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“Strategies emerge for coping. There are many, but in essence they all boil down to two: filter and search”  Gleick, 2011, p.409

The Filter^ was created in a Birkenhead chippy, in January 2004. Stephen Lai and Anthony Evans were both recent graduates from the University of Liverpool, and wanted to present interesting and accessible academic ideas to a wider audience.

Created in July 2004, The Filter^ REVIEW is an online assembly of cultural essays. Encompassing opera, music, theatre, and architecture our range of reviewers provide honest and independent assessments of live events. Our motivation is enthusiasm, and providing our part of the social contract between audience and stage. My theatre reviews are available here.



I enjoyed reading this interview with Luxury Escape’s CEO Adam Schwab and decided to geg in.


Rules > Discretion. Most trips that I make fit into a particular category – e.g. 2 weeks summer holiday, 1 week skiing, 3 days teaching/conference. For each type of trip I have a packing list and take the same things each time. Perhaps not the exact same items, but the same type of items. This avoids having to think about what I should take. If I feel the need to alter the packing list I always do it at the end of a trip rather than before.


Duplicate toiletries. I have a toothbrush, deodorant, razor, etc that I keep in a toilet bag and only use on trips. It means that I never have to collect those items from around the house and risk forgetting anything. It also means I don’t have to unpack when I get home.


Finding my packing list and rigidly sticking to it.


  • iPhone and all necessary chargers
  • A good book
  • Either decent earbuds for short haul, or noise cancelling headphones for long haul
  • Throat lozenges
  • Bottle opener


A Rimowa Topas.


A glossy magazine, such as The Week or The Economist. It’s often rude to plug into an iPhone as soon as you sit down and it’s hard to relax until the plane’s moving anyway. So it’s good to have something light and easy to read for take off/landing.


Touching the outside of the aircraft at the exact moment I step on board.


Comfort. It used to be cargo trousers or sometimes jeans. But as dress standards have steadily fallen I’ve followed suit and so now it’s either tracksuit bottoms or shorts. A hoody and/or baseball cap helps to shut out the world. I sometimes wear a gilet so that I have accessible pockets but without getting too stuffy.


Indigestion tablets, especially if I’m in Eastern Europe where the food is rich and the Rakija is tempting.


Too many pairs of trousers. They’re rarely worth the bulk and a pair can be worn on consecutive days.


Believing I would need smart shoes but not wanting to wear them to travel.


I used to use a fantastic flight app called Flight Track Pro, but it doesn’t work anymore. So I don’t really use anything.


The best part of a hotel room is that it doesn’t feel like home! I clear the desk so that I can lay out my own items (i.e. knoll) and then bask in the neutrality.


At some point I may give up on checking my bag. I’d need to rethink my toiletries and perhaps pack even lighter. But for now I’m happy to spend a few minutes at the baggage reclaim, reflecting on the flight, and waiting.


Christmas is a great hook to think about economic concepts. For students, the urgency of course requirements eases and it’s permissible to deepen your interests. For interested laypeople, time to read allows you to broaden your horizons. Perhaps you received a “pop economics” book as a present, or – like me – you look forward every year to The Economist’s Christmas Special. I wanted to share some of my favourite resources.

  • The classic application of economics analysis to Christmas is The Deadweight Loss of Christmas.
  • But here are Tony Gill and Michael Thomas arguing that gift giving is in fact good thing for economists to do:

  • The Bank of England produced a Christmas Quiz for 2020
  • The best Christmas Party in a movie was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
  • The best one in a TV show was The Office.
  • For a fascinating account of what frankincense and myrrh are, and their role in the evolution of global trade, see Bernstein, W. (2008) “A Splendid Exchange” – pp. 58-67
  • To see that is is physically possible for Father Christmas to do what he needs to do, see here.
  • For my article on why our traditional model of christmas is communist propaganda, and the truth is far more romantic, see my review of The Polar Express.

Finally, don’t forget to do some charity work:

“Christians should not celebrate festivals in a state of drunkenness and gluttony, or by dancing or merrymaking, but by tending to orphans and paupers, and by helping and giving to the poor and infirm… Woe betide those who have not observed the wisdom of the scriptures and who have idled, danced and indulged in wine” Cyril of Turov (see Bazan, L., 2014, A History of Belarus, Glagoslav Publications, p.64)

Media engagements

The chief goal of any academic is to have scholarly impact – to be published in elite journals and for your work to be read, shared, and cited. But it’s also common to seek wider impact, and publicise those findings and implications with society at large.

One problem is that our research topics are often driven by the existing literature. Therefore pursuing an academic career can easily become a slide towards wider irrelevance. As we focus on scaling the ivory tower, we lose track of what anyone else cares about. Before we realise it, the landscape looks like this:

Perhaps, if we’re lucky, we can identify the areas where media interest overlaps with our research interests. Therefore we can create a list of topics we feel qualified to talk about, and seek media engagements. We can be available for comment and publish op-eds on newsworthy issues. But be careful. We might have made scholarly contributions to the field, and we may well be experts, but those topics won’t map perfectly onto “my research”.

Once we abandon the solid grounding of our published competence, we’ve started a dangerous journey. There is a risk that we end up like this:

By being receptive to media engagements we are opening ourselves to the pull of opportunity. But what your PR company deem to be a “hit” (i.e. being quoted in an article in a magazine no one cares about) is not really a “hit”, and a desire to do this tempts us to stray outside our areas of expertise. If someone wants a comment we provide it – it builds the brand and it’s fun. The ego is nourished, we feel that we’re representing our institution, we’re being productive. (However our titles and status carry authority, and the wider public are likely to confuse the light blue dot for a dark blue dot. I believe that it is unethical to utilise our credentials for matters outside of one’s expertise. I could add links here, but I won’t…).

The holy grail, therefore, is to end up like this:

I think fame seeking academics have two potential strategies. However both of them carry risks.

  1. If you can’t beat them, join them. The first option is to move our research towards wherever the media interest lies (either by tweaking our current research projects in that direction; or by starting new research projects from scratch). However using current media interest as the guiding principle of your academic strategy has the potential to backfire. It takes time to gain academic legitimacy and what’s to say interest won’t move on? In addition, the media interest will draw in other academics to create a contested and competitive environment that is attracting opportunists. As I see more and more people jumping on the blockchain bandwagon I assume that they’re following this strategy (although this is a charitable interpretation because in many cases it’s probably a light blue dot rather than a dark blue one…). I’m wary.
  2. Hope the mountain comes to Mohammed. The second way to occupy the overlap is to get your head down, do quality work, rise to the top of your field, get widespread recognition, and become the go to person for that topic. That, in itself, can be newsworthy. Win prizes, break records, give talks at elite institutions.

Personally, I am not sure what to do. I’ve tried to be entrepreneurial by choosing a few topics that I think have the potential to become important, and I am working hard to improve the quality of my scholarly work. But I’m largely abandoning the aim of creating a media profile for my research.

Let’s be honest, the media do not care about academic research. When we issue press releases for a new publication it’s because we want to share it. However even if it’s published in an open access journal newspapers will rarely link to the actual paper anyway. Even PR companies act as gatekeepers for the actual paper, and promote the top line findings without allowing third parties to actually verify them. We have a crisis of scientific replication, and yet there’s a complete disjoint between how research is presented and our ability to engage with it.

Journalists don’t care about your research, they care about their article. They are writing articles to a deadline and need to fill them. They need contacts who will be available and tell them what they expect to hear. Editors don’t care about your research. They care about copy. They need people who supply well written content on a theme they want to publish.

I am aware that my profession and institution are underrepresented by people who aren’t white males. And as a white male I should reflect on my role in that. As I lose the novelty of youth I question whether the best use of my time is supplying free content to unremarkable publications by crowding out other voices.


Pivoting away from attempts to promote our research profile, however, doesn’t mean wallowing in academic irrelevance, and it doesn’t mean giving up on communicating economic ideas. It just means a recognition that our biggest value to the media is almost certainly a result of our teaching knowledge rather than our research findings. This is because the pool of media interest in which we’re able to play in is much wider when we act as teachers rather than researchers.

This may seems as though I’m risking becoming a light blue dot. But wearing our teaching hats massively expands our scope of “expertise”, provided we recognise the topics will be broader. As Steve Horwitz recently said on Facebook,

Advice for young economists who wonder whether they have enough expertise on a topic to do media requests on it: If you think you can explain your views to an Intro class, you can do media on that topic.

My caveat to that was:

But you need to be able to explain it to an Intro class and it needs to be an issue that you would indeed explain to an Intro class.

So rather than send our new PR agency a list of my research topics, I’ve sent the following:

  • Price gouging – if a firm raises prices during a natural disaster I’m happy to defend their choice to do so and explain why it can actually benefits consumers.
  • Creative destruction – if a firm goes bankrupt through entrepreneurial error I’m happy to explain why this is crucial to a competitive market.
  • Free trade – if there’s a story about tariffs I’m happy to explain how they harm consumers and make us collectively worse off.
  • Offshoring – if a firm offshores production I’m happy to defend their decision and explain how this benefits workers in (typically) poorer countries.
  • Corporation tax – I’m happy to defend cuts to corporation tax on the grounds that they boost the wages of that companies employees.
  • Tax avoidance – I’m happy to defend the use of “aggressive” tax avoidance schemes and explain why the problem is complexity in the tax code.
  • Efficient Market Hypothesis – if an investment firm claims to be able to outperform a market index I’m happy to argue that this is bad investment advice.

I also think it’s potentially legitimate to comment on hot topics such as:

  • The gender pay gap
  • Brexit
  • A specific companies strategy
  • Executive pay
  • Congestion charging
  • Pandemics

Provided you limit your comments to the simple application of the economic way of thinking. However I fear that this won’t be providing journalists with what they want (which is a hook, or something controversial), and there’s a very real danger that you do turn into a light blue dot. So I personally avoid these topics. Leave them for commentators and opinion leaders and academic experts in the field. Don’t wade in as one masquerading as the other.

Finally, Steve Horwitz is also right to point out that such media engagements are also advantageous for the institution. Indeed I’ve stopped seeing media work as part of my research profile. It’s actually organisational (and civic) citizenship.

Travel Guide to Minsk

I visited Minsk expecting a Soviet time machine.

I thought it would be like Moscow was in 1992.

But I was wrong.

Yes, it’s architecture and visible insignia reflect the fact that most of the city was completely rebuilt straight after the second world war. Military uniform is everywhere, tractors roam the streets, school children look immaculate. And the absence of a democratic transition casts an intriguing shadow of communist rule. But the city is vibrant, affluent, and spotlessly clean. It feels more like a Baltic city break than an Eastern European industrial wasteland.

Outside of Minsk there’s an efficient train network and the surrounding countryside is beautiful and famously peaceful. I strongly recommend a visit to Belarus, and hope these notes are useful.


Belarus has connections to most major European cities. The national airline, BELAVIA, do a direct flight from London Gatwick to Minsk several times per week. If you want to travel by train, there’s only one man to ask.

Arrival at Minsk airport

  • Customs officials will ask to see proof of Travel Insurance (and they may also request to see an associated membership card).


    • Using a travel agent used to be a necessity because they could provide a letter of invitation (which was mandatory to obtain a visa). I used MinskLuxx who have an array of city-centre apartments and helpful services.

Getting around

    • Taxis to/from the airport cost ~ €20. Licensed taxis have yellow plates and can be trusted, and Uber is also available. There’s also a bus service to the train station.
    • Trains are cheap and easy to use.
  • The Metro is simple to use and has a regular service. Each journey requires 1 token (60 Kopeks) which can be bought at the ticket office.

Things to see

Minsk itself is easy to explore on foot. I recommend the following:

Day 1:

    • City gates (outside the train station)
    • Independence square (and the shopping centre underneath)
    • GUM shopping centre
    • Victory Square
  • Gorky Park

Day 2:

    • Great Patriotic War Museum
    • Botanic Gardens
  • National Library

For more: and


There are clusters of cafes and restaurants in the following places:

  • The upper town (vulica Zybickaja) – this is the main tourist area and contains several bars and restaurants on the banks of the river. 442 is the best place to watch soccer and sample interesting beer. Cherdok do great burgers in a laid back setting. Malt & Hops have a long and classy bar serving beer and many malts. El Pushka is a fun and intimate tequila bar. Beer Cap is a classic Eastern European-style bar – an outdoor labyrinth with interesting beers and a range of customers.
  • Trajeckaja nabiarežnaja (the old town) – the only real area of pre-WW2 buildings, it has a nostalgic feel compared to the rest of the city.
  • Karl Marx street – a number of classy bistros and restaurants with sincere cooking.
  • Kastrycnickaja Street – former industrial units now famous for bright murals and hipster coffee.

For a distinctly Belarusian experience, Rakovsky Brovar is a large, popular brewery serving traditional food in a friendly atmosphere. And watching the world pass by at the bar at Centralny is one of Minks’s cultural highlights.

Typical prices (as of 2017)

Minsk provides a fascinating mixture of standard European ambience and a gripping historical context. Belarus is not quite Poland and not quite Russia – it is something else. Something tangible and settled. But forward looking and optimistic. It’s truly unique.

Also check out Joe Jenkins’ “Postcard from . . . Minsk” Financial Times, April 21 2017

Update: my Travel Guide to Minsk was featured by Belarus Digest


I use Overcast to listen to podcasts. The smart speed setting quickens the pace without you even noticing and I usually listen to 1.2x normal speed. If you want to get into podcasts I highly recommend tweaking these settings to get through them faster. An added bonus is that if you’re listening to a proper series or radio play at normal speed, you “feel the benefit” and get super engrossed. 


  • EconTalk – the original economics podcast featuring an array of fascinating guests. Each episode is typically over an hour long which can be daunting, but permits a relaxed and casual conversation. As a former student of Russ Roberts, I thoroughly enjoy recapturing some of the intellectual curiosity and excitement of grad school.
  • Macro Musings – David Beckworth is a wonderful economist, and by focusing on monetary macro he provides a consistently high quality conversation on a topic I know I will want to listen to. I think it’s pitched at the perfect level to walk listeners through the career trajectory and major insights of an impressive guestlist.
  • Hayek Program – interviews with a range of academics working across politics, philosophy and economics.
  • The Curious Task – enjoyable interviews with some of my favourite academic economists, considering bold issues in the classical liberal tradition.
  • Planet Money – short (20 minute) episodes that illuminate important economic concepts through interviews. Insightful and engaging.


  • Conversations with Tyler – a broad and eclectic range of guests exploring fascinating ideas in a warm format.
  • Lex Fridman – very long conversations (often 3 hours +) with elite guests on big topics.
  • Making Sense with Sam Harris – deep conversations with fascinating thinkers on topics such as the multiverse, AI, identity politics, and meditation. (Frustrating when it switched theme music and annoying now that free episodes are cut short.)


  • The Studies Show – Tom Chivers and Stuart Ritchie survey current scientific controversies in a friendly, engaging, yet rigorous way.
  • Stuff You Should Know – well produced, entertainingly presented, always interesting.
  • You’re Wrong About – informative but slightly preachy perspectives on important topics.
  • Adam Buxton – on the surface this is a comedy show, where likeable comic Adam Buxton (from Adam & Joe semi-fame) chats with his “showbusiness” friends. I enjoy it because it provides an honest and sincere look at the thought process behind public speaking, professional success, and the art of humour.

True Crime

  • Generation Why – American buddies present and dissect famous cases in an informal, engaging manner.
  • The Prosecutors – great rapport between two expert hosts who explain legal issues and provide well argued perspectives on famous cases.
  • Women & Crime – I find the attempt to intellectualise the cases a little jarring, but bridging classroom and studio with an often neglected but highly important female perspective is refreshing.
  • Casefile True Crime – an Australian narrator follows a well crafted script to create an engrossing experience.
  • Criminal – somewhat hit and miss collection of interesting cases, but the good ones stay with you. My kids find Phoebe Judge’s voice annoying, but it’s distinctive and that contributes to the podcast.

Self contained series

  • Seeing White, Scene on Radio – I struggled with this. I welcomed the invitation to investigate the role that race and ethnicity play in my life and experience, but I remain unconvinced that these components of identity are always primary or should be made so. The expertise rested on Marxist concepts that undermined the premise of the series, and curtailed a fuller analysis of potential remedies. My main reflection was how this series would differ were it not centred on a distinctly American intellectualisation of race. C.
  • Slow Burn (Season 8 Clarence Thomas) – I enjoyed this, and learnt a lot, but couldn’t help consider whether the presentation is affected by an assumption that Clarence lacks agency. Criticisms of his personal conduct are relevant and disturbing, but there’s a disappointing lack of inquisitiveness about what drives Thomas’s intellectual convictions, and whether they are reasonable or not. For example, Thomas Sowell is one of my favourite economists and is presented in an unambiguous and unchallenged negative light. Also, the scenes exploiting Thomas’s elderly mother were a little tragic. B. 
  • Chameleon: High rollers – fascinating telling of an FBI attempt to find money laundering, and the impact on petty criminals who get caught up in it. As with season 1, the adverts seriously undermined listening pleasure. C. 
  • The Great Post Office Trial, BBC Sounds – I can remember when the postmaster in the village where my brother did his paper round was sent to prison for stealing, and we were all gobsmacked that he was a crook, And yet, as this series explains, he was the victim of a despicable corporate wrongdoing. Perhaps lacking was the context for the installation of the new (and faulty) computer system, but the series did an excellent job portraying the human cost, and the problem when large organisations can’t roll back on errors and resort to politician speak. A.
  • Crimetown (Season 1) – I listened to this on a trip to Chicago, and it proved a fitting backdrop to the interplay between organised crime and politics. C. 
  • Chameleon: Wild Boys – slick account of a fascinating story, but longer than necessary and annoying adverts. B.
  • Things Fell Apart, BBC Sounds – Jon Ronson looks at the different origins of the culture wars, which are defined as “the battle for dominance over conflicting values”, or the things we shout about on social media. B.
  • Death by Conspiracy – an 11 part podcast documentary on Gary Matthews, who died from covid in January 2021 having been drawn to social media claims that it was a hoax. C. 
  • West Cork – seemingly about the murder of a French woman, this is really about the chief suspect, who demands centre stage, and delivers. A.
  • Slow Burn (Season 3 Biggie and Tupac) – engrossing account of the East Coast/West Coast rivalry and the emergence of Tupac as a cultural figure perhaps unrivalled. I couldn’t help imagining being a school teacher listening to the perspective of each side, and simply concluding “grow up”. Fortunately, the civilising force of commercial success means that those still alive have done so.  B.
  • Bear Brook – an investigation of a tragic cold case, revealing important new evidence and techniques. B.
  • Wind of Change – a fun attempt to establish whether a famous song was in fact a CIA ploy. B. 
  • The Coming Storm, BBC Sounds (7 part podcast documentary on the rise of QAnon). A.
  • The Last Days of August – Jon Ronson does another excellent job at sympathetically telling a series of tragic stories, providing a few plot twists and narrative intrigue, without losing sight of the victim. B.
  • 13 Minutes to the Moon – released by the BBC to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, the series focuses on the audio recordings from the Apollo 11 mission. Having done a thorough job of explaining what was being said, and the importance of each intonation from those involved, the uninterrupted playback is truly mesmerizing. A. 
  • End of Days – the siege of Waco told from a British perspective, talking to family members of those who went. C.
  • Uncover – Season 1: Escaping NXIVM – a disturbing account of a women’s efforts to escape a cult. C.
  • Caliphate – an exquisite series that reports on the rise of Islamic State and documents the fall of Mosul. It’s a deeply absorbing production centred around an interview with someone claiming to have joined IS, and provides a perfect balance of background information. A. (Update: In December 2020 the New York Times retracted the series)
  • Atlanta Monster – all the ingredients for a fascinating sequence of plot twists and information about a case I wasn’t familiar with. But I felt it dragged on and I gradually lost interest. B.
  • Slow Burn (Season 2 Clinton) – very well presented featuring interviews with key players in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I particularly liked the broader focus on the controversy surrounding Clinton prior to him becoming President, and how that laid the ground for his impeachment. This was a historic event that I remember experiencing, but it was enlightening to go deeper. Especially relevant given the #metoo movement. B.
  • This Sounds Serious – a well conceived and executed spoof of the true crime genre. Some daft comedic moments and surprisingly subtle nods to The Day Today. A.
  • The Butterfly Effect – very touching business history emphasising creative destruction and unintended consequences. High recommend. A.
  • Missing Richard Simmons – originally presents itself as having the ingredients of a unique and enjoyable mystery, but sadly turns into a slightly disturbing hounding. C.
  • Undisclosed (Season 2: Joey Watkins) – a classic example of a true crime podcast that investigates a miscarriage of justice, in detail and with impact. B. 
  • S Town – a fascinating and gripping story, but I was annoyed by the presenter’s self-serving presence. B.
  • Tracks – a radio play that delves into a reasonably interesting conspiracy theory, but ultimately fails to replicate the engagement that comes from a discovery. C.
  • Homecoming – more of a play than a podcast, but one that utilises the medium very nicely. Season 2 was meh. B.
  • Serial Season 1 – a documentary about the death of Hae Min Lee featuring interviews with Adnan Syed, who is in prison for the murder. But did he do it? This helped build the genre of the developing real time podcast, and I have fond memories of bingelistening to this with noise cancelling headphones on a transatlantic red eye – the theme music still gives me shivers. The original and still the best. A+.

And finally:

Classic interview questions

  1. If you had to kill someone, who would it be?
  2. What have you been most wrong about?
  3. When have you spent < £100 on something that gave you an immense amount of satisfaction?
  4. What’s the biggest coincidence you’ve ever experienced?
    • A coincidence is “A surprising concurrence of events with no apparent causal connection.”
    • I like this one
    • Another famous one is a man picks ups ringing pay phone, and it’s a lady trying to get hold of him but she dialled his payroll number by mistake. Then again, it can’t be that good an example of coincidence if David Spiegelhalter has 10 other examples of it happening! (see his website)
    • Luck = chance taken personally
    • We may underestimate the likelihood of chance meetings due to hidden networks
  5. Do you sincerely believe in any conspiracy theories?
    • Joscha Bach argues that the main difference between a conspiracy theory and a consensus narrative is that latter tried to unify society, but the former tries to splinter it. Yet both of them “gives meaning to the world by connecting significant dots with confabulation and motivated reasoning, making truth and fiction indistinguishable”. Perhaps he’s right that the internet is making it harder to debunk conspiracy theories.
    • Note that some events can cease to be a conspiracy theory – as Mick Herron said, “It’s not a theory once it’s proved. After that, it’s just a conspiracy” (Slow Horses, p.147)
  6. Is cunning a good trait?
    • “Instead of following an open, clearly understandable line of behaviour, cunning is calculating how other people will react to certain forms of behaviour which are hiding the end game”… “this ability to assess things rapidly and then to act in a way that is not immediately readable/ understandable by the people around us in order to get an advantage that some people will doubtless feel is an unfair advantage” (Tim Parkes, translator of Machiavelli who, incidentally, was always truthful towards his wife)
  7. Tell that story, the time you did the wrong thing because you were scared. (link)
  8. When were you at your happiest?
  9. Tell me about the time you met the right person at the wrong time. (It doesn’t need to be romantic).
  10. Do you have a favourite joke?
  11. Imagine your funeral, and your family and friends have had a few drinks and are thinking of you. They want to make an idiosyncratic gesture to your memory. What would they do? What should they do?

Performance Review

The underlying problem is that all performance reviews (especially corporate ones) tend to be costly and arbitrary. Deloitte have a new approach that intends to simplify the process by asking 4 questions:

  1. Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus (five point scale)
  2. Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team (five point scale)
  3. This person is at risk for low performance (yes/no)
  4. This person is ready for promotion today (yes/no)

I like the idea but not the questions chosen (they are too hierarchical). Mine would be something along the following lines:

  1. Does this person excel at their job?
    • For example, is there documented evidence of other people attempting to learn from them?
  2. Is this person a pleasure to work with?
    • For example, would other colleagues look forward to making a transatlantic trip with them?

I recently became aware of the concept of a Personal Boardroom. I think it is a good way to recognise whether you have an effective support network, and to identify why your career may be stalling. The idea is that you should have people in your life – with whom you are in regular contact – that perform each of the following roles:

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