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.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Political uncertainty and firms in Zimbabwe

It feels quite odd to follow the news coverage of the elections in Zimbabwe and to be working on a paper about Zimbabwe. At the moment the title is:

Micro-economic competitiveness and post-conflict reconstruction: Firm-level evidence from Zimbabwe

I am writing it with colleague Marianne Matthee and her PhD student, Macleans Mzumara and we are putting it together for the SAIMS conference in September.

We have only started with the first round of analysis and write up, but I think that we already have a point to make following the elections. The aim of this paper is to examine the factors that influence firm competitiveness in post-conflict Zimbabwe and here is a bit:

Despite some stability in the macro-economic environment, firm-level output is far from its pre-crisis levels. For example, the World Bank (2011) has indicated that capacity utilisation in the manufacturing sector is only between 30% and 40%. The agricultural sector is also operating at levels far below those previously attained. At this rate, the World Bank (2011) estimated that it could take at least a decade for firms to achieve pre-crisis levels of output. So what are the micro-level factors that are constraining Zimbabwean firms? 

A recent enterprise survey by the World Bank (2011) showed that around 45% of firms in Zimbabwe experience access to finance as their biggest obstacle. Around 30% experience political instability as their biggest obstacle. In a breakdown of the data it is apparent that firm-size is also relevant: fewer small- and medium-sized firms experience political instability as an obstacle. The small firms that describe themselves as politically constrained report that they are uncertain about market prospects and view corruption as a significant obstacle to doing business.
We are wondering whether political uncertainty causes firms choose to remain small. In such a case this will limit the recovery of the economy. The table shows that firm size is definitely a consideration.

We'll keep you posted about the proper results of the analysis.