End world hunger vs. cure cancer

Aka I’ve been playing Saint’s Row IV again. Early on, you, the president, are given the choice to cure all forms cancer and eliminate it forever, or feed the hungry and make sure nobody goes hungry again.

You only have the resources for one. Which is the right one to choose?

I’m not finding a cite now, but my understanding is that a complete cure for all forms of cancer would only raise life expectancy across the world by a small amount–a year or two. Hunger kills the young, and can permanently disable even those it doesn’t kill. Hunger in a heartbeat.

End hunger.

(But…ah…does that mean we get to reproduce insanely without limit, knowing we’ll always be magically fed? Or does it come with reproductive limits built in? I’d want to know the details.)

Meanwhile, right now, at our stage of understanding, cancer is largely preventable, detectable, and treatable. If we never got any better at it at all, we’ve still put huge limits on its ability to harm.

Cure cancer first. Because cancer doesn’t know from young or old, rich or poor, fed or hungry. Then deal with world hunger. Which will suddenly become a bigger issue with a population generally healthier and living longer.

One imagines it’s the former; the people always have enough food regardless of population growth.

We can already end world hunger, thanks to modern agriculture and shipping methods. It’s just that humans suck and we lack the political will to make it happen. We can already produce enough food - that part is easy. It’s getting the foods to the peoples where things go off the track.

Cancer. otoh, is much, much harder for us to cure since it’s really many different types of phenomenon. We might never find a cure for all the different cancers that are possible. I go with the cancer cure.

By “ending world hunger,” I assume you mean no one will ever go hungry due to economic need again, rather than we can have the technology to do it (which, as mentioned above, we already do). And the answer is world hunger by a long shot. First, cancer mainly targets the old, while poor nutrition causes 3.1 million children under five to die each year, or almost half of all under-five deaths. Second, worldwide about 14 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2012, and 8 million people died. In contrast, 805 million people on Earth currently don’t have enough food to “lead a healthy active life.” One in nine people. While that’s not starving to death (those stats are hard to get due to the remote places where much of the dying goes on), it’s certainly going hungry. Cites for all of the above.

Lastly, not to put too fine a point on it, but more effort will be expended to cure cancer vs ending world hunger because cancer kills everyone, rich or poor. Everybody has at least one loved one who has cancer or died from it, and that’s not true with starvation. I feel as though world hunger is far, far easier to ignore in first world countries where most scientific research is done. But a human life is a human life. So, ending world hunger.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if either one was as easy as voting on a poll . . .

ETA: Ah, sorry, forgot one more point: what with the population skyrocketing and climate change, the issue of starvation is only going to get worse and worse (and worse and worse . . .) as time goes on. Cancer, though horrible, will mainly stay stable.


The increased productivity (more healthy people), decreased birth rates (less risk of kids dying = less motivation to have a lot of kids), decrease in conflict, more education (fewer kids working, more money for school fees) and other effects will more than pay for themselves. Plus, as mentioned, hunger is a social/structural problem, not a technical one. We suck at solving those, and it’d be nice to have a victory to learn from.

Ending cancer would be nice, but it wouldn’t have the wide-ranging social impact that ending Hunger would bring. Indeed, there is a risk that many gains would be lost as people feel free to take more risks with their health.


Hunger is certainly a bigger problem and a greater worldwide scourge, since as noted most cancers are going to hit those already on their way out in society. But hunger is something we know how to cure, at least theoretically. Cancer we don’t very well. That makes it a pretty clear choice for me - eliminate the one you can’t deal with adequately ( and free up all the resources consumed with finding ways to do so ) and tackle the one you can.

I’ve known people who died of cancer. I’ve never met anyone who died of hunger. Fornicate cancer, all the way.

Wow, exactly 50-50 split. I chose end world hunger although I had to think about it for a good while, reckon it’d do the most good and advance humanity the most.

This is essentially my reasoning as well, and hunger is the bigger global issue imo.

There are millions of people on the other side of the world dying of hunger. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening on a giant scale.

I assume it comes with reasonable reproductive limits, since the contrary would be biologically impossible. Let’s say we discover methods to feed a potential population of 20 billion people, or something. Which I strongly doubt we’re ever going to reach.

I’d go with ‘hunger’ in a heartbeat, it’s not even a serious question for me.

IMHO, this is the correct answer.

It’s the same kind of sentiment that decries outsourcing. Fuck the hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indian people that have clawed their way out of unimaginable poverty thanks to globalisation and (relatively) free trade. They’re taking away our jobs dammit.

As noted, “hunger” is largely a political and economic problem, afflicting the developing world.

Therefore, “solving” it would entail political and economic imperialism, trodding upon said countries’ agency* and sense of identity for the sake of assuaging the cultural guilt and noblesse oblige of the developed world. This will lead to resentment, backlash, and ultimately world war, leaving not even ravens to scavenge from the charred dead.

Cancer, on the other hand, 'don’t protest or vote. Boom.

*The author was tempted at this point to just start stringing together fashionable buzzwords until they filled out an outwardly-coherent paragraph. I’m hesitantly confident I could have gotten away with it, too.

I’ve heard 2-3 years. However it isn’t like everyone would just live a few more years in their 80s. I assume it means a minority would live 10+ years longer and an even smaller minority would live decades longer. Most people would be barely affected. That is my interpretation of the life expectancy gains.

Hunger is more an issue of political dysfunction than anything. Overall though I’d pick hunger as that would do more for the world than curing cancer.

My (quasi-serious) logic was the opposite: there have been countless riots and desperate crimes due to hunger but (the fictitious Heisenberg notwithstanding) almost none due to cancer. Bread riots have been a “thing” but cancer riots haven’t.

If you save millions from starvation, how many of those will die of cancer?