[ Question ]

Best units for comparing personal interventions?

by Ozzie Gooen 1 min read13th Jan 20201 comment

16


A fair bit has been written on advantages/disadvantages of QALYs, DALYs, Willingness To Pay, and other comparative units. Katja Grace did a nice overview of some of the options here[1].

These units have typically been used in large-scale economic and policy analyses. I'm interested instead in measures that can be used for "smart individuals trying to improve their own lives."

Some kinds of things that would be nice to compare would include:

  • 10 minutes light walk
  • Eating 1 marginal apple
  • Watching a really good movie
  • 1 hour of meditation, after 50 hours of practice
  • Taking 0.3mg Melatonin

I realize that these values would vary by person, but the use of probability distributions can help with that.

Some ideas I have include:

  1. Enlightened & Wealth-Adjusted Willingness to Pay
  2. micro-QALYs
  3. 1 Wellbeing Unit

Enlightened & Wealth-Adjusted Willingness to Pay
"Enlightened" refers to enlightened preferences[2]; we'd want to estimate the willingness to pay assuming greater knowledge, with some assumptions on what the enlightening process would allow. "Wealth-Adjusted" means that we'd estimate the values for some default hypothetical income level, and allow people to adjust things accordingly.

micro-QALYs
QALYs are quite large, so we could break them up into "micro-QALYs" or similar, similar to "microMorts". One problem with this is that QALYs aren't really meant to be used in this way; it's not clear if they could effectively scale to life differences like, "Watched this movie."

1 Wellbeing Unit
The idea here is to attempt to take some near-universal enjoyment or unit of pain "not going hungry for one lunch" and attempting to scale that to other types of things.

One ultimate goal of this would be to have a list of predictions of a very long list of interventions, probably with adjustment factors for various possible personal information.

[1] https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/qvofaSbPPGX9XTPr9/apples-and-oranges-some-initial-thoughts-on-comparing [2] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science/article/political-knowledge-and-enlightened-preferences-party-choice-through-the-electoral-cycle/EF79A2CF17490BE75FEDC1DD96B769E4

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I think the third option is best to try to test. Apps like SmartMood could track the effect on your mood. I suppose the problem with this though is that something like eating a marginal apple will probably have very small effects (if any) and so practically you won't actual be able to measure it with the method. Things like meditation and a 10 min walk I would guess would be measurable though.