[Question] Systemic change, global poverty eradication, and a career plan rethink: am I right?

DISCLAIMER: Th­ese are fresh thoughts, and I might change my view. If you’re read­ing this, please don’t as­sume it still re­flects my views.

(This is my first EA Fo­rum post, so please guide me about what I can do bet­ter.)

TL;DR I wanted to be a so­cial en­trepreneur, but the so­cial im­pact of sys­temic changes to the global econ­omy through policy seems much greater than that of even the best en­trepreneur­ship due to the global econ­omy’s cur­rent in­equity. As a re­sult, I think I should be­come some sort of economist /​ eco­nomic policy ad­viser in­stead. Am I cor­rect?

I re­cently read Ja­son Hickel’s ‘The Divide’, and it has sig­nifi­cantly challenged my views on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and what I should do with my ca­reer. The book is a polemic against the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive in global de­vel­op­ment: that poverty is de­creas­ing, thanks in sig­nifi­cant part to the gen­er­ous efforts of rich coun­tries.

I am an un­der­grad stu­dent in PPE (Philos­o­phy, Poli­tics and Eco­nomics) at Oxford. All go­ing well, I will grad­u­ate next year.

This post has quite a lot of back­ground. As such, I will split it into four parts:

  • Hickel’s ‘The Divide’: an overview of some of the claims in it that I find most compelling

  • The rel­a­tive im­pact of sys­temic policy change and (so­cial) entrepreneurship

  • A crude as­sess­ment of my in­ter­ests, strengths, and weaknesses

  • Cause pri­ori­ti­sa­tion and per­sonal next steps.

This is, of course, a huge amount. I will do my best to sum­marise, and I know that in do­ing so I will miss im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tions. It’s also a scrappy first at­tempt. I would like to hear what you think of my rea­son­ing and con­clu­sions be­fore div­ing deeper and re­search­ing in much more depth.

In par­tic­u­lar, I in­vite you to dis­agree with me. In fact, I’d like you to play ‘devil’s ad­vo­cate’, since I think that the EA com­mu­nity gen­er­ally holds policy work in very high es­teem, mak­ing it harder to find good ar­gu­ments against work­ing in policy than might be jus­tified.

Hickel’s ‘The Divide’

‘The Divide’ is a tour de force, dis­cussing colo­nial­ism, neo­colo­nial­ism, and ecolog­i­cal de­struc­tion. I don’t agree with all of it, and I’m con­cerned that it has a very strong agenda and may cherry-pick cases. I might write a much more de­tailed post in a week or so, once I’ve read some more on the sub­ject. (Let me know if this would in­ter­est you!)

Ba­si­cally, Hickel ar­gues that poverty is get­ting worse, not bet­ter, and this is as a re­sult of mul­ti­ple waves of (neo)colo­nial­ism that place poor coun­tries in the global eco­nomic sys­tem on un­fair terms—so much so that ‘de­vel­op­ing’ coun­tries con­tinue to lose out in or­der to fur­ther de­velop ‘de­vel­oped’ coun­tries.

Cer­tain re­forms (in­volv­ing not Marx­ism, but a fairer and more mod­er­ated cap­i­tal­ism) are nec­es­sary to change this, and with­out these re­forms the mod­ern de­vel­op­ment agenda isn’t go­ing to work.

Here, I will men­tion two claims made that I find par­tic­u­larly com­pel­ling and in­ter­est­ing:

1) The num­ber of peo­ple around the world in ab­solute poverty is in­creas­ing, not de­creas­ing.

Although I have found ev­i­dence that av­er­age in­comes are ris­ing, the num­ber of peo­ple who are in ab­solute poverty seems to be in­creas­ing, not de­creas­ing. This sug­gests that global de­vel­op­ment is not work­ing, at least in­so­far as its role is to re­duce poverty.

Why, then, do the data seem to show re­duc­ing global poverty? Here are some rea­sons:

(a) Mov­ing the goalposts

The 1996 Rome Treaty on poverty re­duc­tion was in terms of ab­solute num­bers in poverty, whereas the UN’s Millen­nium Devel­op­ment Goal (MDG) was to halve the pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion in poverty, which is eas­ier to achieve given pop­u­la­tion growth.

(There’s gen­uine de­bate as to which mat­ters—I think of the ques­tion of to­tal vs av­er­age util­i­tar­i­anism in pop­u­la­tion ethics—but it’s de­press­ing that both aren’t de­creas­ing, given the re­cent efforts from rich coun­tries in the name of de­vel­op­ment.)

Fur­ther­more, the pro­por­tion de­clared rele­vant for the pur­poses of the MDG was taken as the pro­por­tion of ab­solute poverty in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Since de­vel­op­ing coun­tries have higher-than-av­er­age pop­u­la­tion growth, this made the tar­get yet eas­ier to achieve.

(b) Mov­ing the goal­posts, part 2

The refer­ence year of anal­y­sis was moved back from 2000 to 1990, al­low­ing the ex­cep­tional poverty re­duc­tion in China (be­fore the cam­paign even started) to be taken into ac­count.

(c) Use of one in­ter­na­tional poverty line, made weaker ev­ery so often

By us­ing an In­ter­na­tional Poverty Line (IPL) based on a thresh­old for ab­solute poverty in the 15 poor­est coun­tries in the world, it was not only poverty just above the line in those coun­tries that was ig­nored. In some­what richer (but still poor) coun­tries, the line was far too low.

Even (figures from) the World Bank (?) have crit­i­cised the poverty line as be­ing far too low, and many economists have pro­posed that it be in­creased. The $5-per-day poverty line of­ten recom­mended—some recom­mend higher—would put over 4 billion peo­ple in poverty. The IPL is re­vised up­wards ev­ery so of­ten, but (Hickel claims) it is ac­tu­ally be­ing re­duced in terms of real pur­chas­ing power par­ity value: what some­one at the IPL can af­ford to buy.

Papers like this one, from a UN Spe­cial Rap­por­teur, con­firm this view on poverty. I in­tend to re­search the truth of this claim and the sub-claims about mea­sure­ment in more de­tail, but for now am as­sum­ing that they are true.

Hickel ar­gues that similar pro­cesses of statis­ti­cal ‘doc­tor­ing’ have led to mis­lead­ing sto­ries about re­duc­tions in world hunger. He claims that, al­though there have been some suc­cess sto­ries (such as in East Asia), the ‘good news story’ about global de­vel­op­ment is false.

2) Neo­colo­nial­ism causes huge eco­nomic dev­as­ta­tion in poor coun­tries, far out­weigh­ing in­ter­na­tional aid

I doubt it will be a fringe view on this fo­rum that Western colo­nial­ism tended to crip­ple poor coun­tries’ economies, or that cer­tain Euro­pean and US in­ter­ven­tions (like the Iraq War) led to huge dev­as­ta­tion. It might not also be an un­usual view here that the World Bank’s Struc­tural Ad­just­ment Poli­cies (SAPs) at least some­times were detri­men­tal to economies that took their loans.

How­ever, the scale of neo­colo­nial­ism sug­gested by Hickel was much greater than I had thought.

(a) Neo­colo­nial­ism by coup

I was shocked by the sheer num­ber of Euro­pean and US in­va­sions of sovereign na­tions from the 1950s on­wards be­cause they threat­ened Western in­ter­ests. Th­ese were coun­tries that aimed to de­velop by in­vest­ing in things like ed­u­ca­tion, health­care, hous­ing, and ‘im­port sub­sti­tu­tion’ (pri­ori­tis­ing man­u­fac­ture of finished prod­ucts, so as not to be de­pen­dent on rel­a­tively ex­pen­sive Western im­ports).

I think Hickel might be ig­nor­ing some of the prob­lems of the regimes in ques­tion, but I would be very sur­prised if all the cases he men­tions (listed be­low) had bad enough regimes to jus­tify the vi­o­lent in­ter­ven­tion or sup­port of dic­ta­tors they re­ceived:

  • Iran (Mos­sadegh)

  • Gu­atemala (Aré­valo)

  • Brazil (Goulart)

  • Guyana

  • Cuba (Bay of Pigs)

  • Do­mini­can Republic

  • El Salvador

  • Ni­caragua (Ortega)

  • Bolivia

  • Ecuador

  • Haiti

  • Paraguay

  • Honduras

  • Venezuela

  • Panama

  • In­done­sia (Sukarno)

  • Ghana (Nkrumah)

  • Congo (Lu­mumba)

  • Uganda (Obote)

  • Guinea-Bis­sau and Cape Verde (Cabral)

  • An­gola (Neto)

  • South Africa (sup­port­ing apartheid out of fear of Man­dela, ac­cord­ing to Hickel)

  • Cameroon

  • Gabon

  • Côte d’Ivoire

  • Nigeria

  • Guinea

  • Niger

  • Congo Brazzaville

  • Cen­tral Afri­can Republic

  • Burk­ina Faso

(b) Neo­colo­nial­ism by debt

After coups fell out of fash­ion (they tended not to be pop­u­lar with elec­torates), debt was used as an in­stru­ment of con­trol. Volcker’s fo­cus on re­duc­ing in­fla­tion at all costs mas­sively in­creased the in­ter­est rates on vari­able-rate loans made by Wall Street banks to poor coun­tries.

In­stead of let­ting the banks lose out on risky loans they had made to poorer coun­tries by al­low­ing those coun­tries to de­fault, the World Bank im­posed Struc­tural Ad­just­ment Poli­cies that, Hickel ar­gues, de­prived poorer coun­tries of the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop in the way that rich coun­tries had: by pro­tect­ing their in­fant in­dus­tries, build­ing up so­cial safety nets, etc.

In­stead, coun­tries had to sell off and pri­va­tise as­sets (of­ten for a frac­tion of mar­ket value, trans­fer­ring re­sources to rich coun­tries) and had to pay off debt be­fore all else. Why didn’t these coun­tries de­fault on their debt? Hickel claims that they knew to ex­pect re­tal­i­a­tion and were scared into sub­mis­sion by the West’s long his­tory of coups.

For illus­tra­tion, Sankara (‘af­fec­tionately known as Africa’s Che’, p.179) once made a shock­ing speech in which he de­nounced debt. He said:

‘Our cred­i­tors are those who had colon­ised us be­fore. They man­aged us then and they man­age us now. But we did not ask for this debt. And there­fore we will not re­pay it. Debt is neo­colo­nial­ism. It is a clev­erly man­aged re­con­quest of Africa. Each one of us be­comes a fi­nan­cial slave. We are told to re­pay. We are told it is a moral is­sue. But it is not. The debt can­not be re­paid. If we don’t re­pay, the lenders will not die. That is for sure. But if we do re­pay, we will die. That is also for sure.’ (quoted from Hickel p.180)

Three months later, Sankara ‘was as­sas­i­nated in a coup widely be­lieved to have been backed by France’, re­sult­ing in dic­ta­to­rial rule.

(c) Neo­colo­nial­ism by un­equal trade terms

If the re­ac­tion to vi­o­la­tion of trade norms is an eco­nomic sanc­tion, then rich coun­tries will be able to ex­ert power on poor coun­tries in a way that poor coun­tries can­not ex­ert power on rich coun­tries.

Hickel sug­gests that, as a re­sult, the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WTO) rules re­quiring trade liber­al­i­sa­tion un­fairly hurt poorer coun­tries. For ex­am­ple, farm­ers in sub-Sa­haran Africa starve be­cause their pro­duce is un­der­cut by be­low-cost com­pe­ti­tion from Europe and the US, where farm sub­sidies ex­ist in con­tra­ven­tion to WTO rules. Sub-Sa­haran Africa has lit­tle power to fight back, since the sanc­tions of Chad, for ex­am­ple, will barely be no­ticed by the US.

Sys­temic policy change and (so­cial) entrepreneurship

For at least the last five years, I’ve wanted to set up my own busi­ness. (I’ve been in­volved in some ‘non­profit star­tups’, in a broad sense, since then.)

I hoped that I could make a sig­nifi­cant so­cial im­pact both di­rectly (so­cial en­trepreneur­ship) and by mak­ing a large amount of money that I could then donate to high-im­pact causes.

I had been con­cerned be­fore that this might be miss­ing out on sys­temic change to tackle root causes of prob­lems. But I as­sumed that en­trepreneur­ship might be able to do this too, and, given my un­cer­tainty in how to go about achiev­ing sys­temic change (and what change I wanted to im­ple­ment), I figured my near-cer­tainty that I wanted to found a startup should dom­i­nate in mak­ing my de­ci­sion.

But now that hand-wave is no longer con­vinc­ing. I sent a mes­sage to a friend re­cently (ed­ited very slightly for clar­ity) that summed up my thought:

I wanted to be­lieve that so­cial en­trepreneur­ship would make the world far bet­ter. Rel­a­tively speak­ing, though, af­ford­able farm equip­ment leas­ing in sub-Sa­haran Africa won’t help much if farm­ers there are sys­tem­at­i­cally un­der­cut by be­low-cost sub­sidised ex­ports from Europe and the US, when the WTO pro­hibits such sub­sidies (but these coun­tries have no real power to sanc­tion, so Europe and the US have im­punity).

Without chang­ing the sys­tems that cause poverty, it seems very in­effi­cient to fo­cus on re­liev­ing the symp­toms. Even schemes that aim at the long-term, like those that im­prove in­comes, seem gen­er­ally less effi­cient than deal­ing with causes like crip­pling debt. (This re­lies on such sys­temic change be­ing fea­si­ble.)

I think there are many peo­ple who have the men­tal model I used to have: that global de­vel­op­ment has been hin­dered by colo­nial­ism, by some dev­as­tat­ing con­flicts like the Iraq War, and by cer­tain poli­cies of rich coun­tries, but that over­all poverty is de­clin­ing and mod­ern efforts at in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment have been work­ing.

Fit­ting the pieces of the puz­zle to­gether to give a pic­ture of ‘de-de­vel­op­ment’, where money flows from poor coun­tries to rich coun­tries as the di­rect re­sult of poli­cies that rich coun­tries make, some­times ex­plic­itly, has made me scep­ti­cal of the value of malaria nets and lo­cal or even na­tional so­cial en­ter­prises. Th­ese seem to have a very small im­pact com­pared to the im­pact of chang­ing the sys­tem.

How could the sys­tem be changed? Hickel offers some sug­ges­tions, in­clud­ing some com­pel­ling ones that I think would be achiev­able de­spite the ex­is­tence of vested in­ter­ests against them:

  • Debt de­fault for poor coun­tries to al­low them to de­velop. (Re­mem­ber, the debt was only taken on in many cases be­cause the coun­tries had been plun­dered by colo­nial­ists.)

  • In­creased re­dis­tri­bu­tion to re­duce need for per­pet­ual ex­po­nen­tial growth, which Hickel ar­gues is ecolog­i­cally im­pos­si­ble. (He is a sup­porter of the con­tro­ver­sial de-growth move­ment; please share re­sources for or against de-growth—not sure how we could avoid de-growth at some point, so I’m cu­ri­ous what sen­si­ble ar­gu­ments there are against it.)

  • Switch­ing (re­lat­edly) from GDP to GPI (or similar) as a na­tional perfor­mance in­dex.

  • Firmer reg­u­la­tion around tax havens. Hickel ar­gues that tax cor­rup­tion from Western cor­po­ra­tions is far greater in fi­nan­cial value than the gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion for which poor coun­tries are crit­i­cised.

Another I would add is to abol­ish agri­cul­tural sub­sidies in the US and EU. Although this would meet with sig­nifi­cant cor­po­rate op­po­si­tion, these sub­sidies are not in vot­ers’ best in­ter­ests and so could be out-voted.

The scale of the benefit from these changes is po­ten­tially huge—much big­ger than pretty much any en­ter­prise I can think of. Google, Face­book, or the world’s lead­ing so­cial en­ter­prises don’t seem to be mak­ing these sorts of sys­temic changes—be­cause they can’t re­ally, I think. Please cor­rect me here if you think I’m wrong!

What about ne­glect­ed­ness and tractabil­ity?

I should firstly point out that I think ne­glect­ed­ness may be overem­pha­sised; some­times, I feel that cer­tain fringe EA causes (fish welfare, per­haps) are em­pha­sised mainly be­cause of their ne­glect­ed­ness. To me at least (per­haps a blatant species-ist) I would much rather aim to elimi­nate poverty than en­able fish to live hap­pier lives. This may be my bias.

As for tractabil­ity, as men­tioned ear­lier I think these is­sues can be solved. Yes, pow­er­ful vested in­ter­ests may be against the re­forms above, but the most pow­er­ful coun­tries still have suffi­cient demo­cratic con­trol, de­spite the power of lob­by­ing.

At times of great challenge, such as our cur­rent cli­mate crisis, rad­i­cal poli­cies can be made that harm vested in­ter­ests. We saw this, in my un­der­stand­ing (not an ex­pert) with the abo­li­tion of slav­ery. If we could abol­ish slav­ery, it seems plau­si­ble that we could abol­ish agri­cul­tural sub­sidies!

At a per­sonal level, I will soon be an Oxford PPE grad­u­ate. Hav­ing spe­cial­ised in eco­nomics, I have been told by one of my tu­tors (pro­fes­sors) that I wouldn’t have a huge amount of difficulty get­ting into Oxford’s MPhil in eco­nomics. From there, I think I could plau­si­bly ob­tain a PhD from a top UK or US uni­ver­sity, and head out into some area of policy /​ ad­vo­cacy di­rectly or via academia. The next part dis­cusses tractabil­ity at a per­sonal level in a lit­tle more de­tail.

Some rele­vant stuff about me

This part isn’t re­ally about how I hope to achieve changes like the ones men­tioned above. As to that ques­tion, I am very un­sure. In­stead, this part gives you some in­for­ma­tion about what I like and where I think my strengths and weak­nesses are.

I would re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate ideas and ad­vice based on the thoughts here.

1) Eco­nomics, math­e­mat­ics, and academia

I have gen­er­ally achieved strong re­sults in eco­nomics, de­spite work­ing only mod­er­ately hard (and oc­ca­sion­ally work­ing very lit­tle). This sug­gests that, if I were to work harder in eco­nomics, I could do very well by con­ven­tional crite­ria and use those re­sults (e.g. fi­nal exam re­sults) as lev­er­age to build ca­reer cap­i­tal. It might also sug­gest that I could be a good economist—I hope so.

Eco­nomics is not the only route to sys­tems change. Law is an­other, for ex­am­ple. I get the im­pres­sion that eco­nomics pro­vides more op­tions be­cause it can be quite quan­ti­ta­tive, whereas law is not usu­ally quan­ti­ta­tive. If I de­cided to fo­cus on some­thing differ­ent, Eco­nomics might be more flex­ible as a grad­u­ate de­gree to hold.

For­tu­nately, I know a lawyer who has achieved sig­nifi­cant so­cial change. I will talk to her about law as an op­tion, be­ing aware that she may have a pro-law bias.

My abil­ity in maths is quite strong, but frankly un­ex­cep­tional. It seems like it wouldn’t be my com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage to fo­cus on a par­tic­u­larly quan­ti­ta­tive field, un­less it also re­quired a rare skil­lset or un­der­stand­ing that I had (e.g. a ne­glected but im­por­tant field of eco­nomics that re­quires some skill that most peo­ple with high quan­ti­ta­tive skills cur­rently lack).

I’ve of­ten thought I wouldn’t be a good fit for academia. But my teach­ers, par­ents, and friends, and one of my tu­tors (pro­fes­sors) seem to dis­agree and think I would be a very good fit. I like ask­ing challeng­ing ques­tions and think I have a rel­a­tively an­a­lyt­i­cal mind.

I also think that my writ­ing skills are rea­son­ably strong. (You can be the judge, al­though this post is more like thought spaghetti any­way!) I think I could see my­self writ­ing pop­u­lar eco­nomics books.

2) Bureau­cracy, for­mal­ity, and directness

I’m not very keen on bu­reau­cracy, and usu­ally not very keen on for­mal­ity ei­ther. I do not think I would make a very good diplo­mat.

I like to be very di­rect and do not like to be dishon­est. Some­times, I am too di­rect, speak be­fore I think, and offend peo­ple. I try to avoid this and think I am do­ing this much less of­ten than I used to (and still pro­gress­ing).

Given my di­rect­ness, I think I would strug­gle to back a party line that I dis­agreed with very sig­nifi­cantly. This, and my de­sire to be hon­est, make me think I wouldn’t be a good fit for party poli­tics, de­spite the ob­vi­ous ad­van­tage of Oxford and PPE in the UK poli­ti­cal sys­tem.

3) Au­ton­omy and feed­back length

I think I would dis­like any ca­reer where I lacked suffi­cient au­ton­omy. I think this is why I wanted to be an en­trepreneur: be­ing in charge of cre­at­ing some­thing that didn’t ex­ist be­fore doesn’t just al­low an im­pact to be made; it al­lows you to make an im­pact. This might not mat­ter morally, but it definitely mat­ters for me with re­spect to per­sonal fit.

This is tied to the con­cept of feed­back length. Ad­vo­cacy is a long game, and I am con­cerned that you of­ten fight for a long pe­riod of time and it is difficult to track your efforts. The fast-paced startup en­vi­ron­ment of fast feed­back loops ex­cites me; hon­estly, slow and bu­reau­cratic meet­ings do not.

As a re­sult, I don’t think I would make a good fit for the civil ser­vice, de­spite be­ing (I hope) suffi­ciently com­pe­tent.

4) A ‘per­sonal pull’

For years, I have felt a ‘per­sonal pull’ to­wards en­trepreneur­ship of some sort, al­though I have not been sure what ex­actly. Maybe this is too much ro­man­ti­cism, but as a re­sult I wanted to at least test per­sonal fit for en­trepreneur­ship in my 20s, and had de­signed my ca­reer plans around that.

The plan was to gain ca­reer cap­i­tal through work in some­thing very flex­ible like strat­egy con­sult­ing (or pos­si­bly in­vest­ment bank­ing), then quit af­ter a pre­de­ter­mined max­i­mum num­ber of years to start star­tups and keep go­ing un­less I re­al­ised I didn’t like it.

Aban­don­ing this plan is difficult to swal­low for me. Ig­nor­ing im­pact, I don’t know if I’d be more effec­tive in en­trepreneur­ship than in policy, but as it stands I imag­ine I’d be much more ex­cited about en­trepreneur­ship. I’ve been forced to se­ri­ously con­sider this switch be­cause I think that the im­pact of sys­temic change far out­weighs that ac­cessible to tra­di­tional en­trepreneurs (even ‘so­cial en­trepreneurs’).

Char­ity en­trepreneur­ship re­mains an op­tion. I’ve en­joyed cre­at­ing small non­profit ini­ti­a­tives. How­ever, I’m scep­ti­cal of char­ity en­trepreneur­ship’s abil­ity to achieve sys­temic change—and I’d prob­a­bly (cor­rect me if I’m wrong) need a grad­u­ate de­gree in eco­nomics to tackle the global eco­nomic sys­tem. (Well, I prob­a­bly wouldn’t in prac­tice, but I think I’d need an ad­vanced de­gree to be taken se­ri­ously in a so­ciety where you are judged based on brands and cer­tifi­cates!)

I think the best op­tion is to be­come a pub­lic- and/​or poli­ti­cal-fac­ing economist in de­vel­op­ment or a re­lated field, ad­vis­ing gov­ern­ments or lob­by­ing re­lated poli­ti­cal groups to im­prove the global eco­nomic sys­tem.

Cause pri­ori­ti­sa­tion & per­sonal next steps

If Hickel is right, what fol­lows is not just that changes to the global eco­nomic sys­tem are nec­es­sary but that the na­ture of global de­vel­op­ment is mi­s­un­der­stood. If I can change both these things (I’d be open to and en­joy writ­ing pop­u­lar books, for ex­am­ple) my im­pact could be very large.

I want to read some more about cause pri­ori­ti­sa­tion first, but it seems that an eco­nomics back­ground would equip me well for tack­ling other cause ar­eas (in­clud­ing Global Pri­ori­ties Re­search) af­fect­ing policy if I were to come to be­lieve they were more im­por­tant.

From a longter­mist per­spec­tive, the global econ­omy’s in­her­ent ties to ecolog­i­cal sus­tain­abil­ity and the time-sen­si­tive na­ture of ir­re­versible cli­mate dam­age sug­gest that re­form is es­sen­tial.

In any case, sys­temic re­form seems much more im­por­tant than what I could ac­com­plish as even an ex­cep­tion­ally suc­cess­ful so­cial en­trepreneur. Is this cor­rect?

There is always a risk of un­in­ten­tional harm, but it seems like much greater harm could arise from leav­ing the global econ­omy ex­actly as it is than from try­ing to change it (in in­cre­men­tal and mod­er­ate ways). I am not propos­ing com­mu­nism; I am propos­ing a re­think and mod­er­a­tion of cap­i­tal­ism to serve peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly the poor­est peo­ple.

My next steps are to talk to in­tel­li­gent friends and con­nec­tions (in­clud­ing a former economist at a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional or­gani­sa­tion) about Hickel’s work, and to read and re­search much more to un­der­stand de­vel­op­ment bet­ter. I might also try to find some re­search op­por­tu­ni­ties for skill and aca­demic CV de­vel­op­ment.

Be­fore that, I want to know what you think.

I know this post, while long, is very much in­com­plete. It is a first pass at thoughts that have come to me all over just a few days.

Main rea­sons I might be wrong, in a guessed or­der of like­li­hood/​con­cern:

  • I have poor per­sonal fit, mean­ing that I would have a rel­a­tively lower im­pact in ca­reers re­lated to policy than in ca­reers re­lated to entrepreneurship

  • I’m un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the pos­i­tive po­ten­tial of so­cial en­trepreneur­ship to cre­ate so­cial im­pact, ei­ther within or out­side of sys­temic change

  • The types of sys­temic change I’m con­sid­er­ing would in fact have min­i­mal or nega­tive im­pacts, or are in­ad­vis­able given un­cer­tainty and pos­si­ble sig­nifi­cant nega­tive downside

  • The types of sys­temic change I’m con­sid­er­ing are likely to be too in­tractable to have a high ex­pected impact

Things I would mas­sively ap­pre­ci­ate:

  • Ideas and cri­tiques of any­thing I’ve said (ma­jor parts of Hickel’s ar­gu­ments, su­pe­ri­or­ity of sys­temic change over so­cial en­trepreneur­ship, per­sonal fit, plans)

  • Thoughts on deal­ing with the men­tal pres­sure of switch­ing away from some­thing I’ve wanted to pur­sue for a long time, and/​or ideas about in­cor­po­rat­ing an en­trepreneurial ap­proach to the study of eco­nomics and in­fluence of poverty

  • Gen­eral ideas about op­ti­mal ca­reer plan­ning, par­tic­u­larly from those who have pur­sued post­grad stud­ies in economics

  • Books or ar­ti­cles that I should pri­ori­tise read­ing—I feel like a muggle

  • Con­nec­tions to any­one in de­vel­op­ment eco­nomics or re­lated fields who would be will­ing to chat to me

Thank you!

p.s. I apol­o­gise if I have offended any­one or said some­thing egre­gious, wrong, or egre­giously wrong! Please don’t take me too se­ri­ously at this point, since these are early thoughts.