Tejas Subramaniam
Student of math and economicsatStanford University
Pursuing an undergraduate degree

Stanford student (math/economics). Formerly intern at Rethink Priorities (animal welfare) and J-PAL South Asia (IDEA Initiative). Currently SERI Summer Fellow. 

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Comparative advantage does not mean doing the thing you're best at

Greg Mankiw’s introductory econ textbook has a good explanation of a similar point:

LeBron James is a great athlete. One of the best basketball players of all time, he can jump higher and shoot better than most other people. Most likely, he is talented at other physical activities as well. For example, let’s imagine that LeBron can mow his lawn faster than anyone else. But just because he can mow his lawn fast, does this mean he should? 

Let’s say that LeBron can mow his lawn in 2 hours. In those same 2 hours, he could film a television commercial and earn $30,000. By contrast, Kaitlyn, the girl next door, can mow LeBron’s lawn in 4 hours. In those same 4 hours, Kaitlyn could work at McDonald’s and earn $50. 

In this example, LeBron has an absolute advantage in mowing lawns because he can do the work with a lower input of time. Yet because LeBron’s opportunity cost of mowing the lawn is $30,000 and Kaitlyn’s opportunity cost is only $50, Kaitlyn has a comparative advantage in mowing lawns.

(From Mankiw, G., Principles of Economics, p. 54, 9th edition)

Suppose we modify this example, such that:

  • LeBron was the best in the world at mowing lawns.
  • LeBron doesn’t make more money from television commercials than any other celebrity in the world.

Even though LeBron is better at mowing lawns than at television commercials, and also ranks higher among those who mow lawns than among those who film television commercials, he should film the commercial. 

Three charitable recommendations for COVID-19 in India

Thanks for the link! I will look into this soon. 

My immediate reaction is that that depends on the specific objectives of the advocacy organizations, as well as who they’re aiming to influence. 

For example, the article mentions the patent waiver a lot. While this is (I think) a point of difference between Manya and me, I’m currently unsure (50-50 split, in fact) about the sign of the effect of the patent waiver, and pretty convinced the magnitude is small (and that it obscures the deeper problems with vaccine supply). 

Three charitable recommendations for COVID-19 in India

From talking to the people helping the Swasti fundraiser in question, they seem to be working on data and coordination, but appear to be working separately on procurement and distribution! In any case, our point was more that Swasti and Swasth are separate organizations (and the similar name seems like a coincidence). 

Three charitable recommendations for COVID-19 in India

That’s why our third recommendation (not in order of importance) under oxygen is the Swasth/ACT Grants fundraiser! From our post: “Swasth’s Oxygen for India concentrator fundraiser on Milaap (for the price at which they are buying oxygen concentrators, room for more funding, and transparency about procurement and funding).”

From a conversation with the people running the Swasti Oxygen for All fundraiser, our guess is the two are equally cost-effective. 

Three charitable recommendations for COVID-19 in India

Hi! So the Swasti Oxygen for All fundraiser does not offer a tax deduction for the United States (I asked them recently). Swasth’s Oxygen for India fundraiser offers tax deductions for donations from the United States for donations above $1,000 (the details are specified in the link). We are happy to check about other countries!

Three charitable recommendations for COVID-19 in India

Thanks a lot for this estimate! I will link your comment on our post. 

Three charitable recommendations for COVID-19 in India

I’ve added Swasth as a recommendation, because it seems to purchase concentrators at lower prices and seems to have more room for funding at the moment, and because our concerns on accessible payment options are likely less relevant among EAs (as opposed to the high school and college students who will likely attend our debate lecture series). Thanks for pointing it out!

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Student of math and economicsatStanford University
Pursuing an undergraduate degree