• Posts
  • RSS
  • ◂◂RSS
  • Contact

  • There's Lots More To Do

    May 29th, 2019
    giving  [html]
    Benjamin Hoffman recently wrote a post arguing that "drowning children are rare":
    Stories such as Peter Singer's "drowning child" hypothetical frequently imply that there is a major funding gap for health interventions in poor countries, such that there is a moral imperative for people in rich-countries to give a large portion of their income to charity. There are simply not enough excess deaths for these claims to be plausible.

    ...

    As far as I can see, this pretty much destroys the generic utilitarian imperative to live like a monk and give all your excess money to the global poor or something even more urgent. Insofar as there's a way to fix these problems as a low-info donor, there's already enough money. Claims to the contrary are either obvious nonsense, or marketing copy by the same people who brought you the obvious nonsense. Spend money on taking care of yourself and your friends and the people around you and your community and trying specific concrete things that might have specific concrete benefits.

    Imagine that the best intervention out there was direct cash transfers to globally poor people. The amount of money that could be productively used here is very large: it would cost at least $1T to give $1k to each of the 1B poorest people in the world. This is very far from foundations already having more than enough money. That there are extremely poor people who can do far more with my money than I can is enough for me to give.

    While I also think there are other ways to spend money altruistically that have more benefit per dollar than cash transfers, this only strengthens the argument for helping.

    How does Ben reach the opposite conclusion? Reading his post several times it looks to me like two things:

    • He's looking at "saving lives via preventing communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases" as the only goal. While it's a category of intervention that people in the effective altruism movement have talked about a lot, it's definitely not the only way to help people. If you were to completely eliminate deaths in this category it would be amazing and hugely beneficial, but there would still be people dying from other diseases, suffering in many non-fatal ways, and generally having poverty limit their options and potential. And that's without considering more speculative options like trying to keep us from killing ourselves off or generally trying to make the long-term future go as well as possible.

    • He's setting a threshold of $5k for how much we'd be willing to pay to avert a death, which is much too low. I do agree there is some threshold at which you'd be very reasonable to stop trying to help others and just do what makes you happy. Where this threshold is depends on many things, especially how well-off you are, but I would expect it to be more in the $100k range than the $5k range for rich-country effective altruists. By comparison, the US Government uses ~$9M.

    I do think the "drowning children" framing isn't great, primarily because it puts you in a frame of mind where you expect that things will be much cheaper than they actually are (familiar), but also because it depends on being in a situation where only you can help and where you must act immediately. There's enough actual harm in the world that we don't need thought experiments to show why we should help. So while there aren't that many "drowning children", there is definitely a lot of work to do.

    Comment via: facebook, the EA Forum

    Recent posts on blogs I like:

    More on the Deutschlandtakt

    The Deutschlandtakt plans are out now. They cover investment through 2040, but even beforehand, there’s a plan for something like a national integrated timetable by 2030, with trains connecting the major cities every 30 minutes rather than hourly. But the…

    via Pedestrian Observations July 1, 2020

    How do cars fare in crash tests they're not specifically optimized for?

    Any time you have a benchmark that gets taken seriously, some people will start gaming the benchmark. Some famous examples in computing are the CPU benchmark specfp and video game benchmarks. With specfp, Sun managed to increase its score on 179.art (a su…

    via Posts on Dan Luu June 30, 2020

    Quick note on the name of this blog

    When I was 21 a friend introduced me to a volume of poems by the 14th-century Persian poet Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky. I loved them, and eventually named this blog for one of my favorite ones. At some point I read more and found that Ladinsky’s …

    via The whole sky June 21, 2020

    more     (via openring)


  • Posts
  • RSS
  • ◂◂RSS
  • Contact