Climate change economics?

My father keeps telling me, “Climate change will be the biggest challenge of your generation.”

Over email: “Have you read this article? Uninhabitable Earth seems like a book you should read.”

On a hike: “If you want to do something big, you should study the climate.”

Popping up in the background when I’m FaceTiming my mother: “Did you read that article I sent you?”

Okay, okay, padre. So I’m looking into it.

Some initial notes on one climate change-development paper:

Crick, Eskander, Fankhauser & Diop 2018

  • Small, medium, micro enterprises are especially vulnerable to climate change
  • Semi-arid lands have high exposure to climate stress
  • Africa will face particularly high temperature rises this century
  • Some of the challenges they will face:
    • less predictable seasonal rains
    • increased intensity when it does rain
    • reduction in crop quality & yields
    • decreased live-stock productivity
    • reduced availability of freshwater
  • Sustainable adaptation = maintaining business operations at existing levels
  • Unsustainable adaptation = contraction in business activity (e.g. distress sale of assets)
  • Financial barriers and insufficient market access are associated with business contraction (unsustainable adaptation)
  • Info, gov’t support, adaptation assistance increase prob. of sustainable adaptation
    • Room for policy to increase sustainable adaptation

 

It’s just one small peak into what’s being researched, just a taste of the questions out there, but I already have so many questions:

  1. What are the primary risks from climate change for developing countries? For others as well as specifically farmers?
  2. How aware / conscious are people about climate change and its impacts? How much does that factor into decision making?
  3. Why are women particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts?
  4. What ARE the climate change impacts that we expect to see in the next 10, 20, 50 years? What are we already seeing?
  5. What kinds of adaptations are sustainable vs. unsustainable?
  6. How can policy influence people’s ability to adapt?
  7. What is the ideal outcome / goal of sustainable adaptation? What’s the best possible outcome given the realities of climate change?
  8. Are businesses that adapt to climate change more or less profitable than those that do not? (Is climate change adaptation profitable?)
  9. What local or national practices are best for counteracting the negative impact?

All the countries I have visited

1994 Canada – born!

1995 US – moved to NY then NC

2007 UK (England) – visited Mom’s family

2007 Kenya – visited close family friends

2015 Rwanda – summer internship

2015 Uganda – vacation from summer internship

2015 India – study abroad

2016 France – visiting friend studying abroad

2016 Italy – visiting friend studying abroad

2016 Netherlands – vacation with friends studying abroad in Europe

2017 Zambia – on-boarding to new job

2018 Liberia – work trip

2018 Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls half-marathon with boyfriend

2018 South Africa – work trip

2018 Spain – visiting brother Max studying abroad

2018 Germany – random 12-hour layover

Plan for 2019: Mexico

 

Welcome to the Unofficial Economist

The Unofficial Economist name reflects the fact that I want to start working on and practicing economics, thinking deeply about it, but I’m only an aspirant to graduate-level training so far.

Being ~unofficial~ allows me room to experiment, take guesses, and dig into economic ideas that interest me, without too much pressure to get it completely right yet.

The blog is really a conglomeration of everything that’s interested me (and that I’ve found time to write about) since April 2018. I try my hand at interpreting economic papers and development blog posts; I send news / proof of life to my parents via the life updates section; I recommend books and podcasts; and I share other bits of my life, like the Bollywood dances I’ve been practicing.

The menu to the left breaks the posts into four categories: economics, life updates, recommendations, and other. I hope you enjoy!

Noble work: Anand Giridharadas on the EKS

There was a recent discussion on the IDinsight #philosophy Slack channel about a recent Ezra Klein Show (EKS on this blog from now on, since I talk about it all the time) podcast with Anand Giridharadas. My contribution built off someone else’s notes that Giridharadas is spot on about how companies (also IDinsight in some ways) sell working for them as an extension of the camaraderie and culture of a college campus, how he doesn’t offer concrete solutions and that’s very annoying, and some reflections on transitioning from private sector consulting to IDinsight’s social sector, non-profit consulting model. I related more to the moral arguments in the podcast, and this is what I shared:

I connected most with his argument about how the overall negative impact of many big for-profit companies on worldwide well-being vastly outweighs any individual good you can do with the money you earn. One of EA’s recommended pathways to change is making a ton of money and giving it to effective charities, but if you do that by working for an exploitative company, then you’re really contributing to the maintenance of inequality and of the status quo racist, sexist, oppressive system.

My dad was always talking about having a “noble” profession when I was growing up (he’s a teacher and my mom’s a geriatric physical therapist) and even though “noble” is a strange way to put it, I think it is really important to (as much as possible) only be party to organizations and companies that are doing good or at least not doing active harm.

That being said, there are more reasons for going into the private sector and aiming to make money than are really dealt with in the podcast. For example, a few people we’ve talked to in South Africa have mentioned that many highly skilled South Africans are responsible for the education costs for all siblings/cousins and that is a strong motivator to take a higher paying salary.

It becomes very related to the debate about how much development or social sector workers should get paid, relative to competitive private sector jobs. I think IDinsight does a pretty good job of being in the middle for US associates anyways – paying enough that you can even save some, which is more than a lot of non-profits provide, but not necessarily trying to compete with private sector jobs because our model relies a lot on hiring people who are in it to serve, not for the money. Something for us to continue thinking about is how this might exclude candidates who have other financial responsibilities and how we should respond to this issue in how we hire and set salaries.

It’s so frustrating when people identify a problem without offering solutions. The closest he comes to offering solutions is to have organizations stop lobbying for massive tax breaks or in other ways deprioritize the bottom line of profitability. Sounded to me like his vision involves a lot more socialist ideas: the full solutions to these issues would involve massive-scale reorganizing of the existing economic system… although maybe we are heading in that direction with more co-op style companies and triple bottom line for-profit social enterprises? (Don’t know a ton about this co-op stuff – mostly from another Ezra Klein show episode probably, but it sounds cool!) …Maybe his next book will try to map out solutions, though?

Feminism contains multitudes: Annotated critique of WSJ op-ed on day care in Sweden

My annotated critique of “The Human Cost of Sweden’s Welfare State” – a poorly argued op-ed in the WSJ by psychoanalyst Erica Komisar.

Follow up research

  • Andersson, 1989: “Children with early day care (entrance before the age of 1) were generally rated more favorably and performed better than children with late entrance or home care.”
  • OECD report, 1999, p. 60: Acknowledges that children with poor immune systems or who are not good in group settings, could fare better at home or in home-style day cares (similar language to what the op-ed author uses). But points out that the increased feasibility of mothers staying home with young children for longer alleviates some concerns about mother-child early separation, giving parents flexibility to choose what option works best.
  • Another poorly supported op-ed from the Irish Times, 2011:

    “Working as a management consultant, Himmelstrand heard from women how sad they were about leaving their one-year-olds in daycare. He began to notice there were no children in the playgrounds during the day. If you walked down the street with a three-year-old toddler, people were amazed and disapproving the child was not in daycare.

    He also found educational standards were slipping in Sweden, and rates of psychological distress and psychosomatic illnesses among teens had gone up dramatically, not to mention disruptive behaviour in schools.”

  • Institute of Marriage and Family in Canada, 2015 blog post by Himmelstrand from a site with the tag line “Latest developments in family friendly research”: Not much research has been done on the Sweden day care system since the 70s and 80s. Highlights some staffing issues I saw mentioned elsewhere, as well, and again mentions the shaming of parents who don’t put their kids in pre-schools. Actually has citations, but most in Swedish and couldn’t follow-up on them.
  • Another Himmelbrand op-ed, 2013: “A study done a few years ago showed that today even socially stable middle class families have problems with their children.” Okay… that’s literally always true of any family. What kinds of problems qualify here? He doesn’t elaborate, but uses this as supposed evidence of poor parenting skills. Research in Swedish, can’t follow-up.
  • Perusing various chat boards and blogs: There does seem to be a general consensus that there’s pressure to fit in and do what other parents are doing across the board in Sweden that stands out to foreign and Swedish parents alike. And a few different posters mentioned pressure to put kids in day care, but never before age 1 unless you’re a crazy foreigner. BUT, there may be a correlation between those who post online about child care and those who feel alienated by the mainstream thought on it. So hard to judge whether the pressure is meaningful, and also whether it’s gov’t promoted or peer-enforced if it is a big deal.

Why is everything called Vox?

My favorite podcast right now is the Ezra Klein Show from Vox Media, the news-explaining organization founded by the podcast’s eponymous host. I am also in love with Vox’s Today, Explained and occasionally enjoy The Weeds and Impact.

Just now, I was looking up humanitarian economics and ended up at voxeu.org – a website of the Centre for Economic Policy Research.

Vox is also an amplifier manufacturer, a vodka, an anime character, and a TV network in Germany, Quebec, and Norway.

“Why is everything called Vox?” The google search answered my query on the fourth try, with a link to the Wikipedia entry for “vox.” Below the link, in the page preview, it said simply “Vox is Latin for voice.” Well, then.

I love when you think there must be a reason for something and then there is, in fact, a perfectly good explanation.

New insights on the development vs. humanitarian sectors

When I was at Middlebury, I took classes like Famine & Food Security and Economics of Global Health, learning more and more about humanitarian aid and international development. It didn’t really sink in that these were two different sectors until today.

I had a chance to talk to someone who worked for REACH – an organization that tries to collect the most accurate data possible from war zones/humanitarian emergency areas to inform policy. Seem like pretty important work.

Our conversation solidified to me that the humanitarian sector is different from the development sector. The humanitarian sector has a totally different set of actors (dominated by the UN) and missions, although the ultimate mission of a better world is the same.

Development is about the ongoing improvement of individuals living in a comparatively stable system; humanitarian aid is about maintaining human rights and dignities when all those systems break down.

There’s some overlap, of course – regions experiencing ongoing war and violence may be targeted by development and humanitarian programs alike, for example. I also think the vocabulary blurs a bit when discussing funding for development and humanitarian aid.

Development isn’t quite sure how it feels about human rights, though. Rights are good when they lead to economic development, which is equivalent to most development work.

I’d say that my definition of what I want to do in the development sector bleeds over into the human rights and humanitarian arenas. (I’m sure there’s also an important distinction between human rights sector and humanitarian sector – probably that the humanitarian sector is more about meeting people’s basest needs in crisis, although human rights workers also deal with abuses during crises.)

My interest in humanitarian work has been piqued by this conversation today, though. It was also piqued by my former roommate’s description of her work with Doctors without Borders. The idea of going on an intense mission trip for a period of time, being all-in, then taking a break is kind of appealing. Although REACH itself wasn’t described as a great work experience. Really long hours, but fairly repetitive work.

Maybe I should read more about the economics/humanitarian aid/data overlap.

You have to pay to be published??

Clockwise from top left: Dr. Francisca Oboh-Ikuenobe, Dr. Nii Quaynor, Mohamed Baloola, Dr. Florence Muringi Wambugu.

I was reading about the new African journal – Scientific African – that will cater specifically to the needs of African scientists. Awesome!

Among the advantages of the new journal is the fact that “publication in Scientific African will cost $200, around half of what it costs in most recognised journals.”

Wait.

You have to pay to be published in an academic journal? Dang.

I guess that cost is probably built into whatever research grant you’re working on, but in most other publications, I thought writers got paid to contribute content. I guess it’s so that there’s not a direct incentive to publish as much as possible, which could lead to more falsified results? Although it seems like the current model has a lot of messed up incentives, too.

Exercising again

I recently went through a long period of time (about 5/6 weeks) where I wasn’t running and I wasn’t even going to volleyball.

When I miss a planned workout or opportunity to exercise, I get a lot of mixed feelings. I feel good that I’m letting my body rest or, as is often the case, investing time in my personal projects and intellectual growth instead. But I also feel guilty about not exercising, and then guilty for feeling guilty – like I’m doing a bad job being body-positive or self-loving enough.

And then I feel guilty about feeling guilty about feeling guilty because I shouldn’t expect myself to be 100% self-loving all the time. So it’s rare for me to actually feel guiltless about missing exercise – usually, I’m judging myself under the surface and just ignoring those feelings.

I also know that if I miss one opportunity, I’m more likely to skip the next as well. I think that’s in large part because of the guilt cycle I get into. I start to feel defiant, like I shouldn’t even have to “force” myself to exercise if I’m not feeling into it. Because I’ve always been an athlete on sports teams, I’ve rarely had to make the decision to work out myself – it was simply demanded of me by my responsibilities to the team. Now, on my own, I have to actively make the choice to exercise each time and that’s way harder than I expected it to be.

The defiance also comes from the feeling that I don’t want societal pressures to look a certain way, or pressures I’ve put on myself to be seen as an athlete, to control my actions. It’s good to be aware of those pressures, but if I react so strongly in the opposite direction, am I acting any more independently?

Ultimately, I believe it’s good to take breaks and not beat myself up too much about “skipping days.” But it’s also really important to me to exercise. Exercise has a lot of benefits past my physical strength. It makes me happier, more energized.

The first challenge is recognizing when I’m taking a healthy break vs. feeling defiant and making an unhealthy, guilt-driven choice. Although, there might not always be a strict division between those two mentalities.

The second challenge is choosing the best action: do I “force” myself to do some kind of exercise even if I’m not really feeling it, so that I can have more motivation to work out tomorrow? How can I ensure I do workout the day after I take a break?

It’s a lot easier to think through these issues when I have been exercising. When I haven’t, I feel pessimistic about my ability to fix the problems. When I start exercising again, it’s more obvious that I can fix them – hey, I already started working out again, right?

This week, I ran on Sunday and Monday, played volleyball Monday night, and went rock climbing on Tuesday. That feels good, although I’m a bit worried I’ve swung too far in the other direction. Today, I’m planning to just go on a chill, short run when I get home from work or do a yoga session, depending on the rain situation.

I’m proud of myself for ending the exercise drought. And now I’m trying to figure out a strategy for getting back at it earlier in the future.

Sunday morning, 9’37″/mile
Monday morning, 9’32″/mile

How should I use my professional development time?

So much learning I want to do

  • Coding classes: Advanced R, Intro to Python, Machine Learning
  • Reading academic articles
    • In economics
    • In global health sector
  • Reading development-related articles
  • Summarizing/critiquing work-related articles
    • And post online
    • And share on internal knowledge management channels
  • Read Poor Economics for real (embarrassed I’ve only read half of it though)
  • Read Field Experiments book
  • Stata challenges from work
  • Plan a brown bag lunch presentation or chai & chat on a topic that interests me
    • An opportunity to practice presenting a slide deck
  • Read/plan for Tech Team Bookclub meetings on Machine Learning
  • Create a mapping portfolio by doing GIS challenges (possible??)

So little time…

I have blocked out three hours a week for my own PD. What do I want to prioritize? How scheduled/organized should I be about this?

I want to use the time for a mix of projects. This week, I want to read and write about one academic article related to health care and economics. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do. That should take 2 hours – I’ll polish and post my thoughts on my own time. Then, I can use the rest of the time to investigate what kind of mapping questions I can start looking into. I’m very excited about maps.

Long-term, I can plan to split it up into 2-3 chunks so I can make some progress on each of my projects across time.

  • I’ll come back to the coding and the books later
  • I’ll do Tech Team Bookclub and Stata challenges as they arise at work
  • I’ll plan for a mix of reading & writing about articles and GIS for now
    • Maybe once I have some cool maps made, I’ll do a brown-bag and an internal blog post about spatial data in Africa and how it’s relevant for IDinsight

This week

2 hours: I want to break down what heterodox vs. pluralistic vs. mainstream economics are. The idea of alternative economic models really appeals to me, but I don’t know what the big distinctions or points of conflict are. I’ll find some sources on my own time this week, and on Friday, read them and write up a summary for here.

1 hour: Investigate spatial data available for Kenya, maybe read an article on general spatial data quality in Africa.