Robin Hanson argues that ‘helping professions’ like medicine don’t really help more. Part of his argument goes as follow:
1. You charge a price for your services, so the help they receive is the difference between the value they gain and the price you charge.Â The more you charge the less help is gained, and doctors charge a lot.
2. If there are a fixed number of slots in medical school, you would just displace someone else.Â Â You then have to ask how much better are your services than that person’s.Â And beware of overconfidence.Â
3. If there are not a fixed number of slots, then by becoming a doctor you induce between zero and one more doctor’s worth of patients to be treated.Â Â But these are marginal, not average, cases; these patients thought their case so mild that they were right on the borderline of not going to a doctor at all.Â Â So you only get to take credit for the value these marginal patients get, not the average patient.
I find this somewhat convincing, thoughÂ it also applies in reverse: if you’re worried that your decision to join the mafia might make the world a worse place, you may be overstating the negative impact.