Week of February 6, 2017

1. The World's Largest Financial Inclusion Experiment(s): That's a descriptor that applies to basically any Indian or Chinese national policy, but India is definitely where the interesting financial inclusion experiments via sweeping policy changes action is right now. Whether we'll learn from these experiments remains to be seen. Here's an attempt to learn something from the Indian government's JDY scheme to make bank accounts widely available--finding that usage is growing, and the primary actions are person-to-person transfers (sounds familiar doesn't it?). And here's a story from the FT on how insurance companies are attempting to use the shock of demonetisation and the increasing use of bank accounts (via JDY) to increase penetration of microinsurance.

2. Economists' Social Skills: A big concern in developed economies is the "skill mismatch": the skills that people have today (and by implication that our education system is focused on imparting) are not the skills that will be required for jobs in the near future (if not the present). The two items I see most frequently in such discussions is "coding/programming" and "social skills." I've never understood the former--computers are obviously better at coding than people are already. Social skills though, those do seem important. The surprising thing in this piece on skills and future jobs is the chart about mid-way through which says that economists require strong social skills, even more so than physicians, nurses' aides, and police(!). Perhaps that mismatch between practicing economists and social skills explains why the chart also notes that employment share for economists is stagnant.

3. QTWTAIN: Definitely becoming a regular feature of the faiV. (For those of you with better things to do than spend hours on social media, that's "Questions To Which the Answer is No.") 1) Is dramatic reduction in societal inequality likely without violence? 2) Are smart phones going to be the driver of digital financial inclusion? 3) Does gentrification push out existing homeowners (thought I'm not quite clear on who thought this was true)? 4) Did Donald Trump understand what the job was? ("I am shocked--shocked--to find that gambling is going on in here!")

And the mother of all questions to which the answer is no, "Are the worm wars over?" If you're really looking for something to read, there are a bunch of pieces in that issue of IJE on causal inference in epidemiology. But if you're reading the faiV, I'm guessing you'd be more interested in what these people have to say about causal inference.

4. Expense Volatility: The JP Morgan Chase Institute has a new report based on their work with Chase customer data exploring expense volatility, finding a 29% month-to-month fluctuation in expenses for median-income households, and that households have to build up liquid assets for major medical expenses, but do not recover from that shock within 12 months. Expense volatility is a major theme of the forthcoming book The Financial Diaries. You can pre-order it now.


5. The Last Mile: If you provide information to citizens that lets them better plan around unreliable public services, does it help? Not if the people in charge of providing the information don't actually provide it. The fact that front line staff (public or private) don't do what their managers tell them to do is a too often ignored problem in both program development and program evaluation. It's a recurring theme in Karlan and Appel's book on failure in field experiments. But it remains one of the ways you can challenge the results of many economics papers, and usually you're going to sound smart when the presenter acknowledges that there wasn't a lot of attention paid to that factor.

Bonus Updates: Some more back and forth on whether cashlessness is good for low-income people. A new review of Experimental Conversations. And with immigration so much in the news, this research agenda on migration and remittances came back to mind--still many unanswered questions.

Yesterday I was guest lecturing with Jessica Goldberg, and she mentioned the table below from the AEA's Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was: in 2013-2014, just 13 out of 422 economics Ph.D.'s were awarded to African-Americans.

Yesterday I was guest lecturing with Jessica Goldberg, and she mentioned the table below from the AEA's Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was: in 2013-2014, just 13 out of 422 economics Ph.D.'s were awarded to African-Americans.


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