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I agree with and appreciate the core premise, that since many donors give to primarily U.S. charities, as a community we should spend more effort on research to what effective causes are. I also agree that making the transfers more cash based and less beaurocratic is tractable and potentially high impact. However, I would like to note some flaws in this article.

  • the percent of spending on social programs is pegged at 23% of gdp. I suspect this must include social security and potentially other non discretionary and non need based public spending. 23% is much greater than the $600b figure used throughout the article. So it is misleading to equate these two numbers. Much of social security money does not go towards addressing poverty.

  • saying cash transfer is 10x as effective because it spends 1% on administration instead of 10% is extremely misleading. Using the amount of money given to people as the metric, it is 0.99/0.9=1.1x as effective, an extremely different number.

I am actually surprised administration fees are only 10%. This indicates to me that these programs are more cost effective than I would have otherwise assumed.

Great to see this post! I similarly felt that self help could be almost as effective and more scalable after engaging with Feeling good/great by Dr. David Burns. He has an app coming out soon that might be a good candidate for this type of work.

Dr David Burns through the feeling great book and feeling good podcast have had a very large positive impact on my mental health for essentially 0 cost on my end. While the feeling good app is still in beta, maybe it's worth reaching out to him (or other mental health app makers) about trialing the app in a low income country. Running a rct may be cheaper in the developing world. If app based interventions work, I'm sure the app creators would be very pleased and I imagine they may be willing to distribute freely in certain regions in exchange for the good publicity.