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AidEconomics.com now redirects here

It was time to consolidate and to follow the lead of many other eponymous bloggers.

I still think aid is interesting; I still think one should take a very broad definition (including trade agreements, etc.).

Will migrate old posts over here shortly. As a perk, the site gets a more modern look.

Random families

A recent NYTimes article discusses “the families we invent”. I always thought families were so arbitrary and that someone should make a website which randomly matches people into “families” to extend the concept a bit further. Many wouldn’t catch on or be maintained but it would make a good statement.

The World Bank cancels 2014 Young Professionals Program

The Young Professionals Program is the main recruitment tool used by the World Bank. About 10% of its professional staff came in through that process. In my 2011 cohort, there were 35 of us. The program has been cancelled for 2014, though they say it will return.

I am trying to get the story on what is going on. Currently, this seems to be the best guess:

1. With the bank re-structuring into 14 “Global Practices”, there’s confusion over where the YPs would fit in, and/or who would decide on them and be (in a token way) responsible for them

Usually, the VPs all vote on the last set of candidates, and if you support someone’s application you are nominally responsible for taking them in if they can’t find a placement.

2. The head of the YP program left a couple of months ago, making it harder to coordinate

Much worse: there are rumours she will not be replaced. This makes me worry that it’s perhaps not just a transient shock. Especially given:

3. There are some senior people not so fond of YPs (word on the street)

This all still sounds like a temporary thing. Hopefully. If there were ever a group of people not to cut, it would be your young people with the latest skills. The World Bank has a lot of old people. In my experience, the young brought in a lot of new ideas.

P.S. Check out a new Indiegogo relating to what we know and don’t yet know in development.

A modern list of things to do before 30

I’m still in my late 20s, and these lists pop up from time to time. I find most of the lists out there to be offensive, either by their disaggregating by gender in an old-fashioned way or by otherwise seeming to be written by those in their 50s.

Yes, I disagree with the idea of these lists at all (who wants to be told what to do in a cookie-cutter way?), but I felt it would still be a fun exercise to think about what a modern update might look like.

Do you have any suggestions for things to put on the list?

1. Code
2. Be unemployed (unless you do 1)
3. Have a meme go viral
4. Try an app relating to “the quantified self”. (Whether to track spending, sleep, etc.)
5. Make a mistake publicly on the internet where it will live on forever
6. Realize everyone else does, too, or if they don’t they aren’t doing anything worthwhile
7. Go somewhere. Could be a different country, even just a different part of the country. My friend Casey puts it: “TRAVEL YOUR ASS OFF. You don’t have your entire life to have an utter lack of responsibility if you’re planning to have kids.”
8. Learn about behavioural economics and the mistakes you might make, such as how you may be affected by projection bias. You can easily waste a lot of time being upset about things that won’t matter in time or going the wrong direction because of mistaken beliefs
9. Remember that xkcd comic strip about the value of becoming more efficient at a task? When you’re young, you stand to benefit for a lot longer from any positive improvements you can make. So figure out how to eat well, what kind of things make you happy, etc. Invest a lot of time in learning, not necessarily formally
10. Crowdsource something (or crowdfund – did you know there are even sites now where you can crowdfund your personal travel? Don’t know how well they work….)
11. Outsource something. Learn what you can or can’t accomplish this way
12. Speak with people. It can sometimes help you more than anything else. Relatedly, hang out with amazing people who are better than you
13. Give back. You are what you repeatedly do. If you don’t exercise your other-regarding preferences they will wither
14. One last related point, courtesy of my friend Adam: “Spend time doing what you want to do later: everything you do now determines what you are good (or better) at later. If you spend all your time doing nothing, you will only be good at nothing when you want to be able to do something.”

Thoughts? I feel that with increasing inequality, using your youth well is all the more important, something I bet Tyler Cowen would agree with.

What you should value and how to obtain it are two separate issues

Eric Herboso mentioned recently that GiveWell doesn’t value non-human animal lives much.

What a controversial subject! I know people who value animal lives at 0% of human lives; I know people who would say that all animals are equal. Whether you value an animal life at 0.002 of a human life, as in Eric’s example, 0, or 1 makes a huge difference to which kinds of programs you think one ought support.

This really highlights what I’ve always said about how there are two separate issues that those in the non-profit business all-too-often conflate: what is the most effective way at obtaining an outcome, and how to value outcomes.

When advocating for particular causes, people often shove under the rug the fact they’re saying anything about the second one. It might be clear which outcomes are under discussion (e.g. DALYs/QALYs), but there should still be more discussion of why these are the right ones. If we can’t even agree on the value placed on non-human animal lives, there is no way we can agree on what we should do, and this is just one issue among many on which we might disagree. (For example, do we value education at all, or just health?)

I’m not saying that people’s values are sacrosanct; there could theoretically be value in arguing with someone over what they should value. But let’s transparently separate the two issues. AidGrade, for its part, has been simply presenting outcomes. People with a wide range of beliefs can thus use the results. I would be all for weighting these results in some more complicated function, but arguing for a particular function is an entirely different enterprise.