Inflation

by Rand1 min read14th Sep 20217 comments

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The price of children is always rising. Inflation is still at 2% but the price of a child’s life doubles every few years. And one day they will call this a law, like Moore’s Law, that every two years the price of a child’s life will double. In the future, they will look at us in bafflement and ask whether it was true that you could save a child’s life for $5000. “How many children did you save?” they will ask with eyes wide open. And, like the regretful older man who never held onto his Mickey Mantle rookie card, found in a pack of gum sixty years ago, we will look at them and say:

“I threw them away.”

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(Or maybe, "I invested the money and made above-inflation returns while also waiting to see further research on the most cost-effective interventions. I did occasionally make large donations with the investments when particularly opportune moments arose.")

If you have a way of doubling your money every few years, go for it. But that's rather unlikely.

Average annual stock market returns of roughly 9% while accounting for roughly 2% inflation, would see you double your money in about (70/(9%-2%)=10 years. It’s not exactly fast, but it’s doubling after accounting for inflation so it’s nothing to sneeze at. (Also worth noting, that’s not accounting for the additional deposits you make with your income, which would likely double a given amount much faster)

Of course, anyone should be careful about investing (e.g., potential for downturns or personal inability to make sound investment decisions in line with really basic advice), potential for value drift, and the possibility that some current causes are urgent/warrant immediate funding despite the possibility that a later cause might be even more important that the current one. However, for some people/situations those concerns may also be partially if not wholly offset by the concepts like increased insight/research into charity effectiveness.

Ultimately, I don’t have a strict opinion on which method is generally better, but I don’t think it’s justified to so heavily dismiss/criticize delayed giving.

This piece isn't intended as an argument against delayed giving (though I think most such arguments would need to deny the premise of the piece). It's a story about not giving. It's about an older man, living in a time where saving a life in Kenya is like saving a life in Canada (that is, out of reach for most people), looking backward. Every year during that short window, he could have been a hero, saving one or more lives.  He missed that chance and it doesn't exist anymore.

Ah, I figured it was more of an argument against delayed giving rather than about plainly not giving. To clarify further, is your claim that the price of [saving?] a child’s life is actually doubling every few years (out of proportion to inflation), or is it just supposing a hypothetical world where that is the case?

I'm assuming it for the sake of the piece. I do think that the price of a child's life is rising faster than my investments appreciate, and probably thought they were doubling every 4 to 5 years when I wrote this. (I wrote $2000 back when I posted this to Facebook, I wonder what Givewell's estimates are.)

(To clarify further, this was a post to my Facebook creative writing group in 2015 as was the "Responsibility" poetry I posted.)

I think it's awesome, but Harrison should get more credit for pointing out the "patient philanthropy" critique. I'd like to see what you could get if you wrote a short story about it.