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Motu researchers on the average man, the economics of the Olympics, real estate music videos, the productivity puzzle, World Bank poacher turned gamekeeper & more

Motu researchers on the average man, the economics of the Olympics, real estate music videos, the productivity puzzle, World Bank poacher turned gamekeeper & more

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Kate Preston, Nathan Chappell and Wilbur Townsendresearch analysts at economic and public policy research house Motu, with a special recommendation from Tom Carver

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact

See all previous Top 10s here.

1) How the idea of a ‘normal’ person got invented. 

19th century polymath Adolphe Quetelet was among the first to use statistical methods in social science. Todd Rose lays out the history of how Quetelet, inspired by astronomy, used the now-simple idea of an average to learn about the ‘Average Man’. Disturbingly, he was convinced his Average Man reflected the ideal form of a person, and that deviations from the average would constitute a ‘Monstrosity’. Rose makes the case that Quetelet’s innovative methods gave scientific support to unpleasant stereotypes that continue to this day. 

“Quetelet’s invention of the Average Man marked the moment when the average became normal, the individual became error, and stereotypes were validated with the imprint of science. These assumptions would eventually prompt generations of parents to worry if their child did not develop according to the average milestones, and cause almost everyone to feel anxiety when their health, social life, or career deviated too far from the average.“ 

2) Going for the Gold: The economics of the Olympics by Robert A. Baade and Victor A. Matheson, Journal of Economic Perspectives.

The world’s eyes are on Rio de Janeiro right now as it hosts the 2016 Olympics. This report discusses the costs and benefits of hosting such an event and concludes the investment is hardly ever worthwhile. There are three reasons why cities might have an incentive to bid to host regardless:
1) They are lobbied by certain groups within the economy that do stand to gain from the event.
2) Non-economic factors may precede economic ones, particularly in non-democratic countries.
3) The cities which offer the most impressive (and therefore most expensive) infrastructure plan are those most likely to win, so naturally there is a tendency for net losses. 

3) Real estate music videos are what’s wrong with the Auckland housing market.

Henry Cooke details the “mid-budget music videos” produced by salespeople at the top end of the Auckland housing market. These videos are astounding – dance music, sexual innuendo, sexism and ostentatious wealth are all used to sell a lifestyle of exclusivity. The videos glorify house-flipping and obnoxious luxury. They’re also hilarious. And if the music industry doesn’t work out for him, we have Max Key, licensed real estate agent, to look forward to. 

4) Check your amnesia dude.

It’s trendy to anomalise the ascendency of Donald Trump, to paint him as an aberration from the American political tradition. But, as Corey Robin discusses, Trump’s failings seem to echo the failings of previous American politicians. Robin concludes that the modern American media has become lazy with its history. He argues that this is, in part, due to the ascendency of journalists trained in quantitative social science. His examples are embarrassing for the specific journalists he highlights, but they should also serve as a warning to the rest of us – our data analysis will be hollow if we ignore the histories from which the data was produced. 

5) The great productivity puzzle. 

John Cassidy explores the productivity-growth-slowdown seen in recent decades across the richest countries. He considers three possibilities, listed in order of increasing pessimism. First, it may be a statistical mirage; official statistics struggle to capture digital outputs and the quality improvements seen with the Internet and the like. Second, recent performance may be a relic of the Global Financial Crisis, which would be a temporary blip that can be overcome. Finally, recent innovations may just be less important for productivity (internal plumbing vs. smartphones). If the productivity slowdown is here to stay, we can’t wait for growth to raise wages across the board; society will have to think about fairness and distribution without the benefit of an ever-growing pie. Relatedly, see Tyler Cowen making the case against economic growth miracles.

6) How the World Bank’s biggest critic became its president by Andrew Rice, The Guardian. 

Andrew Rice tells the story of how Jim Yong Kim went from one of the biggest critics of the World Bank to its President. In the 1990s, Harvard graduate Kim was voicing protests against the bank’s neoliberal reforms. Confident the World Bank has now made a turnaround, he believes it is now ready to unleash its real potential. While his goals to reduce poverty and hardship around the world are admirable, his firm restructure of the organisation and determination to push against the boundaries of what the World Bank’s objectives are have drawn protest from his staff. 

7) Why the Government’s HomeStart Scheme is not a solution to housing affordability by Geoff Simmons, the Morgan Foundation. 

Geoff Simmons objects the government’s latest increases to income and house price caps on the KiwiSaver HomeStart subsidy. The intention of the policy is to make housing more affordable. Instead he predicts the higher caps will keep stimulating the demand for housing, and encourage more New Zealander’s to take on large amounts of debt, leaving them particularly vulnerable to a rise in interest rates. 

8) Echo chambers: Few Clinton or Trump supporters have close friends in the other camp. 

A recent Pew Research Center survey finds troubling news about the state of civic engagement in the US election: nearly half of Clinton supporters and a third of Trump supporters have no close friends backing the other candidate. Separately, although a majority say the presidential campaign doesn’t focus enough on policy (65% in one poll, 55% in another), 59% say their discussions about the election have been mostly about personalities and comments. The optimistic view of this, stated by Pew, is that voters discuss what they see in the media and the campaigns. Alternatively, this behavior may just show many voters aren’t interested in policy despite claiming otherwise. Finally, perhaps the phenomenon of Trump means voters should be focusing in personality this year. 

9) Publication bias. 

Academic journals’ tendency to publish only research which finds significant relationships – has been worrying researchers from medicine to sociology. By obscuring null results, publication bias perverts the usual measures of statistical significance and thus convinces us of relationships that do not exist. One journal, Comparative Political Studies, has responded with a trial of ‘results-free’ peer-reviews, in which reviewers were told only the paper’s research design and theory and not the paper’s results. In this retrospective, the journal’s editors discuss the trial.

The trial allowed null results to be published, and – the editors believe – generally encouraged reviewers to engage more deeply with submissions. However the trial also highlighted worrying interpretations of null results – often, null results are blamed on poor data before they’re blamed on limitations in existing theory. This problem is deeper than publication bias, and possibly more important: It’s hard to see how empirical social science can maintain credibility if the only empirics we believe are those we initially presumed. 

10) Cyber serfdom?

Investors reckon Uber is worth US$62.5 billion - hundreds of thousands per driver - but few of them have asked why Uber’s drivers tolerate their value being siphoned by an easily-reproduced piece of software. In this piece, Chris Dillow explains Uber’s success. His explanations are interesting, but none of them provide much reason to believe Uber’s dominance will last forever. The Uber of the future may be one in which drivers are paid their worth, and investors in the Uber of today should be worried.

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Article four was very interesting but I think the simpler explanation is that most journalists are anti-Trump and pro-Hillary. Therefore, they interpret his actions in the most negative light possible and simply ignore any issues with Hillary. It is so patently obvious watching or reading 90% of the coverage reported in the NZ media coming from the US - the NZ Herald's republishing the Washington Post's opinion/campaigning as just news stories is very troubling.
One other example, President Obama said that Hillary is the most qualified person to be president. He also said that his greatest failure was Libya. However, Hillary was the architect of US policy in Libya. As Sectary of State she made the same mistake that President Bush made in Iraq - remove a dictator, create a vacuum, gets filled by terrorists. The response from the media - silence.


Here’s the set-up:

1. The mainstream media knows they are smarter than Donald Trump. They see evidence of this truth all the time, although much of that evidence is confirmation bias.



#4 - The US Establishment's Secret Plan To Hand Trump the Presidency

So Trump should hammer the message that all new bank credit must be tied to rebuilding destroyed US industries, “either by ending currency rigging or applying tariffs.” Bank credit, Trump backers argue, “should not be used for currency manipulation, or for cash settlement market rigging. There should be no bank credit for speculation and absolutely none for hedge funds. Let's wipe these speculative vehicles out by huge taxes on short-term trading profits, ending tax concessions on borrowing, and ending all bank credit for speculation. Let these people go to do real work.”

That, in a nutshell, explains Wall Street’s visceral aversion to Trump – from the Bloombergs to the Lloyd Blankfeins


#4 - “I don’t know what Trump would do if he’s elected,” said Mark Glyptis, president of the United Steelworkers Local 2911 and a Trump supporter, who voted for Obama in the past two elections. “But I know what Hillary would do.”

If Trump wants to flip the electoral map and win in November, this may be his most promising strategy. His critique of trade deals may not only help him win Weirton and the rest of West Virginia, but also other, more critical industrial belt states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.…


Mrs Clinton recently said that''what you see with Donald Trump is what you get''''which is true,however the same can't be said for her because nobody knows if we will get the Wall Street Mrs Clinton,the NAFTA Mrs Clinton,the email deleter Mrs Clinton or the Warmonger Mrs Clinton.


@5, history is a great place to gain perspective. Humankind and our habits have changed little for the vast majority of our time thus far. Apart from population increase, little of what might be called "growth". With a slew of massive innovations coinciding in the past 200 years or so we have found a vast number of applications which have contributed to "growth". Now with those big items behind us and the volume of applications slowing, so will "growth". If you believe, in any measure, that "growth" has come about or can be continued/enhanced by the offerings of political wannabes, you are gullible beyond measure.

@7, all the efforts went to convincing buyers to accept higher prices and to offer products which would allow them to extend debt to allow this. Never a mention that the sellers should be realistic in their valuation expectations. Still too many suckers blinded by the glitz.

@8, as it always was "...still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." The Boxer,
Simon & Garfunkel.


Re the impact of population increase:

Carbon Emissions, A Comparison

Below are a few examples of how much carbon dioxide (in metric tons) is saved over a lifetime (80 years) by a typical American for certain actions, including not having one child.

Increase car's fuel economy from 20 to 30 mpg: 148
Reduce miles driven from 231 to 155 per week: 147
Replace single-glazed windows with energy-efficient windows: 121
Replace ten 75-watt incandescent bulbs with 25-watt energy-efficient lights: 36
Replace old refrigerator with energy-efficient model: 19
Recycle newspapers, magazines, glass, plastic, aluminum and steel cans: 17
Reduce number of children by one (with emissions fixed at 2005 per-capita values): 9,441
Source: "Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals" by Paul A. Murtaugh and Michael G. Schlax


# 5 - If you look at history
We had the Roman Empire, and the Romans, instead of building their economy, they conquered other countries and stole their wealth.
Then we had the British Empire and they did the same. Stole wealth rather than build wealth.
Now we have the American Empire also stealing wealth from those they conquer.
But now there is hardly any one left to steal from and all their economies are stuffed.


Growing tomatoes in the desert. "It sounds like high-cost farming but because of our scale and low running costs we can actually grow tomatoes incredibly competitively," Saumweber says. "You have to put in a lot more capital up-front to build it but we don't have to buy water, electricity, fuel or insecticides, our land is cheap and our annual costs of running a big horticultural operation are very low."…


Interesting to see the Curia Public Poll Average (right of this screen)

National on the way down all the other parties on the way up