Re: Rational culture of benevolence (was Ethics, responsability...)

GBurch1 (
Sun, 22 Mar 1998 11:13:21 EST

In a message dated 98-03-21 22:39:23 EST, Arjen Kamphuis wrote:

> I'll agree that the effectiveness of foreign aid may leave something to be
> desired (understatement), but saying that you should be in the place where
> you make the most money is (IMHO) a simplification.

Actually, I wasn't saying this, as I know you understood. To reiterate, I
find a real rational value in extending a culture of benevolence and, in most
cases (see below), that the most rational and moral way to do this is to look
for the most efficient means of achieving the end of extending benevolence.

> I always was thought that judgements as to what is 'better' were way beyond
> the reach of economics.

Actually, it's impossible to segregate the two inquiries and attempts to do so
in the past have failed miserably by paying too little heed to moral questions
on the one hand or economic realities on the other.

> >A first-world kid who
> >has never wielded a hammer, floundering around trying to
> >build a school in Zambia, may well be a waste.
> Or it may be a very educational experience of a type 1st-world universities
> don't offer. Down in the mud you learn a lot about organizing projects and
> effecient usage of (very limited) resources. But most of all you can learn
> to keep yourself and others going under difficult circumstances.
> Most '1st-world kids' don't do the actual hammer wielding of course but
> contribute their western knowledge or academic skills (that is, if they are
> serious about their aid). The people living in third-world countries are
> perfectly capable of digging a canal, designing a integrated irrigation
> system however may be beyond their capabilities (not suprising since many
> of them never had the opportunity to master reading and writing).

Of course, the problem here is political. Most third world countries are
dominated by corrupt, centralized tyrannies. A bunch of idealistic first-
world liberal democrats really managing development projects is the last thing
such tyrants want. On the other hand, they probably instinctively sense the
ultimate futility and ineffectiveness of isolated donations of manual labor,
and therefore are more willing to allow the occasional case of sunburn in such

> >A skilled carpenter's donation of a season of
> >such work, though, may well be perfectly rational, as would
> >supporting that effort with a donation of capital by the first-world kid,
> >whose talents are more effectively employed as a computer programmer.
> I won't argue that the kid will become a better programmer through these
> kind of experiences but there's more to life than pumping C++ code. A
> change in environment, broadening her/his horizon might make for a
> stronger, self-sufficient and more balanced person. The effectiveness of an
> employee in the function of programmer is only partly due to his/her
> programming abilities, being able to teamwork and function under stress are
> just as important.

Here I think you have a very valuable point. First-worlders who gain no
experience of manual labor or poverty miss a lot: Direct personal experience
of such things gives one a lot of perspective (and a few handy skills) in
later life. I may be prejudiced, since I spent a few years in this way when I
was younger and feel richer for it now. Thus, I'm not contending that
spending some time pounding nails in Ecuador is a completely wasteful thing, I
just don't believe that in most instances such efforts have much real effect
on the worthwhile targets of philanthropy and benevolence involved.

Greg Burch <>----<>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
-- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover