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Assorted Links

June 1, 2015

1. The Science of Scarcity

2. Improving altruism

3. An informative law comic. I may have linked to this in the past.

4. An iron fish to improve health in Cambodia. I really like that stuff like this is invented from time to time. It’s nice that technology is used to help the very poor so even without a lot of economic growth, their lives are improving.

5. the less of something bad we see in the world around us, the more outrage we generate about the remaining bits.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2015 2:34 pm

    IMHO All articles like #1 need start by defining what they mean by poverty, else I read and wonder. If Mullainathan is right then the problem of poverty should be easy to solve just give people money. I think that might work for many in poor countries but I doubt that it would change much for most of our USA bottom 5% of earners. Lottery winners professional athletes and even to some extent rock stars from poor families seem to have problems at much higher rates than most middle-class and rich people. I think we should honor people working low wage jobs more and doing good in good in life more which there seem to be many dispersed among our lower earners. Also the folks in Kiryas Joel do well on low income.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/21/nyregion/kiryas-joel-a-village-with-the-numbers-not-the-image-of-the-poorest-place.html?_r=0

    Thinking back when I foolishly allowed myself to completely run out of money at the time graduated from college. I could only find part time work at a clothing store and I lived on friends living room floor for a few months. I was greatly helped by that very low cost living space but the store that I was working in closed and I had to move in with my parents (yuk) after that but I paid $100/week in for room and board. I was working washing dishes a few years out of college. But I never considered myself poor. And I was very careful spending my money. Considering my experience, perhaps allowing real-estate prices to fall very low would help some USAers. To really fall on hard times you need not only to be poor but to have no family or friends (or church) willing and able to help you. BTW I am now in the top 3% in earnings.

    • June 2, 2015 3:33 pm

      I’ve been “college kid” poor, but never anywhere near real poverty in terms of worrying about food and shelter. I think poverty has a huge cultural component and for example, in England, they have “classes” in addition to income levels. In America, you are considered lower class if you don’t have a lot of money, middle class if you have a medium amount of money, and upper class if you are rich. In England, you are considered lower/middle/upper class if you have the cultural values of that class regardless of income, and in many cases. A lottery winner is lower class, regardless of how much money they win. A college kid making $5000 a year working part time can be upper class.

      I think political correctness in America is harmful to actual poverty alleviation in this regard, because we refuse to acknowledge any cultural and personal choice causes of poverty. At the same time, I find it quite plausible that if you are worried about where your next meal will come, you’re not going to have much self control in other areas. I think there can be a middle ground of providing people with basic welfare and/or income, but at the same time advocating more Victorian values of personal responsibility and hard work.

      A lot of it comes down to how much faith you have in the abilities of the poor. If your mental model of the poor are helpless and lazy, welfare to ease their suffering is probably the best we can do. If you view the poor as capable and responsible, poverty alleviation efforts should focus on providing opportunities. It seems pernicious to me that the political groups more associated with helping the poor act as if they have the view that the poor are incapable of improving their own lives, given the opportunities to do so.

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