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Paul_Christiano comments on Economics, prioritisation, and pro-rich bias   - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Paul_Christiano 03 January 2018 09:13:52AM *  6 points [-]

Here is a stronger version of the pro-market-price argument:

  • The producer could sell a ticket for $1000 to Rich and then give $950 to Pete. This leaves both Rich and Pete better off, often very substantially.
  • In reality, Pete is not an optimal target for philanthropy, and so the producer could do even better by selling the ticket for $1000 to Rich and then giving to their preferred charity.
  • No matter what the producer wants, they can do better by selling the ticket at market price. And no matter what we want as advocates for a policy, we can do better by allowing them to. (In fact the world is complicated and it's not this clean, but that seems orthogonal to your objection.)

This is still not the strongest argument that can be made, but it's better than the argument from your crucial premise. I think there are few serious economists who accept your crucial premise in the way you mean it, though many might use it as a definition of welfare (but wouldn't consider total welfare synonymous with moral good).

Comment author: Paul_Christiano 03 January 2018 09:24:04AM 2 points [-]

In actual fact, they are appealing to preference utilitarianism. This is a moral theory.

Economists are quite often appealing to a much simpler account of betterness: if everyone prefers option A to option B, then option A is better than option B.

Comment author: Halstead 06 January 2018 01:42:59PM 0 points [-]

They may well endorse that view of betterness, but I don't see how it lets them avoid the problem here. The people who disprefer a world with scalping to a world without are the people who would like tickets but can't afford to go.

Comment author: Paul_Christiano 06 January 2018 08:23:52PM 1 point [-]

This standard of betterness is all you need to conclude: "every inefficient outcome is worse than some efficient outcome."