William_MacAskill comments on How accurately does anyone know the global distribution of income? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: William_MacAskill 11 April 2017 08:18:03PM *  6 points [-]

"However, $700/year (= $1.91/day, =€1.80/day, =£1.53 /day) (without gifts or handouts) is not a sufficient amount of money to be alive in the west. You would be homeless. You would starve to death. In many places, you would die of exposure in the winter without shelter."

One could live on that amount of money per day in the West. You'd live in a second-hand tent, you'd scavenge food from bins (which would count towards your 'expenditure', because we're talking about consumption expenditure, but wouldn't count that much). Your life expectancy would be considerably lower than others in the West, but probably not lower than the 55 years which is the life expectancy in Burkina Faso (as an example comparison, bear in mind that number includes infant mortality). Your life would suck very badly, but you wouldn't die, and it wouldn't be that dissimilar to the lives of the millions of people who live in makeshift slums or shanty towns and scavenge from dumps to make a living. (Such people aren't representative of all extremely poor people, but they are a notable fraction.)

Comment author: the_jaded_one 26 April 2017 03:57:19PM *  0 points [-]

I think that on £1.53/day you could easily die, depending on your location (esp. cold locations). No food in the bins for a while, police evict you from your tent or destroy your shelter, you get drenched with water and then really cold, you get an injury or infection.

Are these kind of things (dying from exposure or hunger, police bulldoze your house) actually happening all the time to the median person in India at $700? I don't think so. I don't imagine it's easy to be the median average Indian, but I expect that you would have a shack, and food, and not freeze to death.

Also, there is a larger issue here. Being "100 times richer" than someone hides a lot of important assumptions. Let me grant the point that I could survive as a barely-alive hobo for £1.53/day. Well, that existence is not compatible with having a job in the west. There are amounts of money that I have to spend whether I like it or not, if I am to continue to earn any money at all, let alone my current salary. Others have argued that that restriction is irrelevant since it isn't binding, but actually I would quite like the option to live in a really small room in sharing facilities with 4 people if it was 4x cheaper. The option just isn't on the market. I am looking for accommodation right now, and plenty of people want to sell me 50m^2 for $1000/month with a 3 month penalty clause ($3000!) if I want to leave in less than 3 years, but no-one is selling 12m^2 for $250/month. In fact, the government in my country (western Europe) has passed laws that prevent me from living in a student house (closer to what I want to pay), because I am not a student; they have deliberately split the housing market into two and made people with jobs ineligible for the cheaper half. I would like to pay insurance that only paid out to a maximum of $1000 because that is all my car is worth, but other people on the roads drive $50000 cars and that impacts my premium. Then there's the social aspect of wealth. If I lived with the same quality of stuff that an Indian person at the 75th percentile of wealth in India lived on, and took a girl back to my shack, she would urgently have something else to do; whereas I can imagine a female from the 50th percentile in pretty much any place being impressed by a male from the 75th percentile.

With all these things in mind, I would say that I am not 100 times richer than a guy in India earning $700. If I were earning $70,000 IN INDIA, I would say it would be closer to the truth (though some of the same problems would apply, especially having to spend money to hold down a white collar job). For starters, I could easily afford a servant or three on that kind of money in India, which paints a picture that is more intuitively commensurate with the factor of 100 that the numbers imply.

Anyway, thanks for responding, I realize your time is valuable!