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How to Make a Difference

A reader asks Alex Tabbarok how he could make the biggest positive impact on society. A commenter says:

1. Focus on preventing destructive people. In general it is easier for one person to destroy something than it is for one person to create something (e.g., it is easier to destroy the Mona Lisa rather than to paint it). Additionally, our criminal justice system is mostly focused on punishing crimes rather than preventing crimes (of course punishing crimes has a detering effect, but you get what I am saying) So if you can work on efforts that would help prevent people from causing destruction than you would have accomplished a lot of good (e.g., if you had stopped the Virginia Tech shooter or Bernie Madoff). The downside is that you will never know how successful you were at avoiding destruction because the destruction/massacre/bombing never happened.

2. Focus on becoming a whistleblower or stoolpidgeon. While one person of modest intelligence and skill can’t make a large corporation or criminal organization by himself, it only takes one person to expose massive fraud or corruption or bring down a criminal enterprise. The strategy should be to get as high as possible into a criminal enterprise, gather evidence on the operations of the whole organization, and then turn it all over to the authorities in exchange for immunity. The downside is that you will betraying everyone that you have been working with for years and there is a good chance that you could be caught for aiding the same crimes while you are working you way to expose them. Additionally, to get really embedded into a criminal organization or to fully understand a complex fraud could take years or decades.

3. Focus on helping those who are repugnant to society. If there is a breakdown it charitable works, I would guess that it is not on the side of medical research or helping widows and orphans. Instead, the biggest gap is probably in the area of helping out those that are seen to be repugnant to a society. You could focus your life on helping pedophiles, rapists, murders, or criminals which have mental disorders (which I understand is a relatively high population). Again, if you stop these criminals from re-offending, then you have already done a lot of good in society. The downside is that society at large may find your actions repugnant and you may never get any positive recognition for your help from society at large.

Another person replies: put your money where you have an informational advantage.

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