Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Expensive Interventions in Development Economics

A week or so ago Bill Easterly tweeted a quip about how Soccket (a soccer ball when kicken become a power socket) was a sign of the wrong way to do development. The video below is well produced and worth a watch at the end you might even want to donate. Who wouldn't want a bunch of kids to play soccer all day and study into the night?

The website for is here. In short you can send one of these balls for $60 to a country of your choice.  My guess is Easterly's problem and mine is that the website doesn't really cite any evidence that it is a good way to spend $60. A while back I cited Bruce Wydick's piece on the best bang for the buck in development. One thing worth noticing is that most of the favored policies are relatively cheap per treated individual (deworming medicine, clean water,  bed nets) even clean stoves run about $15 a piece.  The one exception is child sponsor program actually also seem to have big impact on key development outcomes.

Two thoughts. I doubt giving a soccket could do any harm directly, I think most economists worry about the opportunity cost. It is unclear if those donating soccket's would have donated money to deworming or clean water instead or just would have spent the money on themselves.

Soccket should take this criticism as a challenge to evaluate the impact of giving one to a child. Does it help children study more, are they less likely to be obese (actually a problem in some of the targeted countries), or are there other outcomes that it improves. Maybe they have done this but I couldn't find it on their website.  A similarly criticized program Tom's shoes gave one free pair of shoes to a poor child when you bought a pair of shoes (see here for a review). I think Tom's may have taken the criticism to heart as Bruce Wydick and others appear to be doing a randomized study of Tom's potential impact on the children who receive them.

Finally, one thing worth noting to do a study of the soccket starting small might be the right approach. Here is a run down of the evaluation of one lap top per child which might provide a framework how to proceed.

Bookmark and Share

1 comment:

Seth Gitter said...

My letter to soccket based on their request from twitter.

Hello Uncharted Play,

My is Seth Gitter (@srgitter) and I teach Economics at Towson
University and specialize in Economic Development. Last week Bill Easterly, a well known development economist, linked to your video, although he implied that he didn't think your product would be very good for development. I think you have a neat idea and I found the video very moving. One criticism as I noted on my blog
of econ development projects like yours, Tom Shoe's (which gives free
shoes to kids), or one lap top per child is that these interventions
lack a clear impact in mind and rigorous independent testing.
Typically development economists look for evaluations of both efficacy
(does it work on ideal conditions) or effectiveness (does it improve
life in general). We also look for independent evaluations (so as not
to bias the results) of interventions.

So my questions are as follows.

1. What outcomes do you expect Soccket to improve? (I would guess
school learning and physically activity?)
2. How have you conducted your evaluation of Soccket's ability to
improve these outcomes? Have you used an independent evaluation? Do
you have quantitative evidence that sockett improves the outcomes you
are looking at? How was the comparison group that didn't get soccket
3. Why is spending $60 on a soccket a good investment compared to say
giving to other charities?
4. Is there a place that I can point people to about your evaluation?

I'm happy to post any response you have on my blog and link it on
twitter. I do reserve the right to comment on it.

I think you have a potentially great product and if you have the
evidence you claim then pointing to it will only help the message get

Seth Gitter