This Obit made me sad: Alex Grass, 82, who founded Rite Aid and built it into one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains, died Aug. 27 … By the time he stepped down as the company’s chairman and chief executive in 1995, Rite Aid was the nation’s largest drugstore chain in terms of total stores and No. 2 in terms of revenue. …
I don't know that it would be bad, but it would be less good than having population growth. A higher population hurts average happiness when most happiness is generated from fixed resources which people compete for. It helps average happiness when most happiness is generated from ideas and other creations which can easily be shared without loss. Right now, we are far closer to the latter than the former, and we probably will stay there until we run out of room in the universe.
Diogenese wins the comments thread.
Sometimes I'm convinced this blog is an elaborate joke.
You say: "We already have too much medicine and academia, because such things are mainly wasteful signals."
I don't agree with this point. Spending on health care and education is strongly correlated with future growth. There are several plausible theories for why we should expect this and the evidence seems largely to support causation here.
You don't provide any argument to support your claim. Until you do I'm not even vaguely convinced.
I'm sure that many professors spend time on economically and culturally unimportant musings and that many medical procedures occur that do not contribute much to the overall well being of society. Its just that I don't think business does much better and there are some things for which a profit motive isn't the most effective driver.
I think this post has a right wing economic bias.
Why would zero population growth be bad?
Maybe Alex Grass had a clear idea of what he was good at. Maybe there was background innovation in Rite Aid, but what it looks like from the outside is the result of taking a sound standard idea and being dedicated to expanding it.
If he thought he wasn't likely to come up with a useful new sort of charity, he might have been right. Or maybe he should have worked on expanding existing good charities into chains.
> Now, that is rich. What facts have you in support of such an assertion? From where I’m sitting (working on government-funded anti-aging research) we don’t have nearly enough medicine, and won’t until aging is a treatable disease.
Robin has posted dozens of times about wastefulness in medicine and academia; although perhaps it is rich of me to expect commenters to do things like click on that enormous 'Medcine' tag link on the righthand side, and read what was written...
I think we should give Alex Grass the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he ran out of innovative business ideas and wasn't able to judge other peoples. His charitable giving was then the least worst think he could do with his money.
Didn't Robin previously say that such competitions are wasteful?
Community College -- The NEW status signal for the social elite in America.
That is a really neat idea.
Your post answers the question, Who is Alex Grass? At intervals over the last several years I've had occasion to drive past the the medical building bearing this name prominently displayed. From a utilitarian viewpoint, the funds used in its construction might have been expended pursuing some expressly innovative endeavor with a higher potential societal payoff, but as a an example of meaningful philanthropy generative of positive externalities, the building succeeds on several levels. It's new, it's prominent, and it's attractive--located in an area that will really benefit from those attributes. Serving patients of from various social strata, the building can be seen as a signal of urban vitality.
As to the community college gift--where's the cause for grief? Business elites and their social circles don't usually send their kids to community college. Richly endowed Ivy schools are categorically different. Maybe someone who attends community college will go on to generate innovative benefits to society that would otherwise have been out of reach. If it was the late Mr. Grass's intention to give something back to his community, not just to reinforce a dominance signal to his social class, an argument can be made that he succeeded brilliantly.
"Given that there’s too much venture capital being thrown at bad venture capitalists, how do you throw money at innovation? Give it all to the X-Prize Foundation?"
That wouldn't be a bad idea.
I'd also suggest donating to research universities with some parameters to insure that the money is spent on underfunded areas (high risk, high reward fields that typically don't do well in grant proposals).
Given that there's too much venture capital being thrown at bad venture capitalists, how do you throw money at innovation? Give it all to the X-Prize Foundation?
Robin, do you think too much or not enough money is spent by our society on 'long term research?' Do you think academia is overfunded in general or underfunded and organized poorly (due to status/signalling reasons, etc.)?
We already have too much medicine and academia, because such things are mainly wasteful signals. We didn’t need and shouldn’t be thankful for more hospital wings or lecture halls.
Obviously a lot of innovation is wasteful signaling, too. I could imagine someone claiming that we "don't need and shouldn't be thankful for more innovation," that instead our resources would be better spent on fewer, higher-quality innovations.
Is there some rigorous way to establish that we would be better off with more innovation, even if you don't weight for quality?
I guess the more pertinent question is: Would we be better off with the innovation that Grass might otherwise have generated with that $17 million? The answer might seem like an obvious "yes". But sometimes people just have one good idea in them. If Grass had felt pressured by a quest for status to produce innovation for its own sake, he could conceivably have done more harm than good.
How might this kind of question be settled empirically?
How about: an annual college scholarship fund that goes to high-school students in the three states that have the largest proportion of students using school vouchers? Is it legal to give politicians incentives like that?