New package for extreme value analysis in Stata

One topic I’m studying for my main client, the Open Philanthropy Project, is the risk of geomagnetic storms. I hadn’t heard of them either. Actually, they originate as solar storms, which hurl magnetically charged matter toward earth, jostling its magnetic field. Routine-sized storms cause the Auroras Borealis and Australis. Big ones happen roughly once a decade (1972, 1982, 1989, 2003, a near-miss in 2012…) and also mostly hit high latitudes. The worry: a really big one could send currents surging through long-distance power lines, frying hundreds of major transformers, knocking out power to continent-scale regions for months or even years, and causing an economic or humanitarian catastrophe.

My best assessment at this point is that if one extrapolates properly from the available modern data, the risk is much lower than the 12%-chance-per-decade cited by the Washington Post last summer. But that’s a preliminary judgment, and I’m not a seasoned expert. And even if the risk is only 1%, it almost certainly deserves more attention. More from me on that in time. (For a mathematician’s doubts about the 12% figure see Stephen Parrott.)

You can see “geomagnetic storms” beneath Cari Tuna’s elbow in this photo from a recent Post story about the Open Philanthropy Project: Continue reading “New package for extreme value analysis in Stata”

The domestic economic impacts of immigration

My client GiveWell, working closely with the foundation Good Ventures through the Open Philanthropy Project, is seriously considering labor mobility as a cause to which Good Ventures should commit resources:

It appears to us that moving from a lower-income country to a higher-income country can bring about enormous increases in a person’s income (e.g., multiplying it several-fold), dwarfing the effect of any direct-aid intervention we’re aware of.

But there are worries: Does letting more workers into a wealthy country take jobs from people already working there? Or does the competition for jobs reduce wages all around? These possibilities are a particular concern as they apply to low-skill workers, who are poorer.

For due diligence, GiveWell hired me to review the evidence on the potential side effects of immigration. Here is my full report, ready for comments from anyone. To read my conclusion, skim down to the bullet points. Continue reading “The domestic economic impacts of immigration”

The impact of life-saving interventions on fertility

Was Malthus right that saving lives means more people and more misery per person? My draft review of the scientific evidence for GiveWell suggests that as family planning becomes universal, this worry recedes. Please see if you think I got it right and share with others who can scrutinize the review.

My client GiveWell, which is working closely with the new foundation Good Ventures, commissioned me to review the scientific evidence on the impact of deaths on births. When a life is saved, especially a child’s life, do families go on to have fewer additional births than they otherwise would? Is the effect more than one-to-one or less? As I write just below, a criticism sometimes thrown at life-saving interventions is that they do as much harm as good by accelerating population growth.
Continue reading “The impact of life-saving interventions on fertility”