[July 18 2019 addendum: This assumes that coffee has a causal- rather than merely correlational- influence on longevity. See comment section for more details.]
The T-shirt in the featured image was probably designed as a joke, but I take it very seriously.
Indeed, I think there is a strong case to be made that subsidizing coffee could be seen as an Effective Altruist priority. You see, you can save a life with coffee for as little as $50k. This makes coffee an intervention that is on par with some of the top charities in the world, and it is an outlier when it comes to the cost-benefit ratio of medical interventions. Consider how, e.g. this article on QALY states that:
“The UK’s recommendations, for example, are about £20,000 to £30,000 ($30,000 to $45,000) for each additional year of good health, once it has been adjusted to take into account the quality of life. So a drug that achieved 0.5 on the QALY measure would only merit £10,000-15,000 ($15,000 to $22,500).”
Assuming a QALY-adjusted average life-span of about 60 years per person, coffee is about 30 to 50 times more cost-effective than the types of medical interventions the UK is willing to subsidize to extend people’s lives. And that’s not even considering what people themselves are willing to pay to extend their own lives, which is, of course, a lot more than what a government would.
Relative to GiveWell‘s top charities this is still not the best intervention out there (with some of the ultra-effective charities saving a life for about 2,000 dollars). I would nonetheless point out that the ultra-effective charities out there are all effective because they address populations where very basic human needs are not typically met. In Malaria-ridden, war-torn areas, a little can go a long way. But what’s different about coffee is that it is as effective everywhere in the world. Sure, you can save a life with $50k in many African countries. But can you do so in Sweden?! With coffee you can!
Anyhow, how did I arrive at these numbers? Well consider that you can get about 380 doses of coffee for as little as 10 dollars.*
So this means you can have a cup of coffee for as little as 2.63 cents(!). In turn, we know from a lot of research that each cup of coffee up to 4 cups a day prevents about 1/2 micromorts (interestingly, it is just as cost-effective to encourage people who don’t drink coffee to drink 1 cup as it would be to encourage people who drink 3 to go ahead and drink 4).
Given those numbers, we have that the cost of a full life-span worth of micromorts is about $52,631.58.
Why are we not funding this?!
*With: Example 48 oz brand. (we could do even better buying in bulk – I reached out to a delivery company to get a quota and will update when I know more).