Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Commit in September

The Quote of the Day goes to Invisible Children for this Facebook status:
Our friends at the Millennium Campus Network need your help to get 72 million children in a school.
They're going to achieve Millennium Development Goal #2 and set a World Record by having 72 million children in one school.

Joking aside, I do highly recommend singing the petition at Commit in September.

A lot of people don't like these things because they seem useless. Does it really matter that one more person signs the petition? Probably not. But even if there is a tiny probability that one extra e-mail, call, meeting or signature makes a difference, the payoff is massive. When you multiply a tiny number by a massive number you get . . . well, it depends on how tiny and how massive. So you might as well sign because it might be massive. (These models are hard to calibrate so I won't try. But here is an irrelevant fact I will mention to bias your views: based on a model estimated by Gelman et al. though, the expected payoff to voting in a swing state is at least on the order of $10,000.)

Another reason people don't like to sign these things is that they don't think these policy issues matter. Foreign aid doesn't work right? The only way to make a difference is to get your hands dirty, they say. But most small projects are utter failures. If I had to put money on it, your money and time would be better spent dealing with (and preventing) mental illness in the U.S., unless you're working on vaccinations or clean water. In contrast, PEPFAR has put 2 million people on ARVs for several years. That's means that an investment of a few hundred thousand signatures, letters, and calls yielded about 10 million life-years or about 100 life-years per signature. If the average impact of signing at Commit in September is something like 100 life-years isn't it worth 2 minutes?

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