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

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

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Comment author: Marius 27 December 2010 05:16:15AM 3 points [-]

This, incidentally, is also an argument for supporting less immediately-efficient charities. If you spend $500 on mosquito nets, you are saving the life of a child whose expected lifetime earning potential is low. This is wonderful, but the rate of "interest" may well be small. If you spend $500 on saving the painting Blue Rigi, you have not saved a single life in the short run. But it contributes to the education of thousands of British children, many of whom will grow up to create and donate large amounts of wealth/knowledge. Your incremental impact on their education may plausibly prevent more malarial deaths than your donation of mosquito nets, though I've no idea how to calculate this.

At the very least, I'd suggest that analogy of "setting out on an Arctic journey" sets us up to mentally discount future benefits in favor of immediate results. Instead we might imagine that we've set up an Arctic village, or are planning a journey a decade from now. Our spending habits would change accordingly.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 27 December 2010 06:22:14AM 10 points [-]

If you spend $500 on saving the painting Blue Rigi, [...] it contributes to the education of thousands of British children, many of whom will grow up to create and donate large amounts of wealth/knowledge

Contributes how much? For each child, how much more knowledge do you expect they will create because they saw the original, rather than a facsimile, Blue Rigi? My estimate for this is so close to 0 that I can't conscience paying even $1 for Blue Rigi, except for aesthetic reasons.

Comment author: Marius 28 December 2010 01:46:02AM 1 point [-]

Is this another way of saying that schools should focus on math and science, ignoring art? Or is this an argument that we need to restructure the way public museums work, slashing the cost by replacing the paintings with copies?

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 28 December 2010 02:36:10AM 5 points [-]

It's just an argument that art is not in the same bucket as saving lives. I'm not going to tell you how to spend your money, but if your stated objective is to help people, saving Blue Rigi is not a cost effective way of doing that.

The way we run schools, math and science aren't very useful to begin with. Slashing art budgets is probably not a useful place to start.

Comment author: Marius 28 December 2010 03:28:41AM *  2 points [-]

Well, I want to make sure I understand it. Which of the following do you mean: a. If British people become more productive that productivity won't translate into more charity/inventions that will save lives? b. Education does not improve productivity? c. Art museums are not an important part of education (at least not in terms of scientific/economic productivity)? d. Blue Rigi does not improve the overall quality of the Tate? e. Actually none of the above, but Blue Rigi was simply priced too high?

To clarify/address ArisKatsaris's points:

I am not attempting to make an argument in this post. I am trying to identify the point at which datadataeverywhere first has a problem. For instance, I don't need to discuss whether the cultural given (fetish?) that our museums will seek out originals is easily mutable if his objection really starts earlier in my list. For instance, is it possible that the education of British children is a better way to save African lives than the immediate purchase of mosquito nets? If that's implausible, then the question of how one educates a child is irrelevant to this discussion.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 28 December 2010 09:16:43PM 3 points [-]

Aris' expanded explanation is excellent, and what I would have tried to say at first.

I find it pretty implausible that the education of British children in the artwork of an 18th century British landscape painter is a better method of saving African lives than a proven method that currently saves lives and is reckoned to be one of the cheapest methods per life saved.

Over the long term, how we educate children probably determines a great deal about what our world looks like in the future. However, unless you have an oracle, or are educating them in something specifically related, such as the concept of Efficient Charity, I would place the upper and lower guesses of the median increase in QALY/DALY well below and above zero, respectively, indicating that you shouldn't do it on that basis.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 28 December 2010 03:46:29AM *  3 points [-]

Downvoted for extreme amounts of muddled thinking, and a line of argumentation that's so hole-ridden it gives me a headache.

Also he has answered you already: He argued that displaying the original Blue Rigi as opposed to a facsimile doesn't contribute one iota to the education of any child. You either didn't pay attention, or are trying to wear him out by keep on asking something he already answered.

Comment author: Marius 28 December 2010 03:58:51AM *  1 point [-]

Maybe. But I still don't know if that's because art doesn't contribute or because originals are the same as facsimiles.

Anyway, can you help me understand what you consider the holes/muddle?

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 28 December 2010 04:46:15AM *  10 points [-]

Muddled thinking is when your line of argumentation "painting contributes to museum, museum contributes to education, education contributes to productivity, productivity contributes to charity" implies there's some single metric each of these increase, which can be traced from one to the other simply, step by step.

An original painting may contribute to museum's "quality", but it needn't contribute to the educational quality of the museum, so you can't transfer that sort of contribution down that next step.

An art museum contributes to education, but it needn't contribute to education in such a manner that it becomes the sort of "productivity" that saves lives. Art is about aesthetics, which contribute to quality of life, but not the preservation of such. Art contributes, but it contributes differently - and you were told that already.

Education may contribute to productivity, but depending what you're educated to value, it may increase or decrease the amounts of charity provided. For example, if you're taught to value the presence of original paintings, you'll probably give money to keep original paintings in your nation, not to save lives.

Wanting an original painting, as opposed to a copy, isn't about educating, it's about satisfying a fetish. A national fetish in this case, much the way that Greece was obsessing with Olympic Games and museums to house the unreturned Parthenon marbles, while in the meantime its economy was going down the crapper.

In that way I could easily argue that the original is of less utility than a facsimile, exactly because it encourages such unproductive fetishes, while being aesthetically identical.

Comment author: Vaniver 28 December 2010 05:37:19AM 2 points [-]

Upvoted, but disagreed with:

In that way I could easily argue that the original is of less utility than a facsimile, exactly because it encourages such unproductive fetishes, while being aesthetically identical.

It seems to me that scarcity and authenticity can both play into aesthetics, but besides those two contextual variables that's spot on.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 December 2010 07:30:55AM 1 point [-]

I don't think the preference for original paintings is just a fetish. Accurate color reproduction is hard [1], and in many cases, it's possible to get close enough to the original to see the brushstrokes and texture. I don't think we're at the tech yet for really excellent reproductions, but please let me know if I'm missing something.

Originals vs. reproductions may not be worth the cost, but that's a different question.

[1] The colors in a painting may change with time, but reproductions add another layer of inaccuracy.

I don't know how good color reproduction can be if a major effort is made. I do know that if I go to the museum shop after an exhibition, I'm always struck by how far off the colors are compared to the paintings.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 28 December 2010 08:59:44PM 1 point [-]

Texture reproduction is actually an easier problem than color reproduction, and is pretty much solved at less than a $5000 cost. Color is hard partially because people want the painting to look the same under all lighting conditions; under just one, we can solve the problem pretty well, but under all, we nearly need to use the same materials as were originally used. Needless to say, the cost of reproductions scales with the quality, and can become quite high.