Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others...
The essence of this argument is that charities which save human lives are more valuable than charities which don't. Furthermore, it assumes that charities which save the most lives per dollar donated are the most worthy charities and the most deserving of our contributions.
How valid is this philosophy? Is saving human lives really the most crucial goal towards which we all should advance? If we explore the author's contention that the frivolous waste of money on a painting would have been better spent in the saving of one-thousand lives in Africa, then we must also explore the results of this binary decision made by the contribution giver.
The thousand saved Africans would almost certainly agree that they are the most deserving of the charitable contribution. This however ignores an unfortunate fact. The amount of life-sustaining resources in Africa―food, medicine, shelter, clean water―are sadly insufficient to sustain the lives of the Africans already living on this desperately poor continent. By funding a non-African outside force to travel thousands of miles carrying the cargo and resources and man-power necessary to save all these thousands of lives makes the donator in large part responsible for putting further strain on an already unsustainable economy. The idea that these thousand "saved" Africans will now live happily-ever-after in peace and harmony along with the other six-hundred million starving Africans is so absurd that it literally boggles the mind.
That money spent on sanitation and sewage treatment could have purchased perhaps one-million condoms, which would have decreased the birth-rate and allowed those hundreds of millions of Africans to endure for perhaps another generation. But here again the logic trips us up. For perhaps in those one-million babies never born, was the African leader who would have led the African people out of darkness and savagery into a better more compassionate future. And who's to say to what use those condoms would have gone? Perhaps all the wise Africans would have used the condoms while all the foolish Africans would have continued making babies. Your big-hearted and thoughtful gift could wind up turning a hellish brutal land into something so much worse that there's no way it could even be imagined.
Indeed even among the original thousand saved lives might be a great one with destiny riding his shoulders. So perhaps saving the most lives possible is the best answer. Unless... what if among those thousand saved lives is another Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot! No, the only thing I'm certain of is that trying to predict what the future holds based on a spur of the moment impulsive charitable gift is enough to drive a person to drink...