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I don't see this as a conscious choice people make to not solve the problems the institution they're a part of is supposed to address. I agree that many of the individuals within the institution are working in good faith and genuinely care.

The issue is that the incentives of the people are not the same as the incentives of the institution itself, which are to grow and attract more status and money, which happens when the problem is seen as harder and more important.

Yes, Climate Change is obviously not solvable by a few activists, but there's a finite amount of time/energy/money in the world, and it's not clear to me at all that it's optimally distributed between cause areas. More time/energy/money going into solving climate change means less going elsewhere.

I use homelessness as an example, but I believe the logic generalizes. You're right that in many cases, the incentives facing an institution aren't powerful enough to matter, or the people involved could/would just go do other things.

But there are also a lot of cases (see: almost all nonprofits) where people's jobs depend on the existence and salience of the problem, in which case I think the incentives do start to matter.

While I haven't looked at the data lately, there are a lot of institutions in the US, as I use the term. Surely of the many social ills they address there are some that solvable/solved?

While I used ending homelessness as an example, the salience of an issue matters too. Climate change organizations receive lots of funding because their cause is seen as an important priority. If that changes, their funding dries up. So they have an incentive on the margin to overemphasize the importance of their associated problem - they benefit from the problem, while generally not solving it. Hence, commensalism.

Thanks! I've been pointed to them by others as well; it's a good example of an institution surviving the death of their problem.

I do think that the case underlines how important problems are for institutions, in a sort-of "exception that proves the rule" kind of way.

They would need another problem to pivot to.

Also, I suspect that such a pivot on an institutional scale is difficult to pull off. People often prioritize altruistic work because they're passionate about a specific cause - maybe they were homeless in the past, or they were a cancer survivor, etc. That wouldn't necessarily translate.

This was well thought-out, thank you.

You're right about redefining the word/problem. I've been referring to this as "The Pivot" in my head.

It would still be better if we found a way to form institutions such that, once they had solved a problem, their resources were efficiently allocated to the solution of the next-most-pressing problem.

Wait until you discover the world of Worm fanfiction (*cue evil laughter*).

Very possible.

I do suspect, though, that your friends at least have an internal process of analysis going even if they're not working. (I could of course be wrong.)

Quite true, and I considered being more specific about the kinds of relationships I was talking about.

For the sake of brevity I omitted such relationships.

What I did try to emphasize was that a relationship doesn't have to be equal to be reciprocal. So long as each party is getting what they need out of it, it usually counts. In a parent/child relationship, for instance, the parent is/should be getting something valuable out of the relationship, even though that something isn't reciprocity or emotional support.

As you say, the reward might be seeing your junior/student/child grow up and succeed.

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