George_H comments on Where should anti-paternalists donate? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: George_H 05 May 2017 08:32:36PM 3 points [-]

Thanks for a clear and insightful post - comparing different cause areas is challenging enough, and it’s particularly hard to weigh up different value sets at the same time (i.e. anti-paternalism and measurable utility). And thanks for including my brief comments on GD, although not sure my insights really warrant the concluding line:

“Nonetheless, even if GiveDirectly is less cost-effective than other charities, there may be other reasons to donate to GiveDirectly. One could for example argue, as George Howlett does, that GiveDirectly promises substantial systemic benefits and that its model is a great way to attract more people to the idea of effective charity.”

I’ll flesh that point out a little more detail here. Essentially I think that a huge proportion of GiveDirectly’s impact comes in areas that necessarily go uncaptured by GiveWell’s quantitative approach. GiveWell even give a pretty clear nod of the head to possibilities here (‘our review focuses on its direct impact, rather than the experimentation or policy impact its programs might have’). Systemic influences are hard to estimate, but may be of great significance in this case - here are a couple of mechanisms for how they could work:

Scaling influence and changing development norms: GD’s simple operating narrative provides it dimensions of effectiveness that other top charities do not possess to the same extent:

-The direct cash transfer model is interesting and easy to understand, and has led to GD getting lots of public attention compared to our other causes. After all, trusting the world's poorest to know what to do with donations is an attractive idea, especially when coupled with hard evidence of cost-effectiveness. So while I see little reason to inherently value anti-paternalism, then the idea of anti-paternalism is a powerful one that may bring effectiveness benefits in terms of increased public support, over and above our other top charities. I’ve certainly experienced this in my corporate outreach work - people feel an affinity with the basic idea of GD more than, say, deworming. Google were convinced by the model, and helped them get off the ground with a $2.4m grant back in 2012. Then again this point is more around future effectiveness (i.e. greater room for widespread support than other top causes) rather than what goes uncaptured now.

-Similarly, there is much talk in the development sphere around seeing cash transfers as a ‘benchmark’ intervention - i.e. if there isn’t a strong case for doing anything else then we should just give people cash (Ban Ki-moon recently made this case). Contributing to what seem like positive shifts in development sector evaluation norms is highly impactful. GD are only part of the influencing force here, but have some strong government links (e.g. Jo Macrae - GD’s new Head of European Partnerships - used to be Head of UK Humanitarian Policy at DfID).

-This point around scalability of influence and broad appeal externalises to a whole range of persuasive approaches. We can use these to expand the movement’s reach to groups who may have more in common with us than is realised, without watering down what GD do at all. For example I see GD as a specifically feminist intervention: UCTs directly empower the heads of households in East Africa, who are typically female. Or for a business-minded audience: UCTs empower microbusinesses in East Africa, and promote the spread of mobile banking technology (n.b. both of these factors may also contribute to reducing the very valid ‘missing markets’ objection you raise). I listed off a load of these in a FB group post if anyone’s interested - this narrative flex is fascinating! [www.fb.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/1292702440786110]