HaukeHillebrandt

Co-Founder of Lets-Fund.org

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Improving local governance in fragile states - practical lessons from the field

What do you think is the probability of a civil war in Lebanon now and what are the best giving opportunities for donors looking to reduce the risk of war?

Growth and the case against randomista development

Median income and GDP per capita correlate very strongly (.93 in one sample).

Generally, for emerging economies, growth (raising GDP per capita) seems sufficient to increase median income (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_rising_tide_lifts_all_boats).

Amongst countries with a GDP per capita > $10,000 (~Namibia), no country has a median income below the extreme poverty line (1.90*365 = $693.5). 

And raising median income is sufficient and necessary to eliminate extreme poverty.

Growth and the case against randomista development

I have a section in the appendices "Quotes from Duflo and Banerjee" with more quotes from them from their latest book.

"Economists (and other experts) seem to have very little useful to say about why some countries grow and others do not.

We actually cite Pritchett above directly replying to this quote:

"The Venezuelan economy is not in 2018 spiraling into hyperinflation and in the midst of a tragic economic depression because “economists have little useful to say about economic growth” in the sense the advice, if followed, would be useful."

Whole paper is worth a read:

https://d101vc9winf8ln.cloudfront.net/documents/32264/original/RCTs_and_the_big_questions_10000words_june30.pdf?1565974982

Given that economic growth requires manpower and brainpower, it seems plausible, however, that whenever that spark occurs, it is more likely to catch fire if women and men are properly educated, well fed, and healthy, and if citizens feel secure and confident enough to invest in their children, and to let them leave home to get the new jobs in the city.

From our piece above: Admittedly, GDP and health are strongly correlated. Healthier people can work harder and learn more in school and so one might expect better health to cause growth. However, the evidence for health causing growth is weak and the effect is small: 

 “If improving health leads to growth, this would be a reason, beyond the welfare gain from better health itself, that governments might want to make such investments. However, the evidence for such an effect of health on growth is relatively weak. Cross-country empirical analyses that find large effects for this causal channel tend to have serious identification problems. The few studies that use better identification find small or even negative effects. Theoretical and empirical analyses of the individual causal channels by which health should raise growth find positive effects, but again these tend to be fairly small. Putting the different channels together into a simulation model shows that potential growth effects of better health are only modest, and arrive with a significant delay.” "Health and Economic Growth - CDN." Health and Economic Growth. Accessed 20 Nov. 2018.

 (Though there is some disagreement in the literature - for instance, “targeted interventions to improve the health conditions of women and children, such as iodine supplementation or vaccination against human papilloma virus, are likely to yield very high returns in terms of economic growth, well-being, and long-run development.)”)

earned 20 percent more as adults every year, meaning $3,269 USD PPP over a lifetime. The effect might be lower if deworming became universal: The children lucky enough to have been dewormed may have been in part taking the jobs of others.

But to scale this number, note that Kenya’s highest sustained per capita growth rate in modern memory was about 4.5 percent in 2006–2008.

If we could press a macroeconomic policy lever that could make that kind of unprecedented growth happen again, it would still take four years to raise average incomes by the same 20 percent. And, as it turns out, no one has such a lever."

1. Indeed, it is crucial that there's no general equilibrium theory of deworming and we don't know whether these effects scale to the whole population as well as growth does. 2. Of course, the literature on this is hotly debated (c.f. worm wars). Perhaps some targeted effective investments in health might cause growth or otherwise have outsized effects on welfare. 

Our best bet is the literature on the “fetal origins hypothesis” and child development, where early environment affects cognitive development and later life outcomes. Some of the effect sizes are downright incredible and its implications might be big (if true). For example, salt iodization is cheap and might improve (population-level) cognitive development and IQ. , Other examples are pollution, nutrition, disease, weather, smoking, alcohol etc. 

A counterpoint though is that because growth causes population health, and income has also been shown to improve birth weight, test scores etc, growth might still dominate this.

3. Increasing growth benefits almost everyone in the economy and improving policies such as trade policies reach users with ‘zero marginal cost’. In other words, a think tank advocating for lower tariffs for Nigeria to EU markets provides a public good for all 190 million Nigerians. Adding another Nigerian due to population growth is increasing this intervention effectiveness at zero marginal cost.

Addressing Global Poverty as a Strategy to Improve the Long-Term Future

Greg Lewis writes about this in his excellent post: "Beware of surprising and suspicious convergence":

Imagine this:

Oliver: … Thus we see that donating to the opera is the best way of promoting the arts.

Eleanor: Okay, but I’m principally interested in improving human welfare.

Oliver: Oh! Well I think it is also the case that donating to the opera is best for improving human welfare too.

Generally, what is best for one thing is usually not the best for something else, and thus Oliver’s claim that donations to opera are best for the arts and human welfare is surprising. We may suspect bias: that Oliver’s claim that the Opera is best for the human welfare is primarily motivated by his enthusiasm for opera and desire to find reasons in favour, rather than a cooler, more objective search for what is really best for human welfare.

[...]

The claim that, even granting the overwhelming importance of the far future, it turns out that global poverty charities are still the best to give to, given their robust benefits, positive flow through effects, and the speculativeness of far future causes.

How to promote widespread usage of high quality, reusable masks

I'm sorry if I'm being ignorant because I haven't followed C-19 very closely recently, but can you point out what you take offense with?

The academic contribution to AI safety seems large

Really interesting and informative - thanks for writing this!

On midterm safety: I think this is underexplored and not discussed enough here.

I have been thinking that generating more examples of how midterm safety risks could be catastrophic might be helpful (e.g. fusion power is apparently bottlenecked by computing power and algorithmic advances). Btw I thought this video by Stuart Armstrong on specification gaming was really good for skeptical specialists.

Also, I feel like more writing on midterm safety could be combined with Greg Lewis' post on GCRs importance from a person affecting view because that significantly relaxes assumptions about the importance of AI safety that might seem alien to skeptics.

Most Effective Voter Turnout Campaigns?

I don't have a great answer, but I have a brain/link dump Google doc on this topic that might be of interest.

HaukeHillebrandt's Shortform

My brain dump "Potential priority areas within cognitive sciences (psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind)"

https://docs.google.com/document/d/12m_KDzKWfwQebrHGN4G4XCVIYPUHrm05Z6SB_loZr5w/edit

Feel free to contribute by making suggested edits!

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