People, especially highly successful people, view charity as giving money away. Musk's inspirational projects seems much more appealing by comparison. There is a lot of truth in the idea that doing something like colonizing mars could do more good for humanity than giving people enough money to eat for a day or a week. Even what Bill Gates is doing has little impact on people's daily lives here. Eradicating polio is the most noble of goals, but it takes place far away and the benefits are difficult to see.
I think the best solution is to make charity cool again. FDR turned giving money away into something that was literally awesome, using the Tennessee Valley Authority to reshape the landscape with bridges and dams. 21st century technology allows us to have a much larger impact on the lives of many more people, regardless of where they live. Elon Mush doesn't have a monopoly on big ideas. As a technology community it's up to us to come up with projects that help people in need while still capturing our imaginations.
It doesn't matter if big problems are solved for profit or solved for charity. What matters is that they get solved. The danger is that fiduciary responsibilities will get in the way of doing good, working families will take a backseat to boards of directors and the rich will get richer  while everyone else struggles to keep even. This is why it would be better to make charity more interesting as opposed to giving money to dynamic and inspirational profiteers. It's always been difficult to combine making money with being of benefit to the world, but we need to raise the entrepreneurial and creative bar now more than ever. When one of the authors of "Don't Be Evil" decides that his money is better off in the hands of private corporations it should be a warning to all of us.
The people who say stuff like this are always far, far away from the experience of not having anything to eat. It could be true that Musk's projects in the long run could have do more good for humanity in the long run, but also in a different sense. How is colonizing Mars, or having electric cars does more good for a whole continent that hasn't solved dozens of problems well below any technological/energetic one? What I'm saying is, it might do more good for the developed world, but not for Africa. Bill Gates was right when he criticized Google's balloon internet project. What the african population really needs is different. To say otherwise is to be too removed from the real, basic, almost elementary problems that are still present in the continent.
(edit: I meant no offense to the parent with my first sentence. But I've been to Africa, and I live in a 3rd world country with some very, very poor regions. Space programs have very little effect on life there.)
If Africa's land can't feed the people there, for some intrinsical reason, then feeding people in Africa is unsustainable, and we'd better move them elsewhere.
If Africa's land is capable of feeding the people there, then the real question is: Why can't it today? Are we going for the cause, or for the symptom?
It could be that by eliminating hunger temporarily we'd start a virtuous cycle of some kind, but it'd be a totally random side-effect.
In the grand scheme of things, feeding people for hunger-squashing sake, while noble and charitable and christian-good, amounts to very little. Colonizing Mars is the first guarantee that humans don't go the way of the Dodo in a Great Dying event. Earth had five of those, and we still have to prove ourselves less stupid than dinosaurs.
Both charities and corporations are political economic vehicles. Inherently preferring one over another isn't rational. Charities incentivise participation through altruism and the promise of political access. Corporations through self-interest and power. Corporations can make water pumps as easily as charities can find frivolous ends. If we are saying charities are less efficient than corporations, that is one thing.
I think the statement is more about time horizons. Governments and foundations have long inherent time horizons. But short electoral and fund-raising cycles turn them myopic. Charities, similarly, must raise funds on an on-going basis. This makes them, on average, more short-sighted than even corporations. Particularly corporations backed by horizon-seeking visionaries such as Elon. Page is not denigrating the work of charities per se. He is observing that today is being kept at the expense of tomorrow. The portfolio deserves balancing, and the best way to do that, he thinks, is through long-viewed companies.
Some more libertarian-minded folks would probably make the point that the government is never actually giving away money, it got that money by obtaining it from somewhere else. Regardless, government spending is definitely not charity in any traditional sense.
Not to mention, that was a very difficult time. Spending money on a project like that was perhaps necessary just to keep things going. Getting back to your original point, can you make spending cool, or transfer of money from the wealthy to the poor cool by private means (charity) when it isn't required?
Almost everyone giving away money got it from somewhere else.
Freedom of Contract is one of the most important concepts of free market capitalism. People must have the right to review the terms of contract, decide to sign or not and be held to the terms, and there should be penalties for breach on both sides and conditions for dissolution of the contract.
The "Social Contract" you are talking about is no contract at all. It is imposed by force, you are given no chance to sign, a false choice (red or blue!) and only 1/385millionth of a say in it. There is no remedy for breach and no conditions for dissolution. It is the very opposite of voluntary exchange and mutual agreement.
DO NOT conflate the two, or go back to whatever liberal arts school terribly educated you.
(If I repeat the word "wrong" a few more times, will it improve my opinion?)
The mistake of both libertarians and liberals in these loud arguments is that they focus on the top (national government) where the real social contracts start locally. If you start to build up a system of local social contracts; well, if it quacks like a government, it's a government, even if you'd rather call it a Homeowner's Association with Guns.
But please don't use "social contract", it's just a liar's word. It is neither social or contractual what people do under a "social contract". It is naked force: "Do what I say or I will hurt you".
Since you have a PhD, I'll assume that you are not so lazy you can't separate these things in your brain.
Democracy, augmented with some anti-majoritarian safeguards, is a reasonable way of organizing society on a basis that generally advances overall liberties, and social-contract theory provides a reasonable philosophical basis. Libertarian freedom-of-contract is essentially a right to indentured servitude with only the barest attention paid to anything resembling actual real-world liberty or genuine consent, and only people who are either primitivist hippies living in the woods, or malicious exploiters, promote it as a fundamental good. And also anyone who disagrees with this paragraph is dumb.
Anyway, technologue has a point in suggesting that the "social contract" is worthy of skepticism. And I, for one, will join him/her in rejecting the notion of nebulous implicit contracts of this type. When considering this, I'm reminded of what Thomas Paine said about the absurdity of the dead being able to bind the living.
It's the living that bind the living.
Specifically, previous but still-living generations. No one comes of age in a vacuum. If you inherit the benefits (or situations) of the previous generations, you don't just inherit the good stuff, you inherit the debts of the previous generation as well.
Looking way, way back, one can say that the first settlers in a given region might have formed a consensual contract, and the "social" contract is what each continuous generation inherits.
3. Declare victory.
Check their comment history.
For the vast majority of people, contracts provided by the market are an even worse false choice: Maslow's Hierarchy imposes needs on every individual, fixing the supply of labor at a lower bound which is empirically observed to lie far above the demand for it, thereby commoditizing the unskilled worker and coupling his salary to the minimum dictated by his Maslow needs rather than to the value he creates. The difference goes to his employer, and a non-governmental tax is exacted upon each of his purchases that is distributed to local capital-holders according to their wealth, exacerbating the imbalance in an exponential feedback loop. There is no remedy when his employer resorts to wage theft (frequently), because the justice system requires time and capital that he does not have to achieve the simplest forms of redress. There are conditions for dissolution, but he fears them, because written between the lines are an economic certainty that will dash him repeatedly against the rocky shores of unemployment and homelessness.
This is a laughable notion of consent. When did he agree to have Maslow's needs imposed upon him? When did he agree to abide by the rules of a game that systematically disadvantages him? When did he agree to initial conditions that give him far less than 1/400millionth of a share in economic power? This is the very opposite of what someone with a choice would have chosen.
The only things this hypothetical worker has going for him came from the government: minimum wage laws (and yes, I believe these are a good thing, since wages in commoditized labor markets tend towards the lower end rather than the higher end of the economically feasible range), worker safety standards, subsidized food and health care, education for his children, and so on. None of this is speculation: we can look to history to see what happened when government did not "intrude" on these areas of life.
You are describing a universe which only exist in an imaginary island where all the Galts are living. "Freedom of Contract" works when there are one or two similar-sized parties involved, but it does not scale well beyond that. Try renting a car with a customer agreement tailored for your liking; or try negotiating custom EULA with vendor of whatever browser you are using to post your comments.
The term "social contract" means whatever the person using the term wants it to mean.
Not the same thing. At all.
[^1]: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_trans... see: preamble.
 More directly to your point, it's irrelevant what anyone thinks is "letting" government "steal", the "thievery" is enabled by laws which are created by elected representatives, therefore "the people" (aka government) is directly responsible for taxation.
Democratic governments don't even enter into that frame of reference unless you want to have a governmental system where you elect a personal representative.
What about businesses that made their money from violations of treaties with the Native Americans? Or from contracts to organize the data necessary for the Holocaust?
What about the people who ended up with a leg up in life due to inheriting any of the ill earned wealth above?
Or do you write most if not all off as thieves?
Some problems have boring (and known) solutions that are never going to 'capture the imagination'. Like clean water, sanitation and vaccines. I think it's dangerous to create a culture where we forgo a project simply because it doesn't sound exciting. Impact should be what matters.
Larry Page can do what he wants with his money but he's completely wrong to conflate capitalism and philanthropy.
Bill Gates and Malaria: Trying to find a cure (vaccine) and is treating the symptoms in the interim.[^1]
Would you want to "find yourself" in that statement?
There's a good argument the other way too, with malaria holding people back economically: http://www.givinggladly.com/2013/08/malaria-one-trick-ponies...
Being a wealthier nation does help to develop the public heath initiatives and infrastructure, though the reasons for the poverty in sub-Saharan Africa are in no small part tied to the many centuries of exploitation by wealthier colonial nations. Much of post-colonial Africa started on the path of independence 50-60 years ago after centuries of resources being exploited and populations subjugated, and some areas were still under colonial rule in the 70s. The IMF and other post-colonial organizations have managed to institutionalize western imperialist-style economic exploitation without needing to bother with military occupation. It will take a very long time for those countries to recover from centuries of abuse (much ongoing) and begin to develop a stable national infrastructure that could support the kind of economic growth and the ability to manage natural resources responsibly.
"Technological singularity" - nerd rapture magical thinking won't cure malaria.
These things are well known and proven beyond doubt, yet they just cannot seem to be adopted by countries who need them. It's like a tribe who all have a treatable disease but insist on talking to the witchdoctor instead.
Benevolent dictatorship is an excellent form of governance. The problem is it doesnt scale well and is hard to extend beyond the life of the dictator.
Instead of going to mars, Page could just buy houses for 1 million poor families in the U.S. That would probably have a greater effect.
Ah yes, the goto phrase of every shitrag that calls themselves a newspaper.
"I've heard some people say drinking my own urine replenishes the body with electrolytes."
A lot of "truth"?
Far-flung speculation is more like it.
A major point of SpaceX is distributing humankind so that such a thing wouldn't wipe us all out.
If something wipes out Earth, we're screwed. It was nice being here, but it's over. Whatever made Earth so uninhabitable that it makes a colony on a barren planet the only remaining splinter of humanity, isn't going to leave Earth in a recolonisable state.
It's not to say we shouldn't reach for the stars, just that I think the justification "save the species!" is massively overblown. If you really do want to "save the species!", then you're going to be far more effective in spending that space travel money in other areas: identifying events that cause global catastrophes and working on technologies to subvert them. Sending a person to another planet is amazingly expensive; setting up a self-sufficient colony even moreso; and setting up a colony that is capable of self-sufficiently colonising other planets more expensive again.
Not to mention that the social elites that will get sent to these colonies (shipping people is expensive, so you want to front-load skilled people) are also going to have to want to rear the number of children required to repopulate - and if you're not significantly expanding the population with each generation in such a case, you're making another extinction even all the more easy.
What might begin as an underground colony full of social elites or skilled professionals required to run the infrastructure could result in a fully-habitable environment.
But if you don't plant the seeds and experiment with this, then it certainly won't get anywhere. Elon Musk is planting the seeds.
When he says "back-up the species" (not /save/, one would note), he's referring to planting the seeds for a long-term habitation which very well could be self-sufficient and continue progressing in the event of an extinction-level occurrence here on Earth.
No amount of innovation is going to allow the private space industry to terraform and colonize another planet, ever. I'm sorry but that's just techno-utopian babble.
Rather than treating it as an inevitability. And fantasizing about what we can do to help the 0.001% who will be rich enough to buy themselves a way out.
Elon Musk seems more focused on affecting meaningful change and driving technology forward. He's using corporations as a vehicle to do that and making money is an incidental side-effect.
If profit was his primary motive, there would have been many other ways to invest his fortune from PayPal which entailed far lower risk and potentially significant gain.
Could also be rephrased as "I'm talking out of my ass because if I gave it any serious thought I would realize there was a big problem in putting all my 'change the world eggs' into one basket".
And to those who say "well he didn't mean that literally" then apply that same logic anytime any famous person says something w/o thinking it through.
Yeah, like the FDR war bonds to finance war activities in WWII in order to burn Japan and Germany (civilians included) to the ground ? Using even popular children cartoons for propaganda : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99zmpod_zbE
Seriously, if you want to use an example of someone who did good things, choose actually a good person in the first place.
Charitable organizations are not effective enough, that's a separate issue.
How about doing neither and instead use the money to solve some of the problems the earth suffers from today? Colonizing Mars, seriously, wtf ...
Here's a wikipedia article dedicated to them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_spin-off_technologies
And here's the mandatory relevant XKCD: https://xkcd.com/1232/
I think a lot of problems can be solved using a for profit model. I think, overall, it tends to be for the best if you can find a for profit model that is viable for the problem in question. I think the problem is not that it is for profit, I think the problem is that some for profit models are just not well suited to solving certain problems.
This is an idea I have thought a great deal about. I have a serious medical condition. I have spent the last 13 years getting myself well when doctors claim it cannot be done. I have come to believe that one of the problems is that doctors make their money off of treating illness. They do not actually make their money off of keeping you well. The more your treatment drags out, the more money they make.
I have heard that in China, they put a doctor on retainer and only pay him when they are well. So doctors in China only make money if you are well. I do not know how accurate this is or how effective, but, as someone who is getting well in part by avoiding the medical establishment, I feel very strongly that our current "health care system" is very broken and one of the things wrong with it is not that it is monetized but how it is monetized.
I have thought long and hard about how to try to share information about what worked for me. Given the negative reception my story gets almost everywhere I go, it may not be possible to help anyone else. But one thing I am clear about: I do not want to be "a consultant" and monetize the information much the way doctors get paid. Doctors in the U.S. mostly trade short term gains for long term costs. I got well by trading long term gains for short term costs as much as I could. When doctors put people like me on strong drugs, the drugs have a long handout listing the horrible side effects. But then as people like me get sicker and sicker, it is blamed on our disorder, not on the drug side effects. I have no desire to join doctors in following this model that allows them to charge big bucks and claim credit for the short term improvements while blaming long term deterioration on my condition. I believe that is a failed system and I believe the way it is monetized is part of why it goes down like that.
I think charity also tends to fail. Think of the very negative connotation for the phrase "charity case." I don't think we help people that much when we first have to write them off as losers before we do anything for them. Given that I have been homeless for over two years and left the soup kitchens and most other homeless services as soon as I could, yeah, I think my opinion on that is informed and not merely pontification of an unclued privileged person trying to justify not giving money away.
I don't have an answer. I mostly cannot get people to even engage me in discussion on the topic (of how I got well). But I agree much more with your statement about solving big problems and not caring if it is for profit or for charity than I do with your idea of making charity cool again. I do not really want charity. Charity has helped keep me alive but it is not going to get me off the street or restore me to a middle class lifestyle. I need to be taken seriously as a competent professional to achieve that. Being viewed as "a charity case" is the opposite of the professional respect and business connections I would prefer to achieve.
> I don't think we help people that much when we first have to write them off as losers before we do anything for them.
I'm not really sure how to respond to this. Who's writing them off as "losers"? I'm pretty sure charitable organizations don't consider the people they help to be losers. If you're complaining that people look down on the poor, that's certainly an unfair stigma, but why does this mean charity isn't helpful?
Yes, I have a lot of criticisms of it. I was talking to my son the other day about something and he gave me the supporting example that a charity in Africa found that if it gave away mosquito netting to poor moms to protect their babies from diseases carried by mosquitoes, they typically sold it. But if they sold the netting for 50 cents, which was half a day's wages for these women, then proper use of the netting shot up from something like 10% to something like 80%.
Giving away things for free tends to undermine self esteem and self determination, tends to come with a lot of controlling conditions, and tends to be very poor quality. I left the soup kitchens as soon as I could in part because the food is terrible and it exposed me to concentrations of people who were often ill and actively smoking cigarettes next to me. Staying away from sick people and cigarette smoke and eating good quality food is part of how I stay out of the ER.
I could go on but I don't really see much reason to. I have a lot of very practical reasons. It is not merely some kind of negative psychological reaction. It is a very well reasoned position, based in part on having done a lot of volunteer work when I was younger and a lot of reading about such topics.
I don't think we should eliminate all charities but I do think that the more we can find other ways to solve problems, the better those solutions are likely to be. Charity tends to produce pretty bad solutions which keep people limping along and generally does not have a good track record of lifting people out of poverty.
Regardless, I agree there's room for improvement in terms of increasing the effectiveness of charitable operations.
Since you indicated that you weren't sure if that is true, I can assure that it is not. Most doctors in China are paid formally by salary, and under the table by patients who can afford bribes on a fee-for-service basis.
Have an upvote.
Insurance works off averages, so it works more efficiently the more people buy in. Logically then, the most efficient health insurance is where everyone buys in. Hence, the most efficient system is nationalized health insurance, which comes with many other benefits - for example, it lends massive bargaining power to the people for reasonable drug prices.
You state in your original comment "I feel very strongly that our current "health care system" is very broken and one of the things wrong with it is not that it is monetized but how it is monetized." This implies that you don't believe in socialized medicine. What in your opinion is wrong with it?
In the US, I probably would have gotten a large cash settlement out of the deal. But a nationalized system like that in most other first-world countries does not require tort-reform because effectively the commitment to your health, cradle to grave, is a given.
Paying doctors piece-meal, like assembly-line workers or auto mechanics, creates perverse incentives and only tangentially works towards good outcomes.
I worked in insurance for over five years. They are not in the business of taking care of people. They are more like some version of Las Vegas but all the "winners" first have to lose an arm or get run over by a car. I am not a huge fan of insurance.
I was a homemaker for many years. I also was studying to go into urban planning when my life got derailed by divorce and health issues. Urban planners used to plan pedestrian-friendly spaces in part with an eye towards health of the community members. I have also read a fair amount about the differences between how Europe handles things and how the U.S. does. Europe is generally more family-friendly and people friendly, which is good for the health of it's people.
Medicine is not about making people healthy. Eating right, exercising and living right are what foster good health. Medicine is crisis management when things go wrong. Viewing medicine as "health care" is fundamentally fubarred. You cannot crisis manage your way to good health. It simply cannot be done. Good health is built over a long period of time, with every bite you put in your mouth, every time you fail to become a drug addict or alcoholic, every time you find a way to get your sexual needs met that does not expose you to high risk of infection from strangers with unknown personal habits, etc.
So when the U.S. reduces discussions of "fixing our health care system" to the question of "who should pay for it?", the situation is already essentially hopeless. It cannot be fixed from that starting point.
As for who should pay for medical care (which is not, in my mind, "health care"): The government. Insurance is not in the business of taking care of people. It is a numbers game and, like Las Vegas, in order for the house to even keep it's doors open, much less make the occasional big payout, there have to be a great many more losers than winners. It's simple math in that regard and the actuaries look out for that end of it like vigilant hawks. And when the actuaries decide the company is paying customers too much money for X benefit on X policy, the policy gets sent to the legal department and they "clarify" what the paragraph in question means and the claims department gets retrained to "pay this benefit correctly" and we start sending denial notices to the customer for things we used to cover. That will never, ever, ever, ever, ever make this country healthier.
And I worked for a good insurance company with a very ethical reputation. From what I gather, a lot of other insurance companies are far more gruesome.
Perhaps thousands of years ago, but this is not the case, even among the current crop of naturopaths.
Besides that you could not likely afford the retainer for any serious injury treatment, leaving you back where you started.
Never lived in a China like this.
There is? Tell me, how would colonizing Mars help the average man?
Frankly I can't think of any higher calling to donate to than environmental groups. Now there are good groups and bad groups (both nationally and local) - and it's up to you to do your research.
Well, I guess if our environment goes to hell, building a colony on mars might be a good idea. But somehow I doubt the "average" man would be able to afford a house on Mars.
This worries me. It's like saying that because the people affected aren't here, in America, it's not worth doing.
In a free market, money is made by providing a benefit.
This means the capital that a shareholder represents is only ever set to work to meet financial interests. It's up to the shareholder to then divert their profit from their own investments into charities. This seems very inefficient to me.
My solution is to include a much richer mechanism for representing shareholder interests locked into the company charter. Shareholders could vote on what things they valued, and on values that they assign to those things. Then, instead of a quarterly bottom line that represents monetary value, the bottom line would also include those externalities that the shareholders voted on.
For example, you could have a company where most investors were patriots who cared about the economy. They could vote to assign a value to every month of employment that the company provides to an American worker. So, when the bottom line was calculated, each full time worker was treated like an extra source of income. This means when the board of directors considers whether or not to close down a factor and outsource to Mexico, the reduction in costs has to justify the expense to the patriot virtues of the investors.
The obvious objection is that if you only valued jobs you might run a company into the ground. However, running the company into the ground also gets rid of all the jobs. So it's not something the board of directors would want to do. Balancing short term gains over long term company growth is something directors have to do anyway.
This example really illustrates the power of this approach. In our current system, a company can move a factory to Mexico even if all its shareholders want to keep jobs in the USA. Those shareholders could then earn a significant amount of dividends from the move, and then try to invest those dividends charitably in order to express their patriotic virtues. However, no charity is going to be able to replace all those lost jobs for the price of those dividends. Charities just aren't efficient and reliable enough.
A valuable addition to the charter would be to make it so that the votes and results were made public. People who claim themselves job-creators would be able to put their money where their mouth is - and called to account if they failed to do so.
No, charity doesn't need your branding efforts. It needs accountability.
Throwing money at a generic "charity" initiative is the best way to see your money disappear in the pockets of a handful of corrupted individuals.
When giving for charity, you need to be able to see what exactly results from what you gave.
Say, $10 million required to build a hospital with this and that, all written in specs, and by year 2016. People pool money, and if the funding goal is reached, the providers keep the people taking the money accountable to build the hospital to specs.
And not "give for charity", feel good, go back to your life, and achieve absolutely nothing because no one is held accountable.
The latter is what 90% of charity is like. It's only remotely better than throwing money at lottery tickets and hoping it results in good things.
And then you're surprised why Larry Page has the common sense to say the things he says.
I believe Vinod Khosla has discussed his dislike of charities.
Someone like Elon is taking a dollar and turning it into $100. Where does it make more sense to put the money?
Going to Mars may be sexy, but stomping out Polio makes millions of lives better.
Its hard to realize that, I suppose, when your life is in the bubble of a limo. That's honestly what makes Bill Gates second act so amazing.
The asteroid was the root cause of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. The direct cause was ecological collapse.
To oversimplify things a bit, the impact event kicked up enough pollution to undercut the food chain by starving out anything that relied on photosynthesis, which starved out the herbivores, which starved out the carnivores and omnivores.
Typical asteroids are not large enough to wipe out all human life in one go. A large impact could kill billions between direct fatalities and follow-on deaths via starvation and plagues, but your survivor population would still easily exceed anything we can sustainably place on Mars (or any other extraterrestrial location) within the next few hundred years.
Even if it completely refactored modern civilization, you'd probably see some population capable of organizing and recovering a sustainable society. And that is with mass starvation, with plagues due to loss of sanitation infrastructure, with conventional farming being disrupted for years, and with the assumption that some idiot decides it's time for a preemptive nuclear war.
Furthermore, any sustainable Martian colony you could produce could equally well be isolated in a hardened bunker on Earth, if surviving a large asteroid impact were the only concern.
To wipe out all humanity with one impact, you would need to hit the Earth with something in a slightly larger class - say, the Moon.
No, if an object as large as the moon hit the earth - the earth might even be destroyed (but probably not). To wipe out humanity a body of the size between 10-100 miles in diameter would probably suffice. Fortunately near-earth orbits with a body of that size is rare.
I'd imagine polluted water and air with still some flora and fauna would still be better than none of those things.
Start by building a self-sustaining base in the middle of the desert. If you manage to do that you'll be improving the life on Earth for a lot of human being. When all deserts, including Antartica are terraformed, colonized, and we run out of space on Earth, then maybe we can feel the need to colonize mars.
Before than, it's just dreaming about living in a sci-fi movie.
No one has said there aren't other things worth working on. And maybe they are more important short-term (even Musk has admitted this much). So: by all means, go forth and work on them!
If Elon is willing to step down and run a non-profit to get to Mars, I'm all for it. But I suspect he isn't willing to do that. This is about profit - which isn't bad - but its not charity and therefore is very unlikely in the end to help the bottom 10%.
700,000,000 (bottom 10%) divide Bill Gate's net worth (70 billion) and they will all get $100 each.
The only way to improve the lives of the poor is through capitalism. We've seen this in China: "Between 1981 and 2008 ... 600 million people were taken out of poverty."  The profit motive is an incredible force.
Btw, I say this as a huge fan of Gate's charity.
Nobody's suggesting we get rid of capitalism. But effective participation in capitalism requires quite a lot that capitalism itself isn't good at providing. Government, for example. Freelance government, like warlords and mob bosses, isn't great for economic development. Good parenting and a stable home life are not things that capitalism is producing a lot of. Education and public health have very long payback times and difficult-to-capture benefits, making the ROI pretty low. That's made worse by people using capitalism's mechanisms to profit from destroying value, and a very short-term focus driven by public markets' focus on the next quarter's earnings.
As an example of what a more subtle approach gives you, look at Brazil's Bolsa Familia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolsa_Fam%C3%ADlia
They are basically giving money to the poor: $13 per month per kid who stays vaccinated and in school. Studies suggest it's having a substantial impact on poverty and inequality. So yes, giving modest amounts of money (0.5% of Brazil's GDP) can reduce poverty because helps recipients to prepare themselves to participate effectively in a free-market economy.
With all due respect, speak for yourself.
Nobody is proposing just giving out money to help poor people. You do what Gates is doing. Target specific problems. If you read his annual letter this year (if you haven't it's worth it) he makes the point that by preventing death through things like Malaria, Polio etc. there are several knock on effects. Less children will die and if you can educate them you have more people to push the economy forward. Families will also reduce in size (people will have less children as the ones they have are less likely to die) and the problem of over population will be improved. I think these are some things that neither money alone nor capitalism can solve but if we can solve the underlying problems as Gates is doing capitalism can take over.
What I don't understand is where this 'wealth' is coming from. You say no one can provide it now. But it's seemingly coming out of thin air (your chinese example: What happened? The people are the same. Resources are probably comparable. Building an iPhone in CN generates money .. how?).
The whole big picture, macroscopic view never made sense for me. The 'click' is missing. It seems that this wealth is more or less as arbitrary as shares (look to me).
Now move to the industrial agricultural age. The same food (better really) that it used to take 90% of the labor of the country to grow now can be done by 5% of the people. Instead of having only enough surplus to support a few guys making clothing or building tools, most of society can go off and find things to do with their time to trade to the farmers for food and to each other for whatever everyone else is doing. Now all the good and services of the country not only include a wide variety of food, clothing, and tools, but it also includes concerts, amusement parks, computers, dishwashers -- all of which can be traded for the very same bushels of corn or herds of cattle that the agrarian society was producing.
All of this is very simplified but it should give you the basic idea. Bill Gates can give the global poor money and they can use that to import goods and services made elsewhere, but that's just a temporary change. If you really want the societies to be richer, you need the people in that society to be doing things with their time that are of great value to others. That's what increases the total amount of wealth in the world.
We consume and process things to make other things.
A tree by itself has limited value to a human, but if you process it into a house, it has a lot more value to a human.
Lets say you need 100 trees to make a house. 100 trees is worth $10,000.
A person with the job of chopping trees (a lumberjack) can cut down 300 a year, so they make $30,000 a year in income.
Lets say the lumberjack wants to buy a house.
A house is worth $20,000 to him. He pays a firm to build him a house for $20,000. The firm buys 100 trees from someone for $10,000 and then turns them into a house for the lumberjack. That extra $10,000 they received is called "value add". They added value because humans (the employees of the firm) had to turn the wood into a house.
This is what the economy basically is, and you can be in two roles:
1: The resource extractor
2: The resource processor
Or in other words, you can be the wood or the flame.
How to do you make a big fire?
Get more and better resources (like wood and air)
Start fires in more places than one (parallel processing of the wood)
Start hotter fires (blowtorch vs a match)
Pretty much all of the above is controlled by laws and policy of the government. The citizenry are like the flame - they have innate, unfaltering properties. It is the role of the government (the person trying to build a big fire) to know these properties of the citizenry, and setup the right conditions so they burn their brightest.
First, you can go from idleness to producing - if I sit on my ass I produce no wealth; if I assemble an iPhone then I create wealth since an iPhone is more useful&valuable than the unassembled components.
Second, you can have great differences of production efficiency. You can make the exact same people with the same effort generate order(s) of magnitude more wealth per year by making different products, making the same products more efficiently, or combining people with capital(=machinery, automation, economies of scale).
Third, trade generally creates wealth as such. There are classic examples, but the sense is that re-distributing tasks to the places where they're done relatively more efficiently allows both parties to have much more goods&services than if they'd be isolated and didn't trade.
The point is that there can be huge differences of how much wealth a person is generating, and those differences form the differences in national wealth. Simply "giving people fishes" to go on the same way doesn't generate wealth. "Teaching the people to fish" does generate wealth.
And there are two exceptions, where charity is key - first, if people are starving, then feeding them allows them to keep their means of future wealth generation, instead of eating their seeds and milkable animals, and selling their tools. And second, if you "give a fish" to kids&young adults, then that enables them to "learn fishing" and generate more wealth in the future instead of being stuck in ineffective menial jobs (that don't generate much wealth for them nor their employers) from early childhood till death.
Wealth is the result of
- Raw materials (natural resources)
- Capital (building the factories)
- Labor (running the factories)
- Technology (figuring out better ways of doing things
Obviously, technology is improving all the time. We're figuring out better ways of production, so that more can be created even with fewer of the other inputs.
Indeed, while we're stuck with pretty much the original set of raw materials, technology lets us figure out things to do with stuff that we never even realized was a raw material.
Capital is always building on itself. That is, given adequate maintenance, you have all the factories that you had last year. Plus you build new ones this year. So capacity is always increasing.
Labor is always increasing in two ways. First, the population of the world grows, so we've got more people to do the work. But more importantly, the more people we've got to divide the work amongst, the more each person can specialize. And the more each can specialize, the more efficiently he can work at it.
So all these factors work to bring greater wealth to the world.
At the start of this process, there was 100$ and maybe 5$ of materials. After the transaction, the 100$ is still there, but there is also a chair worth 100$ in circulation. So 105$ of assets turned into 200$.
Look at the Internet when it was "non profit". It sat there for years in universities and labs, availing the lower 10% not at all. When the profit-motive was allowed to explore the possibilities, the Internet exploded. Now the Internet is available fairly universally.
EDIT: correct me if I am wrong, but YC doesn't expect to make a RIO with Watsi. They just want to make the world a better place. It is a donation not an investment. Most VCs are not that nice.
EDIT: EDIT: Found it: "Since some people were confused when we funded Watsi, I'd better clarify that the money we're putting into the nonprofits will be a charitable donation, rather than an investment in the narrow sense. We won't have any financial interest in them." Link here: http://ycombinator.com/np.html
There are a variety of ways you could structure things. A non-profit could take loans or sell bonds. I've heard talk of a pay-for-success model for public-good bonds.  The non-profit could create a for-profit subsidiary, like Mozilla does. A non-profit could enter into a joint venture (e.g., with an aerospace company).
I think the main barrier to approaches like this is attitudes like yours: for-profit people often have a hard time of steering by the public good. And, of course, the mirror attitude, where non-profit people are suspicious of anything that looks like capitalism. But there's no necessary conflict; the whole theory of capitalism is that companies are making the world better. And if you want to make the world better, the best way to do that is sustainably, and for-profit companies have done a lot of great thinking on how to stay in the black.
Disclaimer: HUGE Watsi fan.
I thought that was called a donation.
In the context of this quote:
"You’re working because you want to change the world and make it better; if the company you work for is worthy of your time, why not your money as well? We just don’t think about that. I’d like for us to help out more than we are."
His philosophy could make sense.
>"if the company you work for is worthy of your time, why not your money as well?"
Because you're being compensated for your time? Giving money to public companies is giving money to shareholders, not to a cause or an ideology. What's to stop a corporate raider from stirring up a revolt for disbursement of the cash/share buybacks?
He can be philanthropic AND support Musk, false equivalence on his part. Set up a foundation for a specific cause that invests in Tesla stock and has a defined budget for every year based on stock performance, dividends etc. I'd like to read his full comments but on face value it seems like a very silly thing to say.
An catastrophic asteroid impact is a low daily probability, with an impact of up to one (one being complete wipeout of the human race).
I think it's a tossup which yields better happiness or productivity for humanity to address in the short run. In the extreme long run, of course, if you don't solve the second, there's little point solving the first issue.
The problem is a lack of resources - that resource being some collective focus of humankind, as there's no real physical resource limit preventing us from pursuing both at the moment.
Mars is a vanity project however he chooses to dress it up. An interesting vanity project sure but a vanity project all the same.
And personally I have no issue with that, I just wish he'd be honest. We didn't go to the moon the first time for any good reason, we did it because it was there. Governments can't afford to pay for the "because they're there" projects any more but if Musk, Page and co can then great but don't pretend it's for the good of humanity - "because it's there" is all the justification you need for something that amazing.
They're both great goals and I'm glad we live in a time when going to mars is something we can propose as a serious point of discussion, instead of being an unrealistic dream.
"Almost everything about the plan to help Polio victims, especially about creating a "polio vaccine" is uncertain. Compare that to the current, immediate suffering and lost potential that is caused by poverty and disease."
See how this works?
There are some very good reasons to pursue the colonization of Mars, mostly in the form of advancing science. A backup population is not one of these good reasons.
Colonizing Mars will be a force mulitpler as well, mostly through indirect technology benefit and ancillary space industries(asteroid mining). It probably won't impact the effort to cure polio but will probably increase our ability to cure other diseases.
What event could possibly make Earth less hospitable than Mars? Even assuming nuclear Armageddon or an extinction-level asteroid impact, you're still left with an environment much closer to habitability than what you would find on Mars.
If we reach such a point, lack of room on Earth might be a serious issue
That gives us roughly 1 million sq miles to hold the entire population of the planet on a comfortably-sized lot. That's 1/10 the size of the USA, about the size of the land area of Alaska plus Texas.
The people aren't going to be the problem with land usage.
The point though, is that 300,000 people with knowledge acquired from the entirety of history is better than an empty solar system.
Consider being the last enclave on Earth with clean water, reliable power, and happy people.
How long until the unwashed masses claw your bunker open with their bare hands for a chance at bettering their lot?
That's the reason we need to have colonies off-planet; in case the situation on Earth gets beyond saving.
That said, sure a vacation home on Mars would be great. Just that it's not very viable ... the preparation would have to be immense. It would, however, prolong the species a while later than living on Earth, as the Sun turns into a red giant. Perhaps in a few centuries.
A good reason to support the B612 Foundation (http://b612foundation.org)
Any asteroid that will be an Earth killer will have such a high velocity (due to its highly elliptical orbit) that it won't matter. Consider 2012 XE54 . These objects are nigh undetectable as evidenced by the detection of 2012 XE54 two days before it passed half the distance between the Moon and the Earth. A close call by any account.
Moving people off a single point of failure (Earth) is a much better use of resources.
Practically speaking, both require similar improvements to today's technology: cheaper access to space, larger payloads, better shielding, etc.
Everyone would be dead so there wouldn't be anyone left to care.
Not that I [dis]agree, but I think this point needs consideration.
(Not that I feel good about donating to a for-profit)
In the same way, if a large portion of the population was suddenly killed today, in the long run it wouldn't affect the number of people. The total population limit/equilibrium is determined by food production, tech and social habits; but actual mass deaths (say, as ww1/ww2) are just a short term disturbance in the number of people and quickly get corrected.
It doesn't mean that curing polio is useless - it makes many people much happier; but simply there is no direct relation between happiness of one generation and wellbeing of non-immediate future generations. Culture gets passed on; built infrastructure gets passed on; reseach gets passed on; but there's almost no difference caused by generation suffering horrible conditions/war/torture [assuming no large permanent loss of knowledge/infrastructure; just the suffering&deaths] and that generation living happily. In the short term there's an effect, sure, but in the long term?
Is Germany suffering now in any way because the 30-year-war in 17th century killed 30-40% of the population? Would it be any better place if that war&suffering hadn't happened ? Definitely no. The lost people recover in a generation or two, and that's it.
For that matter, space tech of this level of magnitude is extremely likely to have massive positive impacts on Earth-bound humanity too.
We're still not really in a good position to judge the likelihood of a species-wide existential crisis right now, but we do know that the cumulative odds of one occurring only go up over time....
At the very least, it is not a clear-cut case in favor of either position. In the real world, you, perhaps unfortunately, can't afford to try to serialize your problems and attack them one-by-one... you must attack them in parallel.
I really find this morality baffling. As I see it extinction level event would be a tragedy on account of the deaths of billions. But the human species, as a whole, is not an individual; it does not think or feel or suffer. Its cessation has no moral value beyond the death of the individuals which make it up.
I'm open to hearing an argument to the contrary; usually discussions of space colonization, it's assumed obvious that perpetuating humanity is important. But I don't see it, and so I tend to view anything that helps actual individuals as a better use of resources.
It is possible that humanity could be wiped out and Earth could re-roll another species that could do it instead... but once you dispose of the fashionable self-loathing and look at it rationally, it's not a good bet. (But that's a longer post.)
That said, there's also a pure research vs. direct action aspect, again going back to the fact that the tech for a true off-planet space presence will inevitably produce extremely useful technology for those of us still on Earth. It may be easier to see by putting it in the past... no amount of cooking bread and giving it to hungry people would ever have produced refrigeration technology, or the wide dissemination of it. Had people 100 years ago followed the advice of only taking direct actions to prevent poverty, we would, paradoxically, have a lot more of it today. Again... we can not serialize our approach to problems, we have to attack them in parallel.
Right. So technology that provides humanity, or some part of it, the means to get people out of the way of what would otherwise be an extinction level event saves the actual, individual lives of all those people that would otherwise have been in the way.
If Larry thinks a Mars-shot would be a better investment for his particular (large) slice of the pie than other investments, that's his business. It doesn't imply that the rest of the world needs to either agree or follow him as an example.
I think we all agree that we have individual rights. When you make your opinions public you open them up to discussion.
I often daydream about what I'd do if I was billg rich. And I keep coming to the conclusion that there are certain, very specific charitable activities that I'd choose to fund, and they wouldn't necessarily be the same ones that gates chooses. For example, my prime angle would be to focus on poverty by contributing funds to help with education for disadvantaged people, and by focusing on programs that teach and promote entrepreneurship. Now, does that mean that I don't care about people with polo, or malaria, or people in developing countries who need clean water? No, it just means that I'd choose to address the things that resonate with me for whatever reason, while acknowledging that one person can't do it all.
It sounds to me like Page just has his vision of how he would want to help make the world better, and I don't see how it makes sense to criticize him just because his hot buttons aren't the same as yours (or mine, or whoever).
Which he has every right to believe, just as I believe saying something like that is lacking in empathy.
My only point is that Page's position is not implicitly "bad" or undesirable, in that he clearly is concerned about helping the world - he just has his own strategy for how to do it.
Page lacks not "Empathy" itself, but rather the "Locality of Empathy"; his temporal discounting of empathic investment appears much lower than Gates'.
Humanity needs to be saved but only if we don't lose our humanity, everybody needs to be given a fair chance, even if it's one in a million. Some of the kids I sometimes deal with operate with slightly above this chance, some I read about get much, much lower.
I suggest you do this: While browsing, whenever you encounter a story like this (http://www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/1wsybd/til_in...) or this (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/07/world/middleeast/07photo.h...) or see a photo like this famous one (http://www.mukto-mona.com/Articles/kevin_carter/sudan_child....), save it to an out of the way folder on your laptop. Whenever you get too cocky, take 15 mins to look at that folder and think how far we have to go. Great way to degauss your perspective.
Ain't been true for thousands of years.
The question is whether we prioritize the species, at large, or an individual. If the answer is species at large, off-site backups make a great deal more sense.
I like the idea of at least a few going in a different direction. Letting Elon Musk throw billions at an audaciously big goal because he has a record of achieving and society might benefit as well.
(1) Exploration of space today will some day save everybody's lives.
(2) Driving Teslas with energy from Solar city will postpone that day.
a). Prolonged a few more lives by eradicating some viruses.
b). Set up a colony on MARS
The people loving Bill Gates "second act" seem to forget how he made all those billions in the first place - by being evil, crushing better competitors, monopolistic practices, etc etc etc. And by basically creating terrible software, holding back the computer industry for years.
It's pretty sad to see though that many users are only seeing two options:
1) give away money to charities to solve symptomatic problems
2) invest money in technologies who try to solve, again, symptomatic problems
A more effective approach would be to work out the causes; first of all, education would be the key.
But this is the hard way of approaching problems.
Right, both are trying to better man kind in their own special ways.
Its a do we solve 1st world problems or do we remember about the rest of the developing world. As I grow older I struggle with which camp I am in.
Mars and an electric car do sound good...but conquering deadly pathogens and diseases sound awesome in a different way.
I agree. Mars is very cool to me and something I'd love to see. BUT my life is already pretty good. There are millions whose lives are short and horrible. Bringing their lives up to my current life standard seems like a more logical first problem to solve than making my already nice life better while theirs doesn't really progress.
Why on earth would you donate to a for-profit? It makes no sense.
For how may be exceptional in their fields, some people may still have a narrow vision outside that (or no vision at all).
Specifically, Page is a technically-minded person who's showing not to be able to see outside of the strictly technical realm, so choosing between a charitable organization and a technological one, is not really a choice, because in his perspective, there's no such thing as the first option.
I was actually surprised (but not too much) that a person like him may have such narrow vision.
Or maybe he's actually smart, as you would expect from a technically minded person, did the math and realized, that there ain't many good charitable organizations to give, nor that the for-profits are worse than charities in pursuing goals beneficial to mankind.
Such alternatives consider human problems as both a human problem and a technical one, and work with both.
This is exactly the point; I expect a technical mind to be at a high risk of seeing only one part of the problem.
Reality is of course much more complex. Enterpreneurs are limited by the fact that having a "human" opinion carries a high risk of damaging the stock value.
Note that I wouldn't certainly consider Elon Musk's social enterpreneurship. Kiva would be (it's just an example).
Both are good.
Besides, putting all eggs in a basket could be a fitting metaphor, except if the person holding the basket has a perverse passion for stomping on it.
Moving to Mars wouldn't be a way to save the population, it would be an excuse to find another planet to destroy.
The Americas (North and South) have been polio free since 1994. The last 1% is what has proven to be difficult.
One is a practical choice, and the other is driven by a long-term ideal and belief that capitalism drives innovation better than handouts. Both have merit.
if you ask me to donate to stopping polio vs spacex, i would probably donating to stopping polio. however, that is because i'm a little bit short-sighted on goals. (incidentally, i guess this is why i'm creating an internet business rather than a space exploration program.) however, that does not mean i should not let other people try the more audacious venture.
The line must be drawn here, on Earth. We must overcome our primate programming here in our own nest, or else become a menace to all the universe. Fix it here, my friend. Now. For time is not on our side. That is the battle.
Pollution is bad in a biosphere, but why shouldn't we strip-mine the asteroid belt with von-neumann machines?
Very interesting. Do you realize that people said exactly those same words about the microscope?
They said : What problem would seeing the same things that we already see bigger are going to solve?
It was called a "toy" with no real use. If you have a microscope you know how hard is to see something.
The fact is that we don't know what we don't know.
Just traveling to the moon changed everything. We discovered isotopes on moon surface that are not created on earth because of earth atmosphere. The same materials where not eroded by fluids behave very different.
Understanding ourselves from a scientific perspective is the first step in a long journey to overcome our destructive natures. But as it stands, I do not see any successful attempts at such. Investment in and respect for science in the western world is declining, and most people are without any guiding principles other than the profit motive.
Ironically, this is the best situation we've ever found ourselves in, historically speaking.
> Its hard to realize that, I suppose, when your life is in the bubble of a Google limo.
There are at most a few thousand workers in Pakistan, india and nigeria going around with polio vaccine oral drops that cost cents per dose. They don't cost billions, not even hundreds of millions.
I say this because you say, "makes millions of lives better" as if that'd be the end of the discussion. I don't think it is.