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Larry Page: I’d Rather Leave My Billions to Elon Musk Than to Charity (slate.com)
640 points by ghosh on Mar 20, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 430 comments



I think this could be rephrased as "Charitable organizations aren't interesting enough to deserve my money."

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 [1] 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.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_effect


"doing something like colonizing mars could do more good for humanity than giving people enough money to eat for a day or a week."

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.)


While you are right, I can relate to Page's view. Feeding people, for hunger-squashing sake, is a very immediate solution to a very immediate symptom. Does it attack the cause? Probably not. Using Africa as an example:

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[1]. Earth had five of those, and we still have to prove ourselves less stupid than dinosaurs.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian%E2%80%93Triassic_extinc...


The real issue I have with this argument is that we can have both. The question is about priority. How do we measure the benefit to human civilization of colonizing mars in 2020 instead of 2030? Is it worth postponing the elimination of world hunger?


I haven't considered the subject thoroughly enough to have an opinion either way, but your comment made me think of this letter: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/08/why-explore-space.html


>I think the best solution is to make charity cool again

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.


I don't think that gives Page enough credit. I'd phrase it as "Charitable organisations aren't effective enough to deserve my money". Elon Musk is, above all, a do-er. He has shown the capability to not only think big about very relevant problems, but implement solutions. I suspect it's those qualities that give Page confidence that his money would make more of a difference in Musk's pockets.


> FDR turned giving money away into something that was literally awesome, using the Tennessee Valley Authority to reshape the landscape with bridges and dams.

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?


> 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.

Almost everyone giving away money got it from somewhere else.


From mutual agreement in exchange of goods and services, or by force. Not the same. Only thieves and governments do the latter.


I dunno. I think the system of laws by which we elect people, they set taxes, build a road, and if we don't like the exchange we turn them out, is as close to "mutual agreement" as a city or larger-sized group of people can come up with...


Wrong Wrong Wrong. Could not be more wrong.

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.


PhD in STEM, if it matters. And as someone who specifically and directly moved from one city to another because I didn't like the local policies (school district, in this case), I'm a straightforward and simple example of someone who left one social contract for another and paid for the privilege, thanks.

(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.


Governance is fine, but there are contractual forms of governance and non-contractual (non-consensual) forms of governance.

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.


Your level of confidence seems entirely out of line with the level of education in politics and history you display here. Instead of insulting people from a position of ignorance, why not read more books? Sorry for putting it bluntly, but every one of your comments in this discussion so far is a rudely worded assertion of something that at best is highly contested, and at worst something you could not even possibly believe if you had read more than a few libertarian newsletters and websites. Not even if you had read only libertarian-leaning theorists (such as Hayek). Stop it.


Since you've advanced literally no argument, I don't feel a need to respond to this. Sorry I hurt your brain?


Here is an argument, which I have carefully tailored to the level of the arguments you have advanced:

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.


The problem here is that you are choosing your definitions for "real-world liberty" and "genuine consent", etc. I guess if your point was only to make a point about the parent post doing the same thing, then, erm.. good job? But as an argument in it's own right, I don't find this very compelling.

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.


Well sure, "social contract" is an imperfect metaphor, but it's not devoid of meaning, nor divorced from the idea of contracts.

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.


How'd you get that cool light gray text for all your posts?


1. Collect all the downvotes.

2. ???

3. Declare victory.


Sometimes trolling is its own reward.

Check their comment history.


> 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.

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.


> "People must have the right to review the terms of contract, decide to sign or not"

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.


Also, you'd better hope that the accessible methods of accumulating wealth haven't already been commoditized (which amounts to hoping that you are special in a world with plenty of people).


Do you actually sign a contract when you buy a loaf of bread?


It isn't signed, but there is definitely a contract in that situation.


My point is that the terms in the sale of a loaf of bread are implicit, just like those in the social contract. The idea that it isn't a free market until you sign a document is demonstrably false.


The contract law behind buying a loaf of bread is well-codified and settled.

The term "social contract" means whatever the person using the term wants it to mean.

Not the same thing. At all.


If it's well-codified and settled then you'll have absolutely no problem providing a complete, and completely uncontroversial, version of it.



I don't know where you reside, but I always find it interesting when people in the US refer to taxation as thievery. In a representative democracy, the "government" is the people[^1]. Don't like taxes? Rally support behind yourself, and run for office.

[^1]: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_trans... see: preamble.


I don't think your opponent believes that the US system is a "representative democracy" or a "democracy" or whatever it is that lets N-1 people take arbitrary stuff from 1 person. Your "rally support" solution would not fix the situation.


You're forgetting that that 1 person is also getting stuff from N-1 others - his freedom, safety, absence of famine/war/disease, ... It is simply illusionary to expect a person to be really well-off if everybody else around him is dirt poor. Yes, there were rich people throughout history, but today the average US/European citizen has better healthcare than anyone 20 years ago.


I don't think that it's fair to say that any "democratic" type of government lets any number of people take anything from any 1 (or any arbitrary grouping) person, it's that the self governed group decides that the cost of existing is paid collectively. And rallying support, from my understanding, is the only way to fix any situation in any type of "democracy".

[edit] 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.


That's amazingly naive. Violence comes in more forms than just striking someone.

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 slavery? What about robber-barons paying strike breakers to shoot organizing workers - or for that matter, the missing Coca-Cola union organizers in Columbia?

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?


Ironically if the Government was not spending that much money, fiat money would be worthless.


Yeah a normal businessman doesn't threaten to throw me in jail if I don't give him money for his pet project. Please DO NOT conflate taxation with charity, they are NOT the same in any way, shape or form.


> "As a technology community it's up to us to come up with projects that help people in need while still capturing our imaginations."

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.


My take on this that Larry Page is more of a "find a cure for the disease" rather than a "treat the symptoms" kinda guy. To be honest, I can find myself in a statement like that.


To be honest, who would not want to "find [one's self] in a statement" (who writes like this?) like "I want to find a cure for the disease"?

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?

[^1]: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/Global-Health/Mala...


Yes, the Gates foundation is literally trying to cure disease, but alternatively consider malaria in sub-Saharan Africa to be caused by the relative poverty there (after all, they have the same vaccine and prevention technology available as the US does, just not enough money to buy it). In that sense, even finding a cure for disease is itself treating the symptoms of a figurative disease. And that disease is cured by economic growth, better care of natural resources, reaching a technological singularity - things that Musk might be working on.


> alternatively consider malaria in sub-Saharan Africa to be caused by the relative poverty there

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...


There is at this time no viable vaccine for malaria. Malaria is much more prevalent in tropical zones than temperate zones because mosquitos are more prevalent in tropical zones than temperate zones.

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.


The thing that annoys me is that the prescriptions for economic growth are well known - rule of law, freedom of choice, functioning and non-corrupt judicial and police institutions.

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.


I always thought technological singularity meant the point where AI > human intelligence. I never realized it was also the first big tech advancement that was omni-benevolent. Does "reaching a technological singularity" mean "the end of scarcity and the eradication of evil in the minds of man"?


Traditionally the technological singularity represents the point at which we develop AI which can improve upon itself, beginning a phase of exponential AI growth which occurs pretty much instantaneously from a human perspective. I was using the term somewhat hyperbolically to represent the start of a post-scarcity society, when production becomes so efficient that everyone can have clean water and shelter.


"It seems as if he's making a larger point, which is that the right company run by the right person can have a major effect."

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.


Yes, but I've heard some people say that the Gates foundation is not very good at approaching malaria. If you asked me to choose between them and Musk to approach malaria, my instinct is to go with Musk.


> I've heard some people say

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."


{{who?}} {{weasel-words}}


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.

A lot of "truth"?

Far-flung speculation is more like it.


The possibility of an extinction event on Earth isn't exactly far-flung speculation.

A major point of SpaceX is distributing humankind so that such a thing wouldn't wipe us all out.


Is it worth living if you're locked inside a tunnel in a place where you can't even go outside, where you're only with a handful of people who will hit a genetic bottleneck in short order, where you're unable to then move from your extraordinarily fragile location to another one? It's not like we're going to have the variety of heavy industries required for creating spacecraft available on the near-atmosphereless planet where you basically need to stay inside all the time.

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.


You're looking too narrowly at the potential here.

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.


I understand the potential; it's why I said "massively overblown" rather than "wrong".


>A major point of SpaceX is distributing humankind so that such a thing wouldn't wipe us all out.

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.


"Ever" is a very strong word for a technological project which doesn't contradict any known natural laws. Do you honestly not see the possibility that we might be able to build a self-sustaining, comfortable colony on Mars in 100 years? 500? 1000?


I honestly do not, for the reason that the cost of such a venture is simply too high. If we cannot even manage to bear the minimal costs of stopping catastrophic climate change on our own planet, then what makes you think we will ever have the will, much less the ability, to undertake the terraforming of a lifeless planet millions of miles away?


I'd be curious to see a rational argument as to why this couldn't be the case.



Do you have a source for that? :-)


The basic point is, perhaps that money would be better spent addressing the potential causes of such an event.

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.


I'm curious to see how spending the money would solve an extinction-level meteor strike. Or any number of other not-fully-predictable disasters.


But... SpaceX is a corporation, so the main point is in fact making money.


I'm not certain that assumption is necessarily correct.

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.


private corporation. Big difference. They also do not plan on going public until their Mars program is established.


Fair enough. I didn't know they were private.


"this could be rephrased as"

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.


"his money is better off in the hands of private corporations it should be a warning to all of us" - where else should it be? why is "private" with a vision worse than "public" squandering funds?


The biggest goal for public spending is to spend it in the representative's state. See various bridges to nowhere, non-sensical military and space projects funded or kept alive over better ones just because a parts supplier was in state, etc.. It's pretty easy to have something with a better goal and better result than that.


"Better goals" like marginally more effective web ads?


Not what Musk does, but thanks for playing.


> FDR turned giving money away into something that was literally awesome

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.


> to burn Japan and Germany (civilians included) to the ground You say that like it was a bad thing.


Ultimately it all comes down to empathy and compassion. When your child, spouse, or parent is sick, you will not go and develop a tool for improving life of future generations. The people in scientific or innovation fields are rarely motivated by empathy; they are driven by something that is cool, interesting and exciting.

Charitable organizations are not effective enough, that's a separate issue.


> 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.

How about doing neither and instead use the money to solve some of the problems the earth suffers from today? Colonizing Mars, seriously, wtf ...


Reaching for a stretch goal has a way of solving a lot of problems on the side. The space race didn't cure polio, but it did give us smoke detectors, memory foam, improved water filtration, and many others that I can't list off the top of my head.

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 the best solution is to make charity cool again... It doesn't matter if big problems are solved for profit or solved for charity. What matters is that they get solved.

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.


Honest question: do you have a criticism of "charity" besides your own negative psychological reaction to derogatory uses of the term? I believe charity can be an empowering force if it helps people break out of the cycle of poverty. If anything, your criticism indicates that we need to work to reframe charity as compassion rather than some kind of condescending pity. But that seems like a problem to fix, not a reason to view charity as likely to fail.

> 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?


Edit in response to your edit: I did not say "charity is not helpful". I said that other models typically provide superior solutions if you can work it out right.

Original reply:

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.


Thanks for the response, your points make a lot of sense. I will say, however, that after searching for info on the mosquito net situation you described, I came across this article which seems to contradict your point:

http://www.trust.org/item/?map=fighting-malaria-selling-v-gi...

Regardless, I agree there's room for improvement in terms of increasing the effectiveness of charitable operations.


I have heard that in China, they put a doctor on retainer and only pay him when they are well.

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.


Thanks. Let me clarify that my main point (in mentioning what I had heard about China) was that there are potential alternate paradigms for paying doctors which do not directly incentivize dragging out illness. In the U.S., one of the best hospitals we have also has doctors on salary. They make the same amount regardless of how many tests they order. They credit this with helping make sure the focus is on giving the patient the best possible care without any conflict of interest subconsciously influencing the doctor's treatment plan.

Have an upvote.


As I see it, there are only two fundamental ways to pay for health care: you can can pay for treatment as and when you need it, or you can pay a flat rate in exchange for treatment at no additional cost. Hopefully we can agree that the former option is barbaric, as you are effectively denying modern medicine to anyone not rich enough to cover it up-front, which is most people. The latter option is essentially health insurance. Paying the doctor a retainer only when you are well is tantamount to making your doctor a de-facto health insurer (and all of the horrible consequences that entails).

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?


I'm from Germany. Once I was hit by a car on my bicycle. The driver wasn't looking and hit me. My hospitalization was paid for by a nationalized system of public and private insurers. A short trial was held for fault. I was awarded money that would cover replacing my bike and a few hundred more dollars for my troubles.

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.


Please do note that I put "health care system" in quotes. That was not an accident.

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.


Remuneration in the medical profession is fascinating and trying to properly align incentives whilst avoiding unintended consequences is very complicated. I am not sure there is a model that properly works yet.


I think it was case in _ancient_ China. Current China is more capitalist than US will ever be.


Thank you.


"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."

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.


> 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.

Never lived in a China like this.


"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."

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.


"...but it takes place far away and the benefits are difficult to see..."

This worries me. It's like saying that because the people affected aren't here, in America, it's not worth doing.


"People, especially highly successful people, view charity as giving money away"....that's a shame really. It's more accurately viewed as investing in the commons.


> It's always been difficult to combine making money with being of benefit to the world

In a free market, money is made by providing a benefit.


The big problem with corporations (as far as I see it) is that they act as a dehumanising mechanism for representing shareholders. An individual who has tight control over a company (like Elon Musk) can shoot for long term goals in order to achieve their noble aspirations. However, in most cases, the legal obligation of the directors of a corporation to represent the interests of their shareholders seems to default to purely financial interests. A board of directors aren't really obligated to represent the humanitarian or altruistic interests of their shareholders. In fact, typically financial interests are only served in the short term.

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.


"I think the best solution is to make charity cool again."

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.


What you mention definitely occurs, but the 90% hyperbole is totally unnecessary. It's nowhere near that percentage of philanthropic efforts.


So if you were Page, you would hold Musk to the same accountability standards? (Anyway, I don't think this accountability thing has anything to do with Page's motives).


No, what he said is that they don't have big ideas. Charities aren't going to move humanity forward and make big changes. They are also very inefficient with the money.

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?


Frankly, I'd rather he leave it to Bill Gates.

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 stated reason for going to Mars is to create a backup population for humanity. If a major asteroid impacts earth (or any other Extinction Level Event) then potentially every human will be as dead as those killed by Polio.


Okay, putting on my astronomer hat:

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.


"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.


What I would like to know is what kind of event do you imagine happening (beside practically completely obliterating Earth) that would make Mars more hospitable than post-apocalypse Earth?

I'd imagine polluted water and air with still some flora and fauna would still be better than none of those things.


I'm not sure what the point of your argument is, but this strikes me as short-sighted reasoning. Going to Mars is just the first step. It's about making (human) life multiplanetary. It's a long term game and extends beyond the solar system, and this is how it starts. (Let's just hope we don't kill ourselves before this happen).


Going to mars is pretty much pointless before we figure a way to terraform the deserts we already have on Earth. There is no more natural ressources on mars than in the middle of the Saharah or Gobi, and the climate is way worst (not even talking about the atmosphere). So why go to mars if we already have unused lands on Earth?

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.


I'm just paraphrasing Musk's vision. It's not a dream; he's actively working on getting to Mars within the next decade or so. People seem to forget their history. It wasn't that long ago America was (re-)discovered. I'm puzzled why people - especially HNers - don't understand the significance of working on this.

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!


I think what rubs me the wrong way about this is giving it to a for-profit enterprise.

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%.


Nobody on earth is rich enough to get the bottom 10% out of poverty.

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." [1] The profit motive is an incredible force.

Btw, I say this as a huge fan of Gate's charity.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_in_China


False dichotomy. Those aren't the only two choices.

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.


One clarification: What I wrote could be read as suggesting that education and public health have a low ROI. That's true for VCs. But it's false for society as a whole: having an educated, healthy populace is excellent for wealth production. It makes sense for governments to invest heavily in that because government can easily capture some of that created value just by taxing everybody. Which they are already doing.



If you know of an approach that succeeds 100% of the time, I look forward to hearing about it. But choosing North Korea as your counterexample in opposition to modest government investment in long-term poverty reduction/capital creation efforts like education and health care is a ridiculous straw man. No statistics are available, but they surely must be one of the worst.


> Nobody's suggesting we get rid of capitalism.

With all due respect, speak for yourself.


>> "Nobody on earth is rich enough to get the bottom 10% out of poverty."

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.


So, I was never good at (or interested in) economy.

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).


In an agrarian society most people are working on small plots of land growing food and/tending animals. Their labor combined with the natural resources is enough to create food for their families and a little bit left over. They take that little bit left over and trade it to a guy that makes clothing, and a guy that makes tools. All the goods and services in the whole country don't amount to all that much -- enough food to feed everyone plus some clothes and tools.

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.


Think of life and humans as a chemical reaction, like fire.

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.



You can think of wealth as "total stuff+useful services produced" which is approximately the same as "total stuff+useful services consumed".

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.


Say you live on an island without much technology. Everybody on the island farms manually, but everyone is still hungry because they can't grow enough. Then one day somebody invents a tractor. Now all of a sudden there is enough food for everyone to eat as much as they want. The island just got wealthier because technology increased their efficiency. This process is basically how the world gets wealthier, through increases in worker efficiency.


What I don't understand is where this 'wealth' is coming from.

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.


The easiest way to see it is like this: Lets say you make chairs. Someone pays you 100$ for a chair. You make the chair with a small amount of materials, and sell it to the buyer for 100$.

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$.


Did those 600 million people work at all to be out of poverty or the invisible hand fed them? If they had to work to get out of poverty, I would imagine $100 would buy them enough meals, sleep, medicines to start looking for a job.


Non-profit status doesn't mean anything about an organization except that dividends are not paid to shareholders. E.g. it doesn't mean that executives don't pull down giant salaries or that sweetheart deals never transfer resources to outside parties. There are wonderful and terrible non-profit and for-profit organizations. It's better to judge an organization by its accomplishments than by its non-profit status.


Elon Musk risked $160M of his $160M fortune on SpaceX and Tesla (and Solar City). Most people with $160M do absolutely nothing with it of any consequence to humanity. If part of Musk's ambition is to turn his $160M into $160B I'm personally all for it. In the process of fulfilling his own ambitions he's pushing the entire race forward. The long term benefits of switching to renewable energy are be measured in trillions. Human investment in space travel will ultimately be more valuable than Earth itself.


The profit motive and capitalism have given the Western world the best life for the "bottom 10%" in the history of mankind.

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.


If it was about money Musk would have retired already. Tesla and SpaceX are both hugely risky endeavours. It is not unlikely that them being for profit makes them more likely to succeed in the long term.


No one invests in a non-profit. Investors want ROI and going to mars is pretty capital intensive.

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


Let me introduce you to people who want more than ROI: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_investing

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. [1] 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.

[1] http://nonprofitfinancefund.org/pay-for-success


Watsi is the first non-profit Y Combinator is backing.

http://ycombinator.com/watsi.html

Disclaimer: HUGE Watsi fan.


I disagree. We have had a bunch of significant investments in Akvo and we are non-profit. The investments aren't structured for maximum financial ROI, but maximum societal ROI. Nevertheless they are investments.

http://Akvo.org/


> No one invests in a non-profit.

I thought that was called a donation.


Y Combinator invests in non-profits.


And it's not like Page isn't interested in health: https://plus.google.com/+LarryPage/posts/Lh8SKC6sED1

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.


It's his money and he has every right to do as he wishes but I don't agree with this school of thought.

>"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.


Almost everything about the plan to go to Mars, especially about creating a "backup population" is uncertain. Compare that to the current, immediate suffering and lost potential that is caused by poverty and disease.


Polio is an occurrence with a probability of one, and a non-zero impact.

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.


Why Mars? The moon is nearer and no less hospitable (frankly they both suck).

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.


The cynic in me says we went to the moon because putting a man on the moon made real the capability of getting an ICBM to anywhere on the earth - both to ourselves and the rest of the world. The optimist in me hopes we can setup shop somewhere, anywhere off-planet without similar motivations prodding us.


As the probability of the asteroid problem is low short term we should tackle the poverty problem first. Then we will have more people to tackle the asteroid problem in the long run.


If number of people are not the limiting factor to working on both problems, why would one a) impose a condition to work on the problems in a sequential order, and b) prefer an order based on gaining more people first?


And there are other catastrophic events.


That's a bit of a negative way to look at it. I think in the end the goals don't have to be mutually exclusive. Elon Musk does what he does best, and Gates does his thing.

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.


Some people may have said this before Polio vaccine was discovered:

"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?


Polio is a disease that that's causing immediate suffering and lost potential. And it was even more so before discovery of the vaccine, so I'm not sure what you're trying to say here.


The only specific alleviation that colonizing Mars yields is that people who don't want to live on Earth don't have to live on Earth.

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.


One plan is long term, the other is short term. Both are needed.


Curing polio is a force multiplier that will probably help us get to Mars, in the form of more demand for satellites and space related industries, as well more inventors and scientists.

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.


The bizarre thing is, most extinction-level events (e.g. a large asteroid impact) would probably leave Earth still more hospitable than Mars to life as we know it. If we have the capability to survive in a climate so cold that there are CO2 avalanches, where there is practically no nitrogen or oxygen or readily available fuel and where the air is flooded with radiation equivalent to two chest X-rays every hour, what are we afraid of?


Forget Mars. Elon's best move would be to go "Dr. Strangelove": build a bunker and hire a harem.


There is something very ... problematic about the suggestion that ensuring the survival of the race is of greater importance than, or even of comparable importance to, prolonging and improving the lives of individual human beings, is there not?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jf9iTZ433zs


If we ever reach a point where we are capable of establishing a permanent, self-sufficient colony on another planet, it's difficult to imagine that such a civilization would be unable to deal with any potential calamities on Earth itself.

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.


It's really not just about "one backup colony" but rather the beginning of unlocking the abundance of the Solar System to improve (and move!) life, foremost because you think that when it comes to civilization you believe that the best days are still ahead of us.


> What event could possibly make Earth less hospitable than Mars?

If we reach such a point, lack of room on Earth might be a serious issue


Take the 7B people on Earth, and assume they're all families of 4. Put them each on 1/4 acre of land. Say that additional infrastructure like roads, schools, and retail will take an extra 50%.

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.


If. Polio is a real problem now. Asteroids are a theoretical problem.


What do you mean a theoretical problem? It can happen - just because you can't imagine it happening or that it might happen years, decades or centuries from now, does not make it any less real.


I tend to agree. From my point of view, polio doesn't exist in this part of the world. It's as phantasmal as an asteroid.


Deadly asteroid is not a theoretical problem. Just a matter of when.


Surely developing the technology to deflect a killer asteroid is orders of magnitude cheaper than the technology to colonize Mars.


No matter what there will still be more than 7 billion people left on earth.


Can we not work on all the problems in parallel?


Not actually. An impact is inevitable, given enough time.


given the time scale of the duration in which a major impact event is likely humanity's technology will have advanced radically beyond which we could possibly imagine


Yes, and the way that will happen is that money will be invested into space technology companies like SpaceX.


or it will just happen anyway over the course of thousands of years


No, actually, if everyone chooses "invest in other things" over "invest in technology", then it won't happen. If it will happen, it will be because of technology investment, not as magic that occurs independently of them.


It's impossible to imagine how humanity would stop investing in technology or would only invest in technology that would not be related to space travel


If we go to Mars then for that population wouldn't lots of viruses be a theoretical problem?


If 300,000 people are living on Mars and an asteroid hits Earth, that's still 7 billion people dead.


Likely a lot more than 7 billion if you were to look at the population projections between now and the time we could have 300,000 people settled on Mars.

The point though, is that 300,000 people with knowledge acquired from the entirety of history is better than an empty solar system.


The point is that the human race survives.


Yeah, but I don't quite see why I should care about that aside from my default state of caring about the actual people.


Yes, it is, but the human species won't die..


The idea that our species is geopolitically stable enough to ever maintain two populations is laughable.


Which begs the question, who's picking the 'Nauts off the ISS these days? Not sure the US has a taxi anymore with the Crimea situation unfolding.


Fortunately, as proven during Cold War and before, scientific cooperation can work fine regardless of political situation.


It would be much cheaper and easier to build a city underground or underwater than on Mars. Wouldn't protect against species 8472 or the Death Star, but still.


Hint: It's not the asteroids we should be worried about.

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.


Why don't we just build a Stanford torus and use robots and guns to keep the Earth people out? I've seen this movie...


I don't know, a bunker under a mountain doesn't get clawed open with bare hands.

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.


If our universe is just one branch in a multiverse, then we already have plenty of backups.


If you truly believe in this line of reasoning, then make a deal with someone to pay you a million dollars per every round of russian roulette you survive. This way you'll make a version of you in one of Everett branch incredibly rich. And maybe even able to give money to that branch's version of Bill Gates.


Yeah, but I can't do that to my family in the other branches.


How will those people with polio feel when we are vaccinating the back up population on Mars but not those on Earth?


And what if an asteroid hits Mars first?


Better make a back up of that back up. To the moon!


> If a major asteroid impacts earth

A good reason to support the B612 Foundation (http://b612foundation.org)


No, no it is not.

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 [0]. 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.

http://www.space.com/18854-newfound-asteroid-close-flyby-ear...


The reason 2012 XE54 was only detected two days before it passed the earth is because we currently are not flying the right instrumentation to detect such objects any earlier. Fixing that problem is the whole point of the B612 foundation's project. Also, an infrared telescope can be launched a hell of a lot sooner and cheaper than Mars can be colonized.


Why's it called B612? I couldn't find any mention on the site.


It's the asteroid the Little Prince lives on.

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


It would be cheaper and faster to build the technology to find and destroy/deflect these asteroids than to create even a small permanent colony on mars.


That's what I initially thought, but asteroid deflection technology is dual-use. It can push asteroids into collision paths, potentially increasing existential risk. Colonies outside Earth guard against many other extinction risks such as plagues and nuclear war; even unlikely events like rogue comets and runaway nanotech.

Practically speaking, both require similar improvements to today's technology: cheaper access to space, larger payloads, better shielding, etc.


Backup for humanity? Look, it'll be nuclear war that ends us. And if we can launch people to Mars cheaply we can certainly deliver bombs there as well.


> potentially every human will be as dead as those killed by Polio

Everyone would be dead so there wouldn't be anyone left to care.


Wouldn't it be a lot easier to invent something that will deflect an asteroid?


I cannot remember where I read it, but Musk's view is that curing polio, cancer, etc are all nobel and important, but there is only one way to guarantee human's long-term survival: Exploring space.

Not that I [dis]agree, but I think this point needs consideration.

(Not that I feel good about donating to a for-profit)


Isn't curing polio, etc a requirement for ensuring the survival of the species? What I mean is: doesn't it matter that we try to save each person rather than just a person?


Even when polio was at its worst it never threatened the survival of the species. Curing polio would save many people's lives, but it would have minimal impact on the survival of the species.


Think of it as this way: curing polio means more Einsteins for the future.


Actually, no. If right now 50% of kids started to die early, we'd have pretty much the same number of kids growing up to be Einsteins; we'd just compensate it by more births just as we have always done.

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.


Kitchen table physics is done. We already have universities brimming with underemployed PhDs producing many more exotic theories than we have the equipment to test in their lifetimes (assuming we can ever do so near Earth). More brains are no longer very useful when each requires a huge commitment of resources that we aren't providing.


Why then don't geniuses come from third world countries. Improved standard of living will help that, not pure numbers.


It's important to note that people struck by polio tend to be from the lower socioeconomic strata of developing countries. Not only is preventing polio important for saving individuals but it's also important from exacerbating the already terrible level of inequality across the world. It's an investment in both the present and the future.


Seconded. This shows an amazing lack of empathy on the part of Page. I love science and technology, they move society forward. But we shouldn't obsess exclusively on progress while ignoring the people who are born without access to health care and schools let alone access to the cool new technology we build.


I disagree. Going to Mars "because it's cool" would be somewhat callous. Going to Mars to backup humanity has the real, bona-fide potential to save more lives than any amount of Earth charity; if it succeeds and it really does end up "backing up" humanity (including, might I add, more than just the raw fact of humanity on Mars, but the tech, the other incidental settlements, etc., all the rest of the tech stack and colonization that would occur), it could be the difference between humanity existing and not.

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.


>Going to Mars to backup humanity has the real, bona-fide potential to save more lives than any amount of Earth charity;

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's hard to logically argue about morality. I personally think that we have a moral responsibility for future generations. some people would say that we have a moral responsibility for preservation of plant species. In this sense of couse preservation of the human species is also a matter of morality. If you only count morality as something towards organisms that do live and can feel pain, then it makes no sense to eat meat. But actually most people eat meat. So you see there are many different moral standards.


I value life more than dead matter. Earth has the potential to be a seed, spreading life abundant amongst the stars, until the entire biosphere mass we know today is but a fraction of a percent of the total in the Universe. Or we could get wiped out in the cradle.

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.


> 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.

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.


What benefit does going to mars have over say a series of deep bunkers? Building a metropolis on Antarctica is easier than going to mars and sustaining life, just by the virtue of Antartica being closer than mars and still having an atmosphere that earth life can live on. Same with deep bunkers. Even life on an impact winter earth sounds more viable than life on a clean mars.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_winter#Survivability


Well that's very speculative. Mostly I disagree with the heavy-handedness of his stance. I think it would be great for humanity to donate part of a fortune to research & technological advancement and the rest to helping people in need alive today.


I'm not sure what's heavy-handed about it. The statement was with regard to Larry's wealth, not a general guideline for post-mortem wealth distribution.

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.


Well it's unfortunate that we didn't get more of his comments. It would be interesting to hear why he thinks the Mars shot is a better investment if he does in fact think that. It could be Slate's framing but it's easy to read the article as Page saying "Musk is doing more for humanity than the people building schools or curing malaria." Which to me sounds lacking in empathy. Both of these things are subjective. Page has a right to not think it's important to build schools and cure malaria and I have a right to consider that stance lacking in empathy.

I think we all agree that we have individual rights. When you make your opinions public you open them up to discussion.


You absolutely do. I think it's hard to draw any solid conclusions from this snippet though; an alternative explanation is that Page thinks there are already plenty of people and resources directed at building schools and curing malaria, and that his own money is better spent widening the solution spread than reinforcing the more classical work.


I don't see how that follows. Look, any one person, no matter how rich, can only do so much to address the world's problems. Gates chooses to direct his charity one way, Buffet does his thing, and Page has his angle. There's nothing wrong with different people choosing different aspects of the overall situation, and focusing on the aspects that they care about.

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).


Unfortunately the parent link is to a second hand source rather than a direct quote. The way Slate frames Page's answer makes it seem lacking in empathy to people alive today who suffer. Maybe it is just Slate's framing, but reading the article makes it sound like Page's intention in saying he would leave his money to Elon Musk is to say that Elon Musk is doing more for the world than people curing polio or building schools.

Which he has every right to believe, just as I believe saying something like that is lacking in empathy.


Well, I won't argue against you have the right to say that. Heck, I might even agree with you, pending further discussion.

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.


It's also not just about "a backup" for mankind. IF we are able to start colonizing Mars, we basically have found a way to unlock the resources of the Solar System. The economic and civilizational growth will be beyond our imagination and benefit everybody.


Well, until you start looking seriously at existential risk. Then you may realize how many orders of magnitude more humans will be helped with similar probability by spreading to new habitats.

Page lacks not "Empathy" itself, but rather the "Locality of Empathy"; his temporal discounting of empathic investment appears much lower than Gates'.


Exactly. Page seems like someone who knows how to "shut up and multiply".

http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Shut_up_and_multiply


It's all about prioritization, e.g. the big rock-small rock MBA parable, so any argument about which one (e.g. saving polio or to create a backup population on Mars) is better is pointless. The real argument is how to allocate resources among these things that must all be done.

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.


"Everybody needs to be given a fair chance, even if it's one in a million."

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 think Bill Gates is going to have enough billionaires already giving their money to his foundation.

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.


It's an interesting collision of values. One is "every life has equal value", which implies optimizing for existing, present-day lives. Which is honorable in its own way. The other is optimizing for best chance of future life. Those two values will have a lot of implications in common, but they can also conflict. I don't think there's a wrong answer here, it's just a matter of what value each person chooses to optimize for.


Don't get me wrong, Bill is awesome, but still:

(1) Exploration of space today will some day save everybody's lives.

(2) Driving Teslas with energy from Solar city will postpone that day.


Which do you think will have a bigger impact on humanity, and deserve more chapters in history books?

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.


History is written by the winners (or survivors), so if a colony on "MARS" would survive humanity, certainly option b) will deserve most of the chapters.

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.


It's possible to leave money to both. I'd prefer that over being lopsided.


Yeah, I'm glad this isn't an either/or situation. There are enough billionaires in the world willing to donate that they don't all collectively need to pick one over the other.


>Going to Mars may be sexy, but stomping out Polio makes millions of lives better.

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.


>> "Its a do we solve 1st world problems or do we remember about the rest of the developing world."

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.


Pretty much. Donate to improve science, perform basic research, etc.

Why on earth would you donate to a for-profit? It makes no sense.


Because when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

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.


> 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.

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.


The fact that charitable organization may be generally ineffective (or inefficient at beast) is a very common argument, the problem is that there are alternatives which are in the middle ground, see social enterpreneurship, and they are definitely effective

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).


I suppose I just have different blinders than it doesn't occur to me that people view the world that way. :/


One is oriented more short-term (polio), whereas the other is more long-term (not putting all our eggs in one basket).

Both are good.


Well, "good" depends for who. The beneficiaries would be first-world population in one, and third world in the other.

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.


There really is nothing to destroy on mars. You can't destroy an ecosystem where there is none.


Stomping out polio is not short-term.


What with the anti-vaccination idiots, stomping out lots of things that should be simple is proving difficult.


We are really friggin close to eradicating polio!

The Americas (North and South) have been polio free since 1994. The last 1% is what has proven to be difficult.

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


You know what else will wipe out polio? An extinction-level asteroid strike that wipes out all of mankind if we don't manage to colonize another planet before then.


Would you rather give your money to fix a symptom of the problems we face currently as humans, or to help build a self-sustaining machine with the economic incentive to improve lives for as long as we vote with our dollars that the machine's contribution to mankind is worthwhile?

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.


let's thinking about this from humanity's point of view in a thousand years. if someone stopped polio now, his name would be in history. if someone colonized mars, his name would be in history, and probably of bigger importance. because it is a more audacious goal and having higher impact to the future generation.

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.


I get the feeling Larry Page will outlive Bill Gates by a couple decades.


Considering Gates is almost two decades older than Page that's a pretty logical conclusion. But Gates foundation will likely outlast him. With the kinds of things he's doing it seems pretty simple to layout a plan for after he's gone (e.g. next we solve HIV, then clean water, then etc. etc.).


The Gates Foundation is to exhaust all of its funds within 20 years after Bill and Melinda's deaths [1].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_%26_Melinda_Gates_Foundati...


And as soon as he's dead, whoever is running it may totally screw up the mission.


Elon Musk is also trying to save humanity from climate change with a solar company, battery factory and electric cars. Climate change is a much greater threat to humanity than polio.


Imagine for a moment you could colonize space. What problem would that solve, really? The thinking and systems that are causing us to destroy / consume our planet will simply be exported. It will only delay the inevitable.

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.


We would be able to transfer heavy industry and resource extraction to space, using robotic factories! That would solve all the problems, starting with scarcity!

Pollution is bad in a biosphere, but why shouldn't we strip-mine the asteroid belt with von-neumann machines?


"Imagine for a moment you could colonize space. What problem would that solve, really? "

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.


Restating a problem (in a larger context) is not solving it.


A kindred spirit. I wonder, how many on HN share this sentiment? Man's greatest problem is man itself, particularly our primate instincts to which most are obliviously enthralled.

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.


Frankly, I'd rather he splits, half to Gates and another to Musk. The world needs more than just one brilliant guy to know where money can be best spent.


I had to re-read that a couple times. Commas are helpful!

> Its hard to realize that, I suppose, when your life is in the bubble of a Google limo.


you don't need billions to eradicate polio. How much money has Bill Gates actually spent on polio?

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 don't think it's necessarily important for everyone to attempt to maximize the direct life benefit of their incomes and activities.

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.


Sorry, but it is pretty pointless to stomp out Polio if 90% of life is stomped out by an asteroid. It's great to have a Bill Gates, but it's even better to have an Elon Musk, IMHO.


it's also pointless to wipe out polio if the asteroid is going to stomp us the next day.


Well said.

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