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I migranti di Fahrenheit migrano ancora… (IV inbloggazione)

Beneficienza autistica

Aiutare il prossimo è qualcosa di sopravvalutato perché si sottovaluta quanto sia difficile farlo. Troppo speso le buone intenzioni si trasformano in uno spreco di energie che danneggia tutti.

Quando il filosofo William MacAskill aiuta il suo prossimo la cosa che desidera più ardentemente è aiutarlo. Non crediate che sia facile perché la tentazione di limitarsi ad “agire in modo edificante”, a fare qualcosa che si presti al racconto incombe sempre. Bisogna allora ricorrere a mille trucchi, eseguire molti calcoli, fare parecchi confronti per non cascare nella trappola. Tutte fredde operazioni con esiti imprevedibili che potrebbero raffreddare il vostro entusiasmo di benefattori. Tutte operazioni spiegate nel suo libro Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference”. Sappiate allora che il più grande nemico sono le “buone intenzioni”: che lo si ammetta o meno a molti di noi basta sentirle nel cuore per pacificare la propria coscienza. Oltretutto, se siete generosi col vostro prossimo la cosa si noterà, se fallite nell’aiutarlo concretamente ben pochi saranno interessati a sottolinearlo.

Ecco la storia di un gigantesco fallimento a lungo silenziato, quello delle Playpump:

Until 1989, Trevor Field was a typical middle-aged South African man… he had watched the women of a rural village wait for hours next to a windmill-powered water pump. There had been no wind that day but the women, who had trekked for miles, still needed to bring water… There simply must be a better way to do this, he’d thought. Now he was witnessing a potential solution… The PlayPump, as it was called, utilised the power of children at play to provide a sustainable water supply for the community… In 1995 he secured his first sponsor, Colgate Palmolive, installed the first PlayPump, and quit his job in order to focus full-time on the project,… His first major breakthrough came in 2000, when he beat 3,000 other applicants to win a World Bank Development Marketplace Award, given to ‘innovative, early stage development projects… That award attracted funding and attention, which culminated in a site visit from Steve Case, CEO of internet service provider AOL, and his wife Jean… Steve Case used his internet expertise to pioneer new forms of online fundraising… The PlayPump became the darling of the international media, who leapt at the opportunity to come up with punning headlines like ‘Pumping water is child’s play’ and ‘The magic roundabout’… In an article for Time magazine in 2006, Bill Clinton called the PlayPump a ‘wonderful innovation’… Rapper Jay-Z raised tens of thousands of dollars through his ‘Water for Life’ concert tour in 2006… First Lady Laura Bush, launching a campaign designed to raise $60 million to fund 4,000 PlayPumps across Africa by 2010… Trevor Field was at the centre of it all – a rock star of the charity world… By 2009 his charity had installed 1,800 PlayPumps across South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia… despite the hype and the awards and the millions of dollars spent, no one had really considered the practicalities of the PlayPump… Most playground roundabouts spin freely once they’ve gained sufficient momentum – that’s what makes them fun. But in order to pump water, PlayPumps need constant force, and children playing on them would quickly become exhausted… In one village local children were paid to ‘play’ on the pump… women of the village ended up pushing the roundabout themselves – a task they found tiring, undignified and demeaning… What’s more, no one had asked the local communities if they wanted a PlayPump in the first place… many said they preferred the hand pumps that were previously installed…. hand pump of the same cylinder size as a PlayPump provided 1,300 litres of water per hour – five times the amount of the PlayPump…. The old hand pump was much easier.’… Even when communities welcomed the pumps, they didn’t do so for long. The pumps often broke down within months, but, unlike the Zimbabwe Bush Pump, the mechanism was encased in a metal shell and could not be repaired by the community… The billboards on the storage tanks lay bare: the rural communities were too poor for companies to be interested in paying for advertising… at $14,000 per unit, it cost four times as much… PBS ran a documentary exposing the PlayPump’s many shortcomings…

Da notare: nonostante il loro fallimento acclarato le PlayPump continuano ad essere installate poiché descrivere il loro funzionamento suona talmente bene che la reputazione di chi le sponsorizza non è intaccata nemmeno ora che sappiamo come sono andate le cose.

Yet, despite its fall from grace, the PlayPump lives on. Under the name Roundabout Water Solutions, Field’s non-profit organisation continues to install the same model of PlayPumps across South Africa, with backing from corporations including Ford Motor Company and Colgate Palmolive… good intentions can all too easily lead to bad outcomes…

Michael Kremer e Rachel Glennerster insistono che la cosa migliore da fare per migliorare la nostra beneficienza è studiare i fallimenti. Uno esemplare:

Turkana people are basically nomadic, and various development projects had hoped to improve their quality of life by settling them on the lake, so they built a big factory for fish. They managed to get them to settle and fish in the lake, but then the lake got overfished, and the fish stock collapsed … It was depressing.’…

Kremer e Glennester si sono imbattuti nel caso singolare delle adozioni a distanza: costruire scuole nei paesi poveri, fare volontariato nelle medesime, donare testi scolastici sempre più aggiornati, pagare insegnanti sempre più preparati, comprare lavagne e altri sussidi didattici… si tratta di progetti che destano la nostra ammirazione. Sverminare i bambini invece è un’operazione che non gode di altrettanta aurea. Eppure Kremer scoprì che in certi contesti è di gran lunga la miglior strategia in campo educativo (abbatte il gigantesco assenteismo):

Kremer spoke to Paul Lipeyah, a friend who worked for the Dutch charity International Christian Support (now called Investing in Children and Their Societies, or ICS). ICS’s main programme was child sponsorship, in which a donor paid a regular amount to help an individual child or a small community. ICS had been trying to improve school attendance and test scoresnew textbooks, additional teachers, school uniforms and so on… Kremer urged Lipeyah to test his programme using a method known as a randomised controlled trial… Randomised controlled trials are the gold-standard method of testing ideas in other sciences, and for decades pharmaceutical companies have used them… But before Kremer suggested it, the idea was almost unheard of in the development arena… it seemed obvious that providing more textbooks would help students learn. However, when Kremer tested this theory by comparing test scores between schools that received books and those that didn’t, he found no effect… Next, Kremer looked at providing flipcharts. The schoolchildren couldn’t understand the textbooks, but having flipcharts would allow teachers to tailor lessons to the specific needs of the students. Perhaps these would work better? Again, however, no effect…. increasing the number of teachers would? After all, most schools had only one teacher, catering to a large class. But, again, he found no discernible improvement from decreasing class sizes… At that point a friend at the World Bank suggested he test deworming… They aren’t as dramatic as AIDS or cancer or malaria because they don’t kill nearly as many people as those other conditions. But they do make children sick, and can be cured for pennies: off-patent drugs, developed in the fifties, can be distributed through schools and administered by teachers, and will cure children of intestinal worms for a year… The results were striking. ‘We didn’t expect deworming to be as effective as it was,’… Absenteeism is a chronic problem in schools in Kenya, and deworming reduced it by 25%….What’s more, deworming didn’t merely have educational benefits. It had health and economic benefits, too…. when Kremer’s colleagues followed up with the children ten years later, those who had been dewormed were working on average an extra 3.4…

Morale: senza calcoli accurati si è inefficienti. L’emozione ci frega, il cuore è un ostacolo.

… being unreflective often means being ineffective… Trevor Field and everyone who supported him were driven by emotions – the appeal of seeing happy children provide their communities with clean water through the simple act of playing… The Case Foundation, Laura Bush and the Clinton Global Initiative supported the PlayPump not because there was good evidence…

Molti, per esempio, si sono scagliati contro contro i RCT (Random Control Trial): fare confronti implica che fornisci, per esempio, più insegnanti ad un villaggio rispetto ad un altro pur avendo le risorse per non discriminare: molti ritengono tutto cio’ immorale anche se operare in questo modo  accrescere  in la nostra conoscenza e ci fa  programmare più razionalmente l’aiuto futuro.

Quando “aiutiamo noi stessi” la nostra mentalità è molto diversa rispetto a quando “aiutiamo gli altri”: difficile, per esempio, che investiamo i nostri risparmi dando retta a imbonitori incontrati per strada, eppure buona parte della nostra beneficienza la facciamo in questo modo.

Imagine, for example, that you’re walking down your local high street. An attractive and frighteningly enthusiastic young woman leaps in front of you, barring your way. She clasps a tablet and wears a T-shirt that says ‘Dazzling Cosmetics’. You agree to speak to her and she explains that she represents a beauty products company that is looking for investment. She tells you how big the market for beauty products is, and how wonderful the products they sell are, and how, because the company spends over 90% of its money on making the products, and less than 10% on staff, distribution and marketing, the company is extremely efficient and therefore able to generate an impressive return on investment. Would you invest? Of course you wouldn’t…. If you wanted to invest in a company, you would consult experts or investigate different companies and compare… almost no one is foolish enough to invest in a company that is pitched to them on the street…

Quando aiutiamo gli altri ci disinteressiamo poi della loro sorte, dell’utilità del nostro aiuto, cosa che ci guardiamo bene dal fare quando “aiutiamo noi stessi”:

…Because we don’t get useful feedback when we try to help others, we often don’t get a meaningful sense of whether we’re really making a difference… Kremer and Glennerster succeeded in part because they didn’t assume they knew what the most effective way of helping people was… ‘deworming is probably the least sexy development programme there is’…

Il benefattore razionale deve essere onesto e imparziale ma soprattutto deve sapere che almeno il 50% del suo sacrificio consiste nel calcolare le forme del suo aiuto: scoprire il deworming è stato più faticoso che realizzarlo. La mistica del sacrificio potrebbe essere addirittura controproducente.

Kremer and Glennerster exemplify a way of thinking I call effective altruism. Effective altruism is about asking ‘How can I make the biggest difference I can?’… effective altruism consists of the honest and impartial attempt to work out what’s best for the world, and a commitment to do what’s best, whatever that turns out to be…Many people believe that altruism should necessarily denote sacrifice, but if you can do good while maintaining a comfortable life for yourself, that’s a bonus…

Ci sono organizzazioni filantropiche cento volte più efficienti di altre:

We discovered that the best charities are hundreds of times more effective at improving lives than merely ‘good’ charities…

Forse il miglior modo per far beneficienza è finanziare quelle organizzazioni che valutano l’efficienza delle organizzazioni filantropiche:

… two New York hedge-fund analysts, Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld, quit their jobs to start GiveWell, an organisation that conducts extraordinarily in-depth research to calculate which charities do the most good with every dollar they receive…

Ecco le domande che bisogna porsi quando si fa del bene “senza cuore”:

How many people benefit, and by how much? Is this the most effective thing you can do? Is this area neglected? What would have happened otherwise? What are the chances of success, and how good would success be?…

Perché sono domande importanti?

Question 1 helps us to think concretely about how different actions improve people’s lives, so that we don’t squander our time or money on activities that don’t, ultimately, make people better off. Question 2  ensures we try to spend our efforts not on ‘merely good’ activities, but on the very best activities. Question 3 directs us to focus on those areas which receive comparatively little attention, and for which others haven’t taken the outstanding opportunities to make a difference. Question 4 helps us to ensure that we’re not trying to do good works that would happen with or without our involvement. Question 5 helps us to think about uncertainty correctly, so that we can know when to pursue activities that have low odds of success but large potential payoffs instead of activities with guaranteed smaller benefits…

C’ è chi si fa prendere dallo sconforto: ma con il poco che posso donare come farò mai la differenza. Si conclude che in fondo il nostro sforzo è una goccia nell’oceano, e che a questo punto basta il gesto.

Eppure… Eppure bisogna essere consapevoli che la maggioranza di chi leggerà questo libro apparterrà al fatidico 1% della popolazione più ricca del pianeta. Gli altri al 5%. Ora, magari siete anche scesi in strada con i movimenti “occupy…” per gridare il vostro sdegno contro il famigerato 1% di privilegiati multimiliardari. Ma nella questione che trattiamo qui l’ 1% siamo tutti noi! E’ evidente che ci sfuggono i nostri privilegi.  

When the Occupy Wall Street movement gained traction in late 2011, disaffected citizens of the Western world quickly adopted the term ‘the 1%’ to refer to the top 1% of income earners in wealthy nations, primarily the United States…. References to the 1% versus the 99% – i.e. the rest of the population – quickly became shorthand for the income gap in America… These facts can lead those of us who aren’t in that 1% to feel powerless, but this focus on the top income earners in the United States neglects just how much power almost any member of an affluent country has. If people focus exclusively on American inequality, they’re missing an important part of the bigger picture… If you earn above $52,000 (£34,000) per year, then, speaking globally, you are part of the 1%. If you earn at least $28,000 (£18,200) – that’s the typical income for working individuals in the US – you’re in the richest 5% of the world’s population. Even someone living below the US poverty line, earning just $11,000 (£7,000) per year, is still richer than 85% of people in the world…

So già qual è l’obiezione: ma il costo della vita nei paesi poveri è inferiore quindi il nostro privilegio non è ben rappresentato dalla diseguaglianza nei redditi nominali.

Sure,’ you might say, ‘the poor in developing countries might not have much money, but that money can pay for so much more because the cost of living in those places is cheaper.’… When I was in Ethiopia, I ate at one of Addis Ababa’s fanciest restaurants, and the bill came to about $10…

D’altronde, si prosegue, ci sono zone del mondo in cui la gente vive con 5 dollari al giorno, da noi sarebbe impossibile, ergo: il costo della vita è inferiore che da noi: 

You might wonder how anyone can live on so little money. Surely they’d die? And the answer is … they do. At least, they die much more regularly than those of us who live in developed countries…

Ecco, non lasciatevi ingannare dal trucco che c’è dietro: il costo della vita non c’entra (o c’entra relativamente). Chi vive con poco… vive male:  

… In other dimensions, their lives are just as lacking as you’d expect, given their earnings… spending most of their income on food… The majority are underweight and anaemic… Most households own radios but lack electricity, toilets or tap water. Less than 10% of households possess a chair or a table… In the US, because there is no extreme poverty, there is no market for extremely cheap goods. The lowest quality rice you can buy in the US is far better than what you could buy in Ethiopia or India… The room I rented in Ethiopia for $1 a night was far worse than anything I could rent in the US… The very worst housing you can buy in the US is far better than the mud-brick houses typical for those living below the $1.50/day…

Ora dovrebbe essere tutto più chiaro: da noi essere poveri è dura soprattutto perché non ci sono molti poveri e quindi non esiste un mercato dei poveri. E’ vero, In Etiopia potete dormire in albergo pagando 1 euro ma nel letto troverete gli scarafaggi. Da noi prezzi tanto bassi non ci sono non tanto perché il costo della vita è più alto ma per il semplice fatto che siamo tutti abbastanza ricchi da poterci permettere di rifiutare condizioni del genere: se un albergatore le proponesse fallirebbe!

Bene, ora che abbiamo visto che i poveri del mondo sono veramente poveri (e non “finti poveri” con redditi bassi bilanciati da un costo della vita inferiore), ci si para davanti agli occhi “la grande occasione”: le diseguaglianze sono talmente forti che la nostra azione di benefattori puo’ davvero fare molto: 

Because we are comparatively so rich, the amount by which we can benefit others is vastly greater than the amount by which we can benefit ourselves. We can therefore do a huge amount of good at relatively little real cost… we make ourselves $1 poorer and thereby make an Indian farmer living in extreme poverty $1 richer. How much more would that $1 benefit the poor Indian farmer than ourselves? It’s a basic rule of economics that money is less valuable to you the more you have of it…

Pensate solo all’utilità marginale del denaro! E’ vero che i soldi non fanno la felicità ma vi contribuiscono:

Figure 3, which shows the relationship between income and subjective wellbeing both within a country and across countries… Source: Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, ‘Subjective well-being and income’… For someone earning $1,000 per year, a $1,000 pay rise generates the same increase in happiness as a $2,000 pay rise for someone earning $2,000 per year, or an $80,000 pay rise for someone already earning $80,000 per year… Imagine if your boss called you in and told you your salary would double for the next year. You’d be pretty pleased, right?…

Per noi il mondo della beneficienza è un moltiplicatore della felicità, un colossale Happy Hour:

… Imagine a happy hour where you could either buy yourself a beer for $5 or buy someone else a beer for 5¢. If that were the case, we’d probably be pretty… This idea is important enough that I’ve given it a name. I call it The 100x Multiplier…

Non è sempre stato così, per 200.000 anni (fino a 250 anni fa) l’uomo di ogni paese ha avuto un reddito medio giornaliero di 2 dollari al giorno:   

… from the evolution of Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago until the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago – the average income across all countries was the equivalent of $2 per day or less… Even now, over half of the world still lives on $4 per day or less…

Conclusione: una goccia nel mare? No. 

… Sometimes we look at the size of the problems in the world and think, ‘Anything I do would be just a drop in the bucket. So why bother?’ But, in light of the research shown in these graphs, that reasoning doesn’t make any sense…

COMMENTI PERSONALI

Un libro pieno di stimoli che finora su di me ha avuto un solo effetto concreto: non donare nulla per il recente terremoto (ho seguito il principio: “nella tua beneficienza trascura senza sensi di colpa gli eventi che compaiono sui media nelle prime 25 pagine”). Mi chiedo se la beneficienza che non crea comunità abbia un valore così totalizzante: forse il senso di soddisfazione che crea in noi la “generosità tradizionale” non è solo narcisismo o irrazionalismo, forse qualcosa di quel sentimento va salvato, forse non va completamente raschiato via come fa invece la beneficienza spietata di William MacAskill.

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