What's Best for the World

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What's Best for the World

Postby wanderer... » Sat Feb 25, 2012 10:04 am UTC

Having read posts here for a number of years, I decided to finally join tonight so I could pose this rather unusual question to the community. I'm hoping to find some advice for a friend of mine, and hopefully provoke an interesting discussion along the way.

My friend has decided she needs to choose the career/life path that is objectively best for the world, or as close an approximation to that as possible. As I understand it, she ideally wants to come up with some model that takes into account all the current knowledge in the world, her own personal strengths, and what the world most needs. She's aware that obviously she can't personally learn everything, so she says she's content with just accumulating as much knowledge as she can know, or as much as she needs to know to make her decision, whichever comes first. She says she's sticking with this plan until someone can prove to her that there's a better way to go about rationally choosing what to do with your life.

The problem is, she doesn't seem to know quite where to start, or how to synthesize all this information once she gathers it. Aside from just calling her nuts, which is not helpful, does anyone have suggestions for how one would go about doing this? Or a compelling argument for how else one should go about deciding on a career given imperfect knowledge?

Thanks,
wanderer...
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Azrael » Sat Feb 25, 2012 9:47 pm UTC

While this might seem noble*, it's ultimately a fool's errand because there is no objective way to define what the world needs the most. The closest ethical system one can adopt would be utilitarianism, but that doesn't have great predictive functions as it makes value statements based on knowing the consequences of actions.

... and it's an ethical system. Those aren't objective. Not even the ones that try to be the most objective can actually get there. Even in utilitarianism, you'd have to definitively answer the average vs total question. Not just chose a side, but settle the debate. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that can't actually be done.

Furthermore, her current method of collecting data until an objective answer is found is apt to be never ending, and thus demonstrably not the correct thing to do. The decision matrix is just too vast, there are simply too many variables. But there is more than sufficient data immediately available to identify hundreds or thousands of things the world needs; any subset of those could be correlated against an individual's skills to produce several top candidates. Someone who was really interested in helping would do better to dive into one of those rather than spend effort trying to endlessly refine the rankings to determine which is 'the best' choice.

Plus, without some experience, she doesn't really know what she's best at doing either. So neither of the two factors in the equation [Need] x [Ability] = [Net Benefit] are solvable.

If she is really interested in helping, she shouldn't be asking "What's best for the world?" -- that's an academic exercise, a research project. She should be asking "What can I do that will make the world better".

* Although it honestly sounds self-indulgent to me. It's a great way to make yourself look/feel/sound like you're trying to do good without actually having to do anything.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Derek » Sat Feb 25, 2012 11:46 pm UTC

wanderer... wrote:Having read posts here for a number of years, I decided to finally join tonight so I could pose this rather unusual question to the community. I'm hoping to find some advice for a friend of mine, and hopefully provoke an interesting discussion along the way.

My friend has decided she needs to choose the career/life path that is objectively best for the world, or as close an approximation to that as possible. As I understand it, she ideally wants to come up with some model that takes into account all the current knowledge in the world, her own personal strengths, and what the world most needs. She's aware that obviously she can't personally learn everything, so she says she's content with just accumulating as much knowledge as she can know, or as much as she needs to know to make her decision, whichever comes first. She says she's sticking with this plan until someone can prove to her that there's a better way to go about rationally choosing what to do with your life.

The problem is, she doesn't seem to know quite where to start, or how to synthesize all this information once she gathers it. Aside from just calling her nuts, which is not helpful, does anyone have suggestions for how one would go about doing this? Or a compelling argument for how else one should go about deciding on a career given imperfect knowledge?

Thanks,
wanderer...

Let the free market decide: Choose the career path that will maximize her income (given her personal strengths, etc.). A large income demonstrates that the world values her skills, meaning she is contributing something useful to the world. Obviously many people will disagree with this, but I believe it's at least a very good approximation, and it gives a concrete answer that you can actually use.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Cres » Sun Feb 26, 2012 12:11 am UTC

Here is an interesting attempt by the New Economics Foundation to quantify the social benefit of a few careers: http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/bit-rich
Apparently, for every £1 they are paid, waste recycling workers generate £12 of value and tax accountants destroy £47. It's a pretty left-wing think tank, and I couldn't vouch for the methodology, but interesting nonetheless. As Asrael points out, you need to spread the philosophical assumptions on pretty thick to get normative conclusions out of any of this.

The free market suggestion isn't bad. With perfect competition, your wage will be equal to the value of the marginal product of your labour. This won't actually hold, but it's a starting point. Temper the search for simply the highest wage with some awareness of the differing relation between pay and value generated (i.e. don't rule out science/politics/civil service etc. on grounds of low pay) as highlighted by the NEF above, then donate everything you earn above what you need for the basics to the world's very poorest and you've got something like a utilitarian model of a life well lived. Whether the utilitarian approach is right in the first place is a whole other issue..
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby c_programmer » Sun Feb 26, 2012 12:19 am UTC

She seems to be trying to go somewhere without knowing where she wants to go. What is good for the world? Arguments could be made for the following and various careers for each.
  • Protecting people
    • Police/law enforcement
    • Military (depending on your point of view)
  • Saving people
    • Healthcare
    • Firefighter
    • Foreign aid (red cross, ect)
  • Enhancing human knowledge
    • Scientist/engineer/inventor
    • Teacher

My point is that there is no best thing for the world, there are many good things but no one "best" thing. She needs to figure out what she's good at, figure out what she feels is best for the world and then do it. There shouldn't be too much information gathering, she should know what she is good at and what she feels is important.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby BattleMoose » Sun Feb 26, 2012 1:19 am UTC

Accumulate a vast horde of wealth, preferably legally, Bill Gates style or similar.

Then invest in those really shitty third world countries where people are struggling to feed themselves and their kids, so they can have jobs and buy food. These investments at a minimum need to be self-sustaining and if there is a profit, fabulous. Remember, 70 years ago, Singapore was one of those shitty third world countries.

Actually, if she could get third party investment into such businesses then so much the better, which honestly isn't such a pipe dream, tonnes of aid go to underdeveloped countries with very little direction.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Qaanol » Sun Feb 26, 2012 3:05 am UTC

Destroy humankind, for it is a plague upon the earth.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby yurell » Sun Feb 26, 2012 3:14 am UTC

To be honest, I think Battlemoose's suggestion may be the best, short of becoming benevolent dictator of a powerful country.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Randomizer » Sun Feb 26, 2012 4:26 am UTC

While she's deciding, she can volunteer on various projects to get a feel for what's going on in the world while enhancing her knowledge and actively being helpful. Taking a day out to help build a house for Habitat for Humanity isn't going to take so much time out of her schedule that she won't be able to work on a cure for cancer or other such important tasks. Maybe her local library has free ESL classes she can help out with a few times? Or she can volunteer in a soup kitchen once or twice? Or she can plant fruit trees on people's properties (with permission) for them so they can have fresh fruit and save some money on apples or oranges every year?

The real life experience she gains will go a long ways to help her decide what she ultimately wants to do, and when she finally starts doing it she'll already have some practice in getting to work accomplishing things.

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Or that works, too. :wink:
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby aoeu » Sun Feb 26, 2012 12:39 pm UTC

The best way to get something done is to convince more competent people to do it for you.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Soralin » Sun Feb 26, 2012 4:29 pm UTC

aoeu wrote:The best way to get something done is to convince more competent people to do it for you.

Only if you're convincing them to do something more important than what they're currently doing. Otherwise, doing so could even be actively harmful to your goals. And if they're more competent than you are, it seems likely that they might already be doing something more important than what you would convince them to do.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Patient131071 » Sun Feb 26, 2012 6:40 pm UTC

I'd have to advocate three options:
1) Become a benevolent dictator and gain control of as much of the world as possible and reorganise it so that things make more sense.
2) If your friend is uncertain that they could do this properly, or without becoming corrupted, go out and find someone who could.
3) Go into something like engineering, particularly oil engineering as the world couldn't run without it without reverting to the stone age.

Of course, there are other options such as charity work that could have a lesser impact, and are probably more realistic if you're talking about improving the world from a moral point of view, making it more just, etc.

PS Sorry if this butts into the middle of another microdiscussion and appears out of place as this is my very first post on this site and will therefore have to be screened to make sure I'm not an idiot.

Soralin wrote:
aoeu wrote:The best way to get something done is to convince more competent people to do it for you.

Only if you're convincing them to do something more important than what they're currently doing. Otherwise, doing so could even be actively harmful to your goals. And if they're more competent than you are, it seems likely that they might already be doing something more important than what you would convince them to do.


Surely that depends on what they're competent at-if they are an extremely intelligent and clear thinker that is competent at a job that requires these traits then they are probably doing this specific job for a reason. However, if for instance you have a really efficient mercenary or soldier that you're trying to get to help bring about a benign dictatorship, they may not have considered using their competence for the betterment of the human race.

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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Cent » Sun Feb 26, 2012 8:50 pm UTC

Patient131071 wrote:1) Become a benevolent dictator and gain control of as much of the world as possible and reorganise it so that things make more sense.

Please don't. We'll have to kill you if you try.

2) If your friend is uncertain that they could do this properly, or without becoming corrupted, go out and find someone who could.

There is no such being.

My suggestions:

1) Defend the negative individual rights of humans. Use altruistic punishment to enforce them.
2) Be a nice person. Engage in conflicts only if it's really necessary.
3) Be somewhat charitable if you want to.
4) Enjoy your life.

It really doesn't get better than that.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Patient131071 » Mon Feb 27, 2012 4:16 pm UTC

2) If your friend is uncertain that they could do this properly, or without becoming corrupted, go out and find someone who could.

"There is no such being."

Let's be fair, just how many people have siezed control of a country not for the purpose of lining their pockets or due to a lust for power, but simply to reform the system with changes that the current political cadre would resist, before getting out again? Apologies for not making this clear to begin with, but the only changes I was talking about were things like members of government having to have some professional experience of the area they're responsible for, rather than just being politicians, who, let's face it, are frequently just in it to line their pockets or due to a lust for power.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Dr. Diaphanous » Tue Feb 28, 2012 1:53 am UTC

Azrael wrote:Although it honestly sounds self-indulgent to me. It's a great way to make yourself look/feel/sound like you're trying to do good without actually having to do anything.


Why is it self indulgent/ not doing anything? If she actually commits to doing what's best for the world, she will have to do a lot of things that bring benefit to people. If it makes her feel better about herself that's a plus but it doesn't sound like that's her main motivation. Unless she is able to feel so good about herself that it becomes the best thing she can do for the world. (Unless she is trapped in a cell with no influence on the world outside, or is some higher life form with limitless capacity for self-satisfaction).

In fact, I believe that "doing what's best for the world" is by definition what everyone should be doing with their lives.

Azrael wrote:So neither of the two factors in the equation [Need] x [Ability] = [Net Benefit] are solvable.


Well, it's kinda hard to put numbers to utility, but you can still make some kind of comparison between two courses of action, and the equation can serve as a useful mental framework even if the values you put in are very vague and debatable.

And anyway, it doesn't really matter if you don't do absolutely the best thing for the world - we haven't even worked out perfect play for chess, let alone the real world. As long as you do something extremely excellent, it's probably best to commit to it rather than worry about whether you can get 1% more utility by switching to a different path.



To the OP, I would like to make three suggestions:
1) If you take the path where you affect the greatest number of people, potential benefits could be very high. However, so is the risk. So if you become a nurse, you will probably benefit a number of people. If you become a politician and reform the healthcare system, you could potentially benefit hundreds of millions, but if you screw up you could cause substantial net harm.

To put it another way, you can get maximum benefit by helping other people to work more efficiently rather than doing the work directly. But this only works if you or someone is doing the direct work. here's LessWrong to explain why: http://lesswrong.com/lw/58g/levels_of_action/

2) I imagine the best way to help the world is by doing something off the beaten track. If you are a biologist, I think you would bring more benefit by researching cures to underfunded tropical diseases than cancers which already have huge numbers of people working on them.

3) Lastly, be a decent person and enjoy your own life - that way, even if you fail in all your plans to help the whole world, you can still say your life was worth living.

Edit: In terms of actual suggestions, would say that a scientist working in something like crop improvement or disease control would be near the top. If that's not your cup of tea, maybe an entertainer? Or an educator (from school teacher to raising awareness of <important issue>)? I don't know what your strengths are, but if you follow what you enjoy/ have talent in, you can probably find some way to use it for good.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby BattleMoose » Tue Feb 28, 2012 2:46 am UTC

Edit: In terms of actual suggestions, would say that a scientist working in something like crop improvement or disease control would be near the top.


On this, we have GE crops which are super good, or better rather but there is so much fear related to them. A lot of good could be done be alleviating these fears. The softer sciences have a real part to play in this world, I really wished they would step up, in a general sense and tackle the social issues that impeded acceptance of good science, off the top of my head, GE crops, nuclear energy and climate change.

The hard science on these topics has been done (for the most part) but acceptance and implementation of the hard science is severely limited by a lack of social acceptance.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby lalop » Tue Feb 28, 2012 3:16 am UTC

BattleMoose wrote:Accumulate a vast horde of wealth, preferably legally, Bill Gates style or similar.

Then invest in those really shitty third world countries where people are struggling to feed themselves and their kids, so they can have jobs and buy food. These investments at a minimum need to be self-sustaining and if there is a profit, fabulous. Remember, 70 years ago, Singapore was one of those shitty third world countries.


You mean stifle out the competition and then stop developing the stuff, like browsers, that you get a monopoly on? I don't think so. Sure, Bill Gates gets brownie points for his philanthropic investments, but at what cost? He chose a field where continued innovation easily benefits not only a small region, but the whole world, then helped to slow down that innovation.

Still, I do get where you're coming from. Microfinanace might be something to get into (it benefits poor people who want to make investments, and apparently, the default rate if you play it really smart is no greater than the default rate in normal banks, but from what I see there's some dispute about this).
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby infernovia » Tue Feb 28, 2012 3:31 am UTC

wanderer wrote:My friend has decided she needs to choose the career/life path that is objectively best for the world, or as close an approximation to that as possible.

- Create a space program that will eventually terraform and colonize another planet to extend humanity's survival as a species.
- In the same vein destroy humanity, because humanity is EVIL.

Anyway, like Azreal already said above, "objective good" doesn't exist, so you are wasting your time if you want to do it. It is also quite a ignoble style of thought, as you would be subservient to what other people consider to be good instead of listening to your instincts and doing what you want and making others think that is good.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby BattleMoose » Tue Feb 28, 2012 4:01 am UTC

lalop wrote:
BattleMoose wrote:Accumulate a vast horde of wealth, preferably legally, Bill Gates style or similar.

Then invest in those really shitty third world countries where people are struggling to feed themselves and their kids, so they can have jobs and buy food. These investments at a minimum need to be self-sustaining and if there is a profit, fabulous. Remember, 70 years ago, Singapore was one of those shitty third world countries.


Still, I do get where you're coming from. Microfinanace might be something to get into (it benefits poor people who want to make investments, and apparently, the default rate if you play it really smart is no greater than the default rate in normal banks, but from what I see there's some dispute about this).


I am actually not talking about micro finance at all. For the most part we are talking about people who are literally struggling to get enough food, probably didn't go to school, almost no business acumen and wouldn't know a viable business idea if it hit them in the head attached to an anvil. This certainly isn't meant as an insult at all but rather a recognition of circumstances in which many of them were born into.

What I think is needed is for people who do have business acumen, to come into these environments and actually set up viable businesses themselves, employing people, allowing them to buy food and actually start an economy. And once the initial problems have been resolved, hand over the business operation to one of the locals and hope they can manage it themselves and provide support as required. They can then move on and start new businesses!

For microfinance to work, it really requires the borrows to have some level of business skills and the borrowers also have to assume a certain level of risk associated with the money they are borrowing. It can work, and is a good idea and it should be an option, I am however proposing something that is quite different.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Webzter » Tue Feb 28, 2012 4:24 am UTC

BattleMoose wrote:
Edit: In terms of actual suggestions, would say that a scientist working in something like crop improvement or disease control would be near the top.


On this, we have GE crops which are super good, or better rather but there is so much fear related to them.


Oh yeah, a crop that produces sterile seeds is super awesome. It'll be even more super awesome when it cross-pollinates with other crops, rendering them sterile as well.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby BattleMoose » Tue Feb 28, 2012 4:40 am UTC

Webzter wrote:
BattleMoose wrote:
Edit: In terms of actual suggestions, would say that a scientist working in something like crop improvement or disease control would be near the top.


On this, we have GE crops which are super good, or better rather but there is so much fear related to them.


Oh yeah, a crop that produces sterile seeds is super awesome. It'll be even more super awesome when it cross-pollinates with other crops, rendering them sterile as well.


I love the way you dismiss an entire area of research with a one liner, awesome. And just in case the sarcasm is wasted on you, [citation needed]. Further, please lets not derail this thread to talking about GE Crops, if you want that discussion, start a new thread.

Never mind the awkward reality wherein we do use a lot of genetically modified foods which produce fully functional seeds. You also quite brilliantly highlight the need as in why we need the soft sciences to actually educated the public about the reality of these technologies.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Randomizer » Tue Feb 28, 2012 5:42 am UTC

Sure genetic modification isn't automatically good or bad, but the people doing it have a commercial interest to breed their plants to certain specifications, which I don't trust to automatically correspond to what's "best" for society, the biosphere, or the plants themselves. And yes, one could argue that selective breding itself modifies the plants we have, but I'd counter that it's a much slower process and farmers and such are forced to work with what's available, rather than changing genomes at will as with genetic engineering, which can have unpredictable consequences.

If you want people to be educated on genetic engineering, stick to the facts, don't try to "sell" them on how great it is because "anyone who disagrees with it must automatically be misinformed".

Speaking of information, Ted gives a lot of insightful talks in various fields. Here's their website and YouTube channel. Might give wanderer...'s friend some idea what field she wants to go into as well. One of the talks was about an anesthesia machine someone made that could work without power. That's incredibly useful as a lot of places don't have reliable power and being under the knife without anesthesia would suck big time.

Another one is Solve For X. It's a new channel, just started out a few weeks ago. I've only seen two of their videos, so I can't say how they are overall, but their video on water treatment was excellent. That's the sort of thing that makes me think engineering is excellent to get into as far as a "big gang for the buck" field for making things better for humanity. I mean, we all need clean water, right?
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby lalop » Tue Feb 28, 2012 8:06 am UTC

BattleMoose wrote:I am actually not talking about micro finance at all. For the most part we are talking about people who are literally struggling to get enough food, probably didn't go to school, almost no business acumen and wouldn't know a viable business idea if it hit them in the head attached to an anvil. This certainly isn't meant as an insult at all but rather a recognition of circumstances in which many of them were born into.

What I think is needed is for people who do have business acumen, to come into these environments and actually set up viable businesses themselves, employing people, allowing them to buy food and actually start an economy. And once the initial problems have been resolved, hand over the business operation to one of the locals and hope they can manage it themselves and provide support as required. They can then move on and start new businesses!


I should've clarified: I meant to give microfinance as an example of a possible investment. But I guess you were talking about something rather more specific.

I'm not sure your idea is completely free of baggage. Walmart, for example, has a tendency to displace small businesses just because they're able to do things more efficiently.

The thing is, people aren't exactly born with "no business acumen". Businesses are the basic way to make a living and survive: you make a good or provide a service and others pay you for it. These are the people microfinance would help. If someone's genuinely unable to do this, there's nothing you can really do for them (except charity). If you go into a poor village, you'll still find merchants selling stuff; there's no particular reason to just start a factory there in order to "businesssize the village", for example.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby lalop » Tue Feb 28, 2012 8:15 am UTC

Randomizer wrote:Sure genetic modification isn't automatically good or bad, but the people doing it have a commercial interest to breed their plants to certain specifications, which I don't trust to automatically correspond to what's "best" for society, the biosphere, or the plants themselves. And yes, one could argue that selective breding itself modifies the plants we have, but I'd counter that it's a much slower process and farmers and such are forced to work with what's available, rather than changing genomes at will as with genetic engineering, which can have unpredictable consequences.


Anything can have unpredictable consequences. Even refrigeration can, in theory, have unpredictable consequences - oh wait, it did. I don't know why alarmists tend to focus so much on genetic engineering (as well as, I guess, the LHC). Mankind has unintentionally ruined the environment so many times over, in so many different ways, that'll it'll undoubtedly happen again, genetic engineering or no.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Randomizer » Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:27 am UTC

Because food is critical to our survival. If you're dedicated you can stop driving a car, but you can't stop eating food. Because food self-replicates. You can stop adding lead to gasoline, but how do you get harmful genes out of corn once it's spread throughout the population?

And yes, there's all sorts of things that have bad effects, and people complain about those, too. If everything people ever did always went right, I doubt you'd see much opposition to genetic engineering.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby aoeu » Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:43 am UTC

Probably the same way you make plants recreate with sterile plants.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Zamfir » Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:39 am UTC

BattleMoose wrote:
I am actually not talking about micro finance at all. For the most part we are talking about people who are literally struggling to get enough food, probably didn't go to school, almost no business acumen and wouldn't know a viable business idea if it hit them in the head attached to an anvil. This certainly isn't meant as an insult at all but rather a recognition of circumstances in which many of them were born into.

What I think is needed is for people who do have business acumen, to come into these environments and actually set up viable businesses themselves, employing people, allowing them to buy food and actually start an economy. And once the initial problems have been resolved, hand over the business operation to one of the locals and hope they can manage it themselves and provide support as required. They can then move on and start new businesses!

Running a business in foreign culture is hard enough without idealistic aims. A lot of business acumen doesn't translate well to other places (or even different social circles), because it's so dependent on reading the subtleties of your social environment.

For example, a critical part of business is to feel when it's OK to squeeze a little bit more out of a deal, and when you start to threaten a good business relationship. If you can't squeeze enough you'll end up bleeding cash, but if you can't build relations and loyalty you won't get anywhere. This requires an excellent understanding of the situation of your partners, the ability to read behind their open statements, to predict how they will act in unexpected situations, but also an ability to build trust, to project the right image of your own intentions to others.

Such things often come natural to experienced business people in their own environment, and leaves them bewildered, even paranoid in a different setting. There's plenty of examples of succesful businesses and businesspeople who tried to move to new grounds, only to fail without ever getting much traction. I bet you've heard stories from people who enthusiastically went on a foreign business adventure, and returned with a cynical tale of lazy, backstabbing, manipulating, lying or outright thieving locals. It's what made Hong Kong big: a place in East Asia where westerners can do business in a more familiar climate.

So count me skeptical on the plan to walk in a distant place and show the locals how it works. With enough money and enough market power you can wedge yourself into place, make people work with you on your terms. That can even be beneficial for everyone involved, but it rarely becomes the seed of transformation you seem to have in mind.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby BattleMoose » Tue Feb 28, 2012 1:06 pm UTC

The only reason (primary reason) Singapore exists as a first world country today is because of massive massive massive foreign investment and fairly unfriendly labour laws. It was certainly on their terms and they drove it but its certainly a model worth trying to copy.

And Zamfir you certainly reason very good points about knowing how things work in local cultures and its certainly also true. Cultural aspects have to be incorporated in every aspect in the business in which the business operates. When people get past their arrogance about the Western Way being the only way and actually work with the local cultures really good things can get done. This isn't some magic fairly land dream.

So in the hypothetical scenario in Shitty Land, which by happenstance has a reasonable copper resources, the only possible way that resource can be made profitable is through huge capital investment. Further a detailed knowledge of the market for copper is required, as is all the engineering skills and mining skills required to make such an operation profitable. And it works nicely because the product would almost certainly be exported and not compete with local business as Shitty Land has so far no copper mining operations nor manufacturing capabilities that use copper.

Extra nice things can be done by actually sending residents of Shitty Land overseas to learn about mining engineering and copper smelting and all the skills required to run such an operation so as time goes on the residents of Shitty Land can start filling positions of not just menial labour but slightly skilled labour too and et cetera.

But you know, if the residents have cultural issues about actual working or religious anti copper sentiments, well that wouldn't work and try and come up with something different.

Regardless its a much much much nicer model of doing things than how actual mining operations actually operate in Africa.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Azrael » Tue Feb 28, 2012 1:10 pm UTC

Dr. Diaphanous wrote:
Azrael wrote:Although it honestly sounds self-indulgent to me. It's a great way to make yourself look/feel/sound like you're trying to do good without actually having to do anything.
Why is it self indulgent/ not doing anything? If she actually commits to doing what's best for the world, she will have to do a lot of things that bring benefit to people. If it makes her feel better about herself that's a plus but it doesn't sound like that's her main motivation...
Yeah, if she actually commits. Which is what I advocated, that she commit to something. Even if you can't prove (or even come close to demonstrating) that it's the most useful course.

Because trying to synthesize enough data to figure out what's "the best", at the expense of doing something else worthwhile, sounds an awful lot like a cop-out.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Zamfir » Tue Feb 28, 2012 1:43 pm UTC

BattleMoose, that makes your plan for people who want to improve the world like this:

1) become rich
2) use that wealth to start a proftiable, foreign-controlled resource extraction operation in a poor country, using the locals as cheap labour
3) gradually transfer control to locals, avoiding common pitfalls like making it the power base of an oppressive and corrupt elite
4) Hope that the operation becomes more than an isolated source of Dutch Disease

Bit of a long shot, don't you think? Or am I too unfair?
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Rium » Tue Feb 28, 2012 6:01 pm UTC

There’s a website/blog called "80,000 Hours" – I can’t post URLs yet – that was recently linked on LessWrong. I haven’t read much yet, but it seems to focus on the exact question in the OP.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby TranquilFury » Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:45 pm UTC

She's asking the wrong question, you shouldn't ask what's best for the world, the world doesn't have it's own goals and motivations. Ask your friend what's in her own best interests, tell her to do what she loves doing, then figure out how to make a living at it. Or if she has some lofty goal, work to obtain whatever power necessary to achieve that goal.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby BattleMoose » Tue Feb 28, 2012 11:08 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:BattleMoose, that makes your plan for people who want to improve the world like this:

1) become rich
2) use that wealth to start a proftiable, foreign-controlled resource extraction operation in a poor country, using the locals as cheap labour
3) gradually transfer control to locals, avoiding common pitfalls like making it the power base of an oppressive and corrupt elite
4) Hope that the operation becomes more than an isolated source of Dutch Disease

Bit of a long shot, don't you think? Or am I too unfair?


Well, pretty much it. There might be some negotiation on point one, wherein it might be possible to get given the money on the basis on doing good things in bad places.

And to be fair, resource extraction in Africa pretty much consisted of point 2 only with subsequent points focused purely on profits for the parent company and generally screwing over the locals.

If this is really going to fall down its probably going to be because of a lack of non established raw resources that aren't threatened by war.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Charlie! » Wed Feb 29, 2012 1:57 am UTC

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PQ6335puOc

Assuming you don't want to go the Full Conan... If the goal is to feel like you're making a difference, maybe become a doctor or civil engineer or something and then volunteer with a Without Borders charity. If you want to save lives, making a lot of money and donating it to a charity that saves a lot of lives per dollar sounds good (bing, bong). If you want to shape the world in general to your desires that's a bit trickier, but then you want either lots of money, a technological breakthrough, or political power, and money is still probably the easiest of the three.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby CorruptUser » Wed Feb 29, 2012 6:19 am UTC

Meh, the problem with 'best for the world' is that all morality/philosophy tends to be arbitrary. It's usually set up as whatever someone thinks will be best for them, then those people try to convince everyone else to follow.

The real world is a harsh bitch. For example, there is an island with 2 couples. There is only enough food for 4 children. Couple A and Couple B can both have 2 kids each, or Couple A could prevent Couple B from having a second child and A could have 3 kids (ignore inbreeding issues). Does A's third child have less right to exist than B's second? The world is equivalent, there are 4 people in the next generation. Think this is abhorrent? I agree, except virtually everyone's ancestors were A, not B. If someone were to murder 5 billion people, but immediately replace them with another 5 billion equivalent people, the world would be equivalent, even though 5 billion murders had occurred.

That is the natural state of things. But civilization is basically our way of giving the middle finger to nature.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Dr. Diaphanous » Wed Feb 29, 2012 9:08 pm UTC

TranquilFury wrote:She's asking the wrong question, you shouldn't ask what's best for the world, the world doesn't have it's own goals and motivations.


"What's best for the world" doesn't mean helping the "world" (the spheroid of magma and rock) or the "world" (some kind of hive mind). It means helping a the individuals on the world while minimizing harm to individuals on the world, with (number of people helped x average amount of help*) as high as you can get it. And I'm not saying the world has "motivations", but there are many things that are beneficial to a great many people if not everyone. e.g. adequate healthcare, nutrition, security, liberty, access to xkcd.

*Yes, I know. But you can certainly make some kind of rough assessment.

TranquilFury wrote:Ask your friend what's in her own best interests, tell her to do what she loves doing, then figure out how to make a living at it. Or if she has some lofty goal, work to obtain whatever power necessary to achieve that goal.


What makes her interests any more important than anyone else's? I guess you could say one has more knowledge of one's own needs and more control over one's own life, than of someone else's. That's true to an extent. But if you put yourself or those close to you above other people in importance, you have set the stage for a multitude of evils. The advice you gave would encourage a politician to declare him/herself dictator for life. Or encourage a chemical company CEO to allow dangerous chemicals to be dumped in a river. Going by one's own best interests is not the way to go if it affects others.


CorruptUser wrote:The real world is a harsh bitch. For example, there is an island with 2 couples. There is only enough food for 4 children. Couple A and Couple B can both have 2 kids each, or Couple A could prevent Couple B from having a second child and A could have 3 kids (ignore inbreeding issues). Does A's third child have less right to exist than B's second? The world is equivalent, there are 4 people in the next generation. Think this is abhorrent? I agree, except virtually everyone's ancestors were A, not B. If someone were to murder 5 billion people, but immediately replace them with another 5 billion equivalent people, the world would be equivalent, even though 5 billion murders had occurred.


Well, assuming the new 5 billion appear fully formed with memories and skills and relationships, the world would be equivalent apart from the grief of the (non-dead) loved ones of the 5 billion.

But Couple A probably wouldn't get as much from a third child as B would from a second child, because of decreasing marginal utility.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby lalop » Wed Feb 29, 2012 9:29 pm UTC

Randomizer wrote:Because food is critical to our survival. If you're dedicated you can stop driving a car, but you can't stop eating food.


Yes, it's precisely because food is critical to our survival that we should be embracing GM. Our productivity isn't just going to keep up with our population growth forever.

Randomizer wrote:Because food self-replicates.


Everything in nature self-replicates, including diseases for which a random mutation may well wipe out our population. Plants and animals actually seem like the lesser issue here; if worst comes to worst, we can nuke them, and seriously, is it that worth worrying about? We kinda need them anyway, so random black hole risks be damned.
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby CorruptUser » Wed Feb 29, 2012 10:00 pm UTC

Dr. Diaphanous wrote:Well, assuming the new 5 billion appear fully formed with memories and skills and relationships, the world would be equivalent apart from the grief of the (non-dead) loved ones of the 5 billion.

But Couple A probably wouldn't get as much from a third child as B would from a second child, because of decreasing marginal utility.


Grief is momentary. No one today has (directly) suffered from the actions of 500 years ago. The world 500 years ago may have included the suffering incurred then, but it does not have it now.

Fast forward to when couple A is dead, and all that's on the island are A's 3 kids and B's one kid (or just A's 4 kids). There is the same amount of utility on the island as if there were 2 of each's kids. The world is indifferent. Better, if you can argue that A's kids are healthier/happier than B's kids would've been, but that's a dangerous line of thought that often ends in Godwin's Law.

As for decreasing utility, there are 1.4 billion Chinese and only a few hundred Samaritans. Does this mean that the life of Chinese person is worth significantly less than the life of a Samaritan? That if you had to choose between saving a single Samaritan and several hundred Chinese, you save the one person because he's clearly more valuable?
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby Dr. Diaphanous » Thu Mar 01, 2012 1:12 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:Grief is momentary. No one today has (directly) suffered from the actions of 500 years ago. The world 500 years ago may have included the suffering incurred then, but it does not have it now.


If by momentary you mean a lifetime (possibly 80+ years). Are you saying that suffering doesn't matter because each instance of it doesn't last forever?
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Re: What's Best for the World

Postby CorruptUser » Thu Mar 01, 2012 4:41 am UTC

To the person alive? Yes it matters. To the world, long after the person is dead? It's irrelevant. Like I said, the world is a bitch.

Ever read Schlock Mercenary? One of the storylines (spoilers ahead)

Spoiler:
involving the Gatekeepers, ancient (by Human standards) sentients that controlled the portals between planetary systems. One of the built-in side-effects was an exact copy of the object/person going through the gate who is then tortured to death to extract information. Initially it's thought this was done to gain control over pretty much the galaxy, but it's later revealed they are doing this to suppress teraport (teleporting) technology. Millions of years prior, they fought a war with Dark Matter Entities, who were vulnerable to the effects of the teraport. A treaty was agreed; the DME would leave the Galaxy, and the Gatekeepers got the gates and would suppress technology. The result was that the Gatekeepers would torture to death something like 50 billion people every single day. And yet, they are good guys, sort of. Well, not really, but they aren't considered evil. In spite of murdering more people in a week than have ever existed on Earth. Because without them, everyone else in the galaxy would be dead. So creating and then murdering 50 billion a day was not an 'evil' act.
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