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Economics & Marginalia: September 15, 2023

September 15, 2023

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Hi all,

Sometimes you just need to turn your brain off and then on again: much like your computer, it will rectify a multitude of sins. I spent two weeks away, moving up and down the Catalan coast, going from beach to beach, lying in the sand with detective novels and watching my three year old pelt up and down the beach ‘saving’ people from the water, and didn’t once check my emails (sorry if I still owe you a reply, but not very sorry). The hard reset seems to have worked; I’ve returned with a bit of energy, a few ideas and a great desire to read all kinds of random stuff on the internet and then hold forth from my own personal Speakers Corner. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Sri Lanka have uncovered yet another 20 year old spin bowling prodigy (though we all now know not to get too excited about it for a few years yet).

  1. Three weeks is a long time in politics, but it’s a split-second in the research process. Before I left, I mentioned the Francesca Gino fraud case a number of times, and its still rumbling on, though in sotto voice for now. The heroic trio at Data Colada are now being sued by Gino, and the profession has (in a rare instance of unity and positivity) rallied around them to help fund their legal case. I find it very difficult to see how their—superb—data investigation remotely merits the litigation brought against them, and I’m very glad they are well-set to fight it for now. Their post setting out the situation is hereBe sure to click through to the four investigations of fraud, too.
  2. Ken Opalo’s substack is the best new thing on the internet, and if doesn’t count as new anymore well, maybe that title can generalise. He has occasional paywalled posts, and this is one of them, but it will become free one month after publication (i.e. on October 9th). In it, he looks at why, when Russia’s actual economic importance to Africa is rather small, it seems to have so much support there. It is full of very good points (for my money, one of the most important is the most basic: in a continent of 54 countries, you should variety of interests and preferences), and is specifically convincing on the role played by Western hypocrisy and repeated failures to accord adequate respect, support and meaningful recognition to African countries. Not behind the paywall, but also very good: why Ghana has avoided the curse of West African coups.
  3. John Burn-Murdoch is, with Tim Harford and Sarah O’Connor, worth subscribing to the FT for alone. This piece, on the danger of using flimsy data to build strong narratives is excellent. He points out that many people leapt to criticise the UK for poor performance (economic, on covid and much more) based on initial data that was either revised to show it had done better than first thought or was more accurate than comparator countries, who later turned out to have under-performed compared to the UK. I have definitely been guilty of this in the past; we need to take a beat and think about the data not just when our claims are outlandish, but also when they accord too neatly with our preconceived notions.
  4. Speaking of Tim Harford, his productivity hacks are very good, as you would expect, and yet I struggle to implement them. I find a layer of chaos stimulating to my brain—too much order to how I approach my weeks seems to shrink creativity as much as it helps me get stuff done.
  5. This is great: Esther Duflo and co document substantial negative spillover effects from an agronomy training interventionIt’s worth reading in detail, as there is a lot to learn about project implementation from it. The issue seems to be that offering the training to some people but not others, in the context of scarce relevant inputs, causes misallocation of inputs. If this is the case, the answer may not be not to offer training to anyone, but to offer it to everyone.
  6. And from the thankfully-back (from its own summer break) Development Impact, a short interview with Oriana Bandiera. On the basis of relatively few encounters, I’ve always found her incredibly impressive and smart, and this interview just serves to reinforce that impression. She also speaks insightfully about the challenges of implementation and learning from it, and I was particularly interested in her thoughts on the sheer extent of labour market churn in developing countries.
  7. Lastly, on holiday we didn’t have a TV, so all of my pop culture intake was in book form (which made returning to Only Murders in the Building, even in a down season, an incredible pleasure; and if you haven’t watched it yet, get Primo on your watchlist). I re-read a few old books in the time I was away and came back to discover it’s the 30-year anniversary of the publication of The Virgin Suicides, which makes me feel incredibly old. I’ve never re-read it, partly because it’s one of those books that seems so perfect for a certain age (in my case, late teens) that you shouldn’t sully it with an adult eye—but this brilliant interview with Jeffrey Eugenides has tempted me. My go-to rereads are the Rumpole books, Agatha Christie and Sjowall and Wahloo (Inspector Maigret too, but that’s mainly because I can never remember which ones I’ve read). Are there other re-readers I’m missing, books that don’t lose anything on the fifth read?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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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.