BenHoffman comments on Fact checking comparison between trachoma surgeries and guide dogs - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: BenHoffman 13 May 2017 02:18:48AM 1 point [-]

If I try to steelman the argument, it comes out something like:

Some people, when they hear about the guide dog - tracheoma surgery contrast, will take the point to be that ameliorating a disability is intrinsically less valuable than preventing or curing an impairment. (In other words, that helping people live fulfilling lives while blind is necessarily a less worthy cause than "fixing" them.) Since this is not in fact the intended point, a comparison of more directly comparable interventions would be preferable, if available.

Comment author: PeterSinger 13 May 2017 11:53:35PM 5 points [-]

Why is the choice not directly comparable? If it were possible to offer a blind person a choice between being able to see, or having a guide dog, would it be so difficult for the blind person to choose?

Still, if you can suggest better comparisons that make the same point, I'll be happy to use them.

Comment author: Ben_Todd 15 May 2017 04:13:51AM *  9 points [-]

Hi Peter,

Some examples that might be useful:

1) Differences in income

A US college graduate earns about 100x more than GiveDirectly recipients, suggesting money can go far further with GiveDirectly. (100x further if utility ~log-income.) https://80000hours.org/career-guide/anyone-make-a-difference/

2) The cost to save a life

GiveWell now says $7500 for a death prevented by malaria nets (plus many other benefits) Rich country governments, however, are often willing to pay over $1m to save a life of one of their citizens, a factor of 130+ difference. https://80000hours.org/career-guide/world-problems/#global-health-a-problem-where-you-could-really-make-progress

3) Cost per QALY

It still seems possible to save QALYs for a few hundred dollars in the developing world, whereas the UK's NHS is willing to fund most things that save a QALY for under £20,000, and some that are over £30,000, which is again a factor of 100 difference.

So I still think a factor of 100x difference is defensible, though if you also take into account Brian's point below, then it might be reduced to, say, a factor of 30, though that's basically just a guess, and it could go the other way too. More on this: http://reflectivedisequilibrium.blogspot.com/2014/01/what-portion-of-boost-to-global-gdp.html