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

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

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Comment author: sgeek 04 July 2011 02:01:29PM 1 point [-]

I think you're falsely assuming that "Africa" is a single monolithic recipient for that "sea of resources" - that ignores both the spectacular variation between and within African nations, and the difference between resources given to a corrupt government aand resources applied by non-government organisations for the benefit of people there.

I think it is fair to say that the staggering sums of money given by Western nations to African governments has been at best a complete waste of money - in fact I consider that money to have caused significant net harm. It props up corrupt regimes, increases and strengthens class differences, and generally results in increased oppression and widespread misery of various kinds. Your argument applies very well to this - "Africa" does indeed receive billions of dollars, and there is indeed something broken (most of the governments receiving the money).

This argument does not apply to the international NGO's working in Africa. Some of those organisations are short-term oriented and thus arguably pointless in the long term, but some are not. A classic example would be Kiva, which offers micro-loans for people to start small businesses to support themselves and family (incidentally not just in Africa) - there are a fair few organisations doing things like this, and it is "teach a man to fish" rather than "give a man fish". These initiatives, when they work right (which they often do) help lift Africans out of poverty and put them in a position to do something about their own future (and Africa's future). A lot of worthwhile initiatives centre around education, for instance, for fairly obvious reasons.

I think you're conflating "intelligence" with other concepts such as education and good judgement (which are what's actually needed here). Rephrased like that, it becomes obvious that a much more practical action is to fund and organise education of African people - give them the means with which to figure out the solutions to their own problems, but now rather than post-Singularity. Add direct financial support (eg. by Kiva or Grameen etc) in order that these now-educated people have the means to implement their ideas, and we have tomorrow's solution today. This is currently happening, but all we tend to know about Africa's current situation is an assortment of dramatic bad news merged together into a highly misleading narrative. To give you some idea of how significantly our perceptions differ from reality on this matter, here's a TED talk from from the incomparable statistician Hans Rosling 4.5 years ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUwS1uAdUcI - feel free to poke around for more recent presentations and data, of course, but even this old one is an eye-opener.

I'm not saying that investment in education and entrepreneurship in Africa is necessarily the most effective use of resources from a strictly utilitarian standpoint - what I am saying is that you have not presented a strong case for African investment not being a worthwhile use of resources. Personally I regard your argument largely as an excuse to not feel guilty about distant suffering, but that is just an unsupported opinion.