Comment of the week: Should I give my salary to the poor?

After mentioning my upcoming field projects and travel, Lukas comments:

Dear Chris,
Are you sure you really add more value, compared to the scenario of just distributing your wage in Liberia? I’m aware that it’s not a fair comparison, but maybe something people in development should think about.

I love it. That is indeed the benchmark.

Probably the relevant comparison is not my salary (which the university pays, and where the counterfactual is not less poverty but rather more arcane research). We should be thinking about the cost of the research–which happens to be much higher than my salary.

The answer depends on whether the research serves a public good, and makes future aid more effective. My research “fails” the test if just one of three things is true:

  1. My research sucks
  2. I don’t publicize my results, or
  3. I do 1 and 2 but no one in the aid community reads it

Most researchers don’t have the incentives or skills for 2, and do a miserable job.

We all try to do 1, and it’s a mixed bag. There is a ton of crud research in development.

We can’t control 3, and that worries me at least as much as 1 and 2.

As it happens, Jeannie and I give 15% of our earnings away, so you might infer from that my self-rated answers to 1 to 3.