A Social Science Discovery Engine

I like to read social science papers, so I like to be able to find them easily. One of my favorite aggregators of papers - not just in economics, but in other social sciences as well - is the Social Science Research Network. Most of the time, SSRN - and other aggregators/indexers like Google Scholar or ArXiV - helps me find well-known papers matching whatever specification I want. But I’ve always had a nagging question: what papers am I not seeing?

How to Win Elections and Oppress People

I. A pessimistic view of politics is that politicians are evil people wreaking havoc on the lives of ordinary people for their own rapacious benefit. According to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, the truth is even more pessimistic than that: politicians are ordinary people wreaking havoc on the lives of ordinary people for their own survival. The gloomy truth is that all governments, democratic or authoritarian, are subject to the same logic of political survival: reward your supporters or they will depose you.

Has COVID Really Reduced Air Pollution in India?

As lockdowns around the world continue to grind on, we are starting to notice their effects on all aspects of life. One of the rare silver linings that has emerged in popular discussion is the dramatic reduction in air pollution that lockdowns have caused. Research on the original Wuhan lockdown suggested that the resulting declines in air pollution (63% reduction in nitrogen dioxide) may have saved up to 11,000 lives in China.

Fat Tails in Poverty Alleviation Policies

Often, I will read a theory paper, internalize its insights, and later find myself applying them to generally different examples as the original paper did. It’s common for theory papers to have leading examples that can contextualize the result, but the wonderful thing about good theory is that these models usually have a lot more flexibility than just one example. Furthermore, studying different scenarios where a model could apply might raise important questions about what assumptions need to be relaxed in order to apply it to that scenario—as will be true for the paper discussed in this post.

Rationality in the 21st Century

I. Popular academic books fascinate me; I like academic knowledge, and I thing it can be expressed interestingly to an average reader. But the more one dives into research - especially in economic theory - the less it seems people will care about it. (Pop quiz: what fraction of people could you impress by telling them about Rubinstein’s email game, and why is it zero?) I’ve only read pop-economics, though, and I didn’t know about the concept of popular computer science until my friend introduced me to Algorithms to Live By, by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths.

Chess, AI Safety, and Sally's Marble

I. I’ve followed the development of chess engines and chess AI for a while now, and right now it appears that interest has plateaued. The general attitude seems to be that AlphaZero conquered Everest, the show is over, and we can all pack up and move on to the next game. This is in no small part caused by DeepMind’s branding of AlphaZero as a generalist game AI that can learn and excel at any game.

A Model of Unravelling

This is (the first of a possible series on) my practice of economic modelling. Typically, my clumsy efforts either lead to intractable models or reinventing the wheel. In this case, I spent a long time developing the rudimentary form of what I later discovered was Li and Rosen (1998). The Observation While talking to one of my friends about the gruelling timeline of investment banking recruiting that she has to go through (job offers being made more than two years before the intended start date), I brought up the concept of unravelling in matching markets, the idea that transactions can happen inefficiently early if agents are worried about the market clearing quickly and leaving them unmatched.