Re: poly: Showing That You Care: The Evolution of Health Altruism

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Thu May 13 1999 - 12:41:41 PDT

Peter C. McCluskey wrote:
>Generally a good paper.

Thanks, but too kind. With a little distance, I can now see that the paper
is pretty sloppy and disorganized. Next version will be better, I hope.

>It appears to apply to a broader set of phenomona
>than your focus on health care suggests. I wonder how well it explains
>things in other areas such as environmentalist politics.

Yes, a huge range of human behavior likely has important signaling functions,
and signaling is likely the main function for many of them.
We are just beginning to get some inking of what they are. A recent book
on the topic is Robert Frank's "Luxury Fever". Frank is way too quick to
conclude that what we will learn about signaling will back his knee-jerk
political intuitions. But he is thinking about good questions.

> You say on page 2:
>"Thus A would prefer that B invest more in health, compared to what B
>would choose for himself".
> I don't see how this follows from your assumptions.

Page 2 is the introduction, where I state but do not prove results.
For those, you have to look at the body of the paper. See the top of
page 13.

>I have doubts about whether black imprisonment rates support your
>hypothesis the way you imply. I would expect altruistic signals to
>focus on less brutal ways of discouraging drug use, and I would guess
>that the imprisonment rate is better explained by desire to exile a
>segment of the population that commits an above-average amount of crime.
>If blacks are thought of as members of a different tribe by a significant
>number of people, then your hypothesis would imply more effort to combat
>drug use by poor whites than by poor blacks.

I was thinking that blacks are though of as low status among the wider
group of the nation, which is equivalent to each black being in fewer
relevant alliances and coalitions. But there may be other ways to
think about it.

>You say on page 19:
> "In many ways morals may be luxuries which the very poor can not afford".
> Your argument seems to imply people will abandon morals when subject to
>a crisis that significantly reduces their life expectancy, but I doubt
>it implies much about the morals of people who are commonly considered
>very poor today, so I think this phrasing is somewhat misleading.

O.K., but that phrasing was right after I talked about people starving to

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar FAX: 510-643-8614
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 510-643-1884
after 8/99: Assist. Prof. Economics, George Mason Univ.
Received on Thu May 13 12:43:52 1999

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