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

130 24 December 2010 09:26PM

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Comment author: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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