The most interesting and talented new blogger I have read in years

“I’m scared to post this” she begins.

Erin, a self-described Southern white lady and stay-at-home mom, decides to tackle race in America (including the Kaepernick won’t-stand-during-anthem controversy) in what appears to be her fourth week of blogging. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a brand new blogger. We are a dying species. But she is very, very good. Here is the crescendo:

Clemson’s football coach, Dabo Swinney, made a speech yesterday about Colin Kaepernick’s protest, about his choice to remain seated during the National Anthem. I realize that down where I live, to question Dabo isn’t just treasonous, but downright sinful, but here’s my problem. He didn’t condemn Kaepernick. He just said that his protest wasn’t at the right time or place. He said that our problem was sin, not racism. And on the surface, that’s pretty innocuous. He’s being lauded by nearly everyone I know as an example of what humans should be like.

However.

I wonder when, exactly, is the right time for a protest. I wonder where, exactly, is the right place.

He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He held him up as an example to which we should all aspire. But maybe he forgot about some things. He seems to have forgotten Dr. King’s 13 arrests. Maybe he never learned about the death threats Dr. King and his family received, year after year of his peaceful protests. Dabo wasn’t there, I assume, when people called for Dr. King’s blood. I certainly wasn’t. But I can read. I paid attention in history class. Those incidents are well-documented. It’s just more comfortable to forget, I guess.

What I really want to say is that you need to decide what it is that you want.

“We wouldn’t mind peaceful protests.”

(Okay. We’ll forget for a minute that this is being said by the same country that arrested, beat, tear gassed, and set actual fire to peaceful protesters not all that long ago. Okay. That can’t be used as evidence by the jury. Didn’t happen. It was all hand-holding and rainbows and everyone recognized Dr. King as a saint from Day One, and immediately saw him as the force that would unite our country forever. Nobody threw books at little girls just for walking into school. No one poured acid into swimming pools because black people were swimming in them. Nobody lynched anybody. Nobody set fire to any churches. White America collectively opened their eyes, all at the same time, and said, “Holy gee whiz! You DON’T want fewer rights? Our bad! Won’t happen again!”)

So. Since you said, “We wouldn’t mind peaceful protests,” that’s what Colin Kaepernick did. You actually can’t get much more peaceful than that. He just sat. He didn’t yell. He didn’t hold up a sign. He didn’t throw punches or set fire to anything. He just sat.

America collectively lost its mind over this.

“We wouldn’t mind peaceful protests, just not like that. It was the wrong time and place. It was inappropriate. It was disrespectful. It was distracting.”

People are burning his jersey. Boycotting his team. Using his name as a swear word. He is vilified and called a disgrace. People are FURIOUS. But he did EXACTLY WHAT YOU SAID YOU WOULD BE TOTALLY FINE WITH.

Read the full thing. And other posts.

Soros is offering $500 million to save the Skittles

Here he is in the WSJ.

In response, I have decided to earmark $500 million for investments that specifically address the needs of migrants, refugees and host communities. I will invest in startups, established companies, social-impact initiatives and businesses founded by migrants and refugees themselves. Although my main concern is to help migrants and refugees arriving in Europe, I will be looking for good investment ideas that will benefit migrants all over the world.

If you don’t get the Skittles reference, then you missed the Twitter brouhaha of the last 24 hours. The Guardian’s round up is the appropriate level of introduction. But I’ll get you started:

screenshot-2016-09-20-11-11-02I will take a different tack than most, and say that Trump’s logic is valid, but his numbers are not. Probably it is more like one in ten thousand Skittles is poisonous, but for every twenty Skittles you eat a dying child lives. I will funnel Skittles for those odds.

Dani Rodrik on how and why we should roll back globalization

After Brexit and Trump, I expect more people will listen.

We must reassess the balance between national autonomy and economic globalization. Simply put, we have pushed economic globalization too far — toward an impractical version that we might call “hyperglobalization.”

The transition to hyperglobalization is associated with two events in particular: the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s decision in 1989 to remove all restrictions on cross-border financial flows, and the establishment in 1995, after almost a decade of negotiations, of the World Trade Organization, with wide-ranging implications for domestic health and safety rules, subsidies and industrial policies.

The new model of globalization stood priorities on their head, effectively putting democracy to work for the global economy, instead of the other way around. The elimination of barriers to trade and finance became an end in itself, rather than a means toward more fundamental economic and social goals. Societies were asked to subject domestic economies to the whims of global financial markets; sign investment treaties that created special rights for foreign companies; and reduce corporate and top income taxes to attract footloose corporations.

That is Dani Rodrik in the New York Times.

I am reminded of this EconTalk podcast with MIT’s David Autor, where he talks about his work on the impact of Chinese manufacturing on US workers.

I’m increasingly persuaded that the OECD, NAFTA, the WTO, and so forth, led to a much more rapid change in work and production than anticipated–too rapid for most workers to adjust to. The shift benefited some, especially the previously poor exporting countries, and wealthy white collar consumers like me. Meanwhile, we haven’t any good ways to compensate losers in this sudden shift. Not that they want to be compensated. For the most part they’d probably like to work.

I don’t object to the end state, I see a good argument for going more slowly. I don’t see very many policy prescriptions for doing so, at least ones that are wise to the fact that individual countries will always try to privilege themselves at the expense of their neighbors. I like Dani’s suggested directions. But I don’t see how any new set of rules or negotiations would tackle a fundamental problem: that those with power will use it to advantage themselves.

This is what I would do if I were graduating from my PhD today

In the 1960s, young PhD graduates interested in sub-Saharan Africa headed to the continent to teach and engage in academic life there. One of my PhD advisers, David Leonard, taught in Dar Es Salaam for a few years when it was the intellectual hub for emigres and revolutionaries and future Presidents. He went on to become a Professor at Berkeley. Two of my senior colleagues at Yale, David Apter and Bill Foltz, spent time working and teaching in Africa in the early years of Independence before going on to distinguished careers. I tried my best to soak up some of their stories before they passed away early into my time at Yale. It’s hard to imagine their later success without their early unorthodox choice.

When I graduated in 2007, this option was much less attractive. Most African countries were growing, but their universities struggled for a lack of funding, swollen student rolls, and discontent. Few universities seemed to be the sources of intellectual vibrancy in their country.

In Liberia, for example, the President’s office seemed more dynamic. In East Africa it was the newspapers where I thought the more vibrant work was going on. None were paths that fit for me. I figured I could do more good, for others but also for me, by taking a US post-doc and job and spending a few months a year abroad. But I missed my chance to immerse myself in a place. Visiting for weeks or even months was no substitute.

I’m happy to say that I think this is changing. Here is one example:

The African School of Economics (ASE) invites applications for postdoctoral fellowships starting in January and September 2017. Postdoctoral positions are contracted for a duration of 6 months to a year; appointments can be renewed for an additional semester or a year. Successful candidates will be required to teach at least one course and to engage in research activities in ASE’s research institutes (Institute for Research in Political Economy (IERPE) and Institute for Finance and Management (IFM)).

The ASE was started by Princeton political economist Leonard Wantchekon and strikes me as one of the more important educational experiments on the continent. I urge newly minted PhD students to apply.

And if you are a donor organization, I urge you to take a close look and consider fostering what I think will become the training ground for the continent’s 21st century leaders.

Q: “What did you learn today?” A: “I learned not to f*ck with a Google manager”.

Ali Afshar is a manager at Google, a physician, and a pretty heroic concerned citizen:

…when I saw a man in his twenties muttering to himself, handcuffed and surrounded by 4 white male police officers on El Camino, in Northern California. As a physician, I have a duty (shit, I swore an actual oath) to preserve the health of all humans. There was no way I was going to drive past this situation without making sure that guy was going to be fine.

As I pulled over to ask if the gentleman was OK, I was immediately threatened with a ticket for blocking traffic. I re-parked my car legally and returned. My exact words were “I want to help to make sure this guy is OK”. The officers were aggressive and angry, instantly.

“Show me your ID?”

“Why?”

“Show me your ID! You must obey an officer.”

“I haven’t done anything, I need to know he is OK, and I will be on my way”

“He is resisting arrest!” Shouted one of them.

“What?”

And before I knew it, I was face first on the sidewalk. I didn’t fight or protest or resist — I’m a nerdy non-violent type, and then things started to get really weird.

“He is fighting” one shouted as he planted his knee in my lumbar spine.

“I am not fighting, I am calm”

“He is resisting arrest!”

“No I am not”

They were running this weird fake dialog in the background.

“The ID looks fake” As he bent it and tried to scratch the numbers off of my CA driving license.

“Look it is bent”

“You just bent it”

“Definitely a fake ID, we have to take him in”

And then, weirdly someone grabbed my left middle finger and bent it back as far as it would go. Then my right ankle.

“Why would you bend my finger back?”

“Because you are resisting arrest.”

By now I am bleeding below my right eye (thanks for smacking my bespectacled eyes into the pavement) and my elbow has some road burn on it. I can’t move because of the pain in my lumbar spine and of course I have bilateral torn deltoids from cuffing procedure. I have not resisted or shown aggression in the slightest. It was obvious that there had been a collective decision to “teach this guy a lesson”…

“I hope you learned something today”

“Yes sir, I learned that everything I read and hear about the corrupt and criminal police departments in this country is fact. I have seen it for myself.”

Wrong answer, I guess, because he put me in the back of his car and started driving me to the police station.

“You are going to jail”.

“Why?”.

“Resisting arrest.”

“Arrest for what?”

“Disobeying an officer.”

“If you asked me to jump off a bridge do I have to do it?”

“Did I ask you to jump off of a bridge?”

Fair point I guess.

“Why can’t I just go home.”

“Because we have procedures, otherwise people will think we beat you for nothing.”

“So you admit you beat me for nothing?”

“No, that’s the procedure.”

“Have you seen the videos of police shooting black guys for no reason?”

“You shouldn’t believe everything you see on YouTube.”

“I want a lawyer.”

I was out within an hour. The best they could do was a citation for driving without a seat belt (in addition to resisting/delaying arrest). But only after I answered the question “what did you learn today?” with “I learned not to interfere with police business”.

Correct answer.

But you know what? Fuck you.

More from Ali. Hat tip @felipehoffa

This reminds me of a quote from a police officer I recently read (I wish I could remember where). He was bemoaning the fact that some people will not listen to him. If a criminal with a gun told you to to give him your wallet, he said, you would give him your wallet. Why wouldn’t you listen to a gun toting officer with just the same obedience.

To me there are a dozen ready answers, including “you are not a criminal”, “you defend the peace not command obedience from all citizens”, or “the fourth amendment”. But these are all things the police officer knows. But that police officer is safer, more comfortable, and convenienced by obedience, so not surprisingly desires it.

There might be something universal about the human condition going on here (the Standford prison experiments come to mind). But I don’t think the police in other developed countries are nearly as likely to expect and demand obedience. There’s an important difference in police culture. Also, in most of these countries you do not have concealed carry laws. The police here bear risks I can’t begin to imagine. I don’t pretend to know the answer.

I would welcome suggested readings or people to talk to. As it happens, figuring out the answer to this is the job of a friend and colleague of mine in Colombia. There is a reasonable chance that good ideas will be studied and implemented in major cities. I promise to pass along good recommendations.

The most interesting email I received today (and why I’m learning less than I used to)

From my email inbox this morning, one of my research assistants reports issues on a large field experiment and crime victimization survey I am running in Colombia:

In Santa Fe the prostitutes and transvestites haven’t let enumerators do the surveys. The survey firm is contacting two leaders of this transvestites community they have worked with before, but the leaders are currently outside Bogota, so the survey firm is waiting for their return on the next few days.

One of the things I enjoy about my work is collecting data on populations that few people have tried to survey. Often the problems are more harrowing, for the subjects and my staff. The emails from Colombia are considerably better than the ones I got accustomed to trying to track ex-combatants in Liberia (“The Land Cruiser fell through a bridge again, but fortunately no one was seriously hurt”), working with street youth (“some of the research subjects got so enthusiastic they decided to stop drugs, and so we’ve had to turn one of the vehicles into an ambulance”) or an African country not to be named (“Yesterday one of the field mangers was arrested by the secret police”).

One of the underappreciated aspects of running large surveys, and especially field experiments, is having to deal with entirely unexpected logistical and political and economic problems. I now miss the pre-teaching, pre-toddler days when I got to do most of this myself, rather than pay assistants to do the really hard work.

In retrospect, these everyday problems of running a project were the most educational part of my research. Everything I know about weak states, crime, and violence came not from surveying bureaucrats or criminals or victims, but navigating problems with them in an attempt to get the study done.

I’ve said this before: field experiments will have a huge effect on international development not because they will give us clean treatment effects, but because the act of doing difficult things in the real world will change the way academics think the world works, and what the real problems are.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Eviction

  • How We Undercounted Evictions By Asking The Wrong Questions is a good story about good data gathering in FiveThirtyEight, and how persistent enumerators learning to count evictions in Milwaukee changed the way government measures evictions.
    • The follow-up today (both around Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond’s work), looks at why there’s far less government assistance for paying rent than you’d expect, given that the poor spend an outsized portion of their income on rent.
    • The answer is in Planet Money’s episode from a few months back, explaining that in part, government housing assistance was originally designed as a subsidy for the construction industry, not to meet the needs of the poor.
  • Sri Lanka is being declared malaria-free. They’d been down to 17 cases in 1963, and had slowed down, but by 1969 were back up to 500,000 cases. The aggressive strategy that worked despite a prolonged war and evolving parasite resistance, involved testing anybody coming into clinics or getting blood drawn for any reason, and going door to door in high-risk areas. (Short version in the NYTimes, more detailed in Indian Express).
  • Incoming World Bank chief economist Paul Romer has a paper calling out the entire field of macroeconomics:

    For more than three decades, macroeconomics has gone backwards. The treatment of identification now is no more credible than in the early 1970s but escapes challenge because it is so much more opaque. Macroeconomic theorists dismiss mere facts by feigning an obtuse ignorance about such simple assertions as “tight monetary policy can cause a recession.” Their models attribute fluctuations in aggregate variables to imaginary causal forces that are not influenced by the action that any person takes. A parallel with string theory from physics hints at a general failure mode of science that is triggered when respect for highly regarded leaders evolves into a deference to authority that displaces objective fact from its position as the ultimate determinant of scientific truth.

Exegesis on the paper from Dan Drezner.

  • Oxfam is launching a blog series, Real Geek (it’s an acronym) on the technical side of evaluation, giving people a window into their internal conversations. Even the logo has unnecessary math.

And if you saw the XKCD visualization on global temps, there’s a tiny methodological footnote (we don’t have good data on pre-industrial era temp so that dotted line uses computer modeled data and looks smoother than it probably is). However, it’s still quite effective, below if you haven’t seen it:

From XKCD: "[After setting your car on fire] The car's temperature has changed before"

Photo above via Flickr/urbanbohemian

Easily the most interesting things I read and heard in the last 24 hours

In the past couple of days I have tentatively returned to reading Twitter, Facebook and Reddit and, tellingly, none of these finds came from any form of social media. The third find is by far the best.

  1. Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan on “Who Is Kim Jong-un?” I’ve been loving Nathan’s contributions to the NYRB.
  2. Samantha Power’s idealist manifesto for US foreign policy, also in the NYRB. She tries to set this up as the counter to Kissinger’s realist approach. I agree somewhat. The US government’s selective support for democracy, mainly when it’s convenient, undermines the moral status that most Americans think we have. Even so, I don’t think you can argue the idealist approach on self-interest alone, which is what Power tries to do. I think you probably need to argue the idealist approach on principle. Self-interest will not get you there. I hope Power or someone Power-like will write the idealist manifesto soon. This one was too short and wishful than factful but, more importantly, felt politically calculated. I look forward to the day when she says “f*ck it all” and tells us what she really thinks.
  3. Ezra Klein interviews Arlie Hochschild, a Berkeley sociologist. She spent months immersed in Tea Party and Trump culture in Lousiana, trying to bridge the gap in understanding and empathy. One of the most fascinating things I’ve listed to, and easily one of the most thoughtful discussions on American politics I’ve heard this year. I just bought her book, Strangers in Their Own Land. Some examples:
    • A conversation with a woman who explains that one of the reasons she loves Rush Limbaugh is that “he defends people like me”
    • The (less original insight) that the support is coming from people who (until recently) were in the demographic and moral and economic majority, and are seeing their position erode. This is not just emotionally hard, it feels demeaning. That provokes intense and powerful feelings.
    • Listening to people describe the feeling that they’ve been doing their best, and waiting in line for the American dream, and not only do they see other people (refugees, immigrants, young people) jumping the line, but the President is waving and smiling at the line jumpers, not helping the patient waiters. (and no, this is not necessarily the truth or the whole truth, but it’s the perceived truth, and that’s important to understand.

I am tempted to remain off Twitter so that I can engage more magazines, books, and podcasts. But I fear it will suck me in. Ezra Klein put it nicely, in another podcast I heard: humans seem to have become better at making habit forming things, and that the problem with Twitter is that it makes you feel the scarce resource is the tweets not your time. My first impressions from the return to social media is that the tweets are not worth the time, and that turning it off completely is the only real way to resist. We will see.

One more reason to be wistful of politics north of the border

In the midst of this US election season, I bring you the first and last time that Canada’s Rhinoceros Party was allowed to appear on national public broadcasting. Hat tip.

From Wikipedia, various elements of their platform over the years:

  • Providing higher education by building taller schools
  • Instituting English, French and illiteracy as Canada’s three official languages
  • The Queen of Canada would be seated in Buckingham, Quebec.
  • Rather than awarding money as prizes in the lottery, the winners would be appointed to the Canadian Senate.
  • Making the Trans-Canada Highway one way only.
  • Changing Canada’s currency to bubble gum, so it could be inflated or deflated at will.
  • Amending Canada’s Freedom of Information Act: “Nothing is free anymore; Canadians should have to pay for their information”.
  • Adopting the British system of driving on the left; this was to be gradually phased in over five years with large trucks and tractors first, then buses, eventually including small cars, and bicycles and wheelchairs last.

All the advice I have to give on how to do college right, whether you should go to grad school, where, and how to get in

It’s that time of year. Kids are starting college. Near graduates, terrified by the job market, are wondering whether they can just stay on for an MA. People who have been working for a few years have become wistful about going back for grad school. And many indulge dreams of starting a PhD.

Let’s start at the beginning, with 10 things not enough kids know about college, my post at Vox. There I tell you why you should to learn how write well, choose courses based on teachers not topics, and do more technical classes. But my most controversial point is don’t spend too much time on languages:

Languages are hugely important. And you should learn another (or many others) besides English. But I think they’re better learned in immersion, during your summers or before and after college. Maybe take an introductory course or two at university to get you started, or an advanced course or two to solidify what you already know, but only that.

Statistics are not more important than languages. But the opportunity cost of skipping a statistics course is high because it’s hard to find ways to learn statistics outside the university. Remember you only get 30 or 40 courses at university. There are a dozen other times and places you can learn a language. Arguably they’re better places to learn it too.

Related is how much economics should you study in college?

For people interested in professional careers in policy, I’ve recently updated this post on how to choose between Master’s programs. One of my favorite bits is this:

in the US I would be cautious with simple MA programs in political science and economics. These are usually money-making programs for the school and core faculty are seldom involved. There are exceptions, but I don’t know what ones are good or not. Since I’ve spent years teaching and on admissions committees at many good schools, that alone should tell you something about these MA programs.

Last, there are doctorates. I recently updated my PhD advice: Should you do a PhD, where, in what, and how to get admitted to a top school? Note this is mainly useful for people in my fields. Also, why you shouldn’t do field experiments for you dissertation.

I’m helping run admissions to the Chicago Harris PhD in Public Policy this year, so you will hear more from me on that. If you are interested in political economy of development, we aim to be the best. You can see some of the amazing action and people here. And we are recruiting some freaking amazing people right now. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, one of the weirdest things about my blog: the single most read post, visited by hundreds of people a day, every day (still!), is about when you’re too old for a PhD. I seem to have tapped into some deep well of angst on the Internet. And no, my answer is definitely not “you’re never too old.” This ain’t the Hallmark channel, people.

Finally, I give you the post that you could say started this blog: How to get a PhD and save the world. I’m still figuring that question out. Maybe the most important piece of advice: “Hang in there”:

In the first year of any grad program you will encounter a lot of required material that will feel too theoretical, too divorced from social change, and (occasionally) like too much nonsense. Much of it is good for you (see point 1), even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. After a year of metrics and micro theory, I was ready to run to the real world to do what I thought I really wanted to do. The best advice I ever got (from one of my pre-PhD advisers) was, “Shut up and hang in there; by your second to third year you will discover all the people doing interesting applied work soon enough and be free to work on whatever you want by your third year.” He was right.

Good luck.

Lessons from Francis Fukuyama in how to have real world impact

Joshua Yaffa has a good profile of two Ukrainian activists and journalists turned politicians–Mustafa Nayyem and Sergii Leshchenko–in The New Yorker. This bit jumped out at me:

After months of chaos, Nayyem was worn down, and in July, 2014, he left for California. He had been accepted into Stanford University’s annual summer course for activists, journalists, entrepreneurs, and government officials from around the world. (Leshchenko had attended the summer before.) The program is led by the political scientist Francis Fukuyama. “We teach them about the structures of democracy as if they were Stanford undergraduates—this is what different political systems look like, here is how you can effect political change,” Fukuyama told me. “Getting the dictator out is the easy part. The really difficult part is exercising power in a way that is legitimate and self-sustaining.” In Ukraine, he was certain, “unless you make that transition, the Maidan Revolution is going to fail, just as the Orange Revolution failed.”

Fukuyama urged Nayyem to go into politics, and introduced him to others who had made a similar transition. On his way back to Kiev, Nayyem stopped in Washington, and gave a talk at the National Endowment for Democracy. When asked whether he and others from Maidan were thinking of entering politics, he demurred, saying of Ukraine’s ruling class, “They will use us, but we don’t know how to use them.”

…When Nayyem returned to Kiev, he told Leshchenko about Fukuyama’s suggestion, and said that he was thinking of running for parliament. Leshchenko laughed, but in the coming days he and Nayyem talked about how the post-revolutionary rupture was likely to present a fleeting moment for outsiders to enter parliament—an opportunity that might never recur.

Links I liked

  1. Pranab Bardhan in the JEL on the State and development, where the subtitle is “The Need for a Reappraisal of the Current Literature
  2. Ikea “sells a set of its Billy bookcases every 10 seconds, and it’s said that one in 10 Europeans is conceived in an Ikea bed
  3. Sing Street is a very bad title for a very good movie: Irish kids start a band in the 80s, in The Commitments meet The Cure
  4. Mamdani on South Sudan
  5. And trust me, however much you may try, you cannot unsee this picture

14212602_1290471794317517_4397055322796769022_nI will not embarrass the sender by “thanking” them here.

What I’ve been reading

Not as much as you’d think, given my unplanned 6-week blogging break. Buying a home and moving a family is… intense. As I become a homeowner for the first time (after renting for 22 years) most of my reading has been appliance and repair manuals, plus houseware reviews on Amazon. But Chicago is wonderful and Hyde Park is the perfect fit. In the meantime, I have read a little.

  1. The Nix, by Nathan Hill. Hyped as one of the best books of 2016, it’s another cynical novel about a frustrated English professor at a small US college. (“Write what you know” at work?) If you like over-the-top stereotypes for your book characters, this is the novel for you. I’m reminded of the question I’ve been asking myself ever since I immigrated: “Why is sarcasm wielded like a heavy and blunt instrument in America?” I prefer a more subtle wit.
  2. The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America by Barry Latzer. A no nonsense review of crime patterns since the 1930s. Informative but not particularly engaging. I’m helping launch an international crime lab with JPAL, and I expect the book to help me fake expertise.
  3. Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan. A graphic novel that has been perfectly described as the intersection of The Watchmen and The West Wing. A slightly inept superhero removes his mask to run for Mayor of New York, edging out Bloomberg in the post 9/11 election to run the city 2002-05. Vaughan also wrote We Stand On Guard, not as good as Ex Machina, but it’s about the US invasion of Canada and the resulting insurgency. For someone like me it’s like watching your parents fight.
  4. Underground Airlines, by Ben Winters. The Crittenden Compromise of 1860 tried (unsuccessfully) to avoid the US Civil War by constitutionally enshrining slave holding in the South. What if it had been passed, say because Lincoln was assassinated before he could take office? That’s the premise of this alternate US history, telling the story of a black bounty hunter who returns escaped slaves to the industrial mills in the last four states to use slavery in the 21st century. The book is so good that it deserves a post of its own, and that is the main reason why months have gone by without me writing about it.
  5. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. Various excellent essays by the author of The Gin Closet. Chapter 6 is about her brother, and my coauthor, running a truly insane ultrarun through the wilds of Tennessee. Not a single mention of working on our paper during the trip, I note to myself privately.
  6. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. This would be a successful young adult book if it weren’t for the occasional raunchy sex scene. So think of it like Harry Potter for grownups, except Hogwarts is basically fighting MIT. If that sounds appealing to you then you will probably like this book.
  7. Please Like Me, Season 3. I was watching, not reading, what I still think is one of the best television shows out there, and perhaps my favorite comedy of all time. By and about a young Australian gay man, on romance, mental illness, and friendship. Subtle wit.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Jack Coleman

Above: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia Chair Jack Coleman

  • Yale economists Dean Karlan and Chris Udry are on the new episode of NPR’s Planet Money, “The Risk Farmers,” talking about the contest between them to figure out why farmers in sub-Saharan Africa don’t invest more into their fields. (Sadly the short version on Morning Edition doesn’t include the super dramatic farmer radio drama).
  • The remarkable life of Jack Coleman, labor economist at MIT and Carnegie Mellon, and later president of Haverford, who would take secret sabbaticals to work in blue collar jobs. He’s probably the only person who had to disappear from a sanitation worker job to chair Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia meetings.
  • This American Life’s follow-up show on life in Greek refugee camps is also nice, highlighting people getting on with their lives despite living in limbo.
  • Italy’s “Fertility Day” campaign to combat dwindling population by shaming women into having babies seems to have backfired.
  • Slides from Stata’s conference in July are up, with lots of how-tos to geek out on (h/t Julia Brown).
  • Want more links? David McKenzie’s got some great ones this week on the Development Impact Blog.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

DAHenderson

Econ blogger lifecycle (somebody catch Chris up when he comes back):

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Sting

  • After 50 years of conflict, the government of Colombia and the FARC have reached a peace agreement, but it needs to be ratified in a national referendum.
  • Why to test policies, pregnancy edition: In Australia, a ten-year program to discourage teen pregnancy by handing out expensive baby-simulating dolls (e.g. crying during the night) to girls had the opposite effect. The girls were tracked until they were twenty and more girls treatment group than the control group had gotten pregnant and had abortions. (Research article in The Lancet.)
  • You may be getting artificially low t statistics, because different Stata regression commands can handle standard errors differently. (See the response from Stata in the comments for which command to use when.)
  • File under the power of defaults: A paper finds that 20 percent of published findings involving genes have mistakes, because of Excel auto-formatting when thousands of values are copied from computer output into tables. As described in Slate:

SEPT2, short for Septin 2, to “2-Sep.” Likewise, MARCH1—aka Membrane-Associated Ring Finger (C3HC4) 1, E3 Ubiquitin Protein Ligase—is rendered as “1-Mar.”

  • Preregistration is being accepted for studies of the 2016 election data before they’re released. $2,000 prizes and arrangements with poly sci journals to accept the papers in advance based on the design, not results. (h/t Stephanie Wykstra)
  • Researchers played Muzak for Sting while an fMRI machine scanned his brain, for science. #GrantsThatGotFundedOtherThanYours

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Image Credit: 3ie

Image credit: 3ie

  • Academic types imagining a more #RealisticIndianaJones got it trending on twitter.
  • 3ie has updated their comprehensive database of published development impact evaluations and asked “Is impact evaluation still on the rise?” Looking at annual numbers of publications through the first 3 quarters of 2015, they may be leveling off.
  • A pretty harrowing account has come out of Juba from July 11th, when South Sudanese troops broke into a compound popular with foreign journalists and aid workers. They singled out Americans as an example, and raped, executed, and beat the people there. The U.N. peacekeeping force less than a mile away  ignored calls for help (as did the American embassy).
    • This comes after the U.N. peacekeeping force failed to protect a refugee camp in February from South Sudanese forces, resulting in 30 deaths and 123 injured.
    • And in July the peacekeepers did nothing as South Sundanese troops raped dozens of women nearby.

Ultimately, there seem to be few incentives for peacekeeping troops to actually keep peace, and few punishments for not doing anything.

  • Despite continuing dangers there, a large number of Indian businessmen have chosen to stay, refusing planes sent by the Indian government to take them out. Their interesting story here. (h/t Rachel Strohm).
  • Paper: Trying to replicate nearly all political science studies on comparative and international political economy from two journals, with a different way of dealing with missing data (multiple imputation instead of listwise deletion), makes key results disappear in nearly half the studies. (h/t Ryan Briggs)
  • How Honduras became a little bit safer.

And winner for scariest Pokémon picture:

 

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Operating room

  • Reason to test policies first, transplant edition: A study concludes that a Medicare policy change tying hospitals’ payments to surgical outcomes had an unintended consequence. After the regulation went into effect hospitals moved the most critical transplant patients off the waiting lists and discarded available organs that were less than perfect, presumably to avoid being penalized for a bad surgical outcome. (h/t Dina Pomeranz, as usual.)
  • In Science, a program that offered cash grants of about $1000 to people on the brink of homelessness who were facing a one-time crisis (such as a big medical bill) was very effective at keeping them off the streets two years later. The overall program cost was about $10,000 per case of homelessness averted (but could go lower with better targeting), compared to an estimated homelessness cost of $20,000 a year.
  • Psychologist Sanjay Srivastava has a syllabus for a course on current findings in replications called Everything is F**ked (it’s actually a good collection of papers).
  • Lashawn Richburg-Hayes & Nadine Deshausay of MDRC spoke with the Gov Innovator podcast about findings from a recent series of 15 RCTs with states using small behavioral nudges to improve human services. The interventions were generally cheap, such as a simple change in how information was presented. It’s a very short but fascinating interview; some of the findings and lessons are available here. In addition to the interventions themselves, the researchers also found a few interesting behavioral factors within the orgs:
    • Agencies tended to be biased towards adding information to forms (such as repeating legal disclosures), assuming more information is better. The research team explained that simplifying the forms makes it easier for people process and more likely to have the intended effect.
    • Lower-level agency employees would apply very strict interpretations of guidelines, often excluding beneficiaries, out of fear of getting in trouble. They found communicating the intent of the program from high levels to the front line employees freed them up to take more lenient interpretations, and ultimately help more people.
  • Steve Levitt asked people who were undecided about an important life decision (like leaving a job or relationship) to let him flip a virtual coin online to decide for them (done 20,000 times). Those who made the change were happier two and six months later. (Paper, Atlantic article).
  • The NYTimes Magazine has a big feature trying to understand what happened in the Middle East over the last 13 years, following six people from different regions.

From SMBC, if you’re going to have kids, have more than one (via David McKenzie):

SMBC: Game Theory Parenting

Photo credit above, Wikimedia commons

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

7-Eleven Delivery Vehicle

  • This American Life sent four people to explore refugee camps in Greece. They did a very nice job of explaining the bottlenecks in getting them settled.
  • Duncan Green and Mohga Kamal-Yanni write about a new paper from LSE anthropologist Tim Allen and LSHTM’s Melissa Parker, which is a more substantive contribution to the Worm Wars. In addition to reviewing the back and forth we all know, they discuss their and colleagues’ work going back to 2005, counting dewormed children in Uganda and Tanzania. They’ve found wide variation best summarized in a video interview (about 4:30 in), my rough transcription:

Rather than have a debate on the econometrics of a data set from the late 1990’s, let’s ask if children are actually receiving the medications? Have infection rates gone up or down, have school enrollment rates increased? There’s all sorts of work that could be done and remarkably, it’s not being done. We’ve collected data from a large number of schools in Tanzania and Uganda and the answer is that treatment in school is often much better than the general population, but it’s haphazard, sometimes the wrong drugs or wrong combination of drugs arrive. On average, about half the population of children get the tablets. If kids are going to be immediately reinfected, and we find they are, is it worth it? More importantly, the majority of children we’ve observed treated in schools since 2005 are being treated without them or their parents knowing why they’re receiving these tablets, or giving informed consent.

 

It’s a nice reminder that a good idea can have lots of variation in how it’s implemented and why data collection shouldn’t end with the RCT. It’s also worth noting these weren’t Deworm the World programs, and that GiveWell recently had another blog post explaining why they continue to recommend deworming & DtW as effective despite variation in estimates of the effects.

  • Landersø & Heckman have a paper on social mobility in Denmark vs. the U.S.:

Measured by income mobility, Denmark is a more mobile society, but not when measured by educational mobility. … Greater Danish income mobility is largely a consequence of redistributional  tax, transfer, and wage compression policies. While Danish social policies for children produce more favorable cognitive test scores for disadvantaged children, these do not translate into more favorable educational outcomes, partly because of disincentives to acquire education arising from the redistributional policies that increase income mobility.

In other words, Denmark has more income mobility because of taxes and transfers, but not more educational mobility. Poor kids still don’t go to college and get better jobs than their parents, they’re just less poor. More from Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.

And the next center for innovative disruption (h/t Loïc Watine):

 

Photo credit: Flickr/solmarch.