Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Links from the interwebs

At this time of the year I won't try to write any coherent posts, but luckily other people are and I have more time to read them. Here are a few links shared from my Evernote notebooks:
But the aggregate numbers tell a worrying story. Fewer than 10% of African workers find jobs in manufacturing, and among those only a tiny fraction – as low as one-tenth – are employed in modern, formal firms with adequate technology. Distressingly, there has been very little improvement in this regard, despite high growth rates. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa is less industrialized today than it was in the 1980’s. Private investment in modern industries, especially non-resource tradables, has not increased, and remains too low to sustain structural transformation.
  • At the Why Nations Fail blog, Acemoglu & Robinson had a good post asking: Does leadership matter? They have argued that Nelson Mandela's legacy poses a challenge to political economy and how researchers can incorporate leadership and ideas into their theoretical models and empirical investigations. They make some good points and give two examples of recent research. They have more posts planned on this topic.
  • Finally, Krugman has (what Justin Wolfers calls) a love letter to the Econoblogosphere, with the title The Facebooking of Economics.
  • But the aggregate numbers tell a worrying story. Fewer than 10% of African workers find jobs in manufacturing, and among those only a tiny fraction – as low as one-tenth – are employed in modern, formal firms with adequate technology. Distressingly, there has been very little improvement in this regard, despite high growth rates. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa is less industrialized today than it was in the 1980’s. Private investment in modern industries, especially nonrs can incorporate leadership and ideas into their theoretical models and empirical investigations. They make some good points

But the aggregate numbers tell a worrying story. Fewer than 10% of African workers find jobs in manufacturing, and among those only a tiny fraction – as low as one-tenth – are employed in modern, formal firms with adequate technology. Distressingly, there has been very little improvement in this regard, despite high growth rates. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa is less industrialized today than it was in the 1980’s. Private investment in modern industries, especially non-resource tradables, has not increased, and remains too low to sustain structural transformation.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Links from the interwebs

A few links shared from my Evernote notebooks. There are many others, but I want to share some of the good ones about Higher Ed and Economics today:
  • Inomics blog has some suggestions for Economics and Econometrics YouTube channels that you can follow.
  • Derek Bok wrote at Project Syndicate that governments often misconceive the role of higher education in society - it is about more than jobs and money.
  • At the Marginal Revolution blog Tyler Cowan commented on some research about the characteristics that predict the publication productivity of Economics departments (in France). The work confirms some of us managers' ideas: Women, older academics, stars in the department and co-authors in foreign institutions all have a positive externality impact on individuals' publications.
  • The Economist wrote about firms that keep grading their staff ruthlessly: Grading performance along a "vitality curve" and sacking those in the lowest category. Now in academia, performance management is not that bad, but does this sound familiar?
Ranking and yanking is more logical in investment banks, law and accountancy firms and big consultancies: their business model is, in a sense, built on recruiting large numbers of junior staff and motivating them with the prospect of becoming a partner, even though in practice only a few of them can ever make it. 
I would like to argue that we can never go down this road. Banking or consultancy style performance evaluation would ignore the merit good characteristics of what universities should do. Our system should rather encourage collaboration and positive external benefits.
  • Mark Carrigan made some excellent points at the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog about how the academic blogosphere mediates between research and journalism.
  • Finally, Gabriel Rossman had an excellent post on the Code and Culture blog with the title: You broke peer review. Yes, I mean you! It is quite a long post, but worth reading through. I only want to mention a few of the points of advice:
    • Do not brainstorm your review.
    • Distinguish between demands, vs suggestions, vs synapses that happened to fire as you were reading the paper.
    • There is wrong and then there is difference of opinion.
    • Do not try to turn the author's theory section into a lit review.
    • Appreciate the constraints imposed on the author by the journal.
    • Stand up to the editors!

    Women, older academics, stars in the department and co-authors in foreign institutions all have a positive externality impact on each academic’s individual outcome. - See more at:
    Women, older academics, stars in the department and co-authors in foreign institutions all have a positive externality impact on each academic’s individual outcome. - See more at:
    It is the responsibility of educators to help their students live satisfying, responsible lives. However well or badly universities perform this task, their efforts to succeed at it are worth fighting for and deserve their governments’ recognition and encouragement. After all, as Louis Brandeis observed: For good or ill, “our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher.” If our leaders regard education merely as a means to jobs and money, no one should be surprised if young people eventually come to think of it that way, too.
    It is the responsibility of educators to help their students live satisfying, responsible lives. However well or badly universities perform this task, their efforts to succeed at it are worth fighting for and deserve their governments’ recognition and encouragement. After all, as Louis Brandeis observed: For good or ill, “our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher.” If our leaders regard education merely as a means to jobs and money, no one should be surprised if young people eventually come to think of it that way, too.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Review: The Long View

I thought that I am too slow in getting started with a post about JP Landman’s The Long View, but yesterday The Economist posted an article about South Africa (Braai, the beloved country) that has Twitter up in arms, so that makes my timing perfect.

In his new book JP Landman argues that if you look at the newspaper headlines, you are very likely to get swept up by this week’s drama (this week it is Nkandla).  Very quickly you will become very negative about the country and its future prospects. We should rather take the long view.

He asks what makes a modern successful society and evaluates the progress made since 1994 and future prospects against each of these requirements.

The first is a growing economy and he throws out some numbers: Over the last 19 years the SA economy grew by 77% in real terms, there has been social development and investment in infrastructure. The successes are ascribed to the end of sanctions, the opening up of the economy, prudent fiscal and monetary policies and increases in productivity. I would qualify this “success” and ask why did South Africa not receive much FDI, why have many sectors struggled to compete in an open economy (and are now asking for protection), how capital intensive is the growth in productivity? But the book just goes on to argue that South Africa has reached a level of economic development where democracy has a reasonable chance of surviving.

The second argument is that demography is pushing us towards modernity: population is growing slower than the economy, but it is still a young population, though not that young that it could cause instability.

The third requirement for a modern, successful economy is employment. The book first unpacks some numbers, showing that South Africa has not experienced jobless growth as some have argued. We have had low rates of economic growth and low rates of job creation – this has a lot to do with the capital intensity of growth. Then there are three sets of constraints to faster job creation and the NDP are said to address them: NDP for faster growth, NDP for improved transport and dense cities to bring people and jobs together, NDP for better health and education! Here JP draws on Prof Frederick Fourie’s Three Discourses article and it is worth it to have a good look at the original work or at least the econ3x3 post – his is a much more nuanced story. The book goes on to argue that there are no quick fixes and we should systematically chip away at the obstacles. The structural measures include better education (also FET), expanded measures to link work seekers with jobs, improved public transport etc. The so-called elastoplast measures include the expanded public works programme and the jobs fund.

I feel that “taking the long view” and doing some hand waving about education, transport or public works may understate the depth of the challenges facing South Africa. Prof Servaas van der Berg and the RESEP group’s work on education paints a more somber picture.

The other requirements for a modern successful society include open societies, creative individuals, learning and social capital. With these you are either an optimist, pointing at the Constitution, the success of the World Cup and talking about leadership. Or you are a pessimist listing fraud and corruption, talking about extractive institutions. The Long View strikes a positive note, but with few examples and no evidence.

In the final sections JP presents a balance sheet of forces pushing growth up and down. The down-side forces are the familiar challenges of political uncertainty, strikes, social unrest, poverty, inequality, crime, weak public sector institutions, low productivity. The up-side forces that are listed include planned infrastructure investment, rising employment, property rights and a sound legal system, the ability to adopt new technologies, increasing relations with the BRIC countries and integration into sub-Saharan Africa. It is argued that we can muddle through with growth of 3%, that “even low growth weaves its magic”. The long view is that our bigger ambitions lie in the NDP. The stepping stones to this are massive infrastructure development, the Industrial Policy Action Plan and “various proposals under the NDP”, including promoting exports, support for SMEs and a more responsive labour market. Moving beyond economics, the arguments are that government and the private sector need to trust one another, that we need an ambition to perform and that leadership is critical.

Overall I think that there is a lot that recommends the book, but we probably don't need another one like it. Amongst policymakers and pundits there is agreement on the challenges and the possible solutions, also about the fact that it will take time. I wonder about the political sustainability of a middle-income, low-growth trap. Will we muddle through, or just muddle? Are there examples of countries that have muddled through? What did they do, how did they do it? Why will the NDP be different from all the previous plans? Are there examples of an NDP making all the difference? How exactly will the social capital-trust-leadership thing work? Who are those future leaders? How can we make institutions and growth inclusive?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Links from the interwebs

A few links shared from my Evernote notebooks:
  • The big story was that Udacity's Sebastian Thrun announced that they are changing course, turning it into a e-learning corporate training company. There was a lot written about this in EdTech circles, but the Ed Techie blog makes a number of good points:
After all that hype. All that "Napsterisation of higher education", the "end of universities", the "10 global providers of education" nonsense, what do we have? A corporate e-learning company. 
… Thrun seems to have 'discovered' that open access, distance education students struggle to complete. I don't want to sound churlish here, but hey, the OU has known this for 40 years. It's why it spends a lot of money developing courses that have guidance and support built into the material, and also on a comprehensive support package, ranging from tutors, helpdesk, regional study centres and so on.
  • In another much-hyped field, Lant Pritchett argued on the CGD blog that the use of RCT's in development should be considered in terms of the emerging technologies hype cycle (which is interesting to look at anyway).
  • David McKenzie had an excellent three-part series post on the Development Impact blog on the intersection between industrial organisation research and development.
  • Johan Fourie warned of the dangers of Sangomanomics. Also check out the comments.
  • Reuters had an interesting article on how Mugabe and ZANU-PF has destroyed manufacturing in Zimbabwe.
  • Via Marginal Revolution blog I found this interesting story on how corrupt police officers in Kenya receive bribes via their mobile phones and M-Pesa accounts.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Review: Zumanomics Revisited

With the celebration of 20 years of democracy and a general election around the corner, political economists are looking back and looking forward. This year JP Landman has offered The long view (read the Business Day review here) and recently Goldman Sachs published their report with the title Two decades of freedom: What South Africa is doing with it and what now needs to be done. Prof Raymond Parsons takes to this field with Zumanomics Revisited: The road from Mangaung to 2030 (buy it here).

In the first Zumanomics published in 2009, Prof Parsons edited the contributions of a number of authors and anticipated some of the issues that would be important to an ANC government headed by President Zuma. It outlined the socio-economic challenges facing policymakers and offered a range of recommendations. Since then, the global financial crisis has clearly shown the obstacles to reducing unemployment, poverty and inequality in South Africa and limited the policy room to maneuver. Growing the economy at a rate of two to three percent per annum is not good enough and in Zumanomics Revisited Prof Parsons returns with a view to how we can do better.

First there is a look back at the performance of global and South African economies. Briefly, it is the story of a recession forcing the deleveraging of private and public debt. The slow recovery has been supported by significant monetary expansion but global inflation seems to be well anchored. As economic growth picks up, this era of cheap money will come to an end and have implications for South Africa. Tapering in the U.S. and its impact on developing country currencies have recently been in the news. Prof Parsons argues that the outcomes of global changes will depend on how South Africa is able to respond and our degree of resilience in doing so. The confidence factor matters.

It is however important to distinguish between the factors over which a country like South Africa has little or no control and domestic policies. For South Africa the financial crisis has meant pressure on consumers, exporters and government finances. A small open economy will be influenced by global events, but should be able to develop the flexibility and adaptability to address new opportunities and risks.  For policy, Prof Parsons turns to the National Development Plan (NDP).

The focus of the NDP is not new and he rightly asks, why are we here again? Since 1994 there have been numerous diagnostic documents and socio-economic programmes, ranging from the RDP, to GEAR, to ASGISA, to the New Growth path, to the NDP. Good economics do not always make good politics and Prof Parsons provides some interesting political economy views of our policy efforts. He argues that the very nature of the ANC-COSATU-SACP alliance has made for a constant “tug of war” over economic policy. The result has been mixed and negative signals about, for example, nationalization or a youth wage subsidy. The question then becomes, can the NDP also overcome the challenge of implementation?

Prof Parsons classifies the challenges facing the NDP as five key deficits that need to be addressed. These are the social deficit, fiscal deficit, trade deficit, delivery deficit and the trust deficit.

The social deficit combines the obvious issues of unemployment, poverty and inequality.  Addressing these will require sustained growth, which requires improvements in education, along with the social safety net. The role of government is however constrained by the fiscal gap. In 2012 ratings agencies lowered South Africa’s sovereign debt rating.  Fitch argued that: "Economic growth performance and prospects have deteriorated, affecting the public finances and exacerbating social and political tensions".  Moody’s reasoned that unemployment and inequality increased socio-economic pressure in South Africa and this jeopardised the ability to manage economic growth and increase competitiveness. This is coupled with increased public debt, infrastructure gaps and rising labour costs. In the 2013/14 Budget the Minister of Finance again consolidated the fiscal stance and outlined plans to reduce debt levels and rebalance spending towards investment. The result is limited room to maneuver. In turn, monetary policy may come under pressure from tapering in the U.S., linked to South Africa’s sizable deficit on the current account of the balance of payments. In the meantime, it seems that South African exporters are losing competitiveness and service delivery is hampered by the poor quality of institutions.

These challenges are familiar to anyone who follows developments in South Africa’s economy, but it is when Prof Parsons relates them back to a trust deficit and the importance of social capital that the book comes to its right. He argues that we need to think more long term and trust can be built slowly. This requires leadership at all levels and business, labour and government working together. The end result can be the “social compact” that the NDP has proposed.

For Prof Parsons the key is pragmatism and action. In the final chapters he outlines the risks and opportunities facing the implementation of the NDP, from political scenarios to entrepreneurship. He examines the role of business in the mixed economy and impact assessments as a policy tool.

Finally he concludes that the implementation of the NDP may define President Zuma’s place in history. “The President has to rally the country, not just special interest groups. He needs to forge a consensus which has leverage to achieve outcomes, even a few small quick successes to build confidence”.

So can South Africa prove the skeptics wrong? Prof Parsons thinks so.

“South Africa needs a new burst of energy and effective leadership to make more things possible. We urgently need to build a national economic purpose. The battle for the future is now. Without an overall framework like the NDP at this juncture, we cannot generate an economy that will be bigger, stronger and better by 2030. A vision for 2030 provides the reason and hope on which all South Africans must build their future.”

If you are interested in the South African economy and politics, Zumanomics Revisited is required reading for your summer vacation.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

A few quick thoughts

I am shocked, shocked to realise that I did not get around to any blog posts in October. After the ESSA conference the month became a blur of admin paperwork and reading the work of students who want to submit their thesis or dissertation. That and marking and participation marks and meetings. Lots of meetings. So before I can't call myself a part-time blogger anymore, a few thoughts.

  • Still in October I was part of a group from our TRADE research niche that visited UNCTAD's Virtual Institute in Geneva. I made a post about the research at the School's blog.
  • On trains and at airports I had time to read JP Landman's new book: The long view. I hope to post a review here before the end of the month.
  • I am also due to write a review of Prof Raymond Parsons' new book: Zumanomics revisited, before the end of this month and will post it here as well.
  • Linked to those, I would like to comment on the Goldman's report 20 Years of freedom. Not everyone is keen - Richard Poplak warns of an unholy alliance in The Daily Maverick.
  • And then there is an ERSA Economic History workshop coming up in Potch early in December. I am putting something together with Johan and looking forward to seeing the Economic Historians again.
  • Finally, I was at one of those open dialogue with the rector events yesterday and the profs threw around some ideas about the nature of the university and research. I have some of my own, but in the meantime here is some interesting reading on management and university performance via Vox.Eu. I like this bit: the positive correlation (between better management and better outcomes) is driven mainly by incentives which matter for both research and teaching. Monitoring and targets are much less important in explaining performance. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A brief history at ESSA

I'm at the #essa2013 conference and Bloemfontein and seeing old friends again have made me think of all the Economic Society conferences that I have attended over the years.

My first one was in 1997. I was a new junior lecturer at Unisa and the conference was in Potchefstroom. Having just finished Honours the year before in Potch I knew the people and place and could show my new colleagues around. I had just started with my Master's degree and didn't have a paper to present. The next was Pretoria in 1999. I went there with three Dutch students visiting from the VU. They and two of my other colleagues were the only ones at my graveyard session paper on “Fiscal decentralisation of road transport infrastructure and economic development”. I missed 2001, being away at Warwick and cannot remember where it was held.

In 2003 a big group of us went down to the Lord Charles Hotel in Summerset West. While the senior Profs were at the council meeting we took the bus and went wine tasting. One evening JD van Heerden offered us a lift to go out in Stellenbosch and we ended up having a great time at Tollies. I spoke about “Foreign direct investment in Africa: Do institutions and geography matter?” (Co-author Prof Wim Naudé)

In 2005 I was presenting papers everywhere: Denmerk, the UK, Japan and also at the Elangeni Hotel in Durban. I had two papers there. The first was with colleagues from Statistics, James Allison and Gerhard Koekemoer, with the title: “Convergence or divergence of South African cities and towns? Evidence from kernel density estimates”. The second with a Master's student Martin Luus and he presented on the topic: “Economic specialisation and diversity of South Africa’s cities”. I saw McCloskey there for the first time and had to sit at high table during the conference dinner, speaking to Tony Venables.

The conference was held in Johannesburg in 2007 and I had a bunch of papers:
  • “Measuring the Export Capability of Cities and Towns in South Africa”, with Marianne Matthee.
  • “On exports and domestic transport costs: An industry viewpoint”, with Marianne Matthee and Sonja Grater.
  • “Measuring the quality of local governance in South Africa” with Jacky van der Merwe.
In 2009 we were back at the coast and this time in Port Elizabeth. Mine was the last paper in the last session, but a good one with Neil Rankin: “Agglomeration and manufacturing output: Firm-level
evidence from South Africa”. There Andrea and I went out to Barney's the one evening to celebrate Steve's birthday. Good times.

The 2011 conference was at the Maties campus and an excellent one. I worked with Derick Blaauw on the topic: “Micro-evidence on day labourers and the thickness of labour markets in South Africa”. This year there is a tourism paper (with Melville Saayman) and a volunteers paper (with Ferdinand Niyimbanira) in Bloemfontein.

So, thanks ESSA, it has been excellent. Good times and I have met lots of wonderful people. I recently heard someone say in a presentation: People yearn to go on a pilgrimage, but these days they call them conferences. I could not agree more.

Monday, 23 September 2013

ESSA 2013

This week the Economic Society of South Africa is holding its biennial conference in Bloemfontein. The programme is a showcase for the interesting work being done in South Africa.

For the first time in a few a years a South African leads the opening plenary session. Prof Servaas van der Berg will be speaking on Education, poverty and affluence - a South African perspective. His  ReSEP group at Stellenbosch produces key socio-economic policy work. There is also a presentation about the REDI3x3 project and SAJE editor Steve Koch will speak about what the journal is looking for in an article.

There are many papers on the programme that caught my eye:

  • Prof Peet Strydom has put together a session on the history of economic thought. He will be presenting a neo-Ricardian view of income distribution, employment and growth. John Hart is discussing Hutchinson. Stan du Plessis is reinterpreting Friedman. Should be good.
  • Dori Posel and Daniela Casale is presenting some subjective well-being work. I used to do some quality of life, quality of place research and I am keen to hear their take.
  • Derick Blaauw and Ilse Botha looks at the subjective well-being of day labourers and the importance of location - combining some of my favourite fields.
  • Neil Rankin, Volker Schoer, Gareth Roberts and more collaborators have a number of different papers on employment. I am keen to go listen to their results from a randomized control trial of a youth wage subsidy.
  • I also want to hear Frederick Fourie on the NDP.
  • There are a number of Economics education papers that look promising.
  • My colleagues and myself have a few papers on the programme as well.
I have marked many more in my programme and expect to run around quite a bit between sessions. You can have a look at the programme at I spotted a few tweeting economists on the programme, so you can also follow the essa2013 hashtag on Twitter.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

How to get your research published

Last week I was on one of those "Meet the editors" panels and we had an interesting discussion about research, publication and how to get your work into journals. I thought I should share a few of the conclusions that we came to.

Just as some background, the panel consisted of SAJEMS editor Pieter Buys along with Melville Saayman (TREES) and Matthijs Bal (Vrije Universiteit) who are section editors at a number of journals in tourism and industrial psychology / organisational behaviour, respectively.

So everyone probably knows the process: You submit your work to the journal and the editor has a quick look. Then he or she assigns it to a section editor. The section editor appoints 2 or 3 reviewers. And hopefully everything goes well from there.

What is a "dealbreaker" and could lead to rejection of the paper by the editor or section editor?
  • If your work falls outside the scope of the journal. 
  • If the editing is sloppy.
  • If the contribution is not clear.
The first point means that you have to write for a journal and its audience. Don't just pick a journal from the ISI list and give it a try. Read the author guidelines, work through a number of issues and see what they are about before submitting your work. This also makes the letter to the editor quite important - Pieter said that he reads them - you have to explain how your work is of interest to this particular group of readers.

If the grammar is bad and the references incomplete it can easily lead to a desk reject. We all have to remember that journals receive many submissions and have pipelines full of approved articles. They don't have to work through sloppy manuscripts to search for good ideas. I know how I get irritated by post-grad students sending me unreadable documents - editors and section editors will not waste reviewers' time with draft versions of research. You have to submit your best effort.

These basics will get you past the editor, but the section editor is the expert in a particular field and wants to know if your well-written manuscript makes a contribution. You may feel that the contribution is in the eye of the beholder, but the fact is that you can make his or her decision easier by spelling it out. Let's assume that you started out with a contribution-level idea - the challenge is explaining it to readers. It should be clear as day, right there in the introduction. Highlight how your work informs the big questions in the field.

The dreaded third reviewer
Then you need to hope that the section editor picks good reviewers. Everyone has a story about a completely unreasonable third reviewer who wants a completely different paper. There is not much that you can do about this. A really good abstract, introduction and accurate key words / JEL codes (for topic, case/application, method) can help the section editor pick reviewers that knows the field and can sensibly look at your work. If the section editor does not quite understand what the paper is about, they end up picking names from the list the journal keeps (and when did you last update your research interests on the list of reviewers?)

How long should you wait before you follow up on a submission? 
With some journals you can check electronically, with others you can ask whether they have at least appointed reviewers after two months or so.

What if you gets the reviews back and they recommend major revisions, to the point of asking you to do a different study?
The panel felt that you should engage with the section editor or editor that you are corresponding with: Explain the changes that you have made and acknowledge the limitations.

More on the contribution
Matthijs also made a few comments specifically about the contribution of the paper. These points are not really related to how you present finished work, but to how you conceptualise and do the work in the first place.You have to start by asking what are the big questions in the field and how can you make a small contribution to answering them. Testing a particular theory or model for the first time in the South African context, is not a contribution. Revisiting big questions with more sophisticated statistics is not a contribution. The South African application only becomes interesting if there is a clear case that South Africa is somehow different - and that difference should be accounted for in the analysis, not just argued in the introduction. Using more sophisticated techniques is only a contribution if the way of modelling something has been a big question in the particular literature. These day the better journals are not keen on cross-sectional designs, mono-source and mono-method papers. He nicely argued that this does not mean that everything should be new, but that it should be interesting. You have to ask what can everyone learn from this work.

Finally, if you don't have one yet, grow a thick skin. Rejection is part of the publication process and considering all its vagaries, you should not take it personally. Just revise and resubmit. Never give up, never surrender.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Education for society 3.0

Or otherwise titled, Should your university rush into open online education right now?

I have posted about MOOCs before - a few ideas and some links, but following the conference in Maastricht I have finally written a proper post. It is on the School's blog: Education for society 3.0.

I would love to hear some thoughts.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

More on publishing and social media

So I make the presentation in the previous post at the conference, but the people were not convinced. "Doing research and promoting it on social media will take too much time..."

But yesterday I read this nice post at The Monkey Cage blog on The promise and perils of sharing work in progress. Allow me to quote a bit:

Some significant part of being (viewed as) “successful” in academia is being visible to your peers.  Yes, the actual quality of your work matters more, but visibility counts for something.  In tenure decisions, departments often want evidence that you are “known” in the field.  There are lots of ways to build visibility—going to conferences, networking, etc.—but most all of them involve sharing your work, even in its early stages.
Social media is the way to go! I am going to follow the advice:

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Publishing, perishing and social media

I have been going on about this for a while now and this week I am taking my social media story to a conference at the Maastricht School of Management. The conference has the theme: Revolutions in education: New opportunities for development.

My point is that it is getting tough to publish. Even your local society journal wants clean identification of causal effects. The quick reply to such worries are to do better work. I argue that that is necessary, but may not be sufficient. You also need to work on your reputation for doing good work and collaborate with people who already have that reputation. It is at this point that the social web can come to the rescue.

Prof Wim Naude and I will soon launch an online survey about this. Stay tuned for some empirical results.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Some macro thoughts and Zumanomics Revisited

Last Friday saw the official launch of Prof Raymond Parsons' new book Zumanomics Revisited. I was involved in the first drafts of a number of sections and really enjoyed it. Writing blogs is good practise for working on more accessible, popular writing about the SA economy.

This past week a few posts that fit right into the story, caught my eye. The first was a Project Syndicate post that describes the current bumpy ride for emerging markets, South Africa included.
some countries are at risk, especially those with large current-account deficits, large foreign capital inflows relative to the size of their financial markets, and low foreign-exchange reserves. Among the most vulnerable are Turkey, South Africa, Brazil, India, and Indonesia – a group that Morgan Stanley researchers have dubbed the “Fragile Five.” 
Bradford DeLong comments that in the wake of tapering in the U.S., emerging market central banks have three options:

  • Raise interest rates to maintain the differential and their currencies, but at the cost of production and employment.
  • Maintain interest rates and let the exchange rate deteriorate, hopefully boosting exports, production and employment.
  • Split the difference.
The third option is the difficult one if expectations of future nominal currency values against the dollar are not well anchored. Letting the rupee or the rand drop now may not restore confidence if investors then expect a domestic exchange-rate inflationary spiral. In South Africa such a fear may be well founded considering current wage claims and strike action. At Alec Hogg's BizNews, Gideon du Plessis had an excellent post on the highway or dirt road options for South Africa's labour story.

Which brings us back to Zumanomics Revisited. When examining the deficits facing the SA economy, Prof Parsons' political economics background is a big advantage. He makes some key points about the trust deficit between business and labour and government. Trust is exactly what is needed for the highway scenario and the bumpy ride ahead in international financial markets.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

So many links, so little time

I don't make enough time to share some thought on this blog. Weeks rush by with meetings, classes and late night reading of students' chapters 2 and 3 (they want to submit dissertations in November!). I do however have a few things to share.

The first came too late for my ESSA papers. Branco Malanovic (@BrancoMilan) tweeted a nice disclaimer that I could have used: All calculations are preliminary. All regressions are suggestive and show correlations, do not imply causation. And then he went on: Conclusions are provisory & not endorsed by the authors. Actually, the paper does not exist and was never written.

I have speculated a fair bit about why we need to upload full papers for this year's conference. I does not seem like they will be reviewed. Is there an oversupply of papers? Is the programme overbooked? Are the organisers prepared to turn away colleagues who have paid the registration fee and then have empty slots in the programme, or will they reorganise it into a shorter conference? Is the idea that having full papers available can give attendees a better idea of what they want to listen to before arriving in Bloem? I can see why full papers are required at something like CSAE, but I am underestimating ESSA? Could the whole thing be part of someone's research into papers and publications in SA economics and we are now part of the sample?

But anyway, other interesting links include this one to the Top 200 influential Economics blogs. There are some fun choices of names. By the way, Marginal Revolution blog celebrated 10 years this week. Someone congratulated Cowen and Tabarrok for blogging like they have never heard of opportunity cost!

On the subject of social media, David Roberts had a good post about why he is taking a year off from Grist. Burning out in the blogosphere is a real danger: "I spend each day responding to an incoming torrent of tweets and emails. I file, I bookmark, I link, I forward, I snark and snark and snark. All day long".

Finally, I found a nice MOOC article: MOOCs and beyond: The revolution to come. It gives a good summary of the brief history of MOOCs, the main players, the issues in the US. It makes a number of good points about the nature of this sea-change or revolution:

In the first instance, it is helpful to see this change not just as a new technology for delivering teaching to large numbers of students. It is really more a wider set of socio-technological changes that might be better explained within a theory of postindustrial education focusing on social media as the new culture.
And it goes on to explain:
Social media differ from industrial media: social media are based on "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content" (Kaplan & Haelein, 2010). In this sense then, MOOCs might be seen as a form of industrially scaled automation of the teaching function that uses Internet platforms to deliver content globally. MOOCs are based on the traditional one-to-many broadcast principle rather than the many-to-many, horizontal peer-learning structures. The question is to what extent massively large online classes permit or encourage peer learning or interaction.
Towards the end there is an interesting characterisation of MOOCs: as a type of marketing, as a financial policy for higher education, as an academic labour policy, as a speculative financial instrument, as an expression of Silicon Valley values, or as kind of entertainment media. It is worth reading the whole thing.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

More Economics and blogs

I have written about economics and blogs a few times and in the past few weeks there have been a number of other articles and blog posts about the econoblogosphere that I want to share the links for:

... for economists who actively engage the public, it is hard to influence hearts and minds by qualifying one’s analysis and hedging one’s prescriptions. Better to assert one’s knowledge unequivocally, especially if past academic honors certify one’s claims of expertise. This is not an entirely bad approach if it results in sharper public debate. The dark side of such certitude, however, is the way it influences how these economists engage contrary opinions.

In the econonblogosphere Keynes' famous quote is probably more true than ever:
Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.