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April 2011

Musings on the Science of "Scaling"

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This is not at all the so-called "replication crisis".

The devices built work as assessed by all engineering yardsticks: cheap, easy to maintain, rugged, and simple to operate. The interventions conducted work as assessed by all social science standards: they pass gold-standard RCT tests with effects that are statistically and substantively significant.

And yet...

"Scaling" is very hard...

My largely uninformed and probably wrong view is that it has everything to do with organizational and systematic robustness. In the engineering lab and in the social science RCT 98% of things go right. But out in the real world societal capabilities vary: while Toyota can hit six nines--99.9999%--at times I think U.C. Berkeley is lucky to hit nine sixes, and Berkeley is, in global context, a relatively functional organization. So: engineering and societal organization institutions designed for robustness, to degrade gracefully when you cannot attain the degree of organizational tautness of a Toyota. How do we do that? That, I think, is the BIG QUESTION here.

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Welcome from the Blum Center Chief Economist

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The Blum Center for Developing Economies has never had a chief economist before. I have never been a chief economist before. It is thus a brand new job in two senses.

The upside is that I thus get to define what the job is. And let me begin to do so by asking you:

What do you think I should make the job of Blum Center Chief Economist be?

I am, at the moment, engaged in two major tasks with looming deadlines that have to do with the work of the Blum Center:

  • Co-editing a book, After Piketty, on how economists' research agendas should shift in the aftermath of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

  • Giving a lecture (on October 17, 2016) at Brown University on "Inequality", as part of their Janus Forum.

Sincerely yours,

Brad DeLong

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The Stakes of the Helicopter Money Debate: A Primer


The swelling wave of argument and discussion around "helicopter money" has two origins:

First, as Harvard's Robert Barro says: there has been no recovery since 2010.

The unemployment rate here in the U.S. has come down, yes. But the unemployment rate has come down primarily because people who were unemployed have given up and dropped out of the labor force. Shrinkage in the share of people unemployed has been a distinctly secondary factor. Moreover, the small increase in the share of people with jobs has been neutralized, as far as its effects on how prosperous we are, by much slower productivity growth since 2010 than America had previously seen, had good reason to anticipate, and deserves.

The only bright spot is a relative one: things in other rich countries are even worse.

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