Content information: This post discusses that lives can be valued negatively by intended beneficiaries.
TLDR: GiveWell can include the sign of life quality variable in its analyses.
Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention (CPSP)
In January 2021, GiveWell recommended an approximately $7 million general support grant for the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention (CPSP). The Centre supports the deregistration of pesticides commonly used in suicide.
GiveWell assumes that the Centre accelerates the pesticide deregistration by 9 years in each of the countries of operation. The number of lives saved is calculated as the difference between the numbers of lives saved in different policy scenarios weighted by these scenarios' probabilities and the counterfactual improvement in pesticide suicide rates, as extrapolated from past trends. 25,938 lives are expected to be saved.
The assumption that the intended beneficiaries would otherwise suicide can suggest that they value their lives negatively.
GiveWell assumes that as a result of the pesticide deregistration [edit based on a comment: and agricultural productivity decrease, the expected value of the program falls by 30%. The productivity decrease can be much lower than 30%, around low units of percent.] The effects of this estimated productivity decrease on the quality of the intended beneficiaries’ lives are not discussed.
CPSP-promoted pesticide bans would affect entire nations with large farming populations, who live in extreme and national poverty. A
30% decrease in yield can result in increased hunger levels and decreased income levels, which can negatively affect the health and quality of life of millions of people.
If the decreases in health and life quality cause a large percentage of farmers to value their lives negatively, support of CPSP can cause millions of people to live dissatisfied.
Thus, while CPSP is expected to save thousands of lives, it can also cause [edit:
millions an unknown number of people] to live dissatisfied.
Malaria vaccination in Kenya
(Edit based on a comment: The 2022 World Happiness Report (WHR) (p. 19) estimates 'happiness' in Kenya as 4.5/10.) The Measuring people’s preferences IDinsight survey (edit: which shows values lower than similar reports) cites 2.3/10 (p. 42). If the neutral point, “the point where someone is neither satisfied nor dissatisfied,” is above (edit: 2.3/10–4.5/10), reducing mortality in Kenya by malaria vaccination can save lives of dissatisfaction.
A small-scale (n=30) survey that I conducted in early 2021 in a Kenyan slum suggests that many respondents can value their lives negatively. Respondents were asked to label death and their quality of life on a visual analog scale (arrow) from the worst and the best imaginable situation. If worst corresponds to -1, death to 0, and best to 1, the average quality of life was -0.18, with a standard deviation of 0.40 (column AC). On average, respondents wanted to live 13 additional years (SD=26), while the median was 2 additional years.
The wording of the quality of life questions and their survey context can be assessed as leading, which can suggest low quality of data.
If you mai[n]tain your lifestyle and the future is what you expect it to be, how many more years starting from now do you want to live? You can say anything from 0 to forever.
Where do you place death on this arrow? Please put a line there and write "0." … Where do you place yourself on this arrow? Please put a line there and write "myself."
A local enumerator familiar with the area collected the data, while knowing that it is gathered for informational purposes only, without a possible benefit of answering in any specific way. While some (globally poor) respondents accepted a small stipend for their time (which is a custom in the area), many were happy to share their responses without a stipend. This can suggest that respondents answered relatively honestly, with little experimenter bias.
This survey shows that the quality of life in a Kenyan slum can be valued negatively by the respondents. The quality of life in areas of Kenya that are prioritized for malaria vaccination can be different in sign, for example due to urban-rural disparities. Further research on the expected sign of life quality of intended malaria vaccination beneficiaries (considering possible philanthropic and market co-interventions) can inform whether, when, and to whom GiveWell should recommend the scale up of this pilot.
GiveWell can consider incorporating a variable on the sign of the quality of life from the perspective of intended beneficiaries in their Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention and malaria vaccination analyses. The inclusion of this variable in GiveWell's analyses can inform whether programs that "save or improve" lives should be prioritized.
WHR "happiness" is a function of GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, perceptions of corruption, and a constant (p. 19). Other possible aspects of happiness, such as family relationships and perceptions of fairness can be covered to a limited extent by this metric. I have not extensively reviewed the World Happiness Report methodology.