Week of June 19, 2017

Not Invisible Edition

1. Indebtedness: A few weeks ago I mentioned the wave of agricultural loan waivers in a variety of Indian states, a pattern that has been repeated over decades (and not just in India; and perhaps I should say repeated over millennia) with all sorts of moral hazard implications for lenders and borrowers (here's Xavi Gine explaining the impact of the 2008 agricultural debt relief program). Shamika Ravi looks at data from the current round of farmer distress examining how poverty, indebtedness and political power interact since straightforward explanations don't hold up to scrutiny. 

2. Our Algorithmic Overlords (and some Data Viz): Sometimes it's helpful to take a step back and see where artificial intelligence is still struggling. Reassuringly while AI can negotiate it still produces aphorisms like: Death when it comes will have no sheep. But maybe that's a negotiating tactic? Meanwhile, apparently machine learning still struggles to tell the difference between labradoodles and fried chicken (I suppose that would be more frightening than funny to chickens and labradoodles).

And while not about algorithms, here's another one of those cool illustrations of how data visualization influences how we interpret data that are so popular.


3. American Inequality: One of the clear themes of recent research on poverty and inequality in the United States is the rise of month-to-month and year-to-year volatility of incomes, while real wages have stagnated. The safety net in the US, such as it is, is especially unable to deal with income volatility. Here's the story of a family in Texas with volatile income who has adopted a number of medically fragile children: because of the way the state administers Medicaid the family has to re-certify eligibility almost every month. While this is somewhat unusual, the language of the Senate Republicans healthcare/Medicaid legislation would enable states to require all recipients to re-certify eligibility monthly.

Meanwhile here's Cengiz, Dube, Lindner and Zipperer with a new look at the perpetual question of what raising minimum wages does to jobs, finding little evidence for job losses or labor substitution. And here's a piece from HBR on the household effects of unstable work.

4. Entrepreneurship: The nature of modern American inequality makes me think that American policy analysts need to spend more time looking at middle income countries like Mexico and Brazil than at Germany or Denmark. There's less business competition, less mobility and more wealth and income inequality--that all seems descriptive of a developing economy not a developed one. A big factor is the emerging American "missing middle" of firms. Historically there have been more new employer firms starting and growing than there are today, and those firms accounted for a great deal of new, stable, middle income and mobility producing jobs. Here's a piece looking at the shift in American entrepreneurship toward the kind of rent-seeking businesses that have long been faulted for slow development in middle income countries.


5. Data, Knowledge and Wisdom: This week (I think) the Kenyan government launched a new effort to help borrowers make better decisions about credit by making it more clear what the relative costs of various sources of credit are. Definitely an effort to keep an eye on. Here's an experiment comparing data-based credit scores versus loan officers' judgment finding credit scores reject slightly more applicants but provides a net benefit to the bank through lower costs of lending. And here's a study of Ethiopian job fairs finding large gaps in knowledge among job seekers and hiring firms about wages, job requirements and quality of candidates. Meanwhile in the US a youth summer employment program does well at placing kids in jobs, but little for long-term outcomes.

A photo of a protestor against current proposed legislation to radically cut Medicaid, the US government program to provide healthcare services for the poor and disabled, being arrested. This is what I meant by "Not Invisible." May class action still get the goods.

A photo of a protestor against current proposed legislation to radically cut Medicaid, the US government program to provide healthcare services for the poor and disabled, being arrested. This is what I meant by "Not Invisible." May class action still get the goods.

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