Week of August 8, 2016

Attack of the Zombies

1. Night of the Living FinLit: I'm increasingly using the persistence of financial literacy programs as a proxy for the "evidence-based" movement. Here's a story about a new $5 million investment in FinLit for low-income youth in Chicago, where apparently half the curricula is devoted to day-trading stocks. Most remarkable is that the story spends its time wringing its hands about the irony of financial services firms funding FinLit, rather than the fact that it doesn't work in any meaningful sense. If the evidence-based movement can't kill FinLit as we know it what hope is there for other policy domains?

2. Priming Zombies:
No the zombies aren't doing the priming, nor are they being primed. Here's a new review of studies of the effect of "eyes" on influencing social behavior--it's one of the "neato" findings in the priming literature that became so popular in the last decade. Like recent replications of other priming interventions, the widely reported effects don't stand up. How long will priming hold on as a zombie idea? 

3. Homelessness Interventions: People tend to have pretty strong priors about what to do about homelessness and panhandlers--it's a policy space that seems like its filled with zombie ideas and interventions. Here's a new study of a natural experiment in providing up to $1500 cash to people at risk of losing their housing in Chicago. It finds that the one-time cash payments significantly reduce homelessness up to 2 years later. Here's a (largely evidence-free) news story about a program in Albuquerque to provide public works jobs and expedited social services access to panhandlers. Here's Matthew Desmond's best-selling recent book, Evicted.   

4. Efficient Markets and Behavioral Finance: No, I'm not calling either a zombie idea. But here's a conversation between Gene Fama and Richard Thaler where they discuss their differences. Here's Justin Fox's book on the history and impact of some of these ideas. Both very good reads.

5. New Paper Round-Up: A number of interesting papers have crossed my desk this week. Here's a strained attempt to continue the theme: Is self-determination a zombie idea? Steven Levitt on making decisions by coin flip. In a way defaults are zombies: Blumentstock et. al. on savings defaults in Afghanistan. Zombie savings accounts: Dupas et. al. on low take-up and use of no-frills savings accounts in Uganda, Malawi and Chile (There's a lot more there, worth looking at, really). See also Rozas. And I've got nothing for this one: Brune and Kerwin on the effect of monthly vs. weekly and Friday vs. Saturday paydays in Malawi.     

Bonus Update: A few weeks ago we featured some musings on client protection in research. Here's a new piece on client protection in digital payments, another important topic that doesn't get much attention. Here's an old piece of mine on the importance of making digital payment systems pro-poor

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