Economics & Marginalia: March 15, 2024

Hi all,

This week, in lieu of further stories about my three-year-old’s eccentricity, I bring some exciting news: next week, the links are going to get a makeover. This has been in the works for a very long time. We first started talking about it more than a year ago, but with one thing or another, we haven’t had time to get it all lined up till now. What will change will just be how the email looks. It’ll have a snazzy header, and will be renamed ‘Economics and Marginalia’, to match the website look (and if you’re reading this on the website but want to get the emails, sign up here). The font might change, and it should become a little bit easier to read. In time, we’re going to experiment with including graphics—graphs, figures and the like—but we won’t do this at the expense of getting them out reliably, so if we find we need to get lots of permissions, we’ll stop doing it. What won’t change is the style. You’ll be getting the exact same email, with the exact same voice and kinds of content, and very likely, you’ll still get the typos and incorrect links, because this will still be the last thing I do before signing off for the day on Friday. I hope that’s a good thing, and I hope you like it (if not you can complain to me, but if I like it, it’s sticking…)

  1. I do start these links on a downer rather a lot, but sometimes down is how the world looks. Bloomberg’s long-read on sexism in economics focusing specifically on the website EJMR didn’t tell me anything new, but it’s really worth reading (you should be able to read this without a subscription, but may need to register). The stories they’ve unearthed are hair-raising. Economics is a great discipline, studying all sorts of important problems, which is why its often-toxic culture is a real problem. EJMR is the focus of a lot of the hate, with good reason given the sheer volume of misogyny and racism on it, but stories of bullying, anti-social behaviour and macho imbecility are legion. Steven Levitt’s exit interview from academia is full of them: his description of James Heckman is less describing a difficult colleague than an abusive one. It has to change, and it changes in part because of good people, of which there are plenty, too. It’s a problem more widespread than bad apples, but there are good eggs as well. (and related, but not closely: Berk Ozler on the long slog of publishing in econ).

  2. And while I’m being down on academia, the Harvard report into Francesca Gino’s alleged fraud has been unsealedAndrew Gelman quotes extensively from it here, and it’s quite the thing. Apparently outlandish excuses delivered with a straight face are not the preserve of my three-year-old; even Professors indulge.

  3. I don’t want to turn this into a Ranil self-promotion blog, but the piece I published earlier this week with Janeen Madan Keller and Erin Collinson is really fun: taking Open Phil’s list of research questions they’d like to see tackled as a launching pad, we argue that thinking about evidence use in policy from a researcher’s perspective blinds one to many of the most important questions about when, how and through whom policymakers actually engage with evidence. Existing research into the topic has missed out a lot of what really matters, and we suggest an alternative way of thinking about it. More coming from us on this, keep your eyes peeled. And as a bonus, yesterday I posted an incredibly unsexy, rather boring blog about policy and back-office functions in the UK development set-up. This stuff is not as exciting as the evidence use work, but is of absolutely first-order importance for how effective UK development work really isIf you care about impact, you need to care about this.

  4. On VoxDev this piece by Pascaline Dupas and Radhika Jain is excellent as well: they look at gender disparities in the use of health insurance in India and find, though disparities increase with cost to the patient, reducing these costs do not reduce the disparity; instead, gender-targeted interventions are necessary if you care about eliminating the gap.

  5. Trump has ‘promised’ to institute mass deportations if he’s elected President again; the logic (insofar as logic plays a role in decision-making here) is that by getting rid of foreign workers, native-born workers will take their jobs or see great wage increases. But it doesn’t stack up: Michael Clemens (once of this parish) explains: “the US labor market is more complex than the cartoon economy in the minds of some politicians, who think that business owners faced with loss of immigrant workers will simply hire native workers to replace them. But in the real economy, employers respond in several other ways. Business owners hit by sudden reductions to labor supply invest less in new business formation. They invest their capital in other industries and in technologies that use lower-skill labor less intensively, reducing demand for US workers too.” This should not surprise anyone who had devoted more than a handful of brain cells to thinking about this issue—a group that clearly does not include Trump—because if there is one constant in the migration literature, it is that labour markets are complex; and economies are complex. They are not like jigsaw puzzles that fit together simply and keep shape when they are separated. They are more like chemicals that react to each other by changing shape and molding themselves to each other.

  6. I like the last in Tim Harford’s series on generative AI, in which he describes “the ‘jagged frontier’ of generative AI performance. Sometimes the AI is better than you, and sometimes you are better than the AI. Good luck guessing which is which.” This, it struck me, is a bit like my friends and colleagues. Everyone I know is better than me at something (and usually, very many things indeed), but it’s not always obvious what things they will be. And, like all productive partnerships, much of the benefit will come from learning about each other better and planning our work to complement each other rather than step on one anothers toes.

  7. I remember being basically addicted to Super Mario World on the Game Boy. I spent so much of my life hunched over that little flickering screen making that plumber jump, run and eat mushrooms it’s a wonder I didn’t develop a back problem. But I was never one of the true obsessives. Walt Hickey’s Numlock News (are you subscribed? You should be) alerted me to the race to complete all the levels of Super Mario Maker on the Wii before the servers close for good in early April. In 2021, there were 47,000 or so levels that had never been beaten by a human; at the beginning of this month, there were 178. As I write, there are just two levels left to completeI love all stories of human achievement, no matter how ridiculous: Jordan’s flu game, the four-minute mile, Kobayashi eating 69 hotdogs in ten minutes. This one may outrank 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.