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

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

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Comment author: Desrtopa 07 January 2011 05:02:35AM 12 points [-]

Although I definitely agree with the thrust of the article, I don't feel that lives-saved is necessarily a very good metric of utility. A child in the Third World might be saved from malaria, but grow up nutrient deficient leading to reduced mental capacity, work on a subsistence farm, contract HIV, and die after having three kids, who subsequently starve. A charity that prevented fewer deaths in a predictable causal sequence might still be a better utility maximizer if it had a greater positive effect on people's quality of life.

Of course, a lot of us already agree on the best available utility maximizing charity, but even among the more "mundane" options I think that causes such as promoting education in the third world may beat out direct life-saving maximizers.

Comment author: Doreen 16 November 2011 03:26:14PM 6 points [-]

I agree with Desrtopa in that "I don't feel that lives-saved is necessarily a very good metric of utility." Death is binary (dead / not dead), but human pain and suffering is not. This should impact the analysis. Assuming the same cost to save the life, if forced to decide between saving someone from a fatal gunshot wound (perhaps in a war or encampment somewhere) versus saving someone from pancreatic cancer (according to Livestrong, one of the most painful terminal diseases), the outcome (life-saving) may be the same in either case, but there is more utility in saving the latter because overall pain would be reduced.

Thanks for this article; it's a fantastic read.

Comment author: Vaste 17 January 2012 05:21:39PM 2 points [-]

Perhaps a better idea would be to spend money on education of women in poor areas, something that is known to reduce the fertility rate.<citation needed> By reducing the fertility rate we also reduce the number of poor, starving, dying in HIV etc children born into this world.

I think that simply measuring the number of dead children may be useful as a simplification, but it's too simplistic. Really, to me it seems like it's just something that people believing in axiomatic morals are having problems dealing with. "But, think of the children!"

If the answer to "is it better to spend this money on saving a kids life?" is always yes, I'd say you have a problem with your value system.