The other Berlin Wall that came down: The collapse of communism and the spread of ideas

Book Translations as Idea Flows: The Effects of the Collapse of Communism on the Diffusion of Knowledge
by Ran Abramitzky, Isabelle Sin


We use book translations as a new measure of international idea flows and study the effects of Communism’s collapse in Eastern Europe on these flows. Using novel data on 800,000 translations and difference-in-differences approaches, we show that while translations between Communist languages decreased by two thirds with the collapse, Western-to-Communist translations increased by a factor of four and quickly converged to Western levels. Convergence was more pronounced in the fields of applied and social sciences, and was more complete in Satellite and Baltic than in Soviet countries. We discuss how these patterns help us understand how repressive institutions and preferences towards Western European ideas shaped the international diffusion of knowledge.

The singularity: which jobs will go?


Pretty interesting paper (pdf).

The abstract:

We examine how susceptible jobs are to computerisation. To assess this, we begin by implementing a novel methodology to estimate the probability of computerisation for 702 detailed occupations, using a Gaussian process classifier. Based on these estimates, we examine expected impacts of future computerisation on US labour market outcomes, with the primary objective of analysing the number of jobs at risk and the relationship between an occupation’s probability of computerisation, wages and educational attainment. According to our estimates, about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk. We further provide evidence that wages and educational attainment exhibit a strong negative relationship with an occupation’s probability of computerisation.

The last paragraph of the conclusion.

Finally, we provide evidence that wages and educational attainment exhibit a strong negative relationship with the probability of computerisation. We note that this finding implies a discontinuity between the nineteenth, twentieth and the twenty-first century, in the impact of capital deepening on the relative demand for skilled labour. While nineteenth century manufacturing technologies largely substituted for skilled labour through the simplification of tasks (Braverman, 1974; Hounshell, 1985; James and Skinner, 1985; Goldin and Katz, 1998), the Computer Revolution of the twentieth century caused a hollowing-out of middle-income jobs (Goos, et al., 2009; Autor and Dorn, 2013). Our model predicts a truncation in the current trend towards labour market polarisation, with computerisation being principally confined to low-skill and low-wage occupations. Our findings thus imply that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerisation – i.e., tasks requiring creative and social intelligence. For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.

Protectionism: of the white collar variety

Relaxing Occupational Licensing Requirements: Analyzing Wages and Prices for a Medical Service
by Morris M. Kleiner, Allison Marier, Kyoung Won Park, Coady Wing


Occupational licensing laws have been relaxed in a large number of U.S. states to give nurse practitioners the ability to perform more tasks without the supervision of medical doctors. We investigate how these regulations may affect wages, employment, costs, and quality of providing certain types of medical services. We find that when only physicians are allowed to prescribe controlled substances that this is associated with a reduction in nurse practitioner wages, and increases in physician wages suggesting some substitution among these occupations. Furthermore, our estimates show that prescription restrictions lead to a reduction in hours worked by nurse practitioners and are associated with increases in physician hours worked. Our analysis of insurance claims data shows that the more rigid regulations increase the price of a well-child medical exam by 3 to 16 %. However, our analysis finds no evidence that the changes in regulatory policy are reflected in outcomes such as infant mortality rates or malpractice premiums. Overall, our results suggest that these more restrictive state licensing practices are associated with changes in wages and employment patterns, and also increase the costs of routine medical care, but do not seem to influence health care quality.

Young, Restless and Creative: Openness to Disruption and Creative Innovations


This paper argues that openness to new, unconventional and disruptive ideas has a first-order impact on creative innovations-innovations that break new ground in terms of knowledge creation. After presenting a motivating model focusing on the choice between incremental and radical innovation, and on how managers of different ages and human capital are sorted across different types of firms, we provide cross-country, firm-level and patent-level evidence consistent with this pattern. Our measures of creative innovations proxy for innovation quality (average number of citations per patent) and creativity (fraction of superstar innovators, the likelihood of a very high number of citations, and generality of patents). Our main proxy for openness to disruption is manager age. This variable is based on the idea that only companies or societies open to such disruption will allow the young to rise up within the hierarchy. Using this proxy at the country, firm or patent level, we present robust evidence that openness to disruption is associated with more creative innovations.

by Daron Acemoglu, Ufuk Akcigit, Murat Alp Celik. Paper here.

Dear Nokia: a plea for simplicity. Guest post by Mike Pepperday


Dear Nokia,

I hear you have fallen on hard times. I have two product suggestions:

1. Make a mobile that is purely a telephone
2. Make a phone in the shape of a pen

The two could well be combined.

1. Pure phone

There are countless millions of older people who would appreciate a mobile phone but they can’t manage the complications. If they were offered a phone, which was just a phone, they might be interested.

You could promote it as “SMS-FREE!” “CAMERA-FREE!” “INTERNET-FREE!” “MENU-FREE!” “Like phones of old: you talk on it!” You would have to invent a generic name. Purephone? Cleanphone? Straightphone?

It would have no alarms, no recording, no FM radio, no messages, no answering service, no “settings,” no adjustments. Continue reading

Design as a counter-narrative: Presentation to a workshop on arts participation

Here’s a presentation I gave to a conference called – unhelpfully – Art for Art’s Sake.  It was actually about new approaches to participation in the arts, about finding ways of connecting people to the arts – and the arts to people – which go beyond the traditional arrangement of government subsidised Grand Purveyors of Culture getting bums on seats to consume High Art. The day was spent with presentations from five arts practitioners in the morning and then three people from outside the arts in the arvo.  Those three people were me, an economist, a scientist and a non-partisan political campaigner from OurSay.

When the organiser rang me I was rather taken aback that she’d want me to speak, but she mentioned her topic and I said that I’d always thought about what I did as involving careful listening to people and trying to interact with it in terms of one’s preconceptions of what made good policy – always trying to update that as one went along. She liked the sound of this and I said I could describe the construction of the Button Car Plan as an exercise in that method. She liked that idea but I wondered whether it would be quite what the arties were looking for. When I saw some of the earlier presentations from the artists I got pretty excited about what some of them were doing and decided to talk about our work at the Australian Centre for Social Innovation as you will see from the presentation above.

Other materials to help you understand the talk are the slides I spoke to (ppt) (hastily cobbled together from other slide packs I’d constructed previously) and here is the video I showed during the presentation.

Change management: Which genre of literature?

I’m doing some research for a talk I’m giving in New Zealand to heads of private schools – the invitation for which came from a similar talk I gave to the Australian Heads of Independent Schools Association. I’m sruiking the wonders of education 2.0 about which I’ve waxed and waxed on this blog. Who would you trust to guide you in your adoption of such obviously sensible technologies?

Obviously the power of the web should be used, but how? What are the pitfalls and what are the things to really focus on. Well I’ve got a nerve telling anyone anything. I did do a stint as a school teacher – a kind of self-funded Teach for Australia gig before there was such a program. And I’m an enthusiast for the web, for web 2.0 etc. But that’s it. So what would I know? What real research have I done. The problem is most people are in the same position. With bits of insight, bits of experience etc. And what kind of ‘research’ would be useful here. What kind of research would have been useful for Mark Zuckerberg setting up Facebook, Steve Jobs thinking of the iPhone or the Mac or Jimmy Wales wondering if Wikipedia would work. Or any of them trying to make those products and platforms better?

So who do you go with. The TED talkers?  The consultants? Academics? Well the academics are peer reviewed after all. But then there’s a problem. What’s peer review doing in a field like that? It could add some value at least in principle. But does it? Well the academic articles that I’ve seen are more or less the same hunches marketed in the TED talks, or different ones. But they’re dealing with a massively complex subject - and no matter how many data-points one had on a topic like ‘blended learning’ (the combined use of online and ‘traditional’ learning methods) the conclusions one draws can’t really be extended beyond the circumstances of their adoption. And there are any number of ways to blend learning. As one can see from the chart.

Blended Learning

And what we end up with is empty kinds of assurances as to what conclusions one can draw which are nevertheless shoehorned into the genre of any other academic article - which is to say one can’t make a claim that the sky is blue without references. And great lengths are gone to to provide the patina of science – single things are measured and reported on with great seriousness. But the conclusions are lame generalisations just as cliched and ultimately empty as the supposedly less ‘rigorous’ consultants and TED talkers – though the latter are partly marketing their profile and reputation elsewhere – along with the charisma of their presence and presentation.

Below the fold are the substantive conclusions from a summary article introducing a whole thematic edition of Internet and Higher Education (the reference is 18 (2013) 1–3, since you ask) It’s entitled “Blended learning policy and implementation: Introduction to a special issue” of by Ron Owston. Does this add anything to your understanding of the issues?  Continue reading

The Australian Centre for Social Innovation: Alive and Growing

Attentive Troppodillians will be aware of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation which I chair. After looking awfully like our ‘runway’ was coming to an end (as we stay in startup land) our first and still flagship program is growing strongly. Here’s a news story from South Australia.

If you’re interested, relax back on an armchair and watch this 27 minute doco as if it were Australian Story. It’s entertaining and inspiring.

Though if you want just the highlights in the condensed version – they’re here – in a 6 minute video

This video is a bit more focused on the building of the program – ie it’s co-design with its intended beneficiaries