rather than extreme poverty as we currently define it, will come to dominate how we think about development over the next couple of decades. (And sort of related: I loved this, on VoxDev about industrial policy in the shipbuilding sector in China).

  2. Speaking of ideology, Ken Opalo’s article on the intellectual and political weakness of the left in Africa is excellent. One thing that struck me repeatedly during the near-decade I spent in Southern and Eastern Africa during the 2000s was how ideologically thin the political conflicts of the time were, and how surprising this was to me. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s to politically literate parents, I heard and learnt about many African leaders and it seemed to me that their political ideologies were particularly well-articulated (figures like Nkrumah, Samora Machel and Cheikh Anta Diop—whose name I always think of in the rhythm of Youssou N’Dour’s song—come to mind). Ken’s piece helps explain why things were so different by the time I moved to Malawi and then Tanzania and followed the politics up close. It’s quite different to many of his recent pieces, but also very very good.

  3. Staying on the subject of politics, Kaushik Basu’s latest in Project Syndicate is a provocative readHe argues that as the world economy changes, economics is failing to keep pace with it. He criticises both the artifice of overly-mathematical modelling that offer little to public policy and the retreat to more closely identified empirical questions, arguing that what the discipline needs is grand theory bringing economics and politics back together, providing insight into both. One point I disagree with here: Kaushik suggests that economics is gradually losing relevance; this may be true in some dimensions, but I don’t think it’s generally true everywhere. Indeed, I think many of the key insights of recent years (stretching, really to a couple of decades) remain too little-understood and too little applied.

  4. Hannah Ritchie was recently made an honorary fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, a richly deserved honour. Her blog is consistently superb, and her more recent one, summarising a few recent trends in clean tech is a good example: good use of data, communicated with crystal clarity.

  5. Long time readers will know that I’ve been a fully paid-up member of the Michael Clemens fan club for well more than a decade now. One of the great things about him is that his research has inspired other superb scholars as well, and this Planet Money show features one of them, Dany Bahar, who discusses his research that suggests that the ‘border crisis’ in the US is actually better understood as a ‘labour market crisis’. Dany’s point, that we too often look at a list of symptoms and make a casual diagnosis assuming the wrong cause, is true in many policy areas. And Michael pops up at the end too! (Transcript here).

  6. I love detective shows and novels. I devour them: I love Simenon, Chandler, Hammett, Seicho Matsumoto, Agatha Christie, Sjowall and Wahloo, McIllvaney, Skvorecky, Columbo, Vera, Moltalbano, Shetland (at least the first three seasons) and I can go on and on and on with this list. Data Colada are the closest thing to combining my love of detective fiction and my love of economics, and their latest post is a perfect example. They got a death threat on the basis of a draft, and it features the sort of painstaking attention to detail and detective work that characterises much of the best of the genre. Their work shows two things quite clearly: it’s actually quite hard to cover all your tracks when you fake your data; and yet, it’s very rare that anyone will look in enough detail to notice the red flags.

  7. I normally end on pure pop culture, but I can’t not include Rachael Meager’s gorgeous blog post that starts with the Polya urn and the Dirichlet distribution and then moves to take in teaching and the role of beauty in academia, which seems like it’s a stretch, but it isn’t. Beauty and elegance are incredibly important parts of what makes something truly timeless. I don’t mean influential (a workmanlike policy brief can change the world, and then be forgotten), but to be remembered with joy and then communicated with joy, there needs to be something special about what you’ve found and how you’ve expressed it. Solow still gets read not just because his theory is good, but because his writing is beautiful; I remember Hobsbawm not just for the history but because of the sheer elegance with which he makes the complex comprehensible. And there is something to be learnt from them even once they are superseded. You don’t stop listening to Rakim just because Kendrick exists.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

Disclaimer

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.