Published on Development Impact

Weekly links April 30: immigration economics explained, Marvel and migration, those economists aren’t being rude, they just don’t have enough prefrontal function, and more…

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·       The economics of expanding immigration – podcast/transcript from an AEIdeas discussion between Michael Clemens and James Pethokoukis. An absolute must-read for Michael’s great overview of the different debates in policy and command of what the literature has to say about these issues. “The “common sense” is that immigrants are workers, and when there are more workers selling labor, the price of labor (wages) is going to go down….[but] they don’t just sell their labor. They buy the produce of other people’s labor. They invest in stuff, including financial capital and their own human capital. They innovate, including some of our start-up firms. So I don’t think focusing on immigrants just as factors of production is a helpful view of immigrants’ economic effects”.

·       Carlos Vargas-Silva on the parallels between storylines in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and research on divisions arising from return migration of refugees after conflict.

·       Freakonomics podcast/transcript in which Steve Levitt interviews Angela Duckworth – Levitt: “But what I worry about with grit — let me take the Ph.D. students I see in economics. They’re all very gritty. To survive our program, you have to be gritty. But they’re gritty in the worst possible way, in that they latch onto some hopeless topic, and they pound away furiously for years, when anyone with common sense would have stopped at the beginning and refocused on something better.” Duckworth “So, there’s a psychologist that I greatly admire named Paul Rozin. I’m sure you’ve heard of Paul Rozin. He’s now in his 80s. And his number one piece of advice for graduate students is to give up easily. He says, “You’re trying to do a study on disgust and pigs. And pigs aren’t going to eat the Cheetos. Just give up. Walk away. Find another animal. Find another measure.” So, I think the secret of applying grit correctly — and you’re right, it is nuanced, so as the high priestess, maybe I should preach a little more effectively — is to be tenacious at the right level of your goal hierarchy. “

Also interesting to hear Levitt on his current relationship with academics “I don’t have goals exactly. I have things that I like to do. And what I love to do is I love to play with data. And I love to play with ideas. I love it when there’s a difficult problem, and it seems like it can’t be solved. And then, with a twist of the wrist that allows you to see the problem differently, a solution emerges. But I just got tired of academics. For me, once Stephen Dubner and I wrote Freakonomics, I realized that the outside world for me was much more fun than the academic world, that the opportunities that would be afforded me were just better. What am I doing trying to publish these papers that get 25 citations when I can be on the Freakonomics podcast and talk to millions of people? It no longer made any sense to me.”

The discussion is interesting throughout. Here is Duckworth on giving a talk in the Chicago econ department and her reaction to being interrupted and questioned from slide 1 ““Oh, these are immature people who are trying to advance the conversation to truth.” I don’t think it’s efficient. I don’t think it’s necessary. But like my dad, they want to know what the right answer is. And I admire that….And that’s how I perceived these University of Chicago economists. I was like, “Clearly there’s not enough prefrontal function to inhibit that thought.”

·       In response to this great XKCD comic on types of scientific paper, Maxim Ananyev has types of econ paper including “What sociologists have been saying for decades – but with a natural experiment”, “your standard errors are wrong”, “Does X increase if we give money for X: A randomized trial” and “we wrote a model where people live forever and never make mistakes: our policy recommendations”.


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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