111 karmaJoined Mar 2021


Thanks for this Simon! I have an additional concern which it would be interesting to get other people's views on: While I’m sympathetic to the importance of subjective well-being, I have additional concerns about how spillovers are sometimes incorporated into the cost-effectiveness comparisons between Strongminds and Givewell (like in this comparison with deworming). Specifically, I can see plausible cases where Givewell-type improvements in health/income allow an individual to make choices that  sacrifice some of their own subjective well-being, in service of their family/relatives. These could include:

  • Migrating to a city or urban area for job opportunities. For the migrant, the move may lead to more social isolation and loss of community. But those receiving remittances could benefit substantially. 
  • Choosing to work in manufacturing rather than e.g. subsistence agriculture, and so having a better security net (for oneself and ones’ family) but sacrificing day-to-day autonomy.
  • Similarly, choosing a long commute for a better opportunity 
  • Any long-term investments in e.g. children’s education, specifically if these investments are ‘lumpy’ (the sacrifice is only possible once income exceeds a certain threshold) 

While some CEAs are making adjustments for spillovers, and HLI have made a considerable effort to measure spillovers (e.g. in this post), they seem to rely on limited studies and those studies don’t seem (based on my quick reading) to measure longer term effects (e.g. >4 years), while longer-term is when some sacrifices may start to pay-off for some household members. I hope in the future intelligent study designs will start to consider subjective well-being spillovers more deliberately, but for now I’m concerned that the cost-effectiveness of Givewell-type interventions could be underestimated if models are using the available subjective well-being data (which to my knowledge usually focuses on the main recipient). 

Note: I haven’t reviewed the literature in-depth so I may have missed resources that help resolve these issues.