IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Brazil Pope Stamp

  • Thomas Schelling, the Nobel laureate known for his work applying game theory to strategy died this week. Obituary in the New York Times. When he got the prize in 2005, Tyler Cowen listed these six major areas to which he contributed (even more from Cowen here).
  • One of my new favorite podcasts is “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” from the New York Times and Stephen Dubner. A panel of smart people (often a mix of academics, writers, and comedians) judge a (prescreened) audience of smart people who come prepared with an interesting fact. Mostly though, it’s a fun time listening to smart funny people be surprised and learn new things. (iTunes)
    • Another really good podcast was Cowen’s interview with Harvard anthropologist Joseph Henrich who has tested predictions of psychology and economics in small-scale societies around the world (spoiler alert, Americans are different from everybody). His larger current work is on how societies evolve over time. He talks about how cultural factors like developing the ability to offload information from memory into writing affect our biology and change the shape of history. Keep listening for the Q & A at the end for more anthropologist’s view of the tribe known as economists (episode 16 on iTunes).
  • The World Bank pledged $75 Billion to helping poor countries, and will raise a third of it through bond markets and private debt to make it less dependent on government backers such as the U.S. The bank says it will also start investing directly in private infrastructure projects rather than financing country loans. (h/t Justin Sandefur.)
  • U.S. climate scientists are rushing to copy their data before the new administration comes in.
  • Heckman and colleagues report on a 35-year follow-up of two randomized intensive birth-to-5 y.o. programs that were randomized in the 70’s. The programs were expensive (including education, nutrition, and healthcare), but they estimate large returns, with every dollar invested yielding $6.50 in benefit. Heckman’s summary, Washington Post (h/t Shoshana Griffith).
  • When the Pope comes to town, do birth rates change? Bassi & Rasul found there happened to be a survey in the field in 1991 Brazil. The data was collected before, during, and after the visit of Pope John Paul II, who had a strong anti-contraception message:


    We use this fortuitous timing to identify that persuasion significantly reduced individual intentions to contracept by more than 40% relative to pre-visit levels, and increased the frequency of unprotected sex by 26%. …  we find a significant change in births nine months post-visit, corresponding to a 1.6% increase in the aggregate birth cohort. Our final set of results examine the very long run impact of persuasion and document the impacts to be on the timing of births rather than on total fertility.


  • And, if you’ve enjoyed these past 91 weeks of links and are going to be shopping on Amazon, start with this link and a portion will go to Innovations for Poverty Action, who’s been gracious enough to let me spend the time doing it:




IPA’s Weekly Links

M-PESA transaction


We estimate that access to the Kenyan mobile money system M-PESA increased per capita consumption levels and lifted 194,000 households, or 2% of Kenyan households, out of poverty.



IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

030223-N-8119R-001 At sea in the Indian Ocean (Feb. 23, 2003) -- Navy doctors, Cmdr. Donald Bennett (left), and Cmdr. Ralph Jones (right), perform surgery on a civilian crewmember in one of the operating rooms aboard the Military Sealift Command (MSC) hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20). Comfort is deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Roy Rice. (RELEASED)

  • Chris Arnade is is a physics Ph.D. turned Wall Street trader, turned sociologist, documenting the post-industrial/forgotten towns in the U.S. He often tweets about  the disconnect between economic statistics and things that can’t be measured, particularly a pervasive feeling of hopelessness in the left-behind towns.
    • Thanks to Bill on this blog for pointing me to his EconTalk interview.
    • Here he takes issue with Krugman’s view of the political economy.
    • Here he argues that Universal Basic Income makes sense to an economist’s point of view, but not to a sociologist’s, because it will socially divide the country up into givers and takers, sowing further resentments.
    • His argument is that academic researchers have a limited view of the world through data sets, but recommends spending more time in other parts of the country. (I’ve heard development economists often say RCTs were very helpful to molding their understanding of development because it got them to go to the places they were studying and talk to people there.)
  • David Evans and Ana Popova show that if you give the poor money they don’t smoke or drink it away:

    We conduct a meta-analysis to gauge the average impact of transfers on temptation goods. Results show that on average cash transfers have a significant negative effect on total expenditures on temptation goods, equal to −0.18 standard deviations. This negative result is supported by data from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, for both conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs. A growing number of studies therefore indicate that concerns about the use of cash transfers for alcohol and tobacco are unfounded.

  • Some researchers think that some of China’s 30 million demographically “missing girls” (with the implication of abandonment/infanticide) are actually there, they’re just not officially registered in the census because of an implicit understanding between families and local authorities.
  • Tim Ogden makes the case for investing in microcredit. Even though on balance it’s not currently a poverty fix, it’s a working business model reaching many of the world’s poor. It’s time to experiment and see how to make it work better.
  • New Zealand to compensate organ donors (not to make money, but just paying for their lost wages so they at least break even). I believe the only market for kidneys is in Iran, and Tina Rosenberg did a nice examination of it here.
  • Your memory is not like a computer’s. A nice primer on memory and a good reminder if you’re planning to administer a 4-hour recall survey.

A sad reminder for parents – if you don’t talk to your kids about version control, they’ll just learn it on the street.


Image above via Wikimedia Commons.

Come work for me in Chicago

I’m hiring a Research Associate (RA) for 1–2 years. Apply here.

This is usually a recent master’s or undergraduate student with strong quantitative skills who manages and analyzes data, helps manage my field projects, and generally helps me usher a project from fundraising and human subjects approval all the way to the academic paper and policy presentations. Data analysis is 75% of the job, and I will train and work with you closely. There are also some administrative and financial responsibilities, an there is sometimes short term field work involved around the world. Finally, the RA will also help me coordinate the new Peace & Recovery program at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and the new Crime and Violence initiative at the Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL).

Most of the RAs who have worked with me in the past are interested in a PhD in economics, political science, or policy, and they usually go on to programs in the top five or ten departments. I’d like to think this is partly because of the experience and training, but it’s also because really terrific people apply. Please apply!

The RA will be employed by Innovations for Poverty Action, but will have a formal University of Chicago affiliation and sit with me at Harris Public Policy and the Pearson Institute.

The ideal start date is March or April, but a later or earlier start date is feasible for the right candidate. After all, many people will be graduating from university in the spring and I am open to waiting for them to finish.

In terms of qualifications, strong statistical skills and STATA usage is a must, as is English fluency. Lots of other skills and experiences will be an advantage: previous research and field work experience; Spanish language skills; other computer programming or machine learning experience; great writing skills; and great managerial skills.

J-PAL and IPA manage all the hiring and so you must apply here. Please note: Writing me directly isn’t recommended because others manage the initial hiring process and I get involved after they have a short list.

Note this is part of the large annual recruitment drive by J-PAL and IPA, and you can apply via the same process for a range of similar positions with other faculty and projects.


IPA’s weekly links

Guest Post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • If you’re going to be traveling, or just want something to listen to, we’ve put together another IPA Great Holiday Travel Podcast Playlist of episodes we liked. It also includes a few brand new podcasts and a podcast discovery app that look promising.
  • Russia is following South Africa, Gambia and Burundi’s example and withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, and the Philippines is considering leaving as well. My (limited) understanding is that the U.S. hasn’t ratified it, so it’s not like we’re bound by it either.
  • Sweden’s top traffic safety expert explains their biggest barrier towards moving to zero traffic deaths isn’t engineering, it’s economists’ implicit assumptions:


    The largest resistance we got to the idea about Vision Zero was from those political economists that have built their whole career on cost-benefit analysis. For them it is very difficult to buy into “zero.” Because in their economic models, you have costs and benefits, and although they might not say it explicitly, the idea is that there is an optimum number of fatalities. A price that you have to pay for transport.


    • Jim Yong Kim expressed a similar sentiment (see the link in our podcast post above) about what it was like at Partners In Health in the early days of arguing for HIV drugs for Africans.
    • The idea that we accept traffic deaths as inevitable is not a coincidence. We call them airplane “crashes” and see them as unacceptable. But in the early 1900’s automobile manufacturers introduced a marketing campaign to rebrand auto collisions as “accidents,” which makes them seem inevitable:

      So a lot like the industrial safety people invented this cartoon character called Otto Know Better (ph), who was careless and getting injured, the pro-automobile people – manufacturers, auto clubs, auto dealers – invented caricatures of careless pedestrians because most of the people cars were killing then were pedestrians, not other people in cars.


  • The Weird Economics of Ikea
  • Investing in “soft skills” training, even in the high-turnover world of female garment workers in Banglauru, India, paid for itself several times over:

    Treated workers are less likely to leave during the program, and exhibit substantially higher productivity up to nine months after program completion. This leads to being assigned to more complex tasks and a greater likelihood of promotion. Treated workers are also more likely to enroll in workplace skill development and production incentive programs.

And the Golden Radiator Award nominees for best and worst development ads are up, you can vote for the finalists. Here was one of the good ones (also check out David Evans’ playlist of funny development commercials):

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Image above via Alex Graves on Flickr

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • I’m taking a wild guess there will be a spike in researchers looking at elections data for 2016. A reminder that you can get an advance look at the American National Elections Survey (ANES) questions, design and preregister your study, and get it pre-accepted to a number of political science journals all before the data comes out (and get a $2,000 prize).
  • Michael Lewis has a Vanity Fair article based on his new book about Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (above), the fathers of what would become behavioral economics. It’s about their friendship, and like Lewis’ other stories, about outsiders who end noticing something different and changing a whole field.
  • How spring rolls became the go-to snack in Senegal.
  • Another chapter of the U.N. response to South Sudan peacekeeping failures from a few weeks ago. Though a Kenyan general was dismissed, it was Chinese troops who abandoned their posts. The WSJ has a feature on how China is grappling with deaths of their peacekeeping soldiers there and the costs of their involvement. Complicating the relationship, some of their troops may have been killed by Chinese-manufactured weapons.
  • In press, a nationwide survey of rural Indian schools finds 24% of the teachers absent, at a cost of $1.5 billion/yr. Making sure teachers show up is among the cheapest ways to improve education, according to Muralidharan, Das, Holla, & Mohpal (h/t Lee Crawfurd). The NYTimes referenced the finding in a profile of an armed teacher truancy officer in Uttar Pradesh who has become a local celebrity.
  • A bleg and a reminder. For the comments below – we’re looking for podcast episode recommendations for this year’s Great Holiday Travel Podcast Playlist (last years’ is here).
    • And if you’ve enjoyed these last 87 weeks of links, consider a donation to IPA. If you do it by the end of this weekend an anonymous donor will match it, effectively doubling your contribution. Bonus, if you tweet or email me that you did, we’ll select (randomly of course) some to mail a souvenir from the Ghana arm of last year’s Banerjee, et. al. Science paper.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Through Nov 20, an anonymous donor is doubling donations to my employer, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), who uses rigorous research to find effective poverty solutions. (Some examples here, and pictured above: some of our Burkina Faso research staff about to ride out in the rainy season).
  • Some would like to digitize payments and schedules for Nairobi Matatu private buses. The technology exists, but one barrier is the operators, who benefit from the unpredictable system, conducting their own informal “surge pricing” off the books.
  • Tyler Cowen’s conversation with cognitive scientist Steven Pinker was interesting. As was the one with Jon Haidt, who studies how moral reasoning drives political beliefs, and why people with different political leanings often don’t understand one another.
  • Dani Rodrik’s letter in support of Ricardo Hausmann. (h/t Vincent Armentano)
  • More than 800,000 drinking water filters were distributed in Kenya, supported by carbon credits sold for water that would supposedly not have to be boiled (you can buy some here). By coincidence a separate (IPA) RCT was going on in the same area, so they added on questions about the filter use, and found only 19% of people reported using them 2-3 years later. Summary in this press release, paper here.
  • India is changing its currency, asking people to trade in 23 billion notes in circulation. One stated goal is to eliminate the higher denominations to combat corruption and tax evasion. Kenneth Rogoff has made the same argument for the US:

    Well, I think that a lot of the money – these big bills – is used to facilitate tax evasion and crime. We all use cash in our everyday life, but we don’t use hundred-dollar bills. We’re not using 500-euro notes. And yet these account for mountains of cash out there. I think they’re being used in tax evasion and by criminals of all types.

  • Pam Jakiela’s great response to Deaton and Cartwright’s RCT critique.

And a reminder from Max Roser:

Links I liked

  1. We live in a strange world: Cubs World Series celebration ranks as 7th largest gathering in human history (less than the funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini but more than the Haj or the 3.5 million people at a 1994 Rod Stweart concert in Brazil)
  2. New developments in Chinese growth strategy
  3. Guido Imbens on synthetic control matching
  4. J-PAL has graduate student fellowships for conducting pre-publication re-analysis
  5. The snake versus iguana nature video that everyone is talking about is really that amazing
  6. Vin Diesel wrote, produced and starred this surprisingly good short film that paralleled his real life struggles of landing roles due to his multiethnic appearance (Spielberg saw the film and casted him in Saving Private Ryan, thus launching his career)

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: