Zany Economics Ideas

Economic research papers require months or years to write. People have ideas about economics everyday. Some of these ideas are bad ideas, some are good ideas, some are good ideas that seem like bad ideas and some are bad ideas that seem like good ideas. People will write papers about the good ideas and, unfortunately, people will write papers about the bad ideas that seem like good ideas. Very few will write papers about the bad ideas (this assumption is contestable), but no one will write papers about the good ideas that seem like bad ideas.

In this space, I will write about ideas that I think are good but seem like bad ideas. Since good ideas that seem like bad ideas is clunky phrase, I will call these zany ideas, because I believe their unconventional and idiosyncratic nature obscures their value. Hopefully, in writing short posts about these zany ideas, I can reveal their inherent “goodness” and convince others (or myself) to pursue them.

Here are 15 zany economics ideas to give you an idea of what I am talking about:

  1. Lack of old-age insurance in developing countries reduces demand for health behaviors that extend life, so old-age insurance would be an effective health policy for the entire population.
  2. The fall in the popularity of multiplayer video games tracks the fall in social capital in America.
  3. A massive retraining program for American manufacturing workers would be cheaper for the country and more helpful to the workers than enacting trade barriers.
  4. Microfinance institutions should give loans for mid-sized businesses to poor entrepreneurs backed by their entire extended family (or their village) given the nature of economic ties in developing countries and the need for mid-size business loans.
  5. The effect of lending institutions (like Affirm https://www.affirm.com or Branch https://branch.co) and businesses using social media to give loans or jobs will be welfare reducing, because people will try to game the system and stop enjoying social media.
  6. Restricting voting to “knowledgeable” populations leads to bias towards the preferences of the “knowledgeable”. Allowing everyone to vote reduces the average knowledge base of the voting population and leads to more random noise in terms of policy preferences. Historically, nations have dealt with this tradeoff in differing ways, which explains their differing political outcomes.
  7. Cost-Benefit calculations and the policies they suport would be radically different if we weighted money accrued to poor people greater than money accrued to rich people, which we should do (the problem is how to determine the weights).
  8. Services are becoming more tradable. This will drastically reshape global trade. Determining which countries are best prepared to become world leaders in a given service will predict their economic fortunes.
  9. For relatively well-off rich country citizens, more money will not make them much happier. Rich country governments should subsidize community bonding, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness therapy and other ways to improve the wellness of their citizens (and of course, should focus on helping their poor citizens who need money).
  10. Welfare recipients should be targeted based off a secret list of characteristics. This list should be published after 5 years and a new list should be made. This ensures that individuals cannot game the welfare system and citizens can check to make sure that bureaucrats are not being corrupt.
  11. Blockchain technology could solve trust problems with land titling, banking, insurance, voting etc. in developing countries by taking away the need for corrupt governments or unreliable businesses to mediate these activities.
  12. In Ghana (where I am currently working), the certificates needed for most skilled jobs are an underreported barrier to economic activity and this may be true in other developing countries
  13. Many jobs in developing countries are short-term (one day to few weeks). This leads to high search costs for job-seekers throughout the year. A digital job marketplace could reduce these search costs and have large positive effects.
  14. Charles Tilly’s assertion that “war made the state” in Europe has not happened in Africa because of the sanctity of borders and the ability of small groups to assert local power with new military technology.
  15. Religions and other morality systems can be modeled just like monetary incentive systems and face the same tradeoffs. (Ex. Christianity offers bliss in the afterlife, which is an attractive incentive, but individuals may not trust this promise and the costs are borne upfront while the benefits are far in the future.)

Most of these ideas seem preposterous even to me right now. The point of my work will be to see if looking at the available data can change my perception of these ideas from preposterous to possible.