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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?




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