Economics & Marginalia: November 17, 2023

November 17, 2023


Hi all,

The combination of a rammed Oxford Tube, a new, gigantic (but extremely fast), work laptop and person sitting next to me scrolling through their Insta stories with the volume up is guaranteed to result in typos and a generally bleak outlook on life, but on the plus side it’s just one more week of this routine before you’re back to your usually sunny, surrounded-by-my-books in my office links. I spent a chunk of yesterday demonstrating that economists are good at making projections about everything except the future; and a good chunk of the last month working through various cricket world cup permutations, only to realise that no matter what happens, the final is India and Australia, because life is sometimes just that inevitable. Notwithstanding my incredibly poor track record of prognostication, I predict India are going to walk this one. (Australian fans can take succour from my confident prediction in 2004 that Jose Antonio Reyes would have a substantially better career than Cristiano Ronaldo). And now, for the 80% of you who can’t tell a yorker from Thom Yorke, the links:

  1. Not to sound like a broken record, but the Development Impact Job Market Papers series continues to astound. This week, Dev Patel (late of this parish) has his paper featured, and it is truly amazing. There is so much meat to this paper, so many things that can and should influence how you think about the world. He finds farmers have, on average, highly accurate beliefs about the salinity of the soil they work on, but that most farmers significantly under- or overestimate it; this lack of knowledge translates into their actual planting behaviour, with real world implications. There is a model which explains how these incorrect beliefs can persist over time, and empirical work that explains how climate change affects these belief formation processes. And as Charles points out, even the background paper is impressive. But it’s not just Dev who impresses: I very much liked this, by Suhani Jalota on what restricts women from taking-up flexible working opportunities, too.

  2. While we’re talking JMPs this one (via Lee) by Alix Bonargent is very impressive: she uses a novel dataset of research projects and finds that projects developed in partnership with policymakers are massively more likely to result in an observed policy change. This isn’t wholly surprising, and doesn’t necessarily mean that all you need to do is talk to policymakers first to have an impact (there’s a reason these collaborations occur in the first place, which the paper looks into), but it is fascinating that the effect size is so large. Her whole research agenda looks amazing. Another paper on how policymakers decide to do stuff, via Dan Honig: one of the rare occasions where just telling them stuff causes them to change what they do (bonus for being in Malawi)

  3. Tim Harford has a really nice summary of some of Claudia Goldin’s work on ‘greedy jobs’jobs that require you constantly be on call (both law and parenthood fall into this category). I’ve had many conversations with a senior lawyer I know about why their profession demands so much sacrifice of women who want to reach the top echelons: this is a good explanation.

  4. It’s not a surprise that Rachael Meager’s substack is amazing, but it really is amazingread this on truth, bullsh*t and twitter, twice. She’s right that the impulse to chime in on things as they happen is incredibly strong (when Twitter finally dies, the people I will miss the least are the bros—and they’re usually bros—who feel the need to give you their take on everything, no matter how little background they have in it, nor whether or not they have anything novel to say about it). My rule of thumb is to post hard and fast when the stakes are low (see: tweeting on the cricket scores); tweet early when I actually have some expertise on the topic; and shut up or ask questions when I’m interested but inexpert.  

  5. Branko usually has something novel and interesting to say, and even if I disagree with him, I find him thought-provoking to listen and respond to. This piece on Germany’s current political climate is a good exampleI don’t know if it’s right, but its not a perspective I’ve heard here, and worth reading.

  6. Erika Deserranno and co-authors have a nice write-up in VoxDev of research that looks at something I know a lot of policymakers have agonised about in the past: does implementing things through NGOs and other non-Government implementing systems actually undermine Government capacity? Their results (of course!) are that it depends: it’s more likely to happen when the Government and NGOs are competing for the same pool of scarce skilled labour. This is exactly in line with the commonsensical position most donors I’ve worked with have come to, but it’s nice to see it confirmed.

  7. Lastly: I haven’t been back to Hong Kong for a while. My last visit was pre-pandemic, just before I got married: just a flying visit to eat my body weight in dim sum and char siu and get a suit measured for the event (not coincidentally, it’s too big for me now). This article, on Hong Kong’s architecture, and specifically it’s gorgeous, rounded ‘corner buildings’  has made me incredibly homesick (not helped by the fact that my brother has been visiting and spamming me with photos of food); a trip is due. Can someone please organise a fully-funded conference on evidence and policymaking and invite me (and my family), please and thank you?

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.