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The Way to Produce a Person (nytimes.com)
82 points by ekm2 on June 4, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments



I went to college with dozens of Jason Triggs (including myself). We'd talk all the time about the money we'd make right out of college and how much good we'd do. ("$36k to work at a soulless consulting company? That's amazing! I'm living on less than 1k/month in college. I could save 5K and give 10k away and not even notice!") We had plans to give 20, 30, or 50 percent of our income away. Some of us even managed to do it for a couple years. The world gets to you, though. Your coworkers that dress nicer and go to happy hour with the boss get promoted. It gets tiresome to commute from a tiny apartment in New Jersey. You buy a house or get married to somebody who doesn't make much money. The stock market tanks and takes your savings with it. You figure out that you hate consulting and end up teaching science in a junior high. After a couple years, I'd bet that the average charitable contribution of my peer group had gone down to 5% or less.

I wish Mr. Trigg luck, but we've already lived his story. He might get a few good years in, but his life is unlikely to work out like he plans.


I'm one of the people in the article. I'm really interested to learn that you were thinking along the same lines (assuming this was a while ago, if $36k was a lot?) I had heard of one reference to the idea from 1996, but otherwise I had only heard of it in the 2010s: http://www.jefftk.com/news/2012-09-18

I'd love to talk to you about how you and your friends got interested in this idea and what successes and failures you saw. I imagine there's a lot we can learn from your experience. juliawise07 at gmail


It always seems like a bit of a cop out to get a high paying job so you can donate to charity- at the risk of sounding cynical, it seems like a way for people to try to have their cake and eat it too, i.e. I have a big income and can feel special about that, but then I can feel doubly special because I am so generous and giving it all away. I suppose it has some positive externalities, but I don't think it really even comes close to the spirit of charity.


Really? Why not?

If the most effective way that you can donate to the needy is to earn big bucks and give them away, then this feels like the essence of charity to me.


> I suppose it has some positive externalities, but I don't think it really even comes close to the spirit of charity.

Why would you feel special if you didn't already view generosity as something desirable?


have you considered the possibility that people don't do it primarily to feel special? What do you think is the spirit of charity?


I'm sure many people don't do it primarily to feel special. My apologies to those people. However, in my personal experience, the people I know with this mindset are also the people who seem to believe in the concept of "being better than other people" and actively pursue means to this end. I think what I am trying to say is related to Brook's warning that "You might become one of those people who loves humanity in general but not the particular humans immediately around." I'm not saying these people are the scum of the earth, and it's probably a bad idea to try to paint with such a broad brush- I'm simply going off my own life experience and perception thereof.


Don't bother. There's a significant segment of the population who can't escape the egocentric mindset others grow out of. They can't (not won't, can't) understand that others think and feel differently from them. They can't imagine others wanting to fix an injustice which doesn't directly affect them.


Wait- you inferred all this about me from a single comment? It's true that some people have no ability for empathy, but I think leveling such a harsh criticism at a random person based on a single comment is probably a little over the top.


True. I was using you as a proxy for Brooks and his ilk, I suppose. Sorry about that.


This has got to be one of the worst articles in a while to make the frontpage of HN. There is an Editorial (!) explaining why we should NOT follow the example of a person holding a legal well-paying job making a great effort to donate most of his high income to charitable good causes.

The cynicism and moralizing is laid on thick - what a sad, messed up world exists inside Mr. Brooks' head. I hope HN'ers are more optimistic than listening to this claptrap and believing any of it.


This may get me downvoted, but I'm getting a very strong sense that someone (or a number of someones) with some, ahem, strong right leanings have been posting articles to HN within the last 24 hours. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just that it's kind of embarrassing when Brooks is the best you can do.

Brooks is well known for spouting things that seem almost like satire of conservative viewpoints; it's more likely he dresses up his points in "progressive" sounding terms in an attempt to get people to agree with him.


I don't know the man or his works, but on my first reading, I thought he seemed like a misguided liberal.


He's not saying it's bad, he's saying that it won't work for very long. That the person doing it will not be able to keep it up, so it's better to choose something with a longer term success.


Thank god, David Brooks is here to save us from the scourge of young people giving their money to charity. Who else will stand in defense against these blackgaurds?! If not for this article, the scourge would surely grow ceaselessly, with each new graduate striving to give away more of his money than the last until our economy and very way of life collapse! Truly, David Brooks is a hero today.


I think today's idealist youth are a lot less joyful then yester-decade's. I think this is troubling to those who came up in the sixties, and I can understand why: we should not be martyrs to rationalism. But I also think that pragmatism does more good for the world than joy, if you have to choose.


He could make a much bigger difference if he simply saved a large portion of his earnings over his career, invested them (if he's working for a hedge fund he should be able to get a great return), and then invested that much larger chunk into 3rd world entrepreneurs/businesses.

The unfortunate truth is that most money that goes into charities that operate in 3rd world countries gets spent on logistics, bureaucracy, and gets siphoned off by corrupt governments or stolen by thieves. He'll save someone from malaria one day, and they'll die from another cause later.

A much bigger impact would be to invest in those 3rd world countries (conscientiously), and provide jobs and livelihoods for those people. Build infrastructure, enable access to capital, machinery and technology, security, etc... That will make a much larger difference than any amount of money poured into charities and feel-good causes.


"The unfortunate truth is that most money that goes into charities that operate in 3rd world countries gets spent on logistics, bureaucracy, and gets siphoned off by corrupt governments or stolen by thieves. He'll save someone from malaria one day, and they'll die from another cause later."

Self-serving selfish unsupported claptrap.

I especially like the line "He'll save someone from malaria one day, and they'll die from another cause later." Hard to argue with that point since we'll all die from some cause later.

As if, for example, funding the inexpensive operations to relieve the suffering of women with untreated obstetric fistulas (http://www.fistulafoundation.org/whatisfistula/faqs.html) is just a waste of time and money. Sheesh.


How much time do you spend in 3rd world countries? My wife is from one, we spend a month a year over there...

They were a recipient of the one laptop per child initiative - most of the laptops were stolen and placed on the black market. Corruption runs so deep that most foreign aid has been withdrawn, and foreign corporations refuse to use local labour in local construction initiatives.

Giving away mosquito nets is a great initiative. Producing the sort of infrastructure that allows people to buy them with their own money is better.

The Chinese have done more for the 3rd world (any my wife's country) than every Western charity and government combined. You go to my wife's country - all the local infrastructure is built by Chinese corporations, and most of the cost is donated by the Chinese government. What little debt remains to China is forgiven periodically (China just wrote-off 355 million in debt to this country). If you eliminated corruption, it would be even more effective, these Chinese corporations would be more willing to use local labour...

By the way, even the link you provided cites poverty and malnutrition as the main cause of fistula. Do you want to treat diseases or prevent them as well as raise the economic status of those in need?


> The Chinese have done more for the 3rd world (any my wife's country) than every Western charity and government combined. You go to my wife's country

A quick perusal of the link below and some of the associated material shows how what you're saying here regarding the wonderfulness and light coming from China is ridiculous:

http://www.cfr.org/china/expanding-china-africa-oil-ties/p95...

> What little debt remains to China is forgiven periodically (China just wrote-off 355 million in debt to this country).

Ah, yes, debt forgiveness. Always a sign that benevolent and highly effective foreign intervention is in progress.


Anecdotes are not data.


No, they're not. Alot of data is flawed though, based on assumptions that usually aren't true... Go on the ground yourself and see what makes a difference though. You can't sit on your computer in a 1st world country and think you know what happens in the 3rd world...


I spent a year living in a third world country but somehow it failed to make me an expert on international aid and development.


that's actually incorrect. The correct quote is "the plural of anecdote is data".

http://blog.revolutionanalytics.com/2011/04/the-plural-of-an...

I take the opposite view of this statistician, because it reminds us that NO data are free of some level of collection bias. Keep in mind I'm an experimentalist, and not a data analyst.


> The unfortunate truth is that most money that goes into charities that operate in 3rd world countries gets spent on logistics, bureaucracy, and gets siphoned off by corrupt governments or stolen by thieves.

My understanding is that he was using givewell.org to help make his discussions along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation founded research into the effectiveness of mosquito nets. Both of which provide some solid evidence of the effectiveness and long term impact.

> A much bigger impact would be to invest in those 3rd world countries (conscientiously), and provide jobs and livelihoods for those people.

This has to be weighed against the compounding returns that can be received from the money being used sooner. For example the mosquito nets save some lives help stabilize a village and allow them to invest more time in improving another aspect of their life. Usually to have this type of impact their is a critical amount of money that has to be invested at once. I do not know where that critical level is, it could as low as tens of thousands of dollars going through the right charity something that the discussed individual does yearly.


In principle, I agree with you. Charities should be valued for their practical benefits and the return they get on their donations rather than the sentimental value they provide their donors. But the article Brooks is responding to makes note of the fact that the man making these donations did significant research about what charity he should give to and found that the most cost-effective way to reduce human suffering was to save lives by donating to a charity that gives away mosquito nets. He is explicitly eschewing the feel-good nature in charity in favor of the utilitarian viewpoint that human suffering should be reduced in the most efficient possible way. The cost, taking into account all the details you mention, is $2500 per life saved.

I don't think it's obvious that $2500 invested in a business does more to reduce human suffering than $2500 in mosquito nets. After all, business, which is always an investment, is more attractive when there is less fear of an early death by malaria.


2500 per life saved? The math doesn't add up. A mosquito net will sell on the street for around $10 (USD or CAD) in a 3rd world country (like where my wife is from - we bought a new one when we were in town - I got bit many times) - and that's with a good chunk of the profit going to the street vendor. That means 250 mosquito nets for $2500. So either mosquito nets prevent malaria for only 1 in 250 people, or a majority of that $2500 is going to waste.

And believe me, I'm not against foreign aid - but stimulating local economies, empowering farmers and local merchants, and even just travelling and spending money is more effective most of the time.


The claim is indeed that, roughly, it takes a few hundred nets to prevent one case of malaria on average. What about that is hard to believe? Nets break, are used imperfectly, and have finite lifetimes.

This issue is complicated and many person-years have been spent analyzing it. See GiveWell. Reasonable people can disagree, but not based on 10 seconds of thought.


People who have actually studied the issue have run the numbers, and the math does add up:

Short version: http://www.againstmalaria.com/WhyNets.aspx

"Each net costs about $3 [prices dropped recentl], lasts for 3-4 years, and protects, on average, two people."

The statistics are well known given the scale of the problem. Every 50-250 nets we put over heads and beds, one child doesn't die.

http://www.givewell.org/international/top-charities/AMF#Cost...

http://www.givewell.org/international/technical/programs/ins...

> So either mosquito nets prevent malaria for only 1 in 250 people, or a majority of that $2500 is going to waste.

Malaria is not always fatal, malaria is not the only threat to life, and malaria is a persistent threat -- to life a life free of malaria requires about 15 nets, each with a lifespan of about 3-5 years.


Also, some children with nets will still contract the disease since it is impractical to remain under the net for the entirety of every night.


I'm not going to get into the pros/cons of this viewpoint, but there was an incredibly popular post called "What is the Monkeysphere?" a few years ago, which was surprisingly deep, considering the site it's on. It describes several of the things that Brooks is saying, and is worth reading:

http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html


That's actually a very deep insightful article, if you look beyond the profanity and monkey analogies...


I couldn't stop laughing when I read this sentence: "Even Gandhi may have had hotel rooms and dead hookers in his past."


What a sad, demoralizing editorial. Was this really a notion David Brooks needed to challenge?


A recent Less Wrong post titled "Earning to Give vs. Altruistic Career Choice Revisited" [1] is relevant here.

[1] http://lesswrong.com/lw/hjn/earning_to_give_vs_altruistic_ca...


That article makes some ... dubious... claims:

> The market mechanism — In the for-profit world, maximizing wealth is often correlated with maximizing positive social impact, and so can be used as a proxy goal for maximizing positive social impact.


By the way, here's an article about the effect of corruption on foreign aid: https://www.devex.com/en/news/30-percent-of-aid-lost-to-corr...

An interesting article about Chinese foreign aid to Africa: http://thestar.blogs.com/worlddaily/2013/05/new-report-detai... http://www.indiana.edu/~rccpb/pdf/Cheng%20RCCPB%2029%20Aid%2...

In my wife's country, you can see the effect of Chinese investment and aid every single day, it's tangible, and affects people's lives. People are employed because of Chinese investments, goods are transported on roads and ferries built/donated by the Chinese, and promising students are given scholarships to study in China.

Now this is not to say that we are bad and the Chinese are great, but rather to compare the impact of charity vs. investment.

Investment leads to self-sufficiency, charity leads to dependence. Investment leads to a permanent influx of wealth, charity is temporary. Allowing people to earn a living, be self-sufficient, properly nourished and healthy is the end goal - this can only be achieved through investment and economic means, charity cannot accomplish this.

Anyhow, I do think the young man described is doing a great thing, however there's a reason the hedge fund pays him so much. His algorithms and know-how will make them alot of money. Alot more than they pay him. Which in turn is more than he'll give away.


> Instead of seeing yourself as one person deeply embedded in a particular community, you may end up coolly looking across humanity as a detached god.

If you're worried about that, you might be better off being concerned about the increasing fragmentation of culture. As I recall, studies show that my generation knows dramatically less about those in their immediate neighbourhoods and are more likely to rate themselves as happy with those neighbourhoods. Or, to put it another way: We don't know those around us, and we don't care to know them or be known by them.

> You might end up enlarging the faculties we use to perceive the far — rationality — and eclipsing the faculties we use to interact with those closest around — affection, the capacity for vulnerability and dependence.

Well, doing something that saps the energy out of you may not leave you with much capacity to get along with others. But the anti-rationality bend to the article seems rather unwarranted. It's not like the idea that smart people are less capable of love is well supported.

> But a human life is not just a means to produce outcomes, it is an end in itself. When we evaluate our friends, we don’t just measure the consequences of their lives. We measure who they intrinsically are. We don’t merely want to know if they have done good. We want to know if they are good.

The two are tried together. You can't see someone's soul. Do we care about what someone is inside because we consider them an ends in themselves, or do we care about what someone is because that's strongly indicative of outcomes? I would tend to suspect that if our guesses of what someone is didn't correlate with outcomes the relevant happy feelings of being around good people wouldn't last very long.


        If you choose a profession that doesn't arouse your everyday passion for
	the sake of serving instead some abstract faraway good, you might end up as a
	person who values the far over the near. You might become one of those people
	who loves humanity in general but not the particular humans immediately
	around. You might end up enlarging the faculties we use to perceive the far
	-- rationality -- and eclipsing the faculties we use to interact with
	those closest around -- affection, the capacity for vulnerability and
	dependence. Instead of seeing yourself as one person deeply embedded in a
	particular community, you may end up coolly looking across humanity as a
	detached god.
Brooks sees this as a disdvantage, but I do not. Frankly, given the levels of irrational thought and behavior we see in the world today, we should be doing everything we can to increase the amount of rationality and far-oriented thinking in the world. I would posit that a world in which people were more like Jason Trigg would be a far better world, on every measurable metric, than the present that David Brooks endeavors to defend. I mean, Trigg, at least, has a goal and a plan to achieve it. The goal is the old utilitarian one of achieving the greatest good for the greatest number. The means is to earn lots of money and spend it on that goal.

        Third, and most important, I would worry about turning yourself into a means
	rather than an end. If you go to Wall Street mostly to make money for charity,
	you may turn yourself into a machine for the redistribution of wealth. You may
	turn yourself into a fiscal policy.
And what's wrong with that? The problem with fiscal policy is not the goal of fiscal policy. It is the coercive means used to achieve it. There is no coercion here. No one is forcing Jason Trigg to give away his wealth. He is doing it of his own volition. Were he older and richer, he'd be lauded as another Carnegie, or another Gates.

        Making yourself is different than producing a product or an external outcome,
	requiring different logic and different means. I'd think you would be more
	likely to cultivate a deep soul if you put yourself in the middle of the
	things that engaged you most seriously. If your profoundest interest is dying
	children in Africa or Bangladesh, it's probably best to go to Africa or
	Bangladesh, not to Wall Street.
That's not true at all. Sure, if you have skills that are needed in Africa or Bangladesh, it's best to go there. But not everyone has such skills. If we all pitched in like Jason Trigg and managed to get a cheap malaria vaccine crafted, say, 3 years from now, we'll have done far more good than if we'd all gone to Bangladesh or Africa volunteering to hand out bed nets. It comes down to the old question: are you worried about doing good or feeling good? If you're worried about doing good, you coldly analyze all the alternatives, and pick the one with the highest impact, even if it has zero visibility whatsoever. If you're worried about feeling good, you do what David Brooks advocates. You go down to Africa, Asia, or where-ever and get warm fuzzies by hoisting the white man's burden.

Rationality is not a sin. Calculation is not a sin. Money is not inherently sinful. All of these things are means, and have the capability to do both great good or great harm, depending on the end to which they're applied. Jason Trigg understands this. David Brooks does not. And that's why I, personally, respect Jason Trigg a lot more than David Brooks.


You make some good points but I think you missed a point of the section containing the middle quote. Jason Trigg is, like all of us, subject to the biases and irrational behaviour that occurs in our brains. The best way to erode the drive to help other people in the way that Jason Trigg has set out to do is to spend all your time around people who feel differently and in a system that rewards the opposite. We are social animals, you can't insulate yourself from the social norms you immerse yourself in.

Nevermind the fact that this whole pseudo-utilitarian premise is just a nice way to ignore the harm your day to day activities may have on those you are donating your money to because any harm is spread out among the entire industry and has so many levels of abstraction that a utilitarian analysis is impossible. The whole premise rests on the assumption that the benefit of his donations outweigh his share of any (likely indirect) harm done by his firm or the industry as a whole to those same areas.

I find the general premise of "work like a sociopath to make so much money you can do good with the money", whatever their forms, to be a textbook example of feeling good rather than doing good. You couldn't design a better system if you tried, all harm is abstracted away and very diffuse while the good feelings are attributable directly to yourself.


> this whole pseudo-utilitarian premise is just a nice way to ignore the harm your day to day activities may have on those you are donating your money to because any harm is spread out among the entire industry and has so many levels of abstraction that a utilitarian analysis is impossible

i'll give it a shot. jason is 1 guy works on a high frequency strategy. the net effect of this is probably something like: 10 low frequency market makers lose their jobs. meanwhile, dozens if not hundreds of malaria deaths are prevented.

i don't know, it seems net beneficial to me.


What harm are you seeing here? When I look HFT I see a zero sum dog eat dog competition between market makers for the money accruing to the sector. That's sort of a sad waste of human talent, but that's different from actual harm. It's not like someone at his level would be involved in the over-leveraging or regulatory arbitrage that contributed to the global financial crisis - though if he does get into a position of that much power I think I'd trust him more than most.


Nevermind the fact that this whole pseudo-utilitarian premise is just a nice way to ignore the harm

I'm curious why you claim that. It seems to me the goal is to redress the harm, not ignore it. You can't claim to know Jason Trigg's true internal motives, can you?

The whole premise rests on the assumption that the benefit of his donations outweigh his share of any (likely indirect) harm done by his firm or the industry as a whole to those same areas.

Nor can you claim that this assumption is false, given that you suggest a utilitarian analysis is impossible.

I find the general premise of "work like a sociopath to make so much money you can do good with the money", whatever their forms, to be a textbook example of feeling good rather than doing good.

By what logic? Do you claim that good isn't being done? You're of course right that harm is being indirectly done, but you have stated that there's no way to show whether more good or more harm is being done. So what exactly is the source of your cynicism?


>> The whole premise rests on the assumption that the benefit of his donations outweigh his share of any (likely indirect) harm done by his firm or the industry as a whole to those same areas.

> Nor can you claim that this assumption is false, given that you suggest a utilitarian analysis is impossible.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle

If the net harm of participating in a certain system for the sake of philanthropy is unknown but potentially significant, I think we ought to be a little careful about it.

Beyond that, even if one cannot prove that working at a hedge fund helps to propagate a system that may be resulting in the very same poverty that one's charitable contributions are meant to mitigate (and I'm not saying this is necessarily the case), we should try to be aware of the potential indirect outcomes of our actions, rather than assuming there is no downside whatsoever.


Doesn't using the Precautionary Principle obviously fail the Precautionary Principle? I mean, if we had followed the Precautionary Principle in the past I can think of a number of important medical advances that would never have occurred, so clearly the Precautionary Principle has great potential to cause harm and I certainly don't think anyone has proven it won't cause harm in this case.

Which is to say, the only way to actually use the Precautionary Principle is to selectively apply it against thing you otherwise don't like. Or you could say that there are certain classes of things like scientific or medical advances that are the only places it should be applied, but this situation clearly isn't one of them.


there is a known (great) benefit of donations towards preventing malaria. a ~$2,500 donation prevents about one death.

there is a unknown (probably small, maybe great) harm in being a small part of the high frequency industry.

seems like a no brainer to me


If 'great' in the first case isn't equal to 'great' in the second, then isn't this an appeal to ignorance?


Help people if you are in a position to help them and they ask. Pretending that going "off the grid" and not being successful empowers anyone is foolishness, you can only affect change if you have power and consequently the powerless suffer. If you cede power to men with lesser ethics on principal your principals are wrong.


I had so much trouble reading this article just trying to interpret if every sentence was serious or some kind of dry Swiftian satire.


None of it was satire, all genuine.


>Sure, if you have skills that are needed in Africa or Bangladesh, it's best to go there. But not everyone has such skills.

That's the key. It sounds like Trigg has found a way to combine his skills with his values in a unique way.


This:

Taking a job just to make money, on the other hand, is probably going to be corrosive, even if you use the money for charity rather than sports cars.


Whether or not Gandhi actually said it, this reminds me of:

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

The author's argument is that doing so might damage or worsen you, but surely it is still a net positive? Furthermore, the "rubbing off on those around you" might work in the other direction too.


I'm interested in how technology can bridge the gap between the developed-world latent willingness to give and developing-world needs.

There are a lot of people out there who are looking for a more meaningful purpose in life. The problem with traditional charities is that the giver feels the downside, through a lighter checkbook, but can't really see the specific upside their donations perform, even in the case of a charity that allocates its resources efficiently.

One way to mitigate this is through transparency in giving. We're more likely to give to a specific disaster relief fund than a general "humanity in Africa" fund, even when both may do just as much good, because we see where the money is going. Watsi expands on this model by bringing transparency in giving down to the level of the individual.

Without internet penetration in the developing world, Watsi's approach wouldn't be logistically possible. As that penetration expands, it will be easier to connect to people in need on a personal rather than an abstract level. I hope that makes us, on average, more charitable givers. :)

EDIT: This was in response to, and as a partial refutation of, the following quote from the article: "If your profoundest interest is dying children in Africa or Bangladesh, it’s probably best to go to Africa or Bangladesh, not to Wall Street." There are many, many people with an interest in global humanity who can't realistically drop everything and change continents.


    "But a human life is not just a means to produce outcomes, it is an end in itself. When we evaluate our friends, we don’t just measure the consequences of their lives. We measure who they intrinsically are. We don’t merely want to know if they have done good. We want to know if they are good."
    
There's no shortage of people who would describe themselves as good (and whose friends would agree). By and large, citizens of the developed world share the same emotional reaction when they hear about children in Zambia dying of malaria. But very few of us sit down, rationally consider what we have to offer, and then put in the hours to do something about it.

We each have our own most efficient skill for volunteer work. If Jason Trigg had gone to nursing school instead of MIT, he might choose to spend most of his time at a local free clinic - or he might get flown overseas for years on donor money. In the absence of any special training, his most efficient skill might be the ability to walk from village to village and physically deliver bed nets, and he might make this a long-term occupation.

I'm confident Trigg would do any of these things. But right now, his most efficient skill happens to be his aptitude at writing high frequency trading algorithms. He uses that skill to bankroll efforts to fight preventable illnesses around the world. He has chosen to spend the majority of his hours doing so, and relatively few on satisfying his own needs. It's an advanced level of volunteerism, and anyone else who follows in his footsteps has my admiration.


Reading about Jason Trigg reminds me of Carlo Lorenzo Garcia of Living Philanthropic (http://livingphilanthropic.tumblr.com), who spent a year giving to a charity a day. He didn't have much to give, but he blogged about it and had quite an impact, inspiring others to give as well.

The way I see it, Brooks is an op-ed writer, and it's his job to come op with something to write. Criticizing something that most people would view as inherently good is a sure way to gain a lot of attention for your op-ed piece. Maybe he truly feels that way (negatively) about Trigg's actions; but IMHO it doesn't matter; he's a writer looking for an audience, and either way, he got it.


Does anyone know if there's science to back this up?

The brain is a malleable organ. Every time you do an activity, or have a thought, you are changing a piece of yourself into something slightly different than it was before. Every hour you spend with others, you become more like the people around you. Gradually, you become a different person... You will become more hedge fund, less malaria.

I've read studies that show the more you expose yourself to a song or a person, the more you'll like it/him, even if you started off hating it/him. But that doesn't mean you become more like the person.


Perhaps a comment on the original article rather than this response article, but by "beating Wall Street", you're not just beating Goldman et al., you're (for a large part) beating the pension funds that hard working citizens put their savings in. Sure, you have the right to play Robin Hood, but the author has to realize it is not just mindless corporations he is taking money from.


This is a point worth considering that the other comments seem to ignore. If you embezzle a million dollars from a charity and give half of it back, that doesn't make you an altruistic person. (Saying that just as a thought experiment, not saying that's what's hapenning here.)

For the justification to hold up, you probably need to believe some mixture of the following:

- high frequency trading adds value to society comparable to the amount of money you make

- more money should be transferred from the first world to the third world than people are currently voluntarily willing to give


If you accept that the number of people Wall Street employs is bounded, and if you accept that someone else would have this kids' job and probably do comparably at it, then he is not taking from workers pension funds. He's taking from Wall Street money that would have remained in Wall Street (or gone to buy a fancy car or house) and sending it to Africa.


This is really quite offensive.

One thing that I hear from foreign aid groups is requests for money. And some hardworking person is giving most of his money to them. Well and good. I hope he can choose groups that are corruption-resistant.

And this cad from the NYT claims its better to go be another aid worker and beg money than to execute what you know and leverage the power of money gained from that?

Absolute claptrap.


Here's a thought experiment: Think of a large organization that you find rather immoral or generally harmful. It could be a corporation, it could be a government. Now imagine that all the employees of this organization contribute a sizable portion of their resulting income to charity. Would you feel that the employees are, overall, acting morally?


I'm not convinced that morality can be added/substracted ala forum karma, so I question the presupposition of your question. :-/

I would say, however, that a company which damaged other people's livelihoods, but on their own time worked to ensure that the displaced people had other ways to live was acting reasonable right.

---

Many things we do fall in a moral grey area. Suppose my genetic computation software that I've released as open source is used to optimize logistics for (say), a concentration camp in North Korea. Boy, that makes me feel a bit ill. On the other hand, I did not exercise the choice to choose to specifically give away my software to that particular group. But it could, theoretically, be used for that: it's a github download away. Here's another one; suppose the company I work for sells devices (let's say these devices are internet routers) to Foxconn, who uses it in a plant where they work people for excruciatingly long hours. Well.... Is selling routers harmful? No. But is supporting the exploiting of the working people harmful? Yes. Can I personally refuse to work on the router? Sure. But that's a generic tech. Can I personally refuse to work on the sale? I think that's within reason, but as an engineer, I doubt I'll have that luxury.

In other words, for a lot of mundane businesses, I think it's very grey.


Ugh, the horse he seems to be beating: "Don't try to do something good, because it might not work!"

Depressing read.


Best part:

> A human life is not just a means to produce outcomes, it is an end in itself.


Not really. It's just goofy old Kant. Not the goofiest thing he wrote -- that would be his three principles of morality, or his rampant misogyny -- but still, pretty silly.

If a human life is an end in itself, then euthanasia is the worst crime. Killing in self-defense, something to be condemned. Contraception becomes immoral. Sex for pleasure, and homosexuality, sinful. Bear in mind that those are not moral dictates I just pulled out of my ass, for maximum effect. That's what Kant believed in.

Well, to be fair, the Chinaman (I prefer the term Confucianist) of Königsberg also believed in the death penalty. So much for human life as the end of morality.


As I read the article the saying "lift where you stand" came to mind.

Some people believe that in order to change the world they need to be a genius... to find peace they need to become a Buddhist monk... to save a starving African child they should live in to Africa to do it. I think that we can do all those things as we are now. We can affect positive change when we "lift where we stand." That's what that kid is doing.


This is a thinly veiled censure of the kid for being too weak. In Brooks' opinion it is apparently a weakness to sacrifice one's self for the sake of others.

A huge portion of the US would agree, which seems extremely confusing to me given that this is tends to be the same segment that is highly Christian. Their Bible must have been different from the one I had growing up.




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