Wednesday, March 02, 2005

20,000 People Perished Yesterday

I recently read Varry Schwartz's book Paradox of Choice. It was a great read, and fairly short so I recommend it to all. Hopefully I will get a chance to blog on the insights that I found in it.

One of those insights was that people tend to overestimate the vivid causes of death (accident, homicide, tornado, flood, fire) and underestimate the mundane causes of death (diabetes, asthma, stroke, tuberculosis). Why is this? A study has shown that the frequency of newspaper coverage and the respondents' estimates of the frequency of death were almost perfectly correlated.

So we estimate our chance of death based on what we read and see in the media. This also leads our society to put emphasis on trying to reduce causes of death that are spectacular (like terrorist attacks) and ignoring those that don't make the news (like extreme poverty). So I write this blog as a way to add one article in the mundane category so we can align our resources appropriately.

Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who heads the United Nations' Millennium Development Project to end global poverty, rightly takes issue with the press in his book "The End of Poverty": "Every morning," Mr. Sachs writes, "our newspapers could report, 'More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme poverty.' "
To put it in perspective that is a Tsunami a week. And while the Tsunami has got a ahh, well, Tsunami of media attention and resources to go along with it, others in the world continue to suffer and the US could do something to alleviate it and doesn't.
This country is going to spend more than $400 billion on the military this year, and another $100 billion or so for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that amount is never going to buy Americans peace if the government continues to spend an anemic $16 billion - the Pentagon budget is 25 times that size - in foreign aid that addresses the plight of the poorest of the world's poor.
This article also points out different ways that the US could help Africa if we wanted.

via New York Times

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