Planet Money Podcast: Episode 644: How Much Does This Cow Weigh?

An interesting phenomenon that has been proven true many times over but seems so counterintuitive it is hard to believe. When asked to guess the weight of a cow or the number of jelly beans in a jar, often the average of all the guesses is extremely close to the correct answer. Even more accurate than many “experts'” guesses. This is an interesting case in which we can prove something true mathematically but still have a hard time believing. Overall great podcast.

What The IRS Could Learn From Mormons

How does a person’s notion of faith affect their charitable giving? How does it affect how honestly they donate their money? In an interesting Planet Money podcast and accompanying article, economists study how Mormons think about what they give to the church and what they don’t and principles the IRS could learn from them.

“I asked a Mormon bishop in Salt Lake City if a few more rules defining income might make tithing easier on Mormons or bring in more money for the church. He said all this soul-searching about what you owe God is kind of the point.”

How can we measure the effectiveness in charitable giving?

Much of our charitable giving is governed by emotions. We are far more often to give to a cause if the story or cause grabs our attention by moving us emotionally. Sometimes the charities are effective at branding themselves or their cause and sometimes we personally identify with the cause.

There are some people who want to change the way we think about charitable giving by identifying the “return on investment” of each dollar donated rather than letting our emotions decide for us. What happens when we decide to figure out the most effective use of our charitable dollars? How can we measure the impact? What criteria do we look at? Do we focus on saving lives or improving quality of life? Is it possible to even quantify these things?

Much of the approach these people use try to apply mathematical approaches to identify effectiveness. How can we use math to help us determine truth? What are the assumptions built into these mathematical models? Does quantifying this stuff to determine effectiveness dehumanize charitable work?

What if it was “mathematically proven” that the the most effective approach to charity were to give money away with no conditions or strings attached to the recipients? Would your emotional or intuitive revulsion to such an idea keep you from donating? How do you decide what is right when different ways of knowing conflict with one another?

Sometimes people prefer to donate to causes that build tangible structures like schools in foreign countries though it turns out that building schools may not actually that effective based on the cost.

Below are some links to evaluate this topic and these questions.

1. Is It Nuts to Give to the Poor Without Strings Attached?

2. Planet Money Podcast: The Charity That Just Gives People Money

3.Measuring the Bang of Every Donated Buck

Scoring charitable work is evolving from an art into a science

4. Give Well: Real Change for Your Dollar

Homepage for an organization that seeks to quantify the impact of various charities.

5. Smart Aid for the World’s Poor

How can rich countries best help poor ones? Matt Ridley identifies five priorities

6. Freakonomics Podcast:Fixing the World, Bang-for-the-Buck Edition

7.Don’t Build Schools in Afghanistan

8.Poker Players Use Science To Effectively Give To Charities