Christiaan

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Growth and the case against randomista development

Many thanks for this very insightful article. I fully support your stance on moving beyond only RCT's, and short term solutions to poverty. I also think it’s a very promising line of argumentation and would be happy to see more of these types of discussion in the EA community. I have written down a few comments/thoughts I had while reading this article. I recognize that already many comments have been made; if so feel free to redirect me or simply state it was answered already and I can look for it.

1: I’d like to push a bit on the neglectedness argument. Let’s say we want to donate to advocacy groups for policies we feel confident are effective. I believe that there is quite some tension between the degree of certainty that some policy is effective, and its neglectedness. In other words, the policies where we can feel most confident they are effective might already have so much funding and attention that each additional donor or career might have much less marginal benefit. Conversely, the strategies that are most neglected might also carry more uncertainty, as they have been less critically vetted by a large diversity of economists. What are your thoughts on this?

2: more generally, can you outline in what way current incentive structures in the economics field and other institutions might cause sub-optimal policies to be advocated in a way that effective altruists (through being effective altruists) can mitigate?

3: Daron Acemoglu argues that the main obstacle to economic development in developing countries are institutions that are not conducive to growth, by being extractive, i.e. having excessively concentrated power which among other things slows down innovation. This seems to be something more difficult to address for Westerners. Relatedly, countries with insufficiently inclusive political institutions may grow but without such institutions are unlikely to improve the welfare of the poorest.

4: “However, no one can reliably and rigorously demonstrate exactly which actions best promote development (…) This should lead us to be sceptical about RD.” You could also argue for the opposite conclusion. Since we cannot reliably know which actions promote development, RD can at least help us alleviate suffering of those who are poor today.

Christiaan