Peter_Hurford comments on Cost-effectiveness analysis: drug liberalization holds promise as a mental health intervention - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 14 September 2017 11:45:00PM 2 points [-]

I believe the gains from the ballot measure should be the estimated sum of the utility gains from people being able to purchase the drugs multiplied by the probability of passage; the costs should be how much it would cost to run the campaign. On the doc, you made the point that Givewell doesn't include leverage on other funding in their estimates, but when it comes to ballot measures, leverage is exactly what you're trying to produce, so I think an estimate is important.

One potential way of thinking about this is that the ballot measure in itself does not accomplish much, it just "unlocks" the ability for people to more cheaply help themselves. This could be modeled as the costs of the ballot measure + the costs of people helping themselves over a stream of X years, put against the benefits of people helping themselves over X years. I would use 5 for X, assuming that a lot can change in 5 years and maybe drug legalization would happen anyway, but I think a higher value for X could also be justified.

This kind of (costs of unlocking + costs of what is unlocked over time) vs. benefits of what is unlocked over time is also how I model the cost-benefit of developing a new medicine (like a vaccine), since the medicine is useless unless it is actually given to people, which costs additional money.

Comment author: Michael_S 14 September 2017 11:52:15PM 1 point [-]

That seems similar to Milan_Griffes' approach. However, when we're comparing ballot measures to other opportunities, I think the relevant cost to EA would be the cost to launch the campaign. That's what EAs would actually be spending money on and what could be spent on other interventions.

We don't have to assume away the additional costs of getting the medicine, but that can be factored into the benefit (ie. the net benefit is the gains they would get from the medicine - the gains they lose from giving up the funds to purchase the drugs)