#13 - Claire Walsh on testing which policies work & how to get governments to listen to the results
In both rich and poor countries, government policy is often based on no evidence at all and many programs don’t work. This has particularly harsh effects on the global poor - in some countries governments only spend $100 on each citizen a year so they can’t afford to waste a single dollar.
Enter MIT’s Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Since 2003 they’ve conducted experiments to figure out what policies actually help recipients, and then tried to get them implemented by governments and non-profits.
Claire Walsh leads J-PAL’s Government Partnership Initiative, which works to evaluate policies and programs in collaboration with developing world governments, scale policies that have been shown to work, and generally promote a culture of evidence-based policymaking.
Summary, links to career opportunities and topics discussed in the show.
We discussed (her views only, not J-PAL’s):
* How can they get evidence backed policies adopted? Do politicians in the developing world even care whether their programs actually work? Is the norm evidence-based policy, or policy-based evidence?
* Is evidence-based policy an evidence-based strategy itself?
* Which policies does she think would have a particularly large impact on human welfare relative to their cost?
* How did she come to lead one of J-PAL’s departments at 29?
* How do you evaluate the effectiveness of energy and environment programs (Walsh’s area of expertise), and what are the standout approaches in that area?
* 80,000 Hours has warned people about the downsides of starting your career in a non-profit. Walsh started her career in a non-profit and has thrived, so are we making a mistake?
* Other than J-PAL, what are the best places to work in development? What are the best subjects to study? Where can you go network to break into the sector?
* Is living in poverty as bad as we think?
And plenty of other things besides.
We haven’t run an RCT to test whether this episode will actually help your career, but I suggest you listen anyway. Trust my intuition on this one.