00167

You can’t get benefits from California’s CalWORKS (state equivalent of TANF) unless you have less than $2,150 in assets. This is evil and stupid; it traps people in poverty permanently and makes it impossible to save for college, security deposits, assistive technology, or retirement. A back-of-the-envelope calculation for the effectiveness of lobbying California to get rid of CalWORKS asset tests (optimistic estimate is given, then pessimistic estimate):

number of state legislators who would need to be swayed to get California to abolish asset testing on its welfare programs: (20, 40)

number of impassioned in-person visits from constituents to convince a state legislator to change zir view on a bill ze’s not particularly invested in* (15, 300)

odds that convincing the majority of legislators to change a thing would actually result in the change being made (50, 10)

Probability of a marginal legislator-visit (as part of a coordinated effort to overthrow the CalWORKS asset test) changing the outcome**:

             optimistic: .00167       pessimistic: .0000083

number of Californians who would benefit from abolition of asset tests on CalWORKS in the first year: (1,500,000, 500,000)***

magnitude of the benefit to them: (equivalent of giving the world’s poorest families $100, equivalent of giving the world’s poorest families $10)

number of years until the asset test abolition would probably have happened anyway: (20, 4)

adjustment for the fact models are usually too optimistic: (I am 10x too confident, I am 100x too confident)

An impassioned in-person visit to your legislator does as much good as:

      optimistic: giving $500,000 to GiveDirectly  pessimistic: giving $1.60 to GD

This seems worth it. Unless someone has an objection I’m tempted to get a hundred people together and go overthrow CalWORKS asset testing. What am I missing?

* I worked for my state legislator in high school. Impassioned in-person visits from constituents work very well.

** Yup I’m eliding between “number of visits I’d expect to make a difference” and “probability of a marginal visit making a difference”. If you know a better way to do this, let me know.

*** There are a million Californians on CalWorks at any given time.

(Not included: benefits from learning what goes wrong and getting better at doing activism, risk that we poison the well and somehow makes it less likely that the asset test is removed, benefits (if we succeed) to morale from having achieved a neat and meaningful thing, possibility that you going to your constituents’ office encourages the people around you to go, probably lots of other factors)