Published on Development Impact

Weekly links January 12, 2024: AEA keynotes, therapy and development, Stata vs R popularity over time, and more….

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·       Therapy and Well-being: In his Bloomberg column, Tyler Cowen summarizes some of the evidence of the impacts on economic well-being of psychological and pharmaceutical interventions such as raising aspirations, teaching self-efficacy, and anti-depressants.

·       Firms and climate change in low and middle income countries: a new working paper by Ana Goicoechea and Megan Lang summarizes the empirical literature and identifies several big gaps. Most of the literature focuses on climate change’s impacts on firm inputs and outcomes, is restricted to a few countries (such as China and India), relatively little looks at adaption, general equilibrium effects are seldom considered, and there is little on the role of active government policies.

·       Pol Antràs’ slides from his JEEA lecture on the uncharted waters of international trade – aka where he thinks there is lots of room for new research. He notes that relatively fewer young economists are going into trade versus spatial economics (and perhaps some other areas), perhaps due to a perception that the field is too mature and there is less interest in the questions the field has been working on. He first surveys where he thinks a lot of progress has been made (focusing on firms, the sufficient statistics approach to quantitative trade models, work on global value chains, a lot of new types of data and empirical work) – before then turning to where he sees room for new (theory) work-  on oligopoly and strategic behavior at the extensive margin of trade, behavioral economics and trade policy (and how to best think about public perceptions of trade), international relations and trade policy under national security considerations, and redistribution and compensation- and finally also some areas for new empirical data and work.

·       Also from the AEA meetings, video of Susan Athey’s Presidential Address on “Design and Analysis of Complex Experiments to Evaluate Social Impact”.   Her focus is on an iterative process of data-driven innovation, and she gives multiple examples of digital interventions with personalized treatments. A few of the points that stood out for me: i) in the tech sector, she finds one of the unappreciated skills of economists is that we can be pretty good at thinking carefully about what to measure, especially when what you ideally would like to measure is not always possible; ii) when designing individualized policies, simpler policies (like policy trees) are not only easier to explain to policymakers than more complicated non-parametric targeting, but also the constraints help regularize and can help with performance; 3) related to that, it can be a lot easier to predict outcomes than individual treatment effects, and so the noise involved in predicting individual treatment effects can limit the effectiveness of targeting on treatment; and 4) she shows how to graphically show the relative effectiveness of different targeting rules. The talk is a high-level overview for a general audience, so lots of nice examples throughout.  

·       John List has also put his AEA slides up for putting economic research into practice at businesses, giving examples from his work at Lyft, including using their data to look at racial discrimination in traffic stops.

·       UNU Merit has a nice interview with Mariajose Silva Vargas (who took the photographs we use for our blog), about the links between her research and her photography.

·       The rise of R but Stata still dominates: Sebastian Kranz looks at reproducibility packages from different economics journals over time, and sees Stata is the most used by far, with .do scripts found in 71.6% of replication packages, followed by Matlab with 24.5%. Both are pretty stable over time. R is rising very quickly from 1.4% in 2010 to just over 20% in 2023 (note packages can have multiple languages used for the same paper). Meanwhile, Philip Cohen documents the slow progress in Sociology towards sharing data and code.

·       On VoxDev, Noam Angrist and Rachael Meager summarize their recent work on how implementation (fidelity) explains a lot of the heterogeneity in impacts of targeted instruction in education across different studies.

·       Has Econ peaked as a field? Jake Vigdor notes submissions to several economics journals have fallen in the past couple of years, AEA revenue is down, and the number of PhDs in economics graduating each year is stagnant and fallen behind “even psychology”


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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