Sunday, January 4, 2009

From the American Economic Association meeting

I'm now at the annual AEA meeting in San Francisco. Like most economists, I came to catch up with old friends and see what's new in the profession. Here are some highlights from the day:
  1. I missed The Psychology of Food Consumption session, but two of the papers look really interesting. Diane Whitmore spoke about how half the calories we consume are while doing something else. Distracting ourselves while eating may be a bad idea. Brian Wansink, David Just and Collin Payne also discuss how there is no one single factor to our gaining weight, and have the most politically correct, and so most hilarious, line of the conference in their paper: there aren't smart and dumb people, only those that are "cognitive resource rich" and "cognitive resource poor".
  2. Nathan Nunn, who I have spoken about before, has alerted us to the importance of the potato for sustaining growing populations and urbanization in Europe in the 18th century. (Who other than my grandmother knew that a potato and milk actually provides 100% of the calories and vitamins we need to survive?) As with all historical economic work, I don't trust the data very much, and his discussant pointed out the turnip is a much more efficient (and cheap) food. The argument is interesting though, and coincides well with an interesting link I have recently found between argiculture shocks and industrial profits. I'm working through the idea that a shock to agriculture affects demand of non-agriculture goods, and so significantly affects a larger range of the economy than we might expect.
  3. I was disappointed to find the Conflict and Development session didn't have much on development, though the paper by Gerard Padro I Miquel and Sylvain Chassang on defensive systems, like the US defensive shield being setup in Europe, was interesting. They find that such a system, unless it works very, very well, actually destabalizes peace. This is basically the argument China and Russia have put forward on the missile defense system.
  4. James Fearon, Macartan Humphreys and Jeremy M. Weinstein find that community driven development projects improve social cohesion (as measured by the public goods game). They ran an experiment in Liberia very similar to what I am doing right now in Uganda.
More updates to come...

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