In November 2022, the United Stated Agency for International Development appointed Professor Dean Karlan as their Chief Economist. Dean Karlan is a development economist who founded Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) in 2002 and has been its president since. He's also on the Executive Committee of MIT's Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL).
IPA and J-PAL have been responsible for a lot of the research that underpins GiveWell's charity recommendations (GiveWell has a 2011 overview of IPA's contributions here). Their work includes:
- Evidence for the effectiveness of free vs. priced bednets
- Ongoing work on unconditional cash transfers
- Evidence for positive effects from deworming (a 2019 Cochrane review suggests otherwise)
- Work suggesting that microfinance isn't that great
- Evidence for the effectiveness of chlorine dispensers
- Work on incentives for immunisation
This is among hundreds of other policy/intervention evaluations the two groups have done.
Dean Karlan seems to have played a big role in advancing evidence-based global development.
USAID has an allocation of $29.4 billion for 2023. Wikipedia says this is the world's largest aid budget. If Prof. Karlan improves the effectiveness of the USAID program by even a small amount it could have a huge positive impact.
I'm chalking this one up in favor of playing the long game--as Holden Karnowsky likes to advise, prioritizing building career capital because it would create greater impact in the future. Clearly though, Prof. Karlan has been making a substantial impact in the area for a couple of decades at least.
Oh wow! This is fantastic news. Both because he'll have influence on the $29.4 billion :O!, and that his appointment might reflect a bigger change in USAID policy in general.
I spent a few days with Dean on my internship- a few random recollections. We briefly discussed EA and he was enthusiastic about it- my sense was that he had a "that's a cool thing you kids are doing" vibe.
Unrelated, he also said he'd never spent more than $10 on a t-shirt (I was impressed), so if you're lucky enough to be able to work with him, you should probably have your "frugal EA" hats on- no invites to the Bahamas/ our latest castle.
Also unrelated, my colleague asked him why IPA didn't consider more systemic level changes to trade policy, aid policy, growth interventions etc. vs. the more micro economic randomisation IPA does. He said: "I believe in the division of labour" and explained that he thought we needed better systemic change in the aid sector, but that wasn't the IPA model. So perhaps he'll be quite ambitious at USAID, and not just all about better data/ micro stuff.
The year I founded Yale EA, our group met with Dean (who taught there at the time) to get ideas for what we might work on. So he's been aware of EA for a long time.
(He was also a grader for my undergraduate thesis, which was explicitly influenced by EA.)
He's not really involved in the community that I know of. But in a more important sense, his entire life has been spent practicing EA, and I'm excited to see what he does in his new position!
He was the northwestern ea staff/professor sponsor for the duration of my time there (this doesn’t mean that much though).
Another EA connection is that Samantha Power, the USAID Administrator who appointed Dean Karlan, is married to Cass Sunstein, who has spoken at EA Global and was once a guest on the 80,000 Hours podcast.
Thanks for the update on this! I don't think I'd heard about it.
What do we know about his views regarding effective altruism?
I think I would describe him as generally supportive of global health and wellbeing focused EA / effective giving. As others note above, he's been aware of the community since roughly around the time it started and in many ways has been 'practicing' EA since long before then (e.g. founded IPA in 2002, wrote 'more than good intentions'). He's also engaged directly with the community in various ways - e.g. has been on the board of TLYCS for a long time (and advised them on charity selection for a while). He set up ImpactMatters, which evaluated and recommended a much broader range of charities than GiveWell. Overall, I think this is an extremely exciting appointment and I think he'll do a huge amount of good in the role!