Week of October 2, 2017

Editor's Note: I briefly had ambitions of making this week's faiV a real departure in terms of content and sources. But there's just too much good stuff in the faiV wheelhouse, so instead of "Now for Something Completely Different," we have some "Some Completely Different Things." I would still advise you to beware of Hell's Grannies, know what I mean? Still, I'm going to try to make this faiV different by being uncharacteristically laconic (except for the first item).

1. Abusive Practices: This is the part of the faiV that is different. But, perhaps contrary to the evidence, I have to hang onto the belief that making abusive practices in many domains more visible will in fact play a role in changing those practices. So first up is a piece about abuse of the elderly in Nevada where for years shady operators, aided and abetted by courts, legislators, medical professionals and other nominally civil servants have cooperated to revoke the rights and steal the assets of vulnerable people. That may seem an abstruse topic, but I think it has lots of parallels in many domains. Often, abuse of the vulnerable is tied to weak institutions or institutions that have no duty to those abused. Here we have strong institutions in many cases explicitly designed and supposedly devoted to protecting the vulnerable, which were turned against the people they were supposed to protect and which made challenging what was going on virtually impossible. As an aside, I have to commend Beth Rhyne of CFI who began talking years ago about the challenges that an aging global population would bring to financial inclusion and protection efforts.
At the other end of the age spectrum, here's a piece about the "1% winners/99% losers" labor market of young football/soccer players in England. It's a form of vocational school that consistently lies to 10 year-olds and their families and then dumps the vast majority of them at age 16.
Stretching even further afield, I'm hoping that many folks will find the time to read, or at least scan, the NY Times article on Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul, and his decades of sexual harrassment and abuse and cover-ups. I'm particularly struck, if not surprised, because Weinstein moved in supposedly progressive circles. His behavior was apparently an open secret but did not dissuade many from working with him and for him and apparently participating in the glossing over of the abusive practices that let him continue. This piece about the lack of criticism coming from Hollywood is particularly pointed.
And now to connect this back to something more faiV-like: I hope the Weinstein saga provides further momentum behind efforts to reform practices and behavior in the social sciences, particularly when it comes to the academic job market. There is a rapidly growing effort particularly in Economics (with offshoots as far as I can tell in Political Science and Sociology) to make job market information more transparent, but more importantly move it away from sites like EconJobRumors which facilitate abusive behavior. Check out the hashtag #EJMinfo for more. This is a rare obvious opportunity to choose between the type of behavior that enabled Weinstein, and the type of behavior that will make such abusive practices and behavior impossible.


2. Economic History, History of Economics, and Evidence: Pseuderasmus, the pseudonym for an economic historian whose real name I don't know, has a long (long, long) post about the productivity gap that opened between India and Japan in the first 30 years of the 1900s. It's filled with fascinating historical details, so even a skim of it will be rewarding. The short version is that the power of unions in Japan was restrained by demographics, culture and the government which allowed manufacturers there to innovate far more quickly and increase productivity. This in turn left Japanese workers eventually far better off than Indian workers where labor unions exerted more power.
Beatrice Cherrier and Andrej Svorencik have a new paper examining the history and evolution of the Clark Medal and it's winners. Again there are plenty of interesting details to reward even a skim. I took particular note of the concentration of winners--eight universities account for all winners in terms of where their degree was earned, and 10 for all winners in terms of employment when they won. So economists are apparently uniquely good at identifying talent early, right? Right?
Finally, this week I stumbled on a newish site, Straight Talk on Evidence, that reviews not the evidence for various programs and policies (for instance as the Cochrane Collaboration, AidGrade or 3ie does), but the claims made by studies that are part of the evidence base. It's a project of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Here is their review of an evaluation of CCTs in the United States and of a Heckman paper on the long-run health impact of early childhood education.


3. Microfinance: Last week I wrote about the differences between US and global microfinance conversations that I am exposed to. This week there's a story from the Economic Times that illustrates more confluence than divergence, speculating that MFIs in India are struggling for survival, particularly in the face of increased competition from institutions that are banks or are at least more like banks than traditional MFIs. It feels like a Straussian reading is necessary to really understand what point is being made, but I'm not steeped enough in the politics of Indian microfinance to feel confident I'm correctly interpreting the only-semi-hidden advocacy in piece. Surely the writer doesn't actually believe that traditional banks are going to fall over themselves to provide quality services to the poorer sections of Indian society?

4. Our Algorithmic Overlords: How could I not include an item on the "seven deadly sins of predicting the future of AI"? Bonus points for those who can identify my sins in prior editions of the faiV. Super extra bonus points if anyone can identify some of the deadly sins in this video of Susan Athey, Larry Summers, and Austan Goolsbee discussing the impact of AI on policy from the NBER Economics of AI conference.

5. Philanthropy: The Chronicle of Philanthropy has a big new report on "How America Gives," finding that the percentage of Americans itemizing charitable deductions has fallen from 30% to 24% over the last decade. Other studies (using the PSID) have found a similar drop in the number of households reporting that they give to charity. The interpretation given is that growing inequality is the prime culprit: giving to charity is falling in the middle class and becoming the province of the wealthy, to the benefit of larger non-profits (with the skill and brand to recruit wealthy donors) and the detriment of mid-size ones. Perhaps this helps clarify Giving Tuesday's theory of change.

Caitlin Tulloch is frustrated that two different cash efficiency metrics are being used in papers/reports and they mean different things. She drew up this helpful explainer. For my part, I think we should all uniformly adopt the Cost-Transfer Ratio. Souce: Cailtlin Tulloch, used by permission.

Caitlin Tulloch is frustrated that two different cash efficiency metrics are being used in papers/reports and they mean different things. She drew up this helpful explainer. For my part, I think we should all uniformly adopt the Cost-Transfer Ratio. Souce: Cailtlin Tulloch, used by permission.


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