Economics & Marginalia: July 29, 2022

July 29, 2022

Hi all,

Friends of mine know it’s pretty easy to make me happy: put me somewhere where I can watch birds, cricket or basketball, with something good to drink (preferably derived from grapes) and good food. It’s a reliable recipe. And speaking of good food and reliable recipes, I regret to open with sad news: the incomparable Diana Kennedy (whose work my wife introduced me to) has passed away just short of her 100th year. I associate her so closely with Mexico that it was a shock to realise she was born in Loughton—what a journey her life took her on. If you haven’t come across her, her cookbooks are all outstanding, but in particular The Essential Cuisines of Mexico. Just make sure you have an extra-large tub of lard if you want to be faithful to the recipes. And on that note, we’ll make a handbrake turn directly into the economics, but for me it’s just from one obsession into another.

  1. Hard to open with anything but the essential new work my CGD colleagues have produced in collaboration with Asylum Access and Refugees International documenting the labour market experiences of refugees around the worldThe key insight is that while refugees’ legal right to work is nominally protected in most places, in practice their experience of the labour market is much more restrictive and around one-fifth of global refugees live in countries which severely restrict their ability to work. This is such an own goal: without the right to work, refugees are even more dependent on the state, less likely to engage productively with the host population and—most importantly—made more vulnerable for no good reason. They could instead contribute to the economy, create jobs and fill vacancies, and live more decent, more dignified lives. But, particularly on those last grounds, it doesn’t seem like this is what many European countries are even trying to achieve.
  2. Also on the subject of human movement, this is a superb blog by David McKenzie on why people don’t move more often, despite the generally large economic benefits of moving to places with better opportunities. He focuses on the very real psychological factors that can deter movement: fear of the unknown, uncertainty about how one will fit in to and enjoy living in the new location; and the emotional toll of leaving a place you think of as home. But he makes the point that in particular this emotional toll may be location-inconsistent: that is, before moving, you expect high costs of having to leave home, but after moving you discover it wasn’t as bad as you expected—partly because it’s easy to conceptualising saying goodbye to a friend you leave behind but hard to concretely imagine the new friends you’ll meet in the future. I often give people the advice that if they’re agonising over a decision, the odds are there isn’t much in it, and if they can’t get more information easily they should just relax and pick one—they’re similar enough based on what you know. The bias David points out suggests my advice is too conservative (at least in the case of moving). If you’re on the fence, the odds are the move is the better choice.
  3. As someone who has spent an incredible amount of time over the last five years trying to get large organisations to share data so I can do research that is in their own interests, I love this Tim Harford column, about how to share large datasets for research purposes when there are deanonymisation risks. Please, colleagues in the UK Government—just adopt this as standard! You will benefit more than you expect.
  4. Speaking of sharing datasets: econ twitter was recently lit up with controversy after the discovery that Uber had paid some academic economists to do some research using their data; these reports usually came out positive to the company. Andrew Gelman has a very measured, sensible take on the whole situation, pointing out that the phrase conflict of interest is a description, not a pejorative. He finds all the pearl-clutching rather over the top. That wasn’t my first response, but his take is convincing. We should be sceptical and critical of these studies, perhaps even more than we are of any other study we read: but this is just a matter of degree, not a philosophical difference in how we should think of them.
  5. “My grandparents’ generation kept a packed suitcase under the bed. That is unthinkable to me…” I could excerpt any sentence at random from this superb short essay by the philosopher Jonathan Wolff on assimilation, reflecting on his own family history of seeking refuge and asylum, and what it means to him in the context of modern Britain. It is both personal and universal, and highly recommended. His closing lines are: “But whether the country benefits from refugees or not, compassion and inclusion is a humanitarian duty. It’s not a lot to ask.”
  6. Episode Three of Planet Money’s summer school is all about recessions and booms and features the brilliant Atif Mian, which should be all the recommendation you need (transcript).
  7. Lastly, I’ve been working all hours this week as I juggle far too many tasks (research, the day job, parenting), so this was worth its weight in gold to me: a twitter thread of Dabke, the Arabic dance I was first introduced to at a friend’s wedding.  The only thing that cheered me up more than that was this clip of Zach Braff teaching Elmo a slightly fruitier vocabulary than he displays on Sesame Street. And on that note…

Have a great weekend, everyone!



CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.