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mosasaur comments on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... - Less Wrong

130 Post author: Yvain 24 December 2010 09:26PM

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Comment author: mosasaur 25 December 2010 01:37:17PM -1 points [-]

"I might be missing something, but this (and the rest of your post) reads basically like Marxist propaganda."

Thank you. Marx was a very intelligent person who unraveled much of the inner workings of capitalism. His error was -- I think -- that there is something like a collective will of the people (a CEV, maybe) and that there is an effective way of measuring and implementing it. We all know how badly it turned out. But maybe the idea of harnessing collective greed is even worse because it seems flawed already from the beginning.

"Just about the only way to make a lot of money is to do something that other people want doing, and which you do better than average."

This is quite wrong. There is also a very big effort to prevent other people from acquiring things, and I don't just mean WMD. Maybe you could read up on the concept of artificial scarcity.

"... you're going to stick with your gut instinct that working for a high-powered law firm can't possibly be as good as working for a nice fluffy non-profit, and damn the numbers"

My gut instinct tells me a lawyer who in his day job secures a quarter of a billion dollar settlement with an evil regime to prevent legal persecution of an evil politician involved with a major weapons manufacturer, cannot offset this with buying a few mosquito nets for children in that same third world country.

Comment author: shokwave 25 December 2010 02:26:55PM *  8 points [-]

My gut instinct tells me a lawyer who in his day job secures a quarter of a billion dollar settlement with an evil regime to prevent legal persecution of an evil politician involved with a major weapons manufacturer, cannot offset this with buying a few mosquito nets for children in that same third world country.

What does you gut instinct say about a lawyer who is paid an average of a quarter of a million dollars for a year's work in which e puts an average of 2 innocent people in jail for six years each and donates on average 2% of er income (5000 dollars) to buying mosquito nets for third world children, saving on average 10 lives?

You seem to be considering the absolute worst case scenario, and adding in extraneous considerations to unfairly sway the argument to your side.

Comment author: Vaniver 25 December 2010 03:03:27PM *  5 points [-]

What does you gut instinct say about a lawyer who is paid an average of a quarter of a million dollars for a year's work in which e puts an average of 2 innocent people in jail for six years each and donates on average 2% of er income (5000 dollars) to buying mosquito nets for third world children, saving on average 10 lives?

My gut instinct says "2*6 years of OECD citizen freedom > 10*45 years of sub-Saharan African lifespan". Not sure where my point of indifference is. Note that I'm making a very charitable assumption as to how much a mosquito net extends lifespans; typically interventions like this just keep you alive long enough to hit your next emergency.

Comment author: shokwave 25 December 2010 03:30:44PM 0 points [-]

This is the kind of response I want: one that doesn't say "damn the numbers".

Comment author: Vaniver 25 December 2010 03:46:34PM *  3 points [-]

This is the kind of response I want:

I'm sorry, this is ambiguous. Does "this" refer to the second half of your post, my post, or both?

Stepping through some of the math, in case others are interested:

Assume the people in question earn the median American salary- 6 years of not working is 2*6*$32k=$384k, and add on the cost of imprisoning them: 2*6*$22k=$264k. So the lawyer is doing damage to the tune of $648,000, and in return is putting $5,000 (that's .77%) to use saving people. Let's assume they're earning, say, the Liberian per capita GDP (which is generally higher than median income) of $424, and again make the charitable assumption that the $5000 converts into 450 years of lifespan. We've added $190,800 by keeping them alive.

Net dollar loss: $457k. So this lawyer's participation in the system is eating half a million dollars per year; is that worth "extended lives in Liberia" - "imprisoned years in America"? I strongly suspect not.

Comment author: shokwave 25 December 2010 03:50:31PM 1 point [-]

Your post! I am very pleased that someone examined their gut reaction to my scenario with numbers. :)

Comment author: Vaniver 25 December 2010 03:52:52PM 2 points [-]

Then I'm glad I asked, because I read that the other way first and my first draft reflected that :P

Comment author: wedrifid 25 December 2010 02:44:14PM 5 points [-]

My gut instinct tells me a lawyer who in his day job secures a quarter of a billion dollar settlement with an evil regime to prevent legal persecution of an evil politician involved with a major weapons manufacturer, cannot offset this with buying a few mosquito nets for children in that same third world country.

Your gut instinct needs to learn more economics. ;)

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