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Halstead 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: Halstead 03 January 2018 12:19:04PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for this. Option 3 "No matter what the producer wants..." is the only relevant world to consider because in almost all cases, the producer will not in fact compensate consumers or donate to charity. Could you then say more about why we as advocates for policy can do better by allowing the producer to sell at market prices?

Comment author: Paul_Christiano 03 January 2018 06:04:02PM *  4 points [-]

Obviously what is optimal does depend on what we can compel the producer to do; if we can collect taxes, that will obviously be better. If we can compel the producer to suffer small costs to make the world better, there are better things to compel them to do. If we can create an environment in which certain behaviors are more expensive for the producer because they are socially unacceptable, there are better things to deem unacceptable. And so on.

More broadly, as a society we want to pick the most efficient ways to redistribute wealth, and as altruists we'd like to use our policy influence in the most efficient ways to redistribute wealth. Forcing the tickets to sell below market value is an incredibly inefficient way to redistribute wealth. So it can be a good idea in worlds where there are almost no options, but seems very unlikely to be a good idea in practice.

Comment author: Halstead 06 January 2018 01:46:30PM 0 points [-]

Yes I am not defending banning scalping. I am criticising one argument against scalping, which appears to be the main one among a significant portion of influential economists, as I show in the comment below.