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JoshYou comments on Contra the Giving What We Can pledge - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: AlyssaVance 04 December 2016 10:57:57PM 2 points [-]

"In general, without a counterfactual in the background all criticism is meaningless"

This seems like a kind of crazy assertion to me. Eg., in 1945, as part of the war against Japan, the US firebombed dozens of Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. (The bombs were intentionally designed to set cities on fire.) Not being a general or historian, I don't have an exact plan in mind for an alternative way for the past US to have spent its military resources. Maybe, if you researched all the options in enough detail, there really was no better alternative. But it seems entirely reasonable to say that the firebombing was bad, and to argue that (if you were around back then) people should maybe think about not doing that. (The firebombing is obviously not comparable to the pledge, I'm just arguing the general principle here.)

"This is only half-true. I pledged 20%."

The statement was that the pledge recommended 10%, which is true. Of course other people can choose to do other things, but that seems irrelevant.

"Citation needed?"

The exact numbers aren't important here, but the US federal budget is $3.8 trillion, and the US also has a great deal of influence over both private money and foreign money (through regulations, treaties, precedent, diplomatic pressure, etc.). There are three branches of government, of which Congress is one; Congress has two houses, and there are then 435 representatives in the lower house. Much of the money flow was committed a long time ago (eg. Social Security), and would be very hard to change; on the other hand, a law you pass may keep operating and directing money decades into the future. Averaged over everything, I think you get ~$1 billion a year of total influence, order-of-magnitude; 0.1% of that is $1 million, or 57x the $17,400 personal donation. This is fairly conservative, as it basically assumes that all you're doing is appropriating federal dollars to GiveDirectly or something closely equivalent; there are probably lots of cleverer options.

"But if your time really is so incredibly valuable, then you shouldn't spend time doing this yourself, you outsource it to people you trust"

The orders of magnitude here aren't even comparable. This might reduce the net cost to your effectiveness from 5% to 2%, or something like that; it's not going to reduce it to 0.0001%, or whatever the number would have to be for the math to work out.

"However, in principle you should still give your money, just not your time."

In practice, there is always some trade-off between money and time (eg. here discusses this, along with lots of other sites). The rate varies depending on who you are, what you're doing, the type of time you're trading off against, etc. But again, it's not going to vary by the orders of magnitude you seem to implicitly assume.

"Indeed, as you point out towards the end of your piece, this is basically Givewell's initial model."

The initial GiveWell audience was mostly trading off against personal leisure time; that obviously isn't the case here.

"the marginal effort is roughly 0"

It seems extremely implausible that someone making a middle-class salary, or someone making an upper-middle-class salary but under very high time pressure and with high expenses, could give away 10% of their income for life and literally never think about it again.

"If we're not including students, what's your source for thinking effective altruists are 'low income'? Low relative to what?"

Relative to their overall expected career paths. In upper-middle-class and upper-class career tracks (finance, law, business management, entrepreneurship, etc.), income is very back-weighted, with the large majority of expected income coming during the later years of the career.

"You used two examples from (a) GWWC's page itself and (b) CEA updates, GWWC's parent organisation, and used this to conclude the other metrics don't exist?"

I can't prove a negative. If they do exist, where are they? If you link to some, I'll happily add them to the post, as I did for 80K's metrics.

"What metrics do you think 80k/REG/EAF/FHI/CSER/MIRI/CFAR/Givewell/any-other-EA-org are using?"

The GWWC pledge count is used as a metric for EA as a whole, rather than for any specific org like MIRI, CFAR, etc. (Also, AFAIK, many of the orgs mentioned don't really even have internal metrics, except things like "total annual budget" that aren't really measures of efficacy.)

"And we know that CEA is aware of the possible issues with being too focused on this to the exclusion of all else because they said exactly that here* on the forum."

That's cool, but as far as I know, these metrics don't yet exist. If they do exist, great, I'll link them here.

"I don't see how that difference is going to be on a par with your Nevada/Alaska comparison"

The important difference isn't the donation amounts (at least for that example). The important differences are a) this is a public commitment, while most GiveWell-influenced donations are private; b) the commitment is made all at once, rather than year-by-year; c) the commitment is the same income fraction for every year, rather than being adjustable on-the-fly; d) the standard deviation of income for pledgers is almost certainly much higher than for GiveWell's initial audience; e) the standard deviation of human capital is higher; f) the standard deviation of amount-of-free-time is higher; g) pledgers now have very different, and much higher-variance, ideas about "the most good" than a typical GiveWell donor in 2009 (though this is somewhat of an "accident of sociology" rather than intrinsic to the pledge itself).

"I didn't really follow the argument being made here; how does the second point follow from the first?"

There's a selection effect where pledge-takers are much less likely to be the type of people who'd be turned off by donating to a "weird" charity, taking a "weird" career, etc., since people like that would probably not pledge in the first place.

Comment author: JoshYou 05 December 2016 02:25:48AM 1 point [-]

I'm still pretty confused about why you think donating 10% has to be time-confusing. People who outsource their donation decisions to, say, Givewell might only spend a few hours a year (or a few minutes, depending on how literally we interpret "outsourcing) deciding where to donate.

Comment author: Paul_Christiano 20 December 2016 03:11:03AM *  5 points [-]

I think that donor lotteries are a considerably stronger argument than GiveWell for the claim "donating 10% doesn't have to be time-consuming."

Your argument (with GiveWell in place of a lottery) requires that either (a) you think that GiveWell charities are clearly the best use of funds, or (b) by "doesn't have to be time-consuming" you mean "if you don't necessarily want to do the most good." I don't think you should be confused about why someone would disagree with (a), nor about why someone would think that (b) is a silly usage.

If there were low-friction donor lotteries, I suspect that most small GiveWell donors would be better-served by gambling up to perhaps $1M and then thinking about it at considerably greater length. I expect a significant fraction of them would end up funding something other than GiveWell top charities.

(I was originally supportive but kind of lukewarm about donor lotteries, but I think I've now come around to Carl's level of enthusiasm.)

Comment author: Julia_Wise 05 December 2016 11:48:57AM 5 points [-]

One reason would be if you think the people should spend the money on saving themselves time.

Comment author: BenHoffman 14 December 2016 10:36:54PM 3 points [-]

Look out in the world and you'll see lots of people excited about things that don't work or don't do what they say they'll do. Anyone can say they're evidence-backed etc. On outside view, if you only spend a few minutes on your donations each year, how much of the optimization pressure influencing your donations should you expect was marketing skill on the part of the recipient or their patron, vs selecting for actual impact?