Phantom poll changes

From Benjamin Lauderdale and Doug Rivers writing at YouGov:

We believe that most of the bounces seen in surveys this year represent sampling noise that can be reduced or eliminated by adopting by better statistical methodology. We risk a repetition of 2012 where polling swings were largely statistical mirages. The convention and first debate bounces in 2012 were mostly the consequence of transitory variations in response rates. Fewer voters were changing their minds than were changing their inclination to respond to surveys.

Most telephone polls use independent samples, so the respondents in one week’s poll are different from those in another week’s. This makes it impossible to distinguish change in individual vote intentions from changes in sample composition from week to week. It is possible that five percent of the electorate switched from Clinton to Trump over the past week (decreasing Clinton’s lead by 10 points). But it’s also possible that nobody switched and apparent swings are due to differences in sample composition.

YouGov draws its samples from a large panel of respondents. In most of our polls, there is little overlap from one sample to another. However, sometimes the same respondents are recontacted to see whether their opinions have changed. For example, after the first presidential debate in September, we reinterviewed 2,132 people who had told us their vote intentions a month before. 95 percent of the September Clinton supporters said they intended to vote for her. None of them said they intended to vote for Donald Trump, but five percent said they were now undecided, would vote for a third party candidate, or would not vote. Of the Trump supporters, only 91 percent said they were still planning on voting for Trump. Five percent moved to undecided, one percent to Clinton, and the rest to third party candidates or not voting. The net effect was to increase Clinton’s lead by almost four points. That was real change, though significantly less that the ten point change to Clinton’s lead seen in some polls.

Other events, however, have not had any detectable impact on voting intentions. We did not see any shifts after the release of the Access Hollywood video, the second or third presidential debates, or the reopening of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails. When the same people were reinterviewed, almost all said they were supporting the same candidate they had told us they were supporting in prior interviews. The small number who did change their voting intentions shifted about evenly toward Clinton and Trump so the net real change was close to zero.

Although we didn’t find much vote switching, we did notice a different type of change: the willingness of Clinton and Trump supporters to participate in our polls varied by a significant amount depending upon what was happening at the time of the poll: when things are going badly for a candidate, their supporters tend to stop participating in polls. For example, after the release of the Access Hollywood video, Trump supporters were four percent less likely than Clinton supporters to participate in our poll. The same phenomenon occurred this weekend for Clinton supporters after the announcement of the FBI investigation: Clinton supporters responded at a three percent lower rate than Trump supporters (who could finally take a survey about a subject they liked).

The bolded italics are theirs.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

So when we moved to Cincinnati, we got the cheapest apartment we could find. It was the lowest apartment in the building, and we got hit by a summer storm. So what didn’t get destroyed by water got destroyed by mold. And I was, I think, seven and a half months pregnant, eight months pregnant at the time.

So I was calling every charity I could, thinking, I just need a chair. For – for whatever reason in my head, if I could just get a chair, then everything else would be fine. But I needed a place to sit. I, I got in touch with one charity who said, yeah, you can come and pick up a chair but we’re gonna need you to go to a resume-writing class. And I said, “For what?” and they said, “Well, because we need you to be looking for work and trying to better your situation; we don’t just give charity to just anybody. We need to make sure that you’re, you know, invested, you got some skin in the game.” And I said, “Okay, when is the resume-writing class?” And he gave me two different times. And I said, “Well, I have to be at work at both of those times.” And they said, “Well, if you want the charity you have to show up to the class.” And I was like, “If I come to the class I’ll get fired.” And this woman was telling me how I really needed to learn to write my resume so that I could find gainful employment, so that I could get the stupid chair that was probably worth five bucks.

That is what personal responsibility means to somebody on welfare. It means here are these stupid hoops that we’re gonna make you jump through and then we’re going to give you a solution that absolutely won’t work for you. It’s that kind of just over and over beating your head against these ridiculous regulations and these double-blinds that don’t make any sense. And the whole thing is set up specifically to humiliate you as much as possible because what we need poor people to do in America more than anything else in the world is know their place.

  • That from an amazing series busting myths about poverty in America from On The Media. The series goes into the many double binds the poor are often put in to get themselves out of poverty, because of societal myths about the causes of poverty. They also show how media portrayals of the poor can be driven by reporters searching for confirmatory stories to play to their audiences, typically focusing on the personal qualities of the individual, rather than circumstances they’ve been put in.
  • Zimbabwe is becoming a cashless economy because they don’t have cash.
  • A good primer from Planet Money on what happened to Venezuela’s economy (Shorter version here, Even shorter version: dependent on oil, imported lots, and spent oil profits on social programs. When things went bad, they pegged the currency to dollar, which the government controlled access to which means scarce everything.)
  • The U.N. fired the head of its South Sudan peacekeeping operation following a report documenting failures to help when local troops broke into a compound housing foreign aid workers, torturing and raping there.
  • Why the U.N. keeps repeating a misleading statistic that 75 percent of Liberian women were raped.
  • A story circulated this week about a medical study of male injectable birth control being stopped because men couldn’t handle side effects that sounded similar to those of female birth control. The “Men are wusses” story was more hasty science reporting. Vox pointed out if the reporters had dug a little deeper they would have found that most men wanted to continue the study but a safety monitoring panel stopped it because:

The 320 men who participated in the research reported a whopping 1,491 adverse events, and the researchers running the trial determined that 900 of these events were caused by the injectable contraceptive.

My favorite of this past weeks’ #EconoPumpkin entries



This is not the academic job market advice on the Harvard economics web page


I reprint Pam Jakiela’s advice in full. She was the first person I sat next to in grad school. Read it and you will see why she became, and remains, one of my favorite people. If you are interested, Pam’s research is here.

I’ve been working on a general job market advice page for Chicago students (and you) and all of the major advice you will find on the Internet skirt around the issue that Pam does not.

Academic Job Market Advice for PhD Students in Economics

  1. The most important thing is your job market paper.  All the time you spend agonizing over what you should wear, etc., has an opportunity cost.  Focus on your research.  Be excited about your research.  This is why people will want to hire you (even when they don’t fully understand what your research is about).
  2. You will inevitably encounter a number of situations where older professors will try to explain what is wrong with your research during your job talk.  The people who interrupt you may or may not have any idea what they are talking about.  It is important that you are firm in your replies, but you should make sure that you show senior faculty sufficient respect.  Ideally, you should write each of them a personal thank you email after your talk.  Their feedback is valuable, and rudeness in seminars is an important part of our field’s unique culture.
  3. Do not, under any circumstances, do anything to suggest that you would ever consider compromising your career in any way to improve your quality of life or enable you to live with a spouse or partner.  Remember:  you are getting hired to be a researcher, you aren’t getting hired to be a human being!  Ideally, even your advisers should not know whether or not you have any friends or family outside of the office, or even whether you have left the economics building since you started your PhD.
  4. At smaller departments, it can be good to signal that you would be a good “fit” by discussing common interests – for example, economics.  On some occasions, faculty members may bring their wives to the seminar dinner.  It is ideal to show that you have common interests with them, as well – e.g. baking.  However, you should make sure it is clear that economics takes precedence.  For example, you might explain that you enjoy baking (who doesn’t?), but lately you have only been baking to relieve the stress of the job market.
  5. Wear comfortable clothing.  Campus visits are long days, and often involve a lot of walking.  In many parts of the country, the weather will be almost unbearably cold during the flyout season.  You may quickly come to regret the decision to wear high heels and stockings.  Comfortable, dressy (but not overly feminine) boots and pants suits are ideal.

Special Advice for Male Students on the Job Market*

* NOTE:  since I am not a man, I can never totally understand the particular experience of male students.  Though I am not a male economist, I’ve talked with several male economists about their experiences.  These suggestions are intended to be helpful and supportive.

  1. Number #1 applies to you, too:  research is paramount.  Fortunately, if you are a male in the economics profession, it has probably never occurred to you to spend time thinking about clothes or really anything other than economics.

  2. Number #2 is less likely to apply to you, but most male students do have some uncomfortable seminar experiences – remember, not all victims of mansplaining are female!  Be firm in your replies.  Anything short of throwing the laser pointer at someone is considered acceptable seminar behavior.

  3. Unfortunately, Number #3 goes for you, too, male economists:  it is fine to reveal the fact that you have a spouse and/or children as long as it is clear that they don’t take priority over your research.  Inexplicably, it will somehow be understood that you will accept your best job offer regardless of the prospects for your spouse’s employment.

  4. At smaller or more rural departments, it can be helpful to discuss common interests that you might share with senior faculty – for example, man caves, football statistics, and the latest in facial hair removal technology (admittedly, I am just speculating here).

  5. Who are we kidding?  Almost all dress shoes made for men are perfectly comfortable because… well, because that’s the way the world works.  Nonetheless, I would seriously suggest that male economists think twice before deciding to wear heels and stockings during a flyout.  We’re making progress as a society and a profession, but I’m not sure we’re there yet.

I asked, via Twitter, what other advice posts (and advice) my colleagues had to offer to job market candidates who are not in the white, male majority. The helpful pointers outweighed the range of… other reactions to my request. But while I got a LOT of advice, there were relatively few online write-ups of advice for academics. Hence my extra love for Pam’s post.

Even so, here are the online materials they suggested. Other suggestions welcome, by email or in the comments below.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Berhanu Nega

  • A profile of a former Bucknell professor of African development economics who now leads an Ethiopian rebel army. He may be more qualified than most rebel leaders to comment on what he sees as the illusion of a decade of 11 percent annual economic growth in the country:

Nega insists that Ethiopia has “cooked the books,” and that its growth rate is largely attributable to huge infrastructure projects and Western development aid, with little contribution from the private sector. “The World Bank is throwing money at Ethiopia like there’s no tomorrow,” he told me. The actual growth rate, he insists, is closer to 5 to 6 percent — per capita income is still among the lowest in the world — and the weakness of the country’s institutions will mean that even this rate cannot be sustained.

  • A Dutch company stopped its bikes from being damaged in shipping by putting pictures of flat screen TVs on the boxes.
    • And if you haven’t seen it, how that country stops bikers from being hit by car doors opening by teaching drivers the “Dutch reach,” (opening your car door by reaching across your body with the opposite arm, forcing you to turn and look behind you).
  • Two papers from a larger study on education in Kenya focusing on what keeps kids in school:
    • David Evans summarizes one which used qualitative methods to supplement the quant findings on why so many kids end up dropping out.
      • It’s typically the kid’s decision, not the parents’.
      • They point out that often it’s what happens before the study began which puts them on the dropout trajectory. The low level the kids were starting from means they can’t keep up with the class, which is demoralizing.
      • There are still costs associated with “free” schooling
    • Co-author Matthew Jukes discusses one intervention that reduced dropouts by 50 percent: teacher support via text messages.
      • It’s noteworthy that another sensible-sounding intervention, pairing up 6th-grade and 3rd-grade kids to read with them twice a week, didn’t improve reading for either group of kids.
  • David has another good blog post on what works in education.
  • The Development Impact Blog is once again offering Ph.D. students on the job market an opportunity to blog your job market paper.
  • Seven tips for Master’s students who want to go into development (h/t Duncan Green).

Don’t forget to carve your #EconoPumpkin, but looks like we’re out of luck for Halloween costumes once again:



“How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind”

That is David Wong’s title, not mine, and he offers the most vivid, relatable account of the Trump phenomenon I’ve seen. It is hard to pick excerpts and should be read in full. But here are bits:

If you don’t live in one of these small towns, you can’t understand the hopelessness. The vast majority of possible careers involve moving to the city, and around every city is now a hundred-foot wall called “Cost of Living.” Let’s say you’re a smart kid making $8 an hour at Walgreen’s and aspire to greater things. Fine, get ready to move yourself and your new baby into a 700-square-foot apartment for $1,200 a month, and to then pay double what you’re paying now for utilities, groceries, and babysitters. Unless, of course, you’re planning to move to one of “those” neighborhoods (hope you like being set on fire!).

In a city, you can plausibly aspire to start a band, or become an actor, or get a medical degree. You can actually have dreams. In a small town, there may be no venues for performing arts aside from country music bars and churches. There may only be two doctors in town — aspiring to that job means waiting for one of them to retire or die. You open the classifieds and all of the job listings will be for fast food or convenience stores. The “downtown” is just the corpses of mom and pop stores left shattered in Walmart’s blast crater, the “suburbs” are trailer parks. There are parts of these towns that look post-apocalyptic.

I’m telling you, the hopelessness eats you alive.

…”But Trump is objectively a piece of shit!” you say. “He insults people, he objectifies women, and cheats whenever possible! And he’s not an everyman; he’s a smarmy, arrogant billionaire!”

Wait, are you talking about Donald Trump, or this guy:


You’ve never rooted for somebody like that? Someone powerful who gives your enemies the insults they deserve? Somebody with big fun appetites who screws up just enough to make them relatable? Like Dr. House or Walter White? Or any of the several million renegade cop characters who can break all the rules because they get shit done? Who only get shit done because they don’t care about the rules?

Links I liked

  1. A list of some of the most spectacular Reddit posts of all time (with emphasis on the word spectacle)
  2. The New York Times giving us the naked truth on our Germanic friends: “Germans, known to credit oddly specific activities with salubrious effects (e.g. walking barefoot through damp grass), retain an atavistic faith in the advantages of full-body sun exposure, which was prescribed to tuberculosis patients in the late 19th century.”
  3. If you ever drink bottled water, read this (yes it will make you feel bad about yourself)
  4. An adjunct professor uses the occasion of his award speech to lambast the profession for exploiting adjuncts. As someone who studies sweatshop workers in Africa, I am hesitant to toss the word exploited around lightly, especially when it comes to some of the most highly educated people in the world. I am inclined to think and write more about this. It seems to me that simple supply and demand can get us pretty far towards an explanation, but not all the way. Is there any systematic economic analysis people have seen of the adjunct market and why the price/quantity relationship stands where it is?

At least a little good news this election season

Political scientists have worried that fewer women enter politics because they are subtly or overtly discouraged. One study suggests this might not be the problem.

Do electoral gatekeepers routinely discourage women from running for office? Through an audit experiment with 8,189 public officials, we examine whether (hypothetical) male and female students who express interest in political careers receive differential encouragement from electoral gatekeepers. We report three striking findings. First, emails sent by female students were more likely to receive a response than those sent by male students, especially when the official was male. Second, the responses women received were as likely to be long, thoughtful, and contain an offer of help as those to men. Third, there were no partisan differences in responsiveness to male or female senders. Examining senders with Hispanic last names bolsters the credibility of the results: Hispanic senders, especially men, were less likely to receive a quality response than non-Hispanic senders. These findings suggest that unequal encouragement by public officials is not a likely culprit of women’s under-representation in politics.

Joshua Kalla, Frances Rosenbluth, and Dawn Teele

If you’re a glass is half empty person, I guess you could say “so basically we still have a major gender imbalnce except now we don;t even have a good explanation and are back to square one”.

A former Wikileaks insider on Julian Assange

Fascinating article by James Ball, who used to work for Assange at Wikileaks:

There are few limits to how far Assange will go to try to control those around him. Those working at WikiLeaks – a radical transparency organisation based on the idea that all power must be accountable – were asked to sign a sweeping nondisclosure agreement covering all conversations, conduct, and material, with Assange having sole power over disclosure. The penalty for noncompliance was £12 million.

I refused to sign the document, which was sprung on me on what was supposed to be a short trip to a country house used by WikiLeaks. The others present – all of whom had signed without reading – then alternately pressured, cajoled, persuaded, charmed and pestered me to sign it, alone and in groups, until well past 4am.

Given how remote the house was, there was no prospect of leaving. I stayed the night, only to be woken very early by Assange, sitting on my bed, prodding me in the face with a stuffed giraffe, immediately once again pressuring me to sign. It was two hours later before I could get Assange off the bed so I could (finally) get some pants on, and many hours more until I managed to leave the house without signing the ridiculous contract. An apologetic staffer present for the farce later admitted they’d been under orders to “psychologically pressure” me until I signed.

And once you have fallen foul of Assange — challenged him too openly, criticised him in public, not toed the line loyally enough — you are done. There is no such thing as honest disagreement, no such thing as a loyal opposition differing on a policy or political stance.
To criticise Assange is to be a careerist, to sell your soul for power or advantage, to be a spy or an informer. To save readers a Google search or two, he would tell you I was in WikiLeaks as an “intern” for a period of “weeks”, and during that time acted as a mole for The Guardian, stole documents, and had potential ties to MI5. Compared to some who’ve criticised Assange, I got off fairly lightly.

Those who have faced the greatest torments are, of course, the two women who accused Assange of sexual offences in Sweden in the summer of 2010. The details of what happened over those few days remain a matter for the Swedish justice system, not speculation, but having seen and heard Assange and those around him discuss the case, having read out the court documents, and having followed the extradition case in the UK all the way to the supreme court, I can say it is a real, complicated sexual assault and rape case. It is no CIA smear, and it relates to Assange’s role at WikiLeaks only in that his work there is how they met.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • I’m going to pitch Netflix a superhero show based loosely on David Evans, whose superpower is the ability to summarize large numbers of papers in a very readable way, this week it’s 34 papers on education (incentives, teacher training, technology and more).
  • Giving scientists money to bet on which studies will replicate predicts the ones that will 71 percent of the time. The Social Science Replication Project is recruiting new researchers to gamble on replications of 21 experimental studies published in Nature and Science (deadline Oct 31).
  • Bentzen, Kaarsen, & Wingender paper, Irrigation and Autocracy:

“We find that countries whose agriculture depended on irrigation are about six points less democratic on the 21-point polity2 scale than countries where agriculture has been rainfed. We find qualitatively similar results across regions within countries. We argue that the effect has historical origins: irrigation allowed landed elites in arid areas to monopolize water and arable land. This made elites more powerful and better able to oppose democratization. Consistent with this conjecture, we show that irrigation dependence predicts land inequality both at the country level, and in premodern societies surveyed by ethnographers.”

Full paper in the Journal of the European Economic Association (ungated PDF here)

  • Bloomberg has a piece about the promise and difficulties of behavioral economics for designing financial products that promote savings for people in the cash economy. It’s a frank look at some of the challenges of a pilot from Jonathan Zinman of Dartmouth with Dean Karlan nudging Bronx check cashing customers to open savings accounts.
  • Price discrimination by algorithm from ProPublica. For SAT prep class pricing:

Consider the difference between two ZIP codes with similar incomes in Texas. In Houston’s ZIP code 77072, with a relatively large Asian population, the Princeton Review course was offered for $7,200. While in Dallas’ ZIP code 75203, with almost no Asians, the course was offered for $6,600. And in heavily Asian, low-income Queens ZIP code 11355, the course was offered for $8,400.

Links I liked

  1. I learned a lot about the art of politics by listening to three podcasts this week: Ezra Klein interviewing Francis Fukuyama, his interview with journalist Jonathan Cohn, and the Weeds podcast discussing the debates (and note that my initial reaction was “how could I possibly hear something new and important about politics from ANOTHER debates discussion)
  2. The political power of black women
  3. Keith Head’s research advice (for economists but relevant for any applied empirical researcher_)
  4. Besley and Ghatak on intrinsic motivation
  5. From @KFILE, a reminder how Trump reacted to Obama’s 2012 victory:


The hidden price of risky research

My rapist was not Mr. Z but a member of his innermost circle — his “money collector.” I hardly knew my rapist; I did not even know his name. He was the tall, wiry guy I had eaten dinner with many times, let into the house, and would greet on the street. Before that night, I had written four unremarkable sentences about him in my field notes. Then one evening Mr. Z invited me to have dinner with him and his friends — a fieldwork opportunity I always accepted. Because he had other plans later, he asked the money collector to take me home, where he then raped me. Mr. Z was as much of a gatekeeper in my fieldwork as he was in my rape: The rapist was Mr. Z’s friend and subordinate, and it happened under his roof and watch that night. What happened to me was an ordinary acquaintance rape of extraordinary circumstances.

In the immediate days that followed, it is not an exaggeration to say that I feared for my life. With one unforeseen event, a situation that had felt fairly safe rapidly escalated into dangerous. For more reasons than one, I did not involve the police: In a country with an astonishingly high rate of rape and a notoriously corrupt police force, I did not believe the police (even with the involvement of the U.S. embassy) would protect me. Nor would the criminal-justice system deliver me meaningful justice.

Instead I turned to Mr. Z, who governed this world. I wanted him to know what the money collector had done, and I needed to inoculate any threat I presented, as I was no longer his houseguest but the raped American researcher. Although he expressed some sympathy, his allegiances were with his money collector. We tacitly agreed that I wouldn’t pursue charges and he wouldn’t harm me.

Having completed a significant amount of research, I could have abruptly ended my fieldwork. Instead, I chose to take a leave and later returned to finish what I had started. I refused to allow my rapist to take my fieldwork after already taking my body.

In The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart, Ruth Behar quotes Clifford Geertz: “You don’t exactly penetrate another culture, as the masculinist image would have it. You put yourself in its way and it bodies forth and enmeshes you.” This is my story about rape, but it is more than that, too.

Full piece, by Mingwei Huang. Hat tip @kcroninfurman

Here is another bit:

When ethnographers can access and immerse themselves in worlds unknown, such as illicit ones, their work is valued and rewarded. Within the academic version of celebrity, the risk-taking, intrepid, normatively white and male ethnographer is a star. The price that many ethnographers pay in pursuing their fieldwork is not always recognized, and rape carries a particular stigma.

I agree the risks are particularly high for women, because of rape, but it’s worth saying that youth, inexperience, and peer pressure also drive broader set of field work risks, risks that few of us as graduate students were prepared for.

I have not only felt these myself (when, as PhD students pursuing their dissertation, my wife and I camped in displacement camps with active rebels around) but even more acutely when I hire young research assistants and surveyors. The risk their home is invaded by criminals (happened, fortunately non-violently); the risk that someone breaks an ankle on slippery motorbike paths through the jungle (also happened); a mugging gone awry (also happened, fortunately resulting only in minor injury). Nothing more serious has happened on my projects so far. Partly this is because precautions I insist on. Partly because I’ve pulled out of working in some countries for reasons like these. But partly it’s also luck.

It’s surprising how little we talk about these risks, even when  those of us who work in dangerous places gather for drinks. People exchange advice, especially about health risks—where to go for emergency malaria treatment, warnings not to take the motorbike taxis, and so forth. But my hunch is that machoism keeps us from talking about the security concerns, rape included.

Bleg: Best academic job market advice and resources?

I’m putting together a set of resources for Harris PhDs, and I know some of the good stuff out there, but probably not as much as my readers.

In addition to economics and political science market advice, pointers to job advice for other professional schools (education, public health, law) are welcome.

Also welcome is advice on non-academic positions: consulting, government, beltway bandits, etc.

Or, if you have original advice to offer, please add to the comments or email me.

In addition to advice, please point me to (or share) templates for submission materials, examples of web pages, etc.

The comments section to this post will hopefully become a useful resource, and I will integrate what I find into my job market and other advice posts (at right), as a public good for all.

Sweatshops probably do not have the effect on workers you think they have

Every now and then, we remember that there are poor people in the world, and sweatshops become news. Jonah Peretti — the click-accumulating mastermind behind The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed — got his start in viral journalism 15 years ago by baiting Nike with a chain of witty emails requesting that his personalisable Nike trainers be emblazoned with the word SWEATSHOP.

Peretti having moved on to grander projects, the stage storyteller Mike Daisey picked up the baton, delivering a riveting monologue, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”. It was about Daisey’s heroic unmasking of appalling working conditions in the Chinese factories that make iPads. It made compelling radio when This American Life aired it in 2012. It was even more compelling when This American Life retracted the episode shortly afterwards. Ira Glass, the show’s host, wrote: “Daisey lied to me.”

Economics, of course, offers a less click-worthy perspective. We shouldn’t be surprised if people making sneakers and iPads are paid badly to do tough, hazardous work, because they live in countries where such work is everywhere. And since people are moving away from grinding and precarious rural poverty to work in these grim factories, perhaps they see them as an improvement? The pithiest account of this view comes from the great 20th-century Cambridge economist Joan Robinson: “The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all.

That’s Tim Harford in the FT, beginning his discussion of my sweatshops study with Stefan Dercon. In case FT is gated, I’ve got a short results summary and of course an academic paper.

The short answer: young people are using these jobs as fallback positions when their better but less formal opportunities don’t work out. But these jobs carried big health risks, so much so that for every month in a job, 1 in 100 complained about a serious health problem, even months after most had quit the unpleasant work.

Happy 9th blogiversary!

research-paper-vs-internet-comicSunday marked 9 years of blogging. This year, more than any other, I blogged in fits and starts. Every year I post this Asher Sarlin cartoon, as the best explanation for the blog’s long lifespan. This year was different. Some idle musings:

  • I remember Dani Rodrik leaving his blog because it crowded out his time to think and write more deeply. I have started to feel that pinch. I’ve been thinking about switching research directions, and taking on some new topics, and it’s hard to imagine doing that and blogging at the same time.
  • Leaving social media for a month or two this summer was healthy. I think I will try it again soon, maybe more permanently. I’m going to see if post-election social media becomes informative and diverse again. If not I’m done. But leaving social media also gave me less stuff to browse and link to. A blog needs a pipeline of material. It’s a hard decision.
  • On the days I think “Maybe I’m done at last,” a few things keep me blogging, some selfish, some not. And it’s not at all dinosaurs, cakes, and bikinis.
    • The blog has been around long enough that I now meet assistant professors, or reasonably senior public officials, who thank me for the advice posts, and talk about how helpful they were early in their careers. This could not make me happier. I take mentoring and advising seriously and if all I did was help people find more happiness in science and public service then it’s all worth it.
    • Selfishly, I must admit, the blog has brought me more research grants, more paper citations, and more opportunities than maybe anything else I have done. On the surface the blog has always taken time away from other work. But indirectly it’s enhanced all my research. That’s hard to give up.
    • One of these days I would really like to write a book, and focus more on writing for news outlets. Not now. I’ll probably have to give up much of my blogging to find the time. But the path from here to there certainly lies through keeping up the discipline of regular blogging.

Forgive the spotty on-and-off blogging in the meantime, and see you in a year for the big 10.

There aren’t many times I can say “I haven’t seen this point made in all the Trump coverage” but for me this is one of them


A Democrat looking at the above might expect any self-respecting Republican to distance him or herself from Trump. You can understand why someone running for the House doesn’t do so (they need those votes) but why don’t more leaders or more voters turn away? “Why do 40% of voters resolutely stick by Trump with their vote?”, I hear my friends say.

It’s one thing to respond “over the issues,” but to put it in slightly more personal terms, I’ve been asking friends and family the last few days this question: “What could Clinton possibly do that would make you stay home, let alone vote for Trump?” (And for the people who say Trump is an exception, just substitute “George W. Bush” and pretend this was your choice.)

The answer so far: not much.

Imagine, for example, the power couple in Netflix’s House of Cards, who make it to the White House through years of murder and deception and scandals suppressed, but who have a sincere commitment to the issues. Imagine that were Hillary and Bill’s story, and it all came out this week: the hints of sinister murders and drug use and conniving. But still, no dent in the chances Hillary nominates a liberal supreme court judge, or pushes for climate change measures, or treats the 11 million illegals in the country in a humane way.

What I want to ask people is: Would you vote Trump, or even stay home and let Trump win in your state? For committed Democrats, I’m betting the crimes would have to be incredibly bad, and the proof incontrovertible. And the social media bubble would have to stick those unpleasant truths in your face rather than sow doubt about the truth or seriousness of any accusations.

Bizarrely, this makes me feel better about my country. You can look at your fellow Americans and not say “what a bunch of deplorables!”, but instead see a group of people who have a deep commitment to a set of principles and issues, and think their chances are better with Trump than Clinton, however much they might dislike him. These are largely people who will vote for Trump despite not because of his worst behaviors and statements. My point is that most Clinton supporters would do the same.

Links I liked

  1. Wikipedia reduces ideological segregation
  2. A great NYRB review of various books on the Panama papers
  3. The Metaketa initiative at EGAP funds evaluations of similar programs, providing a degree of simultaneous replication, and they have a new round of research grants for building trusted and effective security forces
  4. And these comments from Max Fisher, commenting on the following tweet:

This is the most under-reported conflict in the world right now

Just three days earlier, a stampede at a religious festival in Bishoftu, a town south of the capital, had resulted in at least 52 deaths. Mass protests followed. Opposition leaders blamed the fatalities on federal security forces that arrived to police anti-government demonstrations accompanying the event. Some called the incident a “massacre”, claiming far higher numbers of dead than officials admitted. Unrest billowed across the country.

From The Economist. The political unrest in Ethiopia strikes me as one of the more under-reported events of the year. It’s the 13th largest country in the world by population, the second largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa if you ignore oil and gas, a key US ally in regional conflicts (Somalia but perhaps also Yemen), a growing source of imported manufactures to Europe, a popular destination for Asian investment dollars, and a major country in the World Bank’s lending portfolio.

As autocratic regimes go, it is more stable than some. When Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died in 2012, the world barely noticed, because the political system had a a process and qualified party man to replace him. How many countries could do the same, especially in sub-Saharan Africa?

This goes to show the extent to which power in Ethiopia is institutionalized in a ruling party, not a strongman, and how important that institutionalization is for a country to have stable growth (autocratic or not). When talking about autocracies, journalists and academics often overlook this quality.

That said, Ethiopia also has some hallmarks of instability, especially the fact that the ruling party is dominated by a small ethnic minority, ex-rebel leaders from the northern Tigray region. As risk factors go, ethnic minority rule is one of the strongest predictors of some kind of state failure.

At the same time, my hunch is that being a nascent industrial producer will reduce the chances of conflict. In Kenya, for instance, the 2007 election violence led to a huge push from capitalists (domestic and foreign) to tamp down future instability. Industrial production is often so productive that even a small sector accounts for a huge amount of national wealth. And that production is way more sensitive to political instability than most resource and commodity production.

This should give Ethiopia’s government an added incentive to find a peaceful solution, especially to the extent that the party and elites are invested in the industrial sector or the local property market. The Economist article hints at the role industry is playing:

The government is rattled by the prospect of capital flight. An American-owned flower farm recently pulled out, and it fears others may follow. After almost a week of silence, the state-of-emergency law was a belated attempt to reassure foreign investors, who have hitherto been impressed by the economy’s rapid growth, that the government has security under control.

I have been running a study of industrial workers in Ethiopia for several years, but I’m fairly ignorant about party politics and the roots of the conflict. If I were reporting on this, here’s what I would want to investigate: How removed and insulated are the party elites from the economic consequences of war? How much do the opposition leaders (and armed leaders) think about these economic pain points, and are they thinking strategically about using them? How chunky is political power, and can the ruling party credibly share a little more power, to broaden the ethnic coalition just enough to stave off war?

There must be Ethiopia experts who can correct any misconceptions I have.