pageok
pageok
pageok
[Peter Schuck, guest-blogging, May 10, 2007 at 4:14pm] Trackbacks
Avoiding Bad Bets, Removing Bad Apples

In our book, we make the point (first developed by Tom Schelling) that policymakers and voters tend to respond more to (1) identifiable victims (e.g., the girl, Jessica McClure, who fell in the well, or workers trapped in a mine) even though helping them comes at a very high cost per victim, than to (2) statistical victims (Schelling's term), whose very costly plights could be prevented at a relatively low expenditure per victim (e.g., pre-natal care for low-income women).

This tendency may be rational if the number of situations like (1) is quite low; society can feel good about being generous and affirming the attractive but plainly false idea that life is infinitely precious and we will pay any price to preserve it. But in a very large range of cases, this bias against prevention is irrational and very, very costly to society.

In today's NY Times, p. A33, Nicholas Kristof, in a column entitled "Save the Darfur Puppy," takes this point a step farther -- a step too far, in my view. "The human conscience," he says, "just isn't pricked by mass suffering, while an individual child (or puppy) in distress causes our hearts to flutter."

Tell that to the Americans (and others) who contributed astonishing sums of money to a multitude of utterly anonymous, unidentifiable, and for all intents and purposes statistical victims of the Asian tsunmai, Hurricane Katrina, and countless other instances of mass suffering. It is true that some disasters are more telegenic than others, and that the media today plays a large role in triggering this philanthropic response in some cases more than others.

None of this is to deny the importance of the identifiable vs. statistical victims distinction. Indeed, I discuss this in a new unpublished paper on the different ways in which catastrophe is understood by science, by law, and by politics. But Kristof's well-intentioned column fails to mention some important factors that affect the response to human disasters like Darfur.

One factor is the difference between individual philanthropic responses and geopolitical responses, which are -- and must be -- based on different considerations. Another is the sense that once we get into certain rescue situations, we'll never be able to get out, or that our intervention will be ineffective or make matters worse. (Can you think of a current example??) Yet another is the free rider problem -- the hope that someone else will bear the costs, with the result that no one intervenes.

My point is NOT that we shouldn't do more to stem the suffering in Darfur. In fact, Kristof's earlier columns have made a strong case that we could and should do more, including a no-fly zone, stronger sanctions against Sudanese officials, and more effective pressure on their Chinese and Russian sponsors.

But our failure to take these steps does not mean that mass suffering does not prick our consciences. It manifestly does. Our failure to put more of our energy and resources into protecting statistical victims has something to do with psychology and media, but probably has more to do with the tragic choices presented by geopolitics in a world win which great evil and cruelty create immense human suffering.

juris imprudent (mail):
A little ironic that Nick Kristoff should echo Joe Stalin:

A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.
5.10.2007 5:23pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

affirming the attractive but plainly false idea that life is infinitely precious and we will pay any price to preserve it


I disagree with this. You cannot put a monetary value on human life. It is not "plainly false" to think that.

Does that mean that we should be willing to take infinite safety precautions? No, it does not. There is another factor at play, and that is liberty. A completely safe life would not be one worth living. But that has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with liberty.

Any view that puts a dollar value on human life is immoral. Period.
5.10.2007 5:29pm
abw (www):
1. I think the difference between accidents/events beyond our control (trapped miners, Katrina victims) is different from situations like pre-natal care where (in almost all cases) the person's actions and decisions brought them to that point.

2. I also think it is a dodge to shift from total amount to per person. Because we spend $1000 to rescue someone trapped in an accident doesn't mean it makes sense to spend $150 billion dollars on something because it works out to only $500 per person, half what we spent on the other case.
5.10.2007 5:36pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

I think the difference between accidents/events beyond our control (trapped miners, Katrina victims) is different from situations like pre-natal care where (in almost all cases) the person's actions and decisions brought them to that point.


This is really interesting. This idea of blame. But why aren't Katrina victims "responsible" for locating in a city with inadequate levees? And didn't the trapped miners "choose" to enter a profession that involves high levels of risk? Why should we bail them out when those risks come about?

My point is, that one can find reason to blame nearly anyone in a negative situation. But, whether we do or not certainly depends on our biases.

Some people do not blame women who are trapped in a cycle of multi-generational poverty for not getting pre-natal care. (They see them as trapped in dysfunctional families, with inadequate role models, dysfunction psychology, inadequate opportunities, low self-esteem, etc., etc.) Others on the other hand, try to place blame.

When is it appropriate to blame the victim, and when is it not? What level of blame justified doing nothing to help? If someone is slightly to blame for an accident (they were playing with a gun, and shot themselves) we might still provide them emergency medical care even if they can't afford it even though they were clearly idiots. Should we? Or should we let them suffer. Maybe the best way to learn a lesson (or teach lessons to others) is to allow the person die, and thus serve as an example to others about the dangers of playing with firearms with insufficient funds.

In the prenatal care situation, surely the baby born (who might have diminished IQ and other health problems and thus less probability of escaping the cycle of poverty) is not to blame.

But is that baby later to blame when they, like their mother, fail to get adequate prenatal care after a teenage pregnancy?

I guess, what I am saying here, is that I don't buy abw's argument, which seems to suggest that ignoring problems when the victim is deemed to be at blame is justified.
5.10.2007 5:49pm
New World Dan (www):
Radley Balko has noted, in the course of researching para-military police raids (SWAT, etc.) that people are largely indifferent, but get absolutely outraged when they find out that someone's dog has been shot. Puppycide - it sells newspapers.
5.10.2007 6:04pm
Crunchy Frog:

One factor is the difference between individual philanthropic responses and geopolitical responses, which are -- and must be -- based on different considerations. Another is the sense that once we get into certain rescue situations, we'll never be able to get out, or that our intervention will be ineffective or make matters worse. (Can you think of a current example??) Yet another is the free rider problem -- the hope that someone else will bear the costs, with the result that no one intervenes.

If by current example, you mean Iraq, then that is a very poor analogy. A better one would be Somalia. We went in with the best intentions, to deliver food to those who needed it. What happened? The warlords stole it. (Sound familiar?) Our next step - to attempt to protect the shipments so that they went to the intended recipients didn't work so well either.

As sad as it is, trying to do good for those under corrupt regimes is most often a losing proposition. The only way to do it is regime change, with all the attendant headaches that go with it.
5.10.2007 6:24pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Is it immoral to put a value on a human life? Let me suggest a little experiment that demonstrates that almost everyone does.

"There's someone named Joe who is going to freeze to death tonight in Duluth, Minnesota. If you give me $1, I'll make sure that he at least has sufficient shelter to prevent that." I think if you put the question in those terms, most Americans would immediately pull out $1 (once they were sure you weren't scamming them).

Now raise the cost to $10. There will be some excuses and some hemming and hawing. A few people will ask, "Why can't Joe find his own shelter?"

Raise the cost to $100. "Who is this Joe guy? Doesn't he have any family or friends that can give him shelter?"

Raise the cost to $1000. You won't even get a question about it.

At about $10,000 and above (or, as another way of saying it, about 27 years of providing Joe minimal shelter from the cold), no one will be interested, unless they are spending someone else's money (tax money, that is to say).

There comes a certain moment when almost everyone asks the question, "Why should I impair my comfort and perhaps my long-term retirement to help someone that I don't know, and who, for all I know, may have gotten himself into this predicament?"
5.10.2007 6:29pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
Mr. Cramer,

Typical libertarian response. I will tax you to protect Joe. Simple as that. No one says the burden has to fall on just one individual to protect Joe.

Your willingness to give has nothing to do with the value of Joe's life. Sorry, you don't get to decide how much Joe's life is worth. Joe's life is not exchangeable for money.

If you engage in interstate commerce, I will regulate you to ensure that you build safe products. That Ford Pinto incident was bs, but perfectly justified by certain skewed minds who think they have a right to determine the value of someone else's life.
5.10.2007 6:38pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
Another point.

It is life, liberty, property. Not property, life, liberty. =)
5.10.2007 6:40pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Mr. Cramer,

Typical libertarian response. I will tax you to protect Joe. Simple as that. No one says the burden has to fall on just one individual to protect Joe.

Your willingness to give has nothing to do with the value of Joe's life. Sorry, you don't get to decide how much Joe's life is worth. Joe's life is not exchangeable for money.
How liberal of you. I mean, how fascist of you. (Increasingly, the same thing.)

How much are you willing to spend to save a life? Are you willing to spend $10,000,000 for every life you save? But where's that money going to come from? I am not happy that lives get turned into dollars and cents, but you are proposing to enslave people, to work their entire lives, 20 hours a day, because you assert that if even one life can be saved, at any cost, no matter how high, you have a right to force everyone else to do so.
5.10.2007 6:51pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
A stinking hypocrite writes:


Typical libertarian response. I will tax you to protect Joe. Simple as that. No one says the burden has to fall on just one individual to protect Joe.

Your willingness to give has nothing to do with the value of Joe's life. Sorry, you don't get to decide how much Joe's life is worth. Joe's life is not exchangeable for money.
If you really believed this--instead of it just being an excuse to take everything you can from those who can't defend themselves--then you would have literally not ONE PENNY IN SAVINGS. You would have rags for clothes--and only one set of rags. You would use public transportation at all times. Why should you have a car?

World Vision can put every spare penny you have that isn't necessary for minimal food, shelter, and rags, to work saving lives in the Third World. I don't give every spare penny that I have to that cause, but I do put something into the pot every month--and I've had occasions to put rather large checks in when startups I've worked for were bought. But as long as you have anything other than the bare necessities, and you scream that every life is of unlimited value, you are just another rich kid liberal hypocrite.
5.10.2007 6:55pm
Steve:
If you engage in interstate commerce, I will regulate you to ensure that you build safe products.

So every car should be an armor-plated tank? There is no perfectly "safe" product; there are always additional safety precautions you can take. At some point, though, you have to say "that's safe enough" or no one will be able to afford a car any more.

The sad reality is that commercial decisions put a value on human life every day, and that's completely unavoidable. The resources simply aren't there to take every human activity to the outmost boundaries of safety.
5.10.2007 7:10pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Your willingness to give has nothing to do with the value of Joe's life. Sorry, you don't get to decide how much Joe's life is worth.
The moral or aesthetic value of his life, perhaps not. But nothing has intrinsic monetary value; the monetary value of something is what people are willing to pay for it.
Joe's life is not exchangeable for money.
The last point is simply false. Of course it is. To paraphrase Sally Strother, just 90 cents per day will keep these kids alive.

As for the Pinto incident, you don't understand what it was. You need to read The Myth of the Ford Pinto, 43 Rutgers L. Rev. 1013 (1991). But more importantly (and this explains a lot) the statement expresses economic illiteracy. We not only can, but must place a monetary value on life. It is impossible not to. There is always an additional safety feature one can add to any product if one has an unlimited budget.

And of course every time one sues for wrongful death, a jury puts a monetary value on human life. Even when they criticize a company for doing so, they don't award infinity damages in response; they award a numerical amount.
5.10.2007 7:57pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Clayton-

If you really believed this--instead of it just being an excuse to take everything you can from those who can't defend themselves--then you would have literally not ONE PENNY IN SAVINGS. You would have rags for clothes--and only one set of rags. You would use public transportation at all times. Why should you have a car?

I've gotten to this point with Viscus several times. Usually he tones it down somewhat when you point out that you doubt he has sold all his worldly possessions and has given them to charity.

But it doesn't change things - he's like all other totalitarians, he thinks he should be able to steal from others and force his opinions on them to support his causes.

If I had the time and money I might look into him (still might) because the way he expresses his opinions it sounds like he may be acting on them. Because if he is stealing from or defrauding others he needs to be prosecuted and sued, no matter what he is doing or claims to be doing with the money.
5.10.2007 8:36pm
Kovarsky (mail):
It's ridiculous to pretend that life is infinitely valuable. If that were not the case, we would not have a 75 mph speed limit rather than a 30 mph one. We let planes take off and land. We trade life for commerce all the time.

There are just a certain "expenses" we are willing to incur when they don't look like conscious policy choices.

It seems that no matter how you emphasize the infinte value of life (Viscous) that you have to acknowledge that we sacrifice life to save life all the time (preemptive wars, deterrence rationales for the death penalty, and so on and so forth). So every life cannot be worth "infinity," because we equate the present and future values of life all the time.

Pretending that every life is infinitely valuable just distorts decisionmaking in favor of really obvious, or "telegenic," outcomes.
5.10.2007 9:07pm
Kovarsky (mail):
health care and euthanasia is probably another good example of discounting the future value of life relative to present value of life.
5.10.2007 9:13pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Among other things, we are not to blame the victim.
If somebody shoots himself in the foot, and we observe him hopping around trying to draw a bead on the other foot, we must not say, "Hey, buddy. That didn't work out so well last time." Or we'd be blaming the victim.
In some cases, the footshooter is not the victim--he shot somebody else's foot-- but is a member of a protected class, or an Accredited Victim Group, in which case we must act as if the bullet were instead a meteorite which came screaming in from the Bush White House.

The very impermeability of the, for example, Darfur issue gives those seeking the moral high ground ample room for manuver. Since nothing can/will be done, the problem never goes away, never dissolves into sloppy and inadequate efforts stymied, in part, by the victims and looking like not such a hot idea. Somalia, mentioned above, is a good example.

The only thing which can be done is unilateral regime change and the proactive killing of bandit groups. If I had to guess, the overlap between those insisting most loudly that something be done and the group most horrified at the necessary violence is probably exact.

So. Nothing will be done and the viewers-with-alarm have a cause that will last for years. Lucky them.
5.10.2007 9:37pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
It's 100% accounted for by soap opera. Jessica in the well was when the media discovered the soap opera audience in news, and soap opera people became their target demographic.

For this audience, empathetic as they may be, it's entertainment. They get off on their sorrow and weeping.

For most people, it's just obscene, but it's still on the TV for days and they can't get away from it.

Most people say they want hard news, but in fact they don't. Think city council meetings. The only way to pay the bills in the news biz is to attract the largest reliable audience, and that's the soap opera audience. They come every day, news or no news, and they're easy to satisfy with the dreadful crap they put on as news. This audience, the soap people, as a result edit every public debate in the country, and that's why we're where we are today.

If that news business model doesn't work out, none will ; so it's that or nothing.

I recommend ridicule of the soap opera audience, and let the chips fall where they may.
5.10.2007 10:01pm
A.C.:
I'm not sure I buy the "blame the victim" distinction, because people shy away from helping all sorts of people who can't realistically be blamed for their conditions. People living in what I call primordial poverty, or under ghastly regimes like North Korea's, simply aren't on our radar screen most of the time. The fact is, we (as individuals) haven't the vaguest idea what to do about them. We can't get to many of them at all, and even when we can we often just make things worse. Dumping a lot of money into a poor, remote region just makes all the prices go up, unless the region also gets new productive activity or new links to the outside world.

We do want to help when we know the intervention will work. Pulling someone out of a well is the perfect example. Rebuilding a place that has been ravaged by a specific disaster, especially a disaster that is over and unlikely to happen again, is just as good. People even like to help specific drug addicts who want to reform, even when the addicts are to blame for their plight.

The trouble with mass interventions is it's sometimes hard to know if they work. Not always -- we can see that immunization works, so most people support that. Other medical interventions are harder to sell because the results are harder to see, or because they don't represent a permanent, structural fix but rather have to be repeated over and over for the same individual. When an intervention doesn't actually fix things into the future, the underlying problem comes to be seen in the same light as all the other problems we really can't do anything about. And so people give up.
5.10.2007 10:29pm
Brian K (mail):
I think a more nuanced view is required here. you can't place value on SOMEONE ELSE's life but you can put a value on your OWN life. For example, I can't give you $1, which is what I value your life at, and then kill you. Things don't work that way. However I can say that the cost of medical treatment is too great for family to bear and refuse treatment.

Products come in a range of safety levels and in prices. People buy the product that corresponds to what they value their life at. This explains why no one takes an infinite level of safety precautions...no one values their own life at the equivalent of infinity dollars. People fly on airplanes because they've determined that the finite risk of crashing is outweighed by convenience and time saved from driving.

The government simply chooses a value that most people can agree on and use that as a basis for services. People who think the government is using too low a number will give to charities or volunteer. People who think the government is using to high a number will complain. They choose this value by electing representatives that think life is as valuable as they do.
5.11.2007 12:18am
Warmongering Lunatic (mail):
Kristof doesn't actually care about Darfur enough to suggest the only thing that would work, so why should we pay any attention to him?

Kristof has never, once, suggested that we go ahead with an "illegal" war, ignoring the inevitable Russian and Chinese Security Council vetoes. You know, like what actually worked against Serbia, unlike all the half-measures that failed for years in controlling Serbia. Until he does, we know he isn't actually serious. (We can wonder whether it's his concern or his thinking that's less than serious, but it doesn't matter all that much.)

Sigh. You'd think, seventy years after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, people would stop pretending "all sanctions short of war" can stop a state that is already waging war.
5.11.2007 1:52am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Homer: That Timmy is a real hero!
Lisa: How do you mean, Dad?
Homer: Well, he fell down a well, and... he can't get out.
Lisa: How does that make him a hero?
Homer: Well, that's more than you did!

(Ah, Simpsons. Is there any topic you don't provide a quote for?)
5.11.2007 4:06am
SeaDrive:
The "identifiable vs statistical" slant also illustrates the Bush Adminisration's hypocrisy on "the culture of life." They let the attractive (anti-abortion, anti-premarital sex) dominate the unattractive (prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDs).
5.11.2007 10:34am
Felix Sulla (mail):
American Psikhushka wrote:

I've gotten to this point with Viscus several times. Usually he tones it down somewhat when you point out that you doubt he has sold all his worldly possessions and has given them to charity.


Clayton E. Cramer wrote:

If you really believed this--instead of it just being an excuse to take everything you can from those who can't defend themselves--then you would have literally not ONE PENNY IN SAVINGS. You would have rags for clothes--and only one set of rags. You would use public transportation at all times. Why should you have a car?

False. This is as if I were to tell both of you that if you *really* believed in objectivism (or pick your preferred drivel of the week) you'd go out and invent a nice shiny new alloy and then bang the heiress of an intercontinental railroad company. (It does sound fun!)

Social costs are supposed to be spread out across society, not made imperative on one person only, and no one is "betraying" their ideals by not abandoning everything they have and wandering the Earth barefoot, righting wrongs with nothing more than socialist theory and perhaps some jujitsu.
5.11.2007 12:30pm
Mark F. (mail):
This same country which is supposed to be so compassionate and generous has allowed a senseless war and the disasterous occupation of a foreign country. How many dead bodies so far? We are a nation of hypocrites! The "American public" makes me sick.
5.11.2007 1:56pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
There's also the issue of feedback. With little Jessica trapped in the well, you can tell whether your concern did any good -- either she was rescued, or she wasn't. With statistical victims, you don't get any feedback. The results, if any, of your generosity or your efforts to change public might not show up for a decade.

In the case of the tsunami victims, we are only now discovering that much of our concern apparently was wasted, since a significant proportion of the money that was donated seems to have gone missing.
5.11.2007 2:16pm
Aultimer:
Sorry for returning to topic, but the difference between Darfur "relief" and Tsunami and Katrina relief are the clarity of what relief we're providing with donations. When the water wiped out a lot of towns and kills lots of people, anyone can clearly see that extraordinary funds are required to clean up and get folks who've lost homes and family back on their feet. After Katrina, it was obvious that a lot of displaced people needed homes and clothes, etc. In Darfur, it's not so clear - some locals are trying to exterminate some other locals and the refugees are hungry, but relief is often stolen by the bad guys, and even if the refugees have food, we're not sure they're the good guys, or how to make the bad guys stop what they're up to...
5.11.2007 2:26pm
Felix Sulla (mail):
Aultimer: Your points are taken, but that being said, are you trying to suggest that if a problem is not absolutely easy to understand and simple to solve it should be ignored?
5.11.2007 2:52pm
CEB:

Radley Balko has noted, in the course of researching para-military police raids (SWAT, etc.) that people are largely indifferent, but get absolutely outraged when they find out that someone's dog has been shot. Puppycide - it sells newspapers.

I have to confess I didn't give a crap about the victims of hurricane Katrina until I saw a Humane Society commercial that showed a dog standing on what I assume was an air conditioner unit in a flooded yard. The top of the unit was still about a foot under water so the dog could not lie or sit down. I made a donation that minute.
5.11.2007 3:03pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Social costs are supposed to be spread out across society, not made imperative on one person only, and no one is "betraying" their ideals by not abandoning everything they have and wandering the Earth barefoot, righting wrongs with nothing more than socialist theory and perhaps some jujitsu.
I guess that depends whether one's ideal is "It's fun to point guns at people and take money from them to give to other people" or "Lives have infinite value and you can't put a price tag on them based on your willingness to give." If the former, you're right. If the latter, you certainly are betraying your ideals by not giving all you have beyond subsistence level.
5.11.2007 4:58pm
Felix Sulla (mail):
David, do you ever get tired of setting up straw men?
5.11.2007 6:13pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

How liberal of you. I mean, how fascist of you.


If the only way I can avoid being a fascist is to place a monetary value on life, then I am a fascist.

In other words, if only fascists are moral, then I will wear that label on my sleave =)

How much should we spend to save a life? As much as it takes! Period.

Are we failing in our duties when we let people starve to death in Africa or elsewhere. Yes, we are.

But I have a solution. Taxes. On the other hand, if you want to solve the problem through charity, fine by me. But if the only way to prevent people from starving to death is taxes, then taxes it shall be. =)

You know, I remember a bunch of libertarians who were supressed by George Washington back in the day who didn't want to pay their taxes. =)
5.11.2007 7:01pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

If the latter, you certainly are betraying your ideals by not giving all you have beyond subsistence level.


This is another standard libertarian line. It is nearly as though you all are reading of some sort of script, rather than actually thinking.

If I do not give all my money away, but instead use it to accumulate political power so I can raise taxes on you to accomplish the objective in question, that doesn't violate my principles.

There is more than one way to skin a cat. =)
5.11.2007 7:03pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

And of course every time one sues for wrongful death, a jury puts a monetary value on human life. Even when they criticize a company for doing so, they don't award infinity damages in response; they award a numerical amount.


Awarding an infinite value of money would not bring that person who was killed back to life. A jury isn't really setting a value on the life, as much as providing reasonable compensation to survivors.

But, if money really does have a monetary value, how much does Bill Gates have to pay before he acquires a right to shoot you? =)

And how much is Bill Gates's life worth? Is it possible to own more than the value of your own life? =)
5.11.2007 7:06pm
JBL:
Suppose there are three plans:

Plan 1 will cost $1,000,000 and save 50 lives, each of whom will live an additional 50 years (an extra 2,500 person-years of life expectancy).

Plan 2 will cost $1,000,000 and save 500 lives (an extra 25,000 person-years of life expectancy).

Plan 3 will cost $1,000,000 and save 1000 people, but shorten each life by 25 years (an extra 25,000 person-years in life expectancy).

Our job is to chose between the three plans. It seems clear that plan 2 is better than plan 1: it costs the same and saves more people.

Whether plan 2 or 3 is better can be debated.

But note the most important point: the decision has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with placing a monetary value on human life. It doesn't matter whether human life can be valued in dollars, and if it can it makes no difference what that value is. As long as human life has positive value (monetary or otherwise), plan 2 is objectively better than plan 1.

Whether plan 2 or 3 is better is open to debate, but each person is likely to have their preference (which will frequently depend on individual circumstances). That is why, other things being equal, more people are better off if they are allowed to chose for themselves which plan they belong to.
5.11.2007 7:06pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

but each person is likely to have their preference (which will frequently depend on individual circumstances). That is why, other things being equal, more people are better off if they are allowed to chose for themselves which plan they belong to.


This is an interesting point. I agree with the first paragraph. That plan 2 is objectively better than plan one and for reasons having nothing to do with money. I do not agree that there is any ambiguity about which is better as between plan 2 and 3 however. Plan 3 is always superior. Because its distributive consequences are superior.

Why should your additional life-span be 0, so that I can avoid a reduction in 25-years? From your perspective, when would this ever be a just trade?

But really, I am afraid that the only moral option is to cough up $3 million dollars, and purchase all three plans to save the maximum number of people possible. =)

If it is possible to save people, there is moral imperative to do it.
5.11.2007 7:13pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

It's ridiculous to pretend that life is infinitely valuable. If that were not the case, we would not have a 75 mph speed limit rather than a 30 mph one. We let planes take off and land. We trade life for commerce all the time.


This is a foolish statement.

Driving 75 mph instead of 30 mph is about liberty, not commerce. Being able to fly in a plane and go somewhere is also about liberty.

If you don't think there is a distinction between liberty and commerce, ask yourself how much I would have to pay you to throw you in jail for 50 years in a situation where you cannot spend any of the money until after you are released. =)

Further, without commerce, we could not support life. So, commerce must be perserved, if for no other reason than to preserve life. We don't "trade" commerce for life. Rather, commerce enables life.
5.11.2007 7:20pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

Social costs are supposed to be spread out across society, not made imperative on one person only, and no one is "betraying" their ideals by not abandoning everything they have and wandering the Earth barefoot, righting wrongs with nothing more than socialist theory and perhaps some jujitsu.


Well said. Felix.
5.11.2007 7:23pm
Randy R. (mail):
I just read in the Washingtong Post the other day that there is a dramatic rise in throat cancer over the past several decades, and experts attribute it to the rise of oral sex between two people.

So I guess now everyone who gets a blow job or munches the carpet is a 'bad bet' and deserves to die from this form of cancer. Which means just about all of us.

Great theory ya got there!
5.11.2007 7:25pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

I've gotten to this point with Viscus several times. Usually he tones it down somewhat when you point out that you doubt he has sold all his worldly possessions and has given them to charity.


You truly are on crack if you think that the persuasiveness of your argument in this area has ever caused me to "tone down" even for a split-second. (Does me going off to do something else rather than continue to debate you on a silly point where you are clearly wrong and I have already shown that you are clearly wrong count as "toning down." It is not my problem if you don't "get it" after I have conclusively destroyed your argument. =)

I don't buy the libertarian idea that money and life are interchangeable. Never have. Never will. You can dogmatically insist that my principles require that I behave in an extremely inefficient manner that guarantees that I will be less effective in achieving the missions I set for myself until your blue in the face. It won't change a thing, because I know my principles. And they aren't like yours. (i.e. selfish and pleasure maximizing).
5.11.2007 7:30pm
R. Richard Schweitzer (mail):
Has anyone here read

A Theory of Moral Sentiments

Adam Smith

R. Richard Schweitzer
s24rrs@aol.com
5.11.2007 10:46pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):


If I do not give all my money away, but instead use it to accumulate political power so I can raise taxes on you to accomplish the objective in question, that doesn't violate my principles.
You believe in this principle so strongly that you will use force to get more money out of me rather than pull it out of your own pocket.

Since you are a liberal, I think I can say with great certainty that I have given far more voluntarily to alleviating suffering and saving lives in the Third World than you ever will. But that's not enough--you need to force me to contribute even more, while you refuse to abide by your own standards.

As I said, you are a liberal. And a fascist. Same thing.
5.12.2007 12:21am
vic:
1. "pre-natal care for low-income women" - a point of fact. there is no study and no data that prenatl care - which normally amounts to seeing a provider every few weeks and taking prenatal vitamins - does diddly squat for neonatal mortality. The association of prenatal care with poor perinatal outcomes is mosre likely related to the fact that in modern america, lack or spotty prenatal care is a marker for other traits that independently predict poor perinatal outcomes. Eg crack addiocted prostitutes tend to have poor perinatl outcomes because they are cxrack addicted prostitutes, not because they did not get/ seek prenatal care. more funding for prenatal care is pretty much a boondoggle for prenatal care providers 9 and i say this despite that fact that i benefit economically from more resources being allocated to prenatal care).

2. Viscus: the contents of his posts (here and elsewhere) are excatly what they are purported to be - the contents of a (hollow) viscus. Just ignore him maybe he will just go away.
5.12.2007 3:18am
abw (www):
I guess, what I am saying here, is that I don't buy abw's argument, which seems to suggest that ignoring problems when the victim is deemed to be at blame is justified.

Much much too simplified. To quote the original post "One factor is the difference between individual philanthropic responses and geopolitical responses"

To modify a bit, there is a complex equation of who needs help, why, how much, and the relationship. One my refuse to give a coworker $10 for a taxi and minutes later give $100 to a friend for a plane ticket. One might buy a baby carseat for a somewhat distant relative and still feel their tax dollars shouldn't be buying the seats for others.

So to say I recommend "ignoring problems" simply is not accurate. Every problem is not everybody's concern. Sometimes solutions are too large, are not obvious or very often can actually lead to more trouble.
5.12.2007 4:36am
JBL:

Ok. Suppose we know of a device which will cost $10,000 and save one life. But we do not have $10,000. We are considering three plans:

Plan 1 will raise $1,000,000 and enable us to buy 100 of the devices this year, but allow no prospects for future revenue.

Plan 2 will raise $500,000 and enable us to buy 50 devices this year, and an estimated $50,000 (and five devices) per year into the future.

Plan 3 will raise $100,000 and purchase ten devices per year indefinitely.

Which plan is preferable?
5.12.2007 12:43pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Felix Sulla-

False. This is as if I were to tell both of you that if you *really* believed in objectivism (or pick your preferred drivel of the week) you'd go out and invent a nice shiny new alloy and then bang the heiress of an intercontinental railroad company. (It does sound fun!)

No, that analogy is false. You missed this in the other threads, but Viscus was repeatedly drawing this emotionally manipulative analogy that libertarians all wanted to drink umbrella drinks on the beach while everyone was starving. So he repeatedly was demonizing just about anyone who is living above a subsistence level for not dropping everything and following Viscus the Moral into the desert. And laissez faire capitalism doesn't demand that everyone invent and create, it just sees that the market rewards those who do. I don't know where your comment about railroad heiresses comes from - but if you run into one and she wants to have consensual sex with you that is up to you.

Social costs are supposed to be spread out across society, not made imperative on one person only, and no one is "betraying" their ideals by not abandoning everything they have and wandering the Earth barefoot, righting wrongs with nothing more than socialist theory and perhaps some jujitsu.

You're assuming that spending every cent necessary of a society's money to ensure that no one anywhere on earth is starving is a social cost. This is impossible, we would have to militarily invade dozens of countries.

And Viscus was expressing just those ideals in the other thread, but he backed down after he was called on them. So yes, he is betraying his ideals. Oh - and by the way, the "correct" subsistence level above which one cannot rise is likely to be set by Viscus himself, as it is by totalitarian socialists and communists in every other totalitarian state.
5.12.2007 1:49pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Viscus-

If the only way I can avoid being a fascist is to place a monetary value on life, then I am a fascist.

When a "monetary value" is set on life in certain situations it is just used as an approximation, few people are saying that "a human life is worth X". One can always count on you for an silly emotionally manipulative argument though.

But if the only way to prevent people from starving to death is taxes, then taxes it shall be.

You don't dictate taxes.

If I do not give all my money away, but instead use it to accumulate political power so I can raise taxes on you to accomplish the objective in question, that doesn't violate my principles.

As long as you are using your own money or money freely given to you by someone authorized to do so - not money stolen from other people - that is fine. You are free to try to get taxes raised.

But, if money really does have a monetary value, how much does Bill Gates have to pay before he acquires a right to shoot you?

Legally? None. Illegally he can spend as much as he wants. Then when he gets caught much will be taken from him.

And how much is Bill Gates's life worth? Is it possible to own more than the value of your own life?

This remark betrays the envious, vicious sadism that you and others with similar views possess. When you're talking about starving people life has unlimited value. When a wealthy entrepeneur is concerned you become a wild-eyed Madame LaFarge ready to carve him up yourself. Which is it, Viscus? Does it all depend on whether they have a nicer car or clothes than you? Does it depend on whether they share your politics?

Driving 75 mph instead of 30 mph is about liberty, not commerce. Being able to fly in a plane and go somewhere is also about liberty.

No, it is about commerce as well. Trucks travelling at 30 mph are very slow, expensive and inefficient.

You truly are on crack if you think that the persuasiveness of your argument in this area has ever caused me to "tone down" even for a split-second.

No, you certainly did tone down your "all libertarians want to drink umbrella drinks on the beach while people starve" analogy when it was exposed as the emotionally manipulative crap that it was.

You can dogmatically insist that my principles require that I behave in an extremely inefficient manner that guarantees that I will be less effective in achieving the missions I set for myself until your blue in the face.

You were the one criticizing any libertarians living above the subsistence level. Now if you want to use your own money to try to get taxes raised to cover all the food aid and military interventions you want that's fine. (As long as its not money you stold from other people.)

And they aren't like yours. (i.e. selfish and pleasure maximizing).

That's pretty inaccurate. You might be surprised how generous I am when people aren't committing crimes and torts to force "charity" on me. Also, I support economic systems that result in the least amount of poverty possible. As far as pleasure goes, I don't have a problem with it as long as it is ethical and consensual.
5.12.2007 2:50pm
ReaderY:
When Stalin said that "one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic" he was unfortunately describing a real, and sometimes exploitable, human trait. We respond emotionally to individuals with identifiable stories; we do not respond emotionally to mere masses of (often equally deserving) people. The typical approach to this dilemma -- by journalists, fundraisers, marketers, and of course lawyers -- is to put stories and faces behind the numbers in an effort to get people to identify with a problem.

I
5.13.2007 12:58am