· · · New to “A conversation on poverty”? Start here.
These are the main questions for which I still do not have a convincing answer. This does not mean there are no good answers out there, but rather that I am still not aware of them or I have not yet done my analysis (maybe you can help!). I will be writing a separate post on each of the questions as I make progress.
- What is the most effective way of shaping a better future? Working to improve the long-term future can have a higher expected value than working on short-term problems. However, issues related to the long-term future are subject to very high uncertainty. Additionally, if we could act today to create positive impacts that are sustainable and cumulative (or, in a perfect world, capable of replicating exponentially), that could also be the best way of shaping the long-term future. That is a very big “if”, but I have come across some ideas that I want to explore.
- How can we reduce suffering but also make human flourishing possible? Focusing a lot of resources on improving health makes a lot of sense since disease and premature death cause great amounts of suffering and there is strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of several interventions. However, health is only part of the problem and I wonder whether a sequential approach (e.g. first solve all health-related issues, then move onto other problems) is the most effective course of action.
- Does education have substantial, positive spillover effects on living conditions? I tend to think it does —or at least that the right type of education can have those effects—, but it looks like we need more and broader research. The main hypothesis I want to examine is that (1) sustainable improvements —no matter how small— can only happen if people are able to imagine better scenarios and potential plans to realize them; and (2) education is what makes that possible.
- Are we ignoring a lot of potentially high-impact people? The current thinking of the effective altruism movement is that some people have the potential to be disproportionately impactful. I agree with that. Today, however, humanity can only benefit from the potential impact of people born in places where they have opportunities to develop their talent¹. Should we think some more about that when discussing talent and shaping the long-term future?
- Is short-term measurability conditioning what we consider most effective? An essential element of effective altruism is using evidence to determine the best causes and interventions to work on. However, we may just not have (or even not realize that we do not have) the evidence that would prove that some other course of action is actually the most beneficial. Are we doing enough to avoid that risk, especially in ‘old’ problems like global poverty?
- Which are the most useful metrics for poverty? Metrics like GDP per capita are arithmetic means and they can sometimes be of little value when analyzing poverty. The geographic scope of the figures we look at is also relevant: some countries are extremely poor as a whole but there are also pockets of extreme poverty in countries that look good in macroeconomic reports. How can we surface and represent data to prevent pockets of poverty from becoming invisible?
¹ If Alexander Fleming had been born in the equivalent to a present-day slum, what are the chances that he would have discovered penicillin?