Brief survey: the value of humanity

2008-03-28

in Economics

You versus the lot:

  1. What proportion of your income would you be willing to give up to stop yourself from dying instantly in 1 year’s time?
  2. If you were certain to die in one year’s time, what proportion of your income would you be willing to give up to prevent all of humanity from becoming extinct at that precise moment?
  3. What proportion of your income would you be willing to give up to stop yourself from dying instantly in 10 years’ time?
  4. What proportion of your income would you be willing to give up to prevent humanity from becoming extinct in 10 years?

The long-term perspective

  1. What proportion of your income would you be willing to give up to prevent humanity from becoming extinct in 100 years?
  2. What proportion of your income would you be willing to give up to prevent humanity from becoming extinct in 1000 years?

Delaying versus preventing

  1. What proportion of your income would you be willing to give up to delay human extinction by 100 years, assuming it will otherwise occur in 100 years? That is to say, what would you pay to extend the length of the human species’ existence by 100 years?
  2. What proportion of your income would you be willing to give up to delay human extinction by 100 years, assuming it will otherwise occur in 1000 years?
  3. What proportion of your income would you be willing to give up to delay human extinction by 1000 years, assuming it will otherwise occur in 1000 years?

The relevance of the questions

  1. Do you feel strongly about all of these possibilities, about some but not others, or about none at all?

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Padraic March 28, 2008 at 3:36 pm

Cool idea, but I think the “proportion” element makes this misleading. People with lower incomes will be willing to give up less, whereas rich people have a higher percentage as disposable. Absolute numbers might be more useful

Milan March 28, 2008 at 3:49 pm

The idea was actually to partially control for wealth. It seems more similar when a person making $20,000 and a person making $150,000 pledge 10% of the total than when they each pledge $2000.

That said, it must be acknowledged that everyone faces some fixed costs associated with living and that rich people have more discretionary income as a proportion of the total.

The interesting thing about the responses to this survey will be the differences between the answers to each question, more than the precise answers given.

Egoist March 28, 2008 at 3:51 pm

You versus the lot:

1. As much as I can possibly earn and borrow.
2. Not one thin dime.
3. I expect to live another fifty years or so, so perhaps 50% of my income?
4. Again, nothing

The relevance of the questions

1. The other two sections seemed irrelevant.

Jahusafet Rangoon March 28, 2008 at 6:33 pm

You versus the lot:

1. Well, likely I couldn’t survive if I gave up all of my income. Unless I moved home with my parents. Hmm.. Death, or moving back to the small town from whence I came?

… I guess I’d give up my whole income. (Minus coffee funds.)

2. Likely all of it. Well, I’d extract enough to buy some gear to go live in a hut on the Galapagos for a few weeks, comfortably, before The Grim End.

3. 10 years? I can’t live at home for that long! 40% of my income.

4. Likely all of it. (Minus coffee funds)

The relevance of the questions:

1. I feel strongly about the first four, the ‘long-term perspective’ section requires way more thought to accurately reflect what my actual actions would be, and ‘delaying vs. preventing’ seems impossible to answer honestly.

Sarah March 28, 2008 at 7:24 pm

I have to say I agree with the first comment – the answers are meaningful only insofar as they refer to the proportion of your income above that required for bare subsistence in your society. Citizenship and Immigration Canada regard $10,000 a year as the minimum on which a single impoverished student could live, so one might reasonably treat that as a baseline figure & anything above it as somewhat ‘disposable’.
As such, I provide figures referring to the proportion of my income above $10,000.

You versus the lot:
1. Basically all of it
2. Probably less – perhaps 70%
3. Maybe 50-70%
4. Maybe 50-70%

The long-term perspective
1 & 2. Er, are there any restrictions on their activity or can they spend the next hundred years torturing each other and/or wiping out biodiversity? If they are likely to act decently (ie. no nuclear holocaust or gigantic extinctions) then approx 50% & 30% respectively; otherwise maybe 10% or nothing.

Delaying versus preventing
1. Maybe 30%
2. Maybe 5%
3. Very little.

The relevance of the questions
I feel most strongly about the possibilities dealing with 1-100 year timespans, perhaps because I have no intent to reproduce.
I’m also very doubtful that people I will never know are more important than vastly greater numbers of plants & critters that I will never know, which are arguably more likely to survive if all and only the humans dropped dead. If the extinction of all animal, or all animal and plant life were involved then I would be willing to pay notably high proportions of my income than if only (or mostly) humans were affected.

tristan March 28, 2008 at 10:25 pm

I don’t have an income, so these questions are incomprehensible to me.

tristan March 28, 2008 at 10:41 pm

The questions are very misleading, as shows itself in this response:

“1. Well, likely I couldn’t survive if I gave up all of my income. Unless I moved home with my parents. Hmm.. Death, or moving back to the small town from whence I came?

… I guess I’d give up my whole income. (Minus coffee funds.)”

Giving up 100% of your income means you don’t have parents. Living at your parents house is a form of income – it’s just not explicitly an economic transaction – you have to control for your own particularity otherwise your judgements have no meanings for others.

And coffee funds? You mean, you’d buy coffee but not food? Coffee is the definition of a luxury, something you don’t need, it’s insane to think you’d save money “only for coffee” – coffee comes after the more dire needs get met. Like shelter. And booze. (j/k)

Milan March 29, 2008 at 7:07 am

I don’t have an income, so these questions are incomprehensible to me.

Sure you do. Otherwise, how are you paying rent and tuition, not to mention buying computers? It doesn’t really matter if your income derives from employment or debt, it is just the collection of money that you are living off or saving.

R.K. March 29, 2008 at 1:14 pm

The above questions are the subtext whenever politicians talk about “balancing environmental protection with economic development” – though few of them have probably personally acknowledged the possibility that human behaviour could actually wipe out the species.

Just like the pine beetles that are facing destruction because they have eaten all the available food, humanity is likely to keep charging blindly forward until it hits a brick wall.

Milan March 29, 2008 at 1:16 pm

One way to turn the questions above around is to consider an alternative situation:

You are a member of one of the last few human generations. You don’t know precisely when, but you know that there is a very good chance of everyone getting wiped out for a preventable reason within the next few decades. If you could impoverish people living 100 years before, so as to eliminate the risk, how much would you do so by? What about people living 1000 years before?

Whatever choice you make affects your own probable level of wealth, as well as humanity’s chances of doom.

Brett Banks March 29, 2008 at 5:46 pm

1. All but what is necessary to barely survive for that year (hell it would just be undergrad all over again except only for a year instead of four)

2. Nothing as I would need all my money to enjoy my final year on earth. Let the rest of humanity pay their part to ensure their own survival. Ok i would make a small minimal donation of $25 for solidarity sake. That is unless my family needs my help to pay their share to ensure their survival.

3. Pay whatever amount is necessary to ensure i live. If that amount is unknown then i’m a firm believer in the uncertainty principal. A poor life is better than no life.

4. See # 2

Relevance: this is a good intro for me to talk the global income tax I would like to see implemented before I die…but i wont.

anonymous March 30, 2008 at 1:13 am

“prevent humanity” – Does humanity include the reader?

Milan March 30, 2008 at 1:32 am

Does humanity include the reader?

Extinction means everyone.

Victoria Brownlee April 7, 2008 at 3:29 am

Actually, I would pay my entire income to insure the entire human species(myself included, of course)would be wiped off the face of the earth immediately, but painlessly with no foreknowledge.

Milan April 7, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Victoria,

Why would you want to do that? For the benefit of other living things suffering from human actions?

Milan September 18, 2011 at 8:31 pm

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