Published on Development Impact

Weekly links September 9: the most taught economics articles, firm upgrading, what personal finance advice books tell us that econ theory forgets, and more…

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·       The top 30 economic articles on academic syllabi, from the Open Syllabus dataset includes several development and growth classics: Banerjee and Duflo’s The Economic Lives of the Poor; Morduch’s The Microfinance Promise; multiple papers on economic growth (Mankiw/Romer/Weil, Lucas, Solow, Pritchett’s Divergence Big Time, Romer, Hall and Jones), and some classics in trade (Melitz, Krugman). There is a cool citation graph to explore and search – you can search for your own articles, and see how many syllabi they are on, and which articles they are most frequently assigned with – e.g. my returns to capital paper is most frequently included with the Miracle of Microfinance, and is surprisingly on one criminal justice syllabi! A fun rabbit hole to explore…

·       On VoxDev, Eric Verhoogen summarizes the recent literature on firm upgrading in developing countries. “Several lessons have emerged from the recent research. One is that selling to richer consumers, either directly (e.g. by exporting to richer countries) or indirectly (e.g. by selling into production chains that sell eventually to richer countries), appears to have a robust positive effect on upgrading…A second lesson from the recent literature is that firms from developing countries are often constrained by a lack of know-how… In the context of larger firms, I would argue that we should think of them as “lacking know-how but rational” and focus research on barriers to learning.”

·       Planet Money’s newsletter has a nice explanation/summary of James Choi’s work comparing the advice from 50 popular personal finance books to what economic theory would recommend – and how to think about both from a behavioral econ perspective. For example, on consumption smoothing: “Where thinkfluencers and old-school economics really depart from each other, Choi says, is "the usefulness of establishing saving consistently as a discipline," Choi says. This motivation, he says, "is almost always missing from economic models of optimal saving — [and is] a potentially important oversight." In other words, some of us might need to adopt hard-and-fast saving rules at a young age to develop the discipline needed to lead more affluent lives, even if that's less than optimal from a traditional economic perspective.”

·       The Economist on the increase in economists going to work in tech firms: “Job-placement data from ten leading graduate programmes in economics shows that tech firms hired one in seven newly minted phds in 2022, up from less than one in 20 in 2018. Amazon is the keenest recruiter. The e-commerce giant now has some 400 full-time economists on staff…pay is a factor, says John List, a professor at the University of Chicago who has worked at Uber and Lyft. But tech companies also offer many of the benefits of a university career without the “publish or perish” culture”.

·       JPAL Africa is running an 8-week training course on designing and running RCTs for resident African Scholars (i.e. individuals who have completed a PhD and are based at a university in Africa).


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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