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Paul Niehaus is the cofounder and president of GiveDirectly, a direct cash transfer program rated as one of the most effective anti-poverty charities in the world. He is currently putting together the largest basic income experiment ever designed. We spoke to him about the politics and perils of changing how the world helps the poor.
The idea behind GiveDirectly is simple: donor money is transferred directly to some of the world’s poorest people. Research has shown that such direct cash transfers are an extremely effective way to alleviate poverty. Now, GD is set to run a 12-year basic income experiment in Kenya that should provide the best long-term data yet on the effectiveness of what has become an increasingly popular—and controversial—policy idea on both the left and the right. Niehaus has a better perspective than almost anyone on what actually works when it comes to helping the poor.
I think a little bit of self-reflection to guard against that Founder-itis syndrome is good, and to recognize that sometimes plugging into something existing and contributing to it and making it better is going to be more impactful.