Governance, growth, and equity

When I studied environmental issues, I was taught three lenses through which to understand them: The neo-Malthusians emphasized resource scarcity, natural limits, and scientific management. Most conservationists and environmental scientists fit this perspective. The Cornucopians emphasized markets, technology, and humanity’s ability to invent its way out of shortages. Their ranks include lots of economists and …

“Thin” and “thick” causality

Kathryn Paige Harden’s book The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality includes a really nice primer on causality, including a distinction between “thin” and thick” versions of it. The book is about genetics, but that’s not what I’m interested in this post; more about the book here and here. Here are some excerpts …

Prediction, preparation, and humility

Sheila Jasanoff of Harvard has a really interesting essay in Boston Review titled “‘Preparedness’ Won’t Stop the Next Pandemic.” The whole thing is worth a read, but here’s the gist: Humility, by contrast, admits that defeat is possible. It occupies the nebulous zone between preparedness and precaution by asking a moral question: not what we …

Objectivity as a social accomplishment

Here is an excellent characterization of scientific objectivity as a social practice, from Naomi Oreskes in her book Why Trust Science: Sociologists of scientific knowledge stressed that science is a social activity, and this has been taken by many (for both better and worse) as undermining its claims to objectivity. The “social,” particularly to many …

Better markets, but more or less?

Luigi Zingales has a good op-ed in Project Syndicate that summarizes a case he’s been making for years: But this opposition of state and market is misleading, and it poses a major obstacle to understanding and addressing today’s policy challenges. The dichotomy emerged in the nineteenth century, when arcane government rules, rooted in a feudal …

Software and the supply side

Chris Mims in WSJ writes about the new software conglomerates (I wrote about them for Quartz recently here) and says: The large companies of yesteryear bet on things like economies of scale in manufacturing—everything gets cheaper to make, the more you make of it. Modern platform companies take advantage of something unique to the internet …

Trusting expertise

More on applied epistemology (which should just be called epistemology!) Here’s Holden Karnofsky of Open Philanthropy describing his process for “minimal-trust investigations”–basically trying to understand something yourself as close to from-the-ground-up as you can. Along the way he makes some very good points about social learning, i.e. how and when to trust others to reach …

The sites that dominated the economics blogosphere

Several years ago I posted the results of an analysis of top economics sites. I’ve redone that work a bit differently, this time with the data on Github. This time the analysis is purely of the curation done on economist Mark Thoma’s blog during the 2010s: the result is ~14,000 links that he recommended. Here’s …

Revisiting the housing bubble

Timothy Lee has a good post on the revisionist history of the mid-2000s housing bubble in the US. I find the basic premise interesting and pretty compelling: what looked like a housing bubble might have just been prices responding to a mismatch between supply and demand. Lee further says this analytical error—seeing a bubble where …