Related To: You Only Live Twice, Normal Cryonics, Abnormal Cryonics, The Threat Of Cryonics, Doing your good deed for the day, Missed opportunities for doing well by doing good
Summary: Many Less Wrong posters are interested in advocating for cryonics. While signing up for cryonics is an understandable personal choice for some people, from a utilitarian point of view the money spent on cryonics would be much better spent by donating to a cost-effective charity. People who sign up for cryonics out of a generalized concern for others would do better not to sign up for cryonics and instead donating any money that they would have spent on cryonics to a cost-effective charity. People who are motivated by a generalized concern for others to advocate the practice of signing up for cryonics would do better to advocate that others donate to cost-effective charities.
Added 08/12: The comments to this post have prompted me to add the following disclaimers:
(1) Wedrifid understood me to be placing moral pressure on people to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. As I've said elsewhere, "I don't think that Americans should sacrifice their well-being for the sake of others. Even from a utilitarian point of view, I think that there are good reasons for thinking that it would be a bad idea to do this." My motivation for posting on this topic is the one described by rhollerith_dot_com in his comment.
(2) In line with the above comment, when I say "selfish" I don't mean it with the negative moral connotations that the word carries, I mean it as a descriptive term. There are some things that we do for ourselves and there are some things that we do for others - this is as things should be. I'd welcome any suggestions for a substitute for the word "selfish" that has the same denotation but which is free of negative conotations.
(3) Wei_Dai thought that my post assumed a utilitarian ethical framework. I can see how my post may have come across that way. However, while writing the post I was not assuming that the reader ascribes to utilitarianism. When I say "we should" in my post I mean "to the extent that we ascribe to utilitarianism we should." I guess that while writing the post I thought that this would be clear from context, but turned out to have been mistaken on this point.
As an aside, I do think that there are good arguments for a (sophisticated sort of) utilitarian ethical framework. I will make a post about this after reading Eliezer's posts on utilitarianism.
(4) Orthonormal thinks that I'm treating cryonics differently from other expenditures. This is not the case, from my (utilitarian) point of view, expenditures should be judged exclusively based on their social impact. The reason why I wrote a post about cryonics is because I had the impression that there are members of the Less Wrong community who view cryonics expenditures and advocacy as "good" in a broader sense than I believe is warranted. But (from a utilitarian point of view) cryonics is one of thousands of things that people ascribe undue moral signficance to. I certainly don't think that advocacy of and expenditures on "cryonics" is worse from a utilitarian point of view than advocacy of and expenditures on something like "recycling plastic bottles".
I've also made the following modifications to my post
(A) In response to a valid objection raised by Vladimir_Nesov I've added a paragraph clarifying that Robin Hanson's suggestion that cryonics might be an effective charity is based on the idea that doing so will drive costs down, and explanation for why I think that my points still hold.
(B) I've added a third example of advocacy of cryonics within the Less Wrong community to make it more clear that I'm not arguing against a straw man.
Without further ado, below is the main body of the revised post.
Advocacy of cryonics within the Less Wrong community
Most recently, in Christopher Hitchens and Cryonics, James_Miller wrote:
I propose that the Less Wrong community attempt to get Hitchens to at least seriously consider cryonics.
Eliezer has advocated cryonics extensively. In You Only Live Twice, Eliezer says:
If you've already decided this is a good idea, but you "haven't gotten around to it", sign up for cryonics NOW. I mean RIGHT NOW. Go to the website of Alcor or the Cryonics Institute and follow the instructions.
Not signing up for cryonics - what does that say? That you've lost hope in the future. That you've lost your will to live. That you've stopped believing that human life, and your own life, is something of value.
On behalf of the Future, then - please ask for a little more for yourself. More than death. It really... isn't being selfish. I want you to live. I think that the Future will want you to live. That if you let yourself die, people who aren't even born yet will be sad for the irreplaceable thing that was lost.
In Normal Cryonics Eliezer says:
You know what? I'm going to come out and say it. I've been unsure about saying it, but after attending this event, and talking to the perfectly ordinary parents who signed their kids up for cryonics like the goddamn sane people do, I'm going to come out and say it: If you don't sign up your kids for cryonics then you are a lousy parent.
In The Threat of Cryonics, lsparrish writes
...we cannot ethically just shut up about it. No lives should be lost, even potentially, due solely to lack of a regular, widely available, low-cost, technologically optimized cryonics practice. It is in fact absolutely unacceptable, from a simple humanitarian perspective, that something as nebulous as the HDM -- however artistic, cultural, and deeply ingrained it may be -- should ever be substituted for an actual human life.
Is cryonics selfish?
There's a common attitude within the general public that cryonics is selfish. This is exemplified by a quote from the recent profile of Robin Hanson and Peggy Jackson in the New York Times article titled Until Cryonics Do Us Part:
“You have to understand,” says Peggy, who at 54 is given to exasperation about her husband’s more exotic ideas. “I am a hospice social worker. I work with people who are dying all the time. I see people dying All. The. Time. And what’s so good about me that I’m going to live forever?”
As suggested by Thursday in a comment to Robin Hanson's post Modern Male Sati, part of what seems to be going on here is that people subscribe to a "Just Deserts" theory of which outcomes ought to occur:
I think another of the reasons that people dislike cryonics is our intuition that immortality should have to be earned. It isn’t something that a person is automatically entitled to.
Relatedly, people sometimes believe in egalitarianism even when achieving it comes at the cost of imposing handicaps on the fortunate as in the Kurt Vonnegut novel Harrison Bergeron.
I believe that the objections that people have to cryonics which are rooted in the belief in people should get what they deserve and in the idea that egalitarianism is so important that we should handicap the privileged to achieve it are maladaptive. So, I think that the common attitude that cryonics is selfish is not held for good reason.
At the same time, it seems very likely to me that paying for cryonics is selfish in the sense that many personal expenditures are. Many personal expenditures that people engage in come with an opportunity cost of providing something of greater value to someone else. My general reaction to cryonics is the same as Tyler Cowen's: rather than signing up for cryonics, "why not save someone else's life instead?"
Could funding cryonics be socially optimal?
In Cryonics As Charity, Robin Hanson explores the idea that paying for cryonics might be a cost-effective charitable expenditure.
...buying cryonics seems to me a pretty good charity in its own right.
OK, even if consuming cryonics helps others, could it really help as much as direct charity donations? Well it might be hard to compete with cash directly handed to those most in need, but remember that most real charities suffer great inefficiencies and waste from administration costs, agency failures, and the inattention of donors.
Hanson's argument in favor of cryonics as a charity is based on the idea that buying cryonics drives the costs of cryonics down, making it easier for other people to purchase cryonics and also that purchasing cryonics normalizes the practice which raises the probability that people who are cryopreserved will be revived. There are several reasons why I don't find these points a compelling argument for cryonics as a charity. I believe that:
(i) I believe that in absence of human genetic engineering, it's very unlikely that it's possible to overcome the social stigma against cryonics. So I assign a small expected value to the social benefits that Hanson envisages which arise from purchasing cryonics.
(ii) Because of the social stigma against cryonics, signing up for cryonics or advocating cryonicshas a negative unintended consequence of straining interpersonal relationships as hinted at in Until Cryonics Do Us Part. This negative unintended consequence must be weighed against the potential social benefits attached to purchasing cryonics
How do the direct consequences of cryonics compare with the direct consequences of the best developing world aid charities? Let's look at the numbers. According to the Alcor website , Alcor charges $150,000 for whole body cryopreservation and $80,000 for Neurocryopreservation. GiveWell estimates that VillageReach and StopTB save lives at a cost of $1,000 each. Now, the standard of living is lower in the developing world than in the developed world, so that saving lives in the developing world is (on average) less worthwhile than saving lives in developed world. Last February Michael Vassar estimated (based on his experience living in the developing world among other things) that one would have to spend $50,000 on developing world aid to save a quality of life comparable to his own. Michael's estimate may be too high or too low, and quality of life within the developed world is variable, but for concreteness let's equate the value of 40 years of life of the typical prospective cryonics sign-up with $50,000 worth of cost-effective developing world aid. Is buying cryonics for oneself then more cost-effective than developing world aid?
Here are some further considerations which are relevant to this question:
- Cryopreservation is not a guarantee of revitalization. In Cryonics As Charity and elsewhere Robin Hanson has estimated the probability of revitalization at 5% or so.
- Revitalization is not a guarantee of a very long life - after one is revived the human race could go extinct.
- Insofar as the resources that humans have access to are limited, being revived may have the opportunity cost of another human/transhuman being born.
- If humans develop life extension technologies before the prospective cryonics sign-up dies then the prospective cryonics sign-up will probably have no need of cryonics.
- If humans develop Friendly AI soon then any people in the developing world whose lives are saved might have the chance to live very long and happy lives.
With all of these factors in mind, I presently believe that from the point of view of general social welfare, donating to VillageReach or StopTB is much more cost-effective than paying for cryopreservation is.
It may be still more cost-effective to fund charities that reduce global catastrophic risk. The question is just whether it's possible to do things that meaningfully reduce global catastrophic risk. Some people in the GiveWell community have the attitude that there's so much stochastic dilution of efforts to reduce global catastrophic risk that developing world aid is a more promising cause than existential risk reduction is. I share these feelings in regard to SIAI as presently constituted for reasons which I described in the linked thread . Nevertheless, I personally believe that within 5-10 years there will emerge strong opportunities to donate money to reduce existential risk, opportunities which may be orders of magnitude more cost-effective than developing world aid.
It may be possible to construct a good argument for the idea that funding cryonics is socially optimal. But those who supported cryonics before thinking about whether funding cryonics is socially optimal should beware falling prey to confirmation bias in their thinking about whether funding cryonics is socially optimal.
Is cryonics rational?
If you believe that funding cryonics is socially optimal and you have generalized philanthropic concern, then you should fund cryonics. As I say above, I think it very unlikely that funding cryonics is anywhere near socially optimal. For the sake of definiteness and brevity, in the remainder of this post I will subsequently assume that funding cryonics is far from being socially optimal.
Of course, people have many values and generally give greater weight to their own well being and the well being of family and friends than to the well being of unknown others. I see this as an inevitable feature of current human nature and don't think that it makes sense to try to change it at present. People (including myself) constantly spend money on things (restaurant meals, movies, CDs, travel expenses, jewelry, yachts, private airplanes, etc.) which are apparently far from socially optimal. I view cryonics expenses in a similar light. Just as it may be rational for some people to buy expensive jewelry, it may be rational for some people to sign up for cryonics. I think that cryonics is unfairly maligned and largely agree with Robin Hanson's article Picking on Cryo-Nerds .
On the flip side, just as it would be irrational for some people to buy expensive jewelry, it would be irrational for some people to sign up for cryonics. We should view signing up for cryonics as an understandable indulgence rather than a moral imperative. Advocating that people sign up for cryonics is like advocating that people buy diamond necklaces. I believe that our advocacy efforts should be focused on doing the most good, not on getting people to sign up for cryonics.
I anticipate that some of you will object, saying "But wait! The social value of signing up for cryonics is much higher than the social value of buying diamond necklace!" This may be true, but is irrelevant. Assuming that funding cryonics is orders of magnitude less efficient than the best philanthropic option, in absolute terms, the social opportunity cost of funding cryonics is very close to the social opportunity cost of buying a diamond necklace.
Because charitable efforts vary in cost-effectiveness by many orders of magnitude in unexpected ways, there's no reason to think that the supporting causes that have the most immediate intuitive appeal to oneself are at all close to socially optimal. This is why it's important to Purchase Fuzzies and Utiltons Separately . If one doesn't, one can end up expending a lot of energy ostensibly dedicated to philanthropy which accomplishes a very small fraction of what one could have accomplished. This is arguably what's going on with cryonics advocacy. As Holden Karnofsky has said, there's nothing wrong with selfish giving - just don’t call it philanthropy . Holden's post relates to the phenomenon discussed Yvain's great post Doing your good deed for the day . Quoting from Holden's post
I don’t think it’s wrong to make gifts that aren’t “optimized for pure social impact.” Personally, I’ve made “gifts” with many motivations: because friends asked, because I wanted to support a resource I personally benefit from , etc. I’ve stopped giving to my alma mater (which I suspect has all the funding it can productively use) and I’ve never made a gift just to “tell myself a nice story,” but in both cases I can understand why one would.
Giving money for selfish reasons, in and of itself, seems no more wrong than unnecessary personal consumption (entertainment, restaurants, etc.), which I and everyone else I know does plenty of. The point at which it becomes a problem, to me, is when you “count it” toward your charitable/philanthropic giving for the year.
I believe that the world’s wealthy should make gifts that are aimed at nothing but making the world a better place for others. We should challenge ourselves to make these gifts as big as possible. We should not tell ourselves that we are philanthropists while making no gifts that are really aimed at making the world better.
But this philosophy doesn’t forbid you from spending your money in ways that make you feel good. It just asks that you don’t let those expenditures lower the amount you give toward really helping others.
I find it very likely that promoting and funding cryonics for philanthropic reasons is irrational.
The members of Less Wrong community have uncommonly high analytical skills. These analytical skills are potentially very valuable to society. Collectively, we have a major opportunity to make a positive difference in people's lives. This opportunity will amount to little if we use our skills for things like cryonics advocacy. Remember, rationalists should win . I believe that we should use our skills for what matters most: helping other people as much as possible. To this end, I would make four concrete suggestions suggestions. I believe that
(A) We should encourage people to give more when we suspect that in doing so, they would be behaving in accordance with their core values . As Mass_Driver said , there may be
huge opportunity for us to help people help both themselves and others by explaining to them why charity is awesome-r than they thought.
As I've mentioned elsewhere, according to Fortune magazine the 400 biggest American taxpayers donate an average of only 8% of their income a year. For most multibillionaires, it's literally the case that millions of people are dying because the multibillionaire is unwilling to lead a slightly less opulent lifestyle. I'm sure that this isn't what these multibillionaires would want if they were thinking clearly. These people are not moral monsters. Melinda Gates has said that it wasn't until she and Bill Gates visited Africa that they realized that they had a lot of money to spare.
The case of multibillionaires highlights the absurdity of the pathological effects of human biases on people's willingness to give. Multibillionaires are not unusually irrational. If anything, multibillionaires are unusually rational. Many of the people who you know would behave similarly if they were multibillionaires. This gives rise to a strong possibility that they're presently exhibiting analogous behavior on a smaller scale on account of irrational biases.
(B) We should work to raise the standards for analysis of charities for impact and cost-effectiveness and promote effective giving. To this end, I strongly recommend exploring the website and community at GiveWell . The organization is very transparent and is welcoming of and responsive to well-considered feedback.
(C) We should conceptualize and advocate high expected value charitable projects but we should be especially vigilant about the possibility of overestimating the returns of a particular project. Less Wrong community members have not always exhibited such vigilance, so there is room for improvement on this point.
(D) We should ourselves donate some money that's optimized for pure positive social impact. Not so much that doing so noticeably interferes with our ability to get what we want out of life, but noticeably more than is typical for people in our respective financial situations. We should do this not only to help the people who will benefit from our contributions, but to prove to ourselves that the analytical skills which are such an integral part of us can help us break the shackles of unconscious self serving motivations , lift ourselves up and do what we believe in.
So be it first noted that everyone who complains about trying to trade off cryonics against charity, instead of movie tickets or heart transplants for old people, is absolutely correct about cryonics being unfairly discriminated against.
That said, reading through these comments, I'm a bit disturbed that no one followed the principle of using the Least Convenient Possible World / strongest argument you can reconstruct from the corpse. Why are you accepting the original poster's premise of competing with African aid? Why not just substitute donations to the Singularity Institute?
So I know that, obviously, and yet I go around advocating people sign up for cryonics. Why? Because I'm selfish? No. Because I'm under the impression that a dollar spent on cryonics is marginally as useful as a dollar spent on the Singularity Institute? No.
Because I don't think that money spent on cryonics actually comes out of the pocket of the Singularity Institute? Yes. Obviously. I mean, a bit of deduction would tell you that I had to believe that.
Money spent on life insurance and annual membership in a cryonics organization rapidly fades into the background of recurring expenses, just like car ... (read more)
You may be forced to make a judgement under uncertainty.
Keep reading Less Wrong sequences. The fact that you used this phrase when it nakedly exposes reasoning that is a direct, obvious violation of expected utility maximization (with any external goal, that is, rather than psychological goals) tells me that rather than trying to write new material for you, I should rather advise you to keep reading what's already been written, until it no longer seems at all plausible to you that citing Charles Stross's disbelief is a good argument for remaining as a bystander, any more than it will seem remotely plausible to you that "all your eggs in one basket" is a consideration that should guide expected-utility-maximizing personal philanthropy (for amounts less than a million dollars, say).
And of course I was not arguing that you should give up movie tickets for SIAI. It is exactly this psychological backlash that was causing me to be sharp about the alleged "cryonics vs. SIAI" tradeoff in the first place.
It is an estimate of the amount you would have to donate to the most marginally effective charity, to decrease its marginal effectiveness below the previous second most marginally effective charity.
The figure "a million dollars" doesn't matter. The reasoning in this particular case is pretty simple. Assuming that you actually care about the future and not you personal self esteem (the knowledge of personally having contributed to a good outcome) there is no reason why putting all your personal eggs in one basket should matter at all. You wouldn't want humanity to put all its eggs in one basket, but the only way you would change that would be if you were the only person to put eggs into a particular basket. There may be a particular distribution of eggs that is optimal, but unless you think the distribution of everyone else's eggs is already optimal you shouldn't distribute all you personal eggs the same way, you should put them in the basket that is most underrepresented (measured by marginal utility, not by ratio actual allocation to theoretical optimal allocation or any such nonsense) so to move humanities overall allocation closer to optimal. Unless you have so many eggs that the most underrepresented basket stops being that, (="million dollars").
Incidentally, heart transplants and cryonics both cost about the same amount of money... does the "it's selfish" argument also apply to getting a heart transplant?
Most of multifoliaterose's criticisms of cryonics apply to the majority of money spent on medical treatments in rich nations.
So, then, should prospective heart transplant recipients have to prove that they will do enough with their remaining life to benefit humanity, in order for the operation to be approved?
I think you're holding cryonics to a much higher standard than other expenditures.
Yes, I would disagree. A large fraction of the people who are getting heart transplants are old and thus not very productive. More generally, medical expenses in the last three years of life can easily run as much as a hundred thousand US dollars, and often run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Most people in the US and Europe are not at all productive their last year of life.
For one thing, multifoliaterose is probably extrapolating from the values xe signals, which aren't identical to the values xe acts on. I don't doubt the sincerity of multifoliaterose's hypothetical resolve (and indeed I share it), but I suspect that I would find reasons to conclude otherwise were I actually in that situation. (Being signed up for cryonics might make me significantly more willing to actually refuse treatment in such a case, though!)
If you want to persuade me to spend less of my money on myself and more on trying to save the world, surely you should start with frippery like nice sandwiches or movies, rather than something that's a matter of life and death?
What's weird is that people are driven to compare cryonics to charity in a way they're not when it comes to other medical interventions, or theatre tickets. I think Katja Grace explains it plausibly.
In your version of the story, what mistake am I making that causes me to go around urging other people to sign up for cryonics?
Given the tech level required for revival, I'd assign a pretty low probability of getting revived before we're through the window of vulnerability.
If enough people sign up, cryonics can become a cost-effective way of saving lives. The only way to get there is to support cryonics.
In estimating cost-effectiveness of signing up, you have to take into account this positive externality. This was also an argument in Hanson's Cryonics As Charity, which you didn't properly discuss, instead citing current costs of cryonics.
The margin has to take into account all future consequences of the action as well, not just local consequences. Again, a concrete problem I have with your post is essential misrepresentation of Hanson's post by quoting current costs of cryonics, and not mentioning the argument for lowering of costs. This you haven't answered.
You are telling me that Cryonically suspending myself is less charitable than donating the same resources to an efficient charity? Um... yes?
I don't think this post contains a non-trivial insight. I found the normative presumptions interspersed with the text distasteful. Multi also presents a misleading image of what best represents the values of most people.
Is that belief really common around here? Though I'm inclined to make an effort to get Hitchens to sign up, I think of that effort as self-indulgence in much the same way as I'd think of such efforts for those close to me, or my own decision to sign up.
Given that your argument only rules out cryonics for genuine utilitarians or altruists, it's quite possible to have some concern for philanthropy and yet enough concern for yourself to make cryonics the rational choice. You're playing up a false dilemma.
In this instance I would be comfortable using just "EV". In general, however, I see the whole conflict resolution between agents as a process that isn't quite so clearly delineated at the individual.
He was, and that is something that bothers me. The coherent extrapolated voilition of all of humanity is quite likely to be highly undesirable. I sincerely hope Eliezer was lying when he said that. If he could right now press a button to execute an FAI> I would quite possibly do what I could to stop him.
The tone of this post really grated on my ears, especially the last section where the words "we should" were used repeatedly. Syntactically "we" must refer to either "members of Less Wrong community" or "rationalists", but those sentences only make semantic sense if "we" actually refers to "utilitarians". I think I feel offended from being implicitly excluded from this community for not being a utilitarian.
Do any of my posts have this kind of problem? Being on the receiving end of this effect makes me want to make sure that I don't unintentionally do it to anyone else.
I'd like to see someone post a critical review of those GiveWell estimates. Surely GIveWell isn't the most independent source for such numbers, right?
Extinction is not something that just happens on a rainy day. It requires everyone to die before a new generation is there to take over in a basic sense. Either buy a big scale event or by such massive changes in the environment that we all get replaced. The chance for that to happen soon after the technique for revival is available and used is slim. The whole 'humanity might go extinct' argument look rather FAR to me. People have children and e... (read more)
The whole point of arguing that cryonics is a charity, a social good, etc. is because it tends overwhelmingly to be processed as a selfish act. We don't get warm fuzzies for purchasing cryonics the way we do when recycling plastic bottles or whatever. It's not using up the fuzzy supply (or demand rather). It's like cryonics has a huge blinking neon light that says SELFISH on it. But it's not so overwhelmingly selfish in reality -- it is the one thing that the entire world could jump on and live forever with. At least, I don't see any compelling reason to t... (read more)
Re: "from a utilitarian point of view the money spent on cryonics would be much better spent by donating to a cost-effective charity".
Sure - but utilitarianism just seems to be a totally bonkers humans moral system to folk like me. Utilitarianism doesn't even seem to be a very good way of signalling unselfishness - because the signal is so unbelievable. Anyway, if you are assuming a utilitarianism framework, maybe consider linking to some utilitarianism advocacy.
This post seems to be Eliezer's own counter/qualification to Purchase Fuzzies and Utilons Separately. It seems very relevant here, and I'm surprised nobody has brought it up yet. Here's a quote:... (read more)
You (appear to) claim too much for your argument. The only pro-cryonics argument that this counters is Robin's claim of cryonics as efficient altruism, and it doesn't seem to me that any of the other cryonics posts you cited depend on this claim.
You ought to make it clear that Robin's post is the only one you object to on these grounds.
I have edited the main post in response to many of the comments below.
Lots of money spent helping poor people in poor countries has done more harm than good. You wrote: "GiveWell estimates that VillageReach and StopTB save lives at a cost of $1,000 each." I bet at least $100 of each $1000 goes indirectly to dictators, and because the dictators can count on getting this money they don't have to do quite as good a job managing their nation's economy. Also, you need to factor in Malthusian concerns.
Poor people in poor countries might be better off today if rich countries had never given them any charity.
If lots of people signup for cryonics the world would become more concerned about the future and devote more resources to existential risks.
I often find this sort of argument frustrating. Are you making a serious case that the net effects are that harmful? What are your betting odds? Why not donate to things that don't generate rents to steal, e.g. developing cheaper crops and treatments for tropical diseases? Or pay for transparency/civil society/economic liberalization work in poor countries?
Many people just like to throw up possible counter-considerations to blunt the moral condemnation, and then go on with what they were doing, without considering any other alternatives or actually trying to estimate expected values in an unbiased way. One should either engage on the details of the altruism, or focus on the continuum of selfish expenditures, and note the double-standards being applied to cryonics.
I agree that widespread cryonics would have beneficial effects in encouraging long-term thinking. Edit: and even small changes in numbers could significantly increase the portion of people paying attention to existential risk and the like, given how small that pool is to start with.
"Are you making a serious case that the net effects are that harmful?"
Yes. Although development isn't my specialty, I'm a professional economist who has read a lot about development. The full argument I would make is similar to the one that supports the "Resource Curse" which holds "The resource curse (also known as the paradox of plenty) refers to the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources, specifically point-source non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources. This is hypothesized to happen for many different reasons, including a decline in the competitiveness of other economic sectors (caused by appreciation of the real exchange rate as resource revenues enter an economy), volatility of revenues from the natural resource sector due to exposure to global commodity market swings, government mismanagement of resources, or weak, ineffectual, unstable or corrupt institutions (possibly due to the easily diverted actual or anticipated revenue stream from extractive activities)." (From Wikipedia)
"What... (read more)
I agree that the resource curse elements of aid exist (and think it plausible that 'development aid' has had minimal or negative effects), but they have to be quite large to negate the direct lifesaving effects of the best medical aid, e.g. vaccines or malarial bed nets.
The Green Revolution did not harm poor Indians, by a very wide margin. I'm talking about developing new strains, not providing food aid purchased from rich-country farmers.
There is some bribery and theft bound up with medical aid too, aye. But the Malthusian argument is basically saying better that they die now to expedite growth later? Really?
The Green Revolution, smallpox eradication, financial support for vaccination and malaria control all involved rich country denizens spending on benefits for the poor. Hundreds of millions of lives involved. The benefits of economic growth dwarf the benefits of aid, but the latter are not negligible.
Rich countries used aid dollars to pressure African countries to stop using DDT. Aid has probably increased the number of poor people who have died from Malaria.
Most of the agricultural improving techs were developed for profit not charity reasons, although dwarf wheat is an important exception that supports your viewpoint.
Eliminating smallpox wasn't really done for chartable reasons, meaning that rich countries had an incentive to be efficient about it. It also caused the USSR to develop smallpox bio-weapons.
Africa's main problem is low economic growth caused mostly by its many "vampire" governments. Aid feeds these vampires and so does create negative effects large enough "to negate the direct lifesaving effects of the best medical aid, e.g. vaccines or malarial bed nets."
I'm not claiming Malthusian factors should dominate moral considerations, just that they need to be taken into account.
Although I can't prove this, I believe that the vast sums of money spent on foreign aid to poor nations have done much to convinced the elite of poor nations that their nations' poverty is caused by unjust distribution of the world's resources not the elites' corruption and stupid economic policies.
I have edited the main post in response to many of the comments below.
I have edited the main post in response to many of the comments below.
I have edited the main post in response to many of the comments below.
I have edited the main post in response to many of the comments below.
I have edited the main post in response to many of the comments below.
If part of the point of cryonics advocacy is to get people thinking seriously about the future, I'd like to see more LW material aimed at present and future cryonicists explaining to them why as a cryonicist they should start thinking seriously about the future.
Great post, and expresses precisely what I think about the whole issue.