People are dying so that you can read this blog.
Your internet access fees could
more than double the income of a $400-a-year Ghanaian laborer. People are starving to death, and there you sit, with resources enough to save them (and with reputable charities standing by to effect the transfers), padding your own already luxuriant lifestyle. That’s a choice you made. It’s a choice almost everyone in the First World makes. It might or might not be a horrific choice, but it’s one for which we easily forgive each other.
(Do you already give money to Ghanaian laborers? I applaud you and I wish others would do the same. But it doesn’t change the fact that other Ghanaian laborers are dying so you can have your Internet.)
Someday you might find yourself strolling through a desert with a bottle of water and stumble on a man dying of thirst. I bet you’ll offer him some water, and I bet you’d think much less of anyone who didn’t. But there is, as far as I can see, no important moral difference between surfing the web while Africans starve and strolling through the desert while men die in front of you.
I said there’s no moral difference, which is not the same as saying there’s no difference at all. We evolved to be callous towards those who are distant (or invisible) and kind toward those who are close. (Robin Hanson posts frequently and insightfully on the contrast between how we treat the near and the far.) It’s pretty clear why there might be an evolutionary advantage to behaving that way. If you’ve got a reputation for helping your friends and ignoring strangers, then more people will want to be your friends. So it pays to favor the close and the visible. Our emotions are wired that way, and there’s probably not much we can do to change it. Attempts to change human nature do not have a good historical success rate.
Forse chi vede una distanza abissale tra Etica ed Economia dovrebbe riflettere.
Gran parte dei comportamenti che crediamo eticamente fondati sono invece il frutto di scelte economiche.
Imagine a miner trapped in a mine. It will cost thirty million dollars to get him out. With that thirty million, we could build a guardrail that will save three lives. We’ve seen the miner’s face on the news; we’ve seen his family; we know his name. All of our instincts — the same instincts that let us ignore those Ghanaian laborers — tell us to save the man we know and ignore the three we don’t know. Those, I think, are bad instincts. Anyone with amnesia — anyone, that is, who is forced to take an unbiased view of the situation — would want us to save three lives rather than one. (Because each of us, in a state of amnesia, has triple the chance of being saved by a guard rail.) It’s no use saying we should both build the guardrail and save the miner; that only raises the question of whether we ought to build two guardrails instead of one.