<![CDATA[It's Not About the Money - Blog]]>Thu, 18 Feb 2016 23:50:56 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Where is all the research on gender?]]>Tue, 16 Feb 2016 12:20:46 GMThttp://notthemoney.weebly.com/blog/where-is-all-the-research-on-genderI have been taking a close look at the data and publications from the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment (http://www.nber.org/oregon/), and there is no analysis in the papers I've read over how people were affected differently based on their gender, race, or sex. There could be interesting work to present here, if previous work on race and gender discrimination in medicine is any indication. For instance: 


Also, what we know about the kinds of medical problems that affect men versus women might lead to some interesting qualitative work on how expanding medicaid was beneficial, for instance this article on domestic violence: http://www.whijournal.com/article/S1049-3867(03)00115-4/pdf (paywall, sorry)
we might better understand how

It's interesting that in development economics, and especially in applied development work, disaggregating data for gender or age is standard practice (even when sample size suggests we'd better lump it all together). But in much of public economics, we ask "What is the effect for the average person?" As we find out in development economics, 'average' isn't always as meaningful as a breakdown for ]]>
<![CDATA[Local and National Effects]]>Sat, 05 Dec 2015 12:21:02 GMThttp://notthemoney.weebly.com/blog/local-and-national-effectsWhen it came time to write my master's thesis, I found inspiration in what I considered a puzzle in development economics: there is a literature on a resource curse among countries that have abundant natural resources, and there is literature on cities and villages who benefit from resource booms. The "resource curse" is the idea that countries that mine and export oil, gas, minerals, and other natural resources typically show lower economic growth over years, leading to poverty. But plenty of papers show that discoveries of new resources correlate with economic booms in the localities around the site. What gives? See Lippert's paper on localities in Zambia, or Kotsadam and Tolonen on the influx of people and shift in employment after discoveries in Africa.

Today I had the same thought about aid. Aid can be distributed locally or to a national government. We have a similar dynamic to resources, where aid can help or hurt at the local level, and may have beneficial spillovers to the whole country, BUT may encourage harmful tendencies, towards dependency or crowding out entrepreneurship and investment.(And there's a similar debate over whether resource discoveries and/or aid are good or bad for countries' wealth and poverty at all!)

​Caselli has a new paper out that argues that when a resource is discovered, the power elite face a shakeup and make fewer public investments. Could the same be true of aid? When governments receive aid, do they face power shakeups that make them less likely to invest in people? When rich governments disburse aid, could they do it more intelligently with that impending problem in mind?]]>
<![CDATA[Entrepreneurship and Peer Learning]]>Tue, 03 Nov 2015 03:32:26 GMThttp://notthemoney.weebly.com/blog/entrepreneurship-and-peer-learningI've been working for the ILO's C-BED project for a little over 2 months now. C-BED runs workshops for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. At the workshops, participants are meant to engage one another, sharing ideas for better business practices and productivity.

Business training programs aren't the way to improve business according to research. Chris Blattman, an economist whose work I love to read, strafes entrepreneuship programs on his blog. No doubt, if your goal is measurable profit growth in someone's business, the papers out there indicate that a $100 cash grant achieves that better than a $1000 business class.

C-BED might be a step forward because it's much lower-cost than other business programs. The ILO fronts the work of making the training materials, which are written by consultants in the office here. Not counting the sunk cost of the training materials (which I don't have information on and won't hazard a guess on just now), the cost of a C-BED workshop is the cost of hiring the venue and any materials.

Another difference of C-BED is the approach the project has taken to teaching and learning: it's peer-based learning. The materials are really meant to get the participants talking to one another, rather than communicating a dogma of "best practices". So to the extent that participants are sensitive to similar issues in the business landscape, they may help one another develop strategies, or some may share working strategies with others, better than a business course written by the ILO consultants in Geneva. Does a simple means to bring people together for focused discussion produce measurable business improvements, as good as or better than other interventions?

Finally, C-BED works in impoverished communities: it was rolled out as part of a package of aid in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, with Burmese refugees in Thailand, and in areas of Burma affected by conflict. To some extent the gains we record in our surveys may be a low baseline of activity presaging strong growth.

Bottom line: when we find means to bring people together for collaboration, rather than a rigid class curriculum, do we get better outcomes?]]>
<![CDATA[Building capacity]]>Mon, 18 May 2015 00:22:10 GMThttp://notthemoney.weebly.com/blog/building-capacitySomething I've always loved about studying economcs is the possibility to see an analogy to the personal in someone's model about government or international relations or macro monetary policy. Case in point: building capacity.

A prominent idea in current development economics literature is that of state capacity: the government invests resources now to build capacity to protect property or provide infrastructure. It's useful as a way to represent the many differnet legal cultures across the nations of the world, and condense them down into a comparable framework: how does performance across certain indicators compare? The idea was in recent development by Besley and Pearsson (2009), and a quick survey of humanitarian and development jobs shows the phrase has spread. (For one example see here.)

That's one idea that extends well to the individual. We all invest our time and money in various activities, and a select (though still broad) subset of those activities build our capacity in some specific way. Lifting weights builds strength, or one's capacity to push and pull with more force. Aeorbic exercise builds cardiovascular endurance. Studying builds capacity to acquire and regurgitate information, and to put out a smart connection every so often. Reading literature builds verbosity, articulation, and emotional intelligence. Among other things.

A problem I face is that I typically expect a change in my life to lead to some kind of instantaneous reward. For instance, in the recent past I have started studying, and though I didn't expect to lights to shine and mastery to immediately materialize, an anxiety quickly set in when I didn't feel a growing confidence or a clear way to mastery. I got bogged down in new ideas and information and needed more time for it to make sense, and I got discouraged.

When that happens, another side in me advises that I see these times as building capacity. I don't even always know what the capacity is. I just need to trust that there's an improvement coming, one for which I will be grateful.

There are many things in life we want suddenly. This blog post discusses approaches to anxiety and panic. It points out that people typically
experience fear of things we have no control over
<![CDATA[Music to get stuff done]]>Mon, 06 Apr 2015 03:20:19 GMThttp://notthemoney.weebly.com/blog/music-to-get-stuff-doneEvery grad student probably has some playlist for this purpose. Here's my working list:

Ludovico Einaudi
Funny story: I searched "Two Trees" looking for papers on Lucas's fruit-tree example of capital pricing. With the papers, I discovered Ludovico Einaudi's piece, "Two Trees", and the rest of his beautiful background music opus. His music got me through the night working on that macro problem set. Einaudi even played Oxford a couple of times since then (maybe one day I'll see him). Indaco and Passagio are two favorites, but it's all really good.

I recently found these guys on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series, and I fell in love with their album An Awesome Wave. The Intro 1 and Taro songs hit that trance-drama balance just right.

Joe Henry
He gets more ambient and just better, better with every album. His mournful, wry lyrics help me get my motivation back on long slogs. Especially because they focus on such broad themes of strength, self-improvement in retrospect, and bearing difficulty.

The Wonder Years, Four Year Strong, A Day to Remember, Set Your Goals
The "desperate youth" themes of pop punk bands got me through exam season. Too much TWY and I get depressed, but the defiance of FYS helps me suppress that. The two balance out well and keep the energy up. These bands are for when I feel, "Oh God, I'm trying, I'm trying SO HARD."

Blink 182, Fall Out Boy, No Use For A Name
Further afield but same as above. The lyrics don't quite get the "I'm trying" theme out, but they capture youth and insecurity well. The tunes are perfectly emo, fit to purpose.

Say Anything
For when I need someone to acknowledge and independently manifest my angst. Words can't describe how much I love Say Anything.

Warren Zevon
Classic. Keeps perspective on life, there are plenty of ways to get your S F'd up, grad school surely isn't the worst way.

The Bouncing Souls -- Better Things
Perfect song to see the silver lining in anything.
<![CDATA[Geography in Action]]>Fri, 20 Mar 2015 08:16:06 GMThttp://notthemoney.weebly.com/blog/geography-in-actionPicture
Here's a gif I made using data from NASA's City Lights data:

Most presentations of night lights data I've seen are static, and in time you get a really interesting dimension. See the pop-on of lights in South Dakota when shale oil is extracted starting in 2010. Notice the steady growth of lights across China (easiest to see that China goes dark when the gif loop restarts in the '90's). You get similar steady brightening around Brazil, Chile, and South Africa. Also check out the things that remain constant: the Nile and Indus are the cradles of bright lights, and North Korea is as always a valley of black sandwiched between China and South Korea.

Data available here:

<![CDATA[Scotland going Indy]]>Thu, 18 Sep 2014 10:23:23 GMThttp://notthemoney.weebly.com/blog/scotland-going-indyScotland, please leave the UK. Please vote for independence! It would be so good for economic research!

The independence debate offers a wealth of testable hypotheses for the academic economist. The topics run the gamut from monetary policy to resource management to pain and simple standard of living.

Pundits have noted that Scotland is the wealthiest of the four UK countries in GDP per capita. How might that change if the UK banks make good on their threats to make haste for London? How would other trade fare--manufactures, tourism, haggis? Could free education make Scottish human capital the world's envy? Could protective tariffs, more nimble export policy, fine shortbread and finer Scotch whisky make the citizens more money? Would oil help the welfare state survive in a country with declining fertility rates? Would fertility change or immigration make up the difference?

Who gets the rights to all that North Sea oil, anyway? This could be a fascinating study in bargaining power, modeling a Scottish delegation sitting with a rest-of-UK bunch, hashing out the terms of trade and ownership of plots. Economic theory tells us that the result will be commensurate with bargaining power--and that each party can and will bring as much power as possible. England and Scotland will bring the best lawyers, centuries of legal history, and standing contracts to the table. They will each find every reason to get as much of the pie as they can--so the theory predicts. Will GDP or population correlate with the proportion each country can slice off, or will our predictions be as off as Tory national security policy?

And what about the issue of currency? Evidence the Euro, we economists still can't get this one right, and we need data! Would Scotland stay on the pound sterling? How could the Bank of England manage its interest rate for the UK with 5 million bank accounts up north acting as dead weight? Would a new currency help stimulate a nascent nation, and would global markets give it a high or low value?

And from there, the tangent questions are endless! How quickly can the SNP form national bodies of international trade, export-import banks, Scottish embassies in foreign lands? Will the SNP ever take the Euro plunge? How will major cities and border towns change shape and structure under a new political landscape? And will the conservatives still want to Brexit without their Scottish lads to gussy up the GDP? We'll have to find out! And then we could say so much more about Cornwall, Catalonia, the Basque region, Quebec, even Texas! We haven't had an opportunity like this since >cough< East Timor.

With all this interesting stuff about economics, it can be hard to forget that's not the only reason to go your own way. Obviously, there are much more personal reasons to exercise self-determination. Years of chronic disregard by the UK parliament, a tyranny of the English majority that easily outweighs Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland by a population over 3.5 times all three put together, and a cultural undercurrent of disdain running between the two nations is enough to make anyone want to shout "Aye!" in frustration and hope for a different future.

Nevertheless, if you're on the fence and those reasons haven't persuaded you, then perhaps pity the poor economist. It has been two well over 200 years since Thomas Paine penned his economic rationale, Common Sense, for US independence from King George III. We can test how much our theories have improved in centuries' time.]]>
<![CDATA[The importance of economics communication]]>Sat, 22 Mar 2014 01:34:17 GMThttp://notthemoney.weebly.com/blog/the-importance-of-economics-communicationThink of the great “communicators” of learning: Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and before them Carl Sagan, were and are science communicators. They are famous with the wider public for making scientific discovery easy to appreciate and enjoy, and from Contact to "The Science Guy" to NOVA appearances to the threads of Reddit and the geekier corners of the web, they have our love.

Ask yourself, do we have that in economics? Krugman, Oster, DeLong: are they good enough? Are they Bill Nye-caliber?

People could use a little more economic reasoning, and economics needs a range of people who are able to effectively help the public at large appreciate new findings, simplify the language of economic research so it can more easily be applied in daily life where appropriate, and generally mingle economics with common sense. The field would benefit, and people in general would benefit. The main obstacle to the possibility is that most social research represents divided fields: right- and left-wing thought draws boundaries where certain conclusions are appropriate to be stated. We also have a cult of economic thought within the discipline that has a taste for exclusiveness, a cynicism or disdain for everyday non-economic thought.

Everyone recognizes the importance of economic thought in understanding daily issues in politics, policy, and war, in disease, hunger, and poverty, in banking and daily business such as food and gas prices, business loans, and home mortgages. I can start a running log of news stories that deserve an economics-perspective, and the list is obvious: Russian-Europe energy trade, American union laws, corporate-government connections, virtues of education. Does anyone disagree that economics is useful in understanding today's issues?

The description

An effective economics communicator would have a respect, even a love for the listening public. Economics and social research is more explicitly tied to welfare than other disciplines: we social researchers do what we do because we are interested in what makes people tick, and what brings about greater general welfare. Many research papers end mentioning improvements in social policy or institutional practice. Someone who didn't share that spirit couldn't be an effective ambassador for the field.

Because there is an emphasis on well-being in social research, a communicator needs some cleverness. People don't necessarily want to be told what's good for them. No one likes a lecturer, a pedant, or a scold. A smart choice of words could be the difference between sounding like a nanny or helping people realize that new opportunities uncovered by research are theirs for the taking. Explaining government policies without browbeating, connecting research to the real rather than the ideal, and tying research findings to work and home without telling people to do the tying are the kinds of behaviors we need.

Finally, economics communicators need to be a little gimmicky, a bit of a mascot for the field, as Nye or Tyson are (TV shows, bow-tie, big moustache): a friendly face rather than a heavyweight. If both sides of the political fence want their own mascot to communicate only their side of the rhetorical coin, they will only give us people good for talking about a segment of policy and research, rather than the whole thing.

Skimming the history books

History does not hold great examples, though we seem to have gotten closer to the ideal with each succeeding generation. Adam Smith, David Hume, and David Ricardo were more academics, politicians, and businessmen than modern-style communicators. Though their works are fundamental and timelessly relevant, we require more up-to-the-minute comment on details and news items. (Besides, if we are looking for reporting on everyday politics, rather than fundamental treatises, we have to look elsewhere.)

Keynes did his part to advance wide understanding of economics, but what was advanced was often tied to his specific findings. His advocacy and his participation in government relied on his theories on government expenditure and budgets, which at the time were part and parcel of the forefront of the field, but now have become synonymous with half of it (the left half).

Milton Friedman was a good proponent of economics and highly involved with the public, but he could be too philosophical. Emphasis on "arguing from first principles" and the extensive monetary history he published with Anna Schwartz still aren't representative of what we're looking for: someone at least as famous for public outreach on basic ideas and general research (other peoples' research) than for their own deep contribution to the academic literature.

The best example comes from John Kenneth Galbraith, even though he was identifiably on one side of the fence (opposite Friedman) on political issues. He also had a strain of the polemic in what he wrote. But his books threaded together economic research, politics, and social history, and they were more concerned with everyman issues than fundamental principles (Smith etc) or development of the field (Keynes and Friedman). That focus on everyday issues, weaving in the insight from research, is what we want.

Today, the most likely candidates are Emily Oster, Brad DeLong, Tyler Cowen. Their research regimens probably allow little time for economics communication per se, rather than writing books and articles. Oster is at the University of Chicago, for goodness' sake, and their culture and brand demand heavyweight research, not fluffy communicating. We also have Krugman and Stiglitz, among a few others. But they are the most polemic yet, and are clearly batting lefty.


So to sum up, we could all benefit from someone who made economics readable again, who pulled back the curtain and showed how it ties in to common news stories, and who could talk about current questions in the field and why finding answers matters to everyone. This person would need to be politically independent, or at least walk the line between them, and talk more about research than any political ideology. We need didacts-no teachers-and not pedants. We need people who are lovably wonky, easy to know and like, and who prefer to simplofy: instead of "comparative statics", words like "different results". People who are brave enough to steal the spotlight just to get a comprehensible word or two, then relinquish the glare just as quickly. Commenting on other people's work would actually be desirable, and a short shelf life for such talk would be a necessity.

Just that, and the tiny nation of Economics has qualified ambassadors to The World.

On topic:


<![CDATA[Starting a blog....]]>Thu, 19 Dec 2013 23:38:55 GMThttp://notthemoney.weebly.com/blog/starting-my-blogThere are plenty of blogs out there, and many address the topic of economics in varying political and polemic terms. I hope this one ends up low on BS, with a focus on explaining how you can think about an issue instead of how you should.

I intend to write primarily for an audience with little to no formal background in economics. I have studied this stuff for about six years now, and I don't see the point in hashing out views to peers who know it as well or better than I do. Hopefully, younger students or people looking for economic insight into political or social developments can find some use here.

I am interested in economic development, trade, welfare, economic history, and fiscal and monetary policy. Such issues are necessarily political, and I will try to be as fair as possible.