A recent story that’s shown up a number of places concerns a Houston couple giving away around $4 billion for causes they deem worthwhile and, more importantly, that appear to be provably effective. The idea being that they want to make sure their dollars go toward things which have a higher likelihood of permanent change and for which metrics are in place or can be put in place to measure that effectiveness. Additionally they want proposals to have already thought things through, showing the path from getting to where the problem is now to where the solution may be. That said, supposedly there is some sort of backlash over this because they are spending their money on things which do not necessarily help people in need right now.
Let’s overlook the absurdity of telling them how they can spend their money for a moment. After all, if that were an issue we should be storming the gates of every rich person out there who lives the playboy/playgirl lifestyle and does precious little for their fellow human and we don’t see that. As far as I’m concerned the fact that this couple is spending any of their money on social reform is a good thing and to be lauded.
I dislike the argument that they should focus their efforts on short term solutions to long term problems, which is one aspect of the argument being made against their activities. To begin with there are already a lot of entities providing help to the needy in many aspects. Could more money help some of them? Absolutely. But wouldn’t it be better if, instead of pouring money into addressing the symptom you put money into finding a cure? If instead of simply buying more aspirin, you could stop the fever and watch it die out?
There are some, however, who don’t so much disagree with the idea of finding a permanent solution as they do with the hubris associated for daring to believe that some solutions can be found or even paid for. And yet, why not at least try? If nothing else some of the money spent on trying to find and enact a solution to a social ill could turn up information that leads to an actual approach that works or just increased awareness of the problem. Again, all of this is a positive outcome. At worst, the money simply disappears into a black hole with zero results. That would be unfortunate on many levels but not a catastrophe for anyone besides the funding couple.
Personally I am excited to see this approach taken. While I firmly believe that too much measurement can bog down a process or a system, I also believe the opposite end of the spectrum is adverse as well; too little measurement results in massive inefficiency. In this case the measurement isn’t even focused on whether an organization is spending their money on those in need, getting by on as little as possible, etc. It is solely focused on getting the most long term bang for the buck, seeing to it that the focus is on eliminating or at least scaling down the problem as much as possible rather than just treating the symptoms. If this works, and any effects would necessarily be felt only in the long term, it could become a blueprint for how to best go about addressing issues that have plagued mankind for far too long. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!