Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy 2010!

... although still more than 6 hours to go of '09, here, in Chicago. Where I have already discovered (in Devon Market; all credits to Daniel) an interesting range of rather decent Romanian wines (eventually I have settled for a Feteasca Regala from Jidvei and, something special for tonight-- I am very curious!-- a Dracula's Blood Merlot). Good to know, given that I'll soon spend quite some time around here.

Anyway, let us enter 2010 on Massenet's Méditation de Thaïs, wonderfully interpreted by the one and only Leila Josefowicz (how can one not be in love with this woman?!). THE music piece for the New Year (why not)?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The hard road to Transylvania

4 hours inside a KLM/Malev plane that just wouldn't take off at Schiphol (after 2 extra hours of waiting for the-- eventually, wrong-- plane to arrive); a (involuntary, for a change) night spent in beautiful but frozen Budapest (helped by the fact that my friend Balint was very inspired for the dinner suggestion; even the house white wine was very decent!-- though nothing like my favourite Hungarian white); quality time the next day (inter alia, absolutely great mushroom soup and venison with juniper berries, for lunch!) spent with my good old friend, master of all things Budapest, Daniel, while waiting for the uncertainty concerning trains towards Cluj to be resolved; and partly resolved it was after endless hours, although they forgot to provide a 1st class (they were considerate enough to give me a full 2nd class compartment instead, all the >8 hours long trip...enough time to go through quite a few Econometrica articles, tons of coffee, and a number of jazz and classical music albums...); but, finally, Transylvania it is, for the last couple of days: great feeling to be home. All nice and well, for the rest; among other things, my Xmas present arrived just in time, with compliments from the EU Commission.
Oh, and not to forget: You Baffle Me... (by the one and only female equivalent of Yann Tiersen out there, Shannon Wright; e.g. Shannon can also do this, or this, or this, or this.., and much much more, check out for instance all her wonderful Let in the Light album; plus, naturally, she had to collaborate on a fantastic album with Tiersen : for instance, this and this are simply perfect).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Popcorn theories and winter. In Kolding

Just returned from a very interesting CCP Workshop on Personnel Economics, where we found out about respect, CSR, trust, and a lot more, proving once again that we are most ruthless economic imperialists. Kolding can be a pitoresque place (fantastic for workshops & co!)-- especially when you literally see winter taking over-- though I still think I wouldn't have liked the alternative of "Aarhus University" starting as "Kolding University". Among the workshop highlights: some excellent informal chats with Eddie Lazear about the popcorn vs. domino effect of financial shock propagation and all things related (including a couple of captivating stories from his recent past in the US Government); and, obviously..., my very own presentation on pay for performance and wage patterns in Portugal, the prologue of a will-be-great paper on this important theme, joint with Miguel-- what were you thinking, that we only drank port in Portugal last summer? :-).

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday night econlinks

  • I am very curious how big this can/will get. After all, a whole Nobel might be at stake (I confess: I never really liked Gore, on any dimension; I still think he is submediocre or worse; however, I thought/still think that some of the climate guys/gals who won within the IPCC were more than decent...). This is not so much about scepticism (of any kind/degree), but first and foremost about scientific honesty. Seemingly a very rare quality today.
  • The current world chess champ was in Romania some days ago, but nobody within the national mass media seems to have noticed. Of course not, they are all busy with one of the most pathetic presidential elections ever; they always manage to keep themselves busy with the least important things.
  • The battle of the IT giants takes every possible form. In case you're wondering whom I am putting my money on, here's something to help you; these guys seem to know what's important for tomorrow: a small step in that direction with a (preliminary version of) automatic captioning for YouTube .

  • Only reinforces one point Easterly (and a minority of others) has been stressing all the time; this is how development should be done: help them to help themselves.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Easterly on Randomized Evaluation

By far the best read of the current week (as yet, but looks incredibly difficult to surpass this):

Here’s an imagined dialogue between the two sides on Randomized Evaluation (RE) based on this book:

FOR: Amazing RE power lets us identify causal effect of project treatment on the treated.
AGAINST: Congrats on finding the effect on a few hundred people under particular circumstances, too bad it doesn’t apply anywhere else.
FOR: No problem, we can replicate RE to make sure effect applies elsewhere.
AGAINST: Like that’s going to happen. Since when is there any academic incentive to replicate already published results? And how do you ever know when you have enough replications of the right kind? You can’t EVER make a generic “X works” statement for any development intervention X. Why don’t you try some theory about why things work?
FOR: We are now moving in the direction of using RE to test theory about why people behave the way they do.
AGAINST: I think we might be converging on that one. But your advertising has not yet got the message, like the
JPAL ad on “best buys on the Millennium Development Goals.”
FOR: Well, at least it’s better than your crappy macro regressions that never resolve what causes what, and where even the correlations are suspect because of data mining.
AGAINST: OK, you drew some blood with that one. But you are not so holy on data mining either, because you can pick and choose after the research is finished whatever sub-samples give you results, and there is also publication bias that shows positive results but not zero results.
FOR: OK we admit we shouldn’t do that, and we should enter all REs into a registry including those with no results.
AGAINST: Good luck with that. By the way, even if do you show something “works,” is that enough to get it adopted by politicians and implemented by bureaucrats?
FOR: But voters will want to support politicians who do things that work based on rigorous evidence.
AGAINST: Now you seem naïve about voters as well as politicians. Please be clear: do RE-guided economists know something the local people do not know, or do they have different values on what is good for them? What about tacit knowledge that cannot be tested by RE? Why has RE hardly ever been used for policymaking in developed countries?
FOR: You can take as many potshots as you want, at the end we are producing solid evidence that convinces many people involved in aid.
AGAINST: Well, at least we agree on the on the much larger question of what is not respectable evidence, namely, most of what is currently relied on in development policy discussions. Compared to the evidence-free majority, what unites us is larger than what divides us.

Looks like Easterly's has very high chances to become the top blog among my econblogs (at least according to how often I dedicate entire blogposts just to cite his posts, e.g. here or here, or a WSJ article here). Not bad, not bad at all: I do have pretty high standards, as all of you should have noticed! :-).

PS. See also an earlier entry on the topic (featuring again some of the heavyweights in this realm): 4th bullet point.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


  • The way forward for art: private funding with the right incentives for donors/funders. I think this ought to work also for universities, including public European ones... which are notoriously bad at this task, as we all know (with the important caveat that, especially in these European universities, the persons in charge of alumni networks and the like should really be the brains and not the (sub)mediocrities-- which seems to be the default in a lot of such places, even beyond the obvious fact that these are typically people with more /a lot more spare time; perhaps they/we should understand/decide that this is too important a job to leave to those with time to "spare" on it...-- only the brains can attract other brains and...their money).