May 23 2011

Links of the Day

Category: Links of the dayJames @ 8:00 am

1. Getting Smart on Aid. Exciting developments in empirical research about how to improve the lives of the poor in developing countries:

Now we reach a central question for our age: How can we most effectively break cycles of poverty? For decades, we had answers that were mostly anecdotal or hot air. But, increasingly, we are now seeing economists provide answers that are rigorously field-tested, akin to the way drugs are tested in randomized controlled trials, yielding results that are particularly credible and persuasive. . . .

In much of the developing world, most kids have intestinal worms, leaving them sick, anemic and more likely to miss school. Deworming is very cheap (a pill costing a few pennies), and, in the experiment he did with Edward Miguel, it resulted in 25 percent less absenteeism [from school]. Even years later, the kids who had been randomly chosen to be dewormed were earning more money than other kids.

Kremer estimates that the cost of keeping a kid in school for an additional year by building schools or by subsidizing school uniforms is more than $100, while by deworming kids, the cost drops to $3.50. (In a pinch, kids can usually go to “school” in a church or mosque without a uniform.) . . .

For those who want to be sure that to get the most bang for your buck, there is also a “proven impact fund” (www.poverty-action.org/provenimpact/fund). It supports interventions like deworming or microsavings that have proved to be cost-effective in rigorous trials.

2. Amazing Color Photos of the Great Depression. These have been posted online before, but I just saw them posted again somewhere  else, and are too amazing to not share.

3. “How social influence can undermine the wisdom of crowd effect” and “Sharing Information Corrupts Wisdom of Crowds.” “In a new study of crowd wisdom — the statistical phenomenon by which individual biases cancel each other out, distilling hundreds or thousands of individual guesses into uncannily accurate average answers — researchers told test participants about their peers’ guesses. As a result, their group insight went awry.”

4. Cut medicine in half.

Car inspections and repairs take a small fraction of our total spending on cars, gas, roads, and parking. But imagine that we were so terrified of accidents due to faulty cars that we spent most of our automotive budget having our cars inspected and adjusted every week by Ph.D. car experts. Obsessed by the fear of not finding a defect that might cause an accident, imagine we made sure inspections were heavily regulated and subsidized by government. To feed this obsession, imagine we skimped on spending to make safer roads, cars, and driving patterns, and our constant disassembling and reassembling of cars introduced nearly as many defects as it eliminated. This is something like our relation to medicine today. . . .

Our main problem in health policy is a huge overemphasis on medicine. The U.S. spends one sixth of national income on medicine, more than on all manufacturing. But health policy experts know that we see at best only weak aggregate relations between health and medicine, in contrast to apparently strong aggregate relations between health and many other factors, such as exercise, diet, sleep, smoking, pollution, climate, and social status. Cutting half of medical spending would seem to cost little in health, and yet would free up vast resources for other health and utility gains. . . .

5. A satellite photo of the United States at night. I thought it was a very interesting visual illustration of population densities in the United States (in Utah, Colorado, and Nebraska, you can clearly see lines of lights from towns which must have grown larger because they’re situated along the major interstate highway that crosses the state). Satellite photo of the United States at night.

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