In response to EA Funds Beta Launch
Comment author: Ben_West  (EA Profile) 13 March 2017 03:48:09PM 1 point [-]

Is it possible to donate through transferring money already donated to a different donor advised fund?

I generally put money into my own DAF at a time which is convenient for tax purposes, and only consider grants later. Mine is through fidelity, if that's relevant.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 26 February 2017 09:35:43PM 1 point [-]

How effective do you think investment would have been at the margin there was at the end of October 2016? I'm surprised to see only about ~$1K of advertising put into it, for example, but maybe there were steep returns by that point?

Comment author: Ben_West  (EA Profile) 06 March 2017 11:15:11PM 1 point [-]

Yeah, good question. AdWords for terms like "vote swap" had a CPA of 2 to 3 dollars, but generic things like "stop Donald Trump" were ineffective. I don't believe we maxed out spend on the former category, and I think that the latter category probably would've been more effective if we had focused on conversion better. In summary: we probably should have put more advertising dollars and effort into the project.

Comment author: the_jaded_one 02 March 2017 09:43:57PM *  2 points [-]

2016 only one candidate had any sort of policy at all about farmed animals, so it didn't require a very extensive policy analysis to figure out who is preferable.

Beware of unintended consequences, though. The path from "Nice things are written about X on a candidate's promotional materials" to "Overall, X improved" is a very circuitous one in human politics.

The same is true for other EA focus areas.

A lot of people in EA seem to assume, without a thorough argument, that direct support for certain political tribes is good for all EA causes. I would like to see some effort put into something like a quasi realistic simulation of human political processes to back up claims like this. (Not that I am demanding specific evidence before I will believe these claims - just that it would be a good idea). Real-world human politicking seems to be full of crucial considerations.

I also feel like when we talk about human political issues, we lack an understanding of, or don't bother to think about, the causal dynamics behind how politics works in humans. I am specifically talking about things like signalling

Comment author: Ben_West  (EA Profile) 02 March 2017 11:55:38PM 2 points [-]

In order to think vote trading is a good idea, you have to think that, with some reasonable amount of work, you can predict the better candidate at a rate which outperforms chance.

Humility is important, but there's a difference between "politics is hard to predict perfectly" and "politics is impossible predict at all".

Comment author: MichaelDello 27 February 2017 09:18:59AM 3 points [-]

I have one concern about this which might reduce estimates of its impact. Perhaps I'm not really understanding it, and perhaps you can allay my concerns.

First, that this is a good thing to do assumes that you have a good certainty about which candidate/party is going to make the world a better place, which is pretty hard to do.

But if we grant that we did indeed pick the best candidate, there doesn't seem to be anything stopping the other side from doing the same thing. I wonder if reinforcing the norm of vote swapping just leads us to the zero sum game where supporters of candidate A are vote swapping as much as supporters of candidate B. So on the margin, engaging in vote swapping seems obviously good, but at a system level, promoting vote swapping seems less obviously good.

Does this make any sense?

Comment author: Ben_West  (EA Profile) 27 February 2017 03:22:06PM *  1 point [-]

Thanks for the feedback!

  1. I generally like arguments from humility, but I think you're overstating the difficulty of choosing the better candidate. E.g. in 2016 only one candidate had any sort of policy at all about farmed animals, so it didn't require a very extensive policy analysis to figure out who is preferable. The same is true for other EA focus areas.
  2. I agree. I do not think that promoting vote pairing irrespective of the candidates is a very useful thing to do.
Comment author: Michael_S 26 February 2017 03:20:06PM 5 points [-]

Thanks for the write up. I think you make a compelling case that this is more effective than canvassing, which can be over 1000 dollars for votes at the margin in a competitive election like 2016. I do think there are a few ways your estimate may be an overestimate though.

Of those who claimed they would follow through with vote trading, some may not have. You mention that there wouldn't have been much value to defecting. However, much of the value of a vote for individual comes from tribal loyalties rather than affecting the outcome. That's why turnout is higher in safe presidential states in a presidential election than midterm elections, even when the midterm election is competitive. Some individuals may still have defected because of this.

Secondly, many of the 3rd party folks who made the trade could have voted for Clinton anyway. People who sign up for these sites are necessarily strategic thinkers. If they wanted more total votes for Stein/Johnson, but recognized that a vote for Clinton was more important in a swing state, they might have signed up for the site to gain the Stein/Johnson voter, but planned to vote for Clinton even if they didn't get a match. Additionally, even if they were acting in good faith when they signed up, they may have changed their mind as the election approached. 3rd parties are historically over estimated in polling compared to the election results, and 2016 was no exception:

I don't think these problems are enough to reduce the value by an order of magnitude, but it is worth keeping in mind.

Additionally, while vote trading may be high EV now, I am skeptical that it is easy to scale. It's even more difficult to apply outside of presidential elections, so, unlike other potential political interventions, it will mostly be confined to every 4 years in one race. Furthermore, the individuals who signed up now may be lower cost to acquire than additional potential third party traders. They are likely substantially more strategic than the full population of 3rd party voters; in many years, the full population isn't that large to begin with. The cost per additional vote may be larger than your current estimates.

Nevertheless, I agree that right now it's probably more valuable than traditional canvassing and I'm glad people are putting resources into it.

Comment author: Ben_West  (EA Profile) 27 February 2017 02:56:37PM *  1 point [-]

Yeah, those are fair points. I would say that some EA's seem to over-estimate the amount of time people put into choosing a candidate. There are probably a few people who are calculating the Nash equilibrium and deciding to defect after agreeing to trade, but most people just do the honest thing because they are honest.


Vote Pairing is a Cost-Effective Political Intervention

Summary Vote pairing is a practice whereby individuals agree to swap votes. Wikipedia summarizes it as: In United States presidential elections, vote pairing usually comes in the form of voters from "safe" states, or non-swing states, voting for third-party candidates, and voters from swing states voting for their second-preference candidate. This form of vote pairing... Read More
Comment author: SoerenMind  (EA Profile) 02 February 2017 04:24:04PM 1 point [-]

If I donated 10% of my income then this would mean that I have to work ~11% longer to get to that same target savings.

That doesn't seem right unless you have zero expenses. You'd need to multiply 11% with (monthly income / monthly savings).

Comment author: Ben_West  (EA Profile) 04 February 2017 01:10:16AM 0 points [-]

Yeah, good point. It's pretty close though

Comment author: Jeff_Kaufman 29 January 2017 06:58:57PM 6 points [-]

Thanks for writing this up!

I don’t deduct any of my food or housing costs even though I need those to live

This seems like a big one. Your biggest expenditures are necessities: food and housing. You might be ok with cheaper housing and food, but certainly bringing your expenses to $0 in these categories would be extremely PWPF. On the other hand, people's normal understanding of "living on minimum wage" includes things like "paying for housing and food". So deducting the cost of minimally acceptable housing and food as PFPW wouldn't make much sense.

I don't track taxes

Do you mean that you don't count the money you pay in taxes as part of your spending, or something else? The former makes sense to me: someone living on minimum wage would probably pay negative tax on net, via EITC.

Comment author: Ben_West  (EA Profile) 30 January 2017 04:47:13PM *  3 points [-]

Thanks for the feedback!

My choice of minimum wage was originally motivated by Peter Singer's "if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it." Going below minimum wage seemed like as good a threshold as any for "morally significant" sacrifice.

I no longer think that's true, partly because of the various welfare benefits people on minimum wage the US get (like you point out), and also partly because I no longer think cutting expenses is the best way for me to improve the world.

Anyway, that long-winded introduction is just to say that, when I deviate from some general understanding of "living on minimum wage", it's not clear to me whether that's a bad thing.

On the other hand, people's normal understanding of "living on minimum wage" includes things like "paying for housing and food".

Yeah, that's a fair point. Although at least in Wisconsin I think an individual on minimum-wage would qualify for food stamps, and possibly a rent subsidy as well?

Do you mean that you don't count the money you pay in taxes as part of your spending

Yeah, that's what I meant.


Living on minimum wage to maximize donations: Ben's expenses in 2016

Several people have written up their expenditures and savings results. Here is my summary. I try to donate the money I make above minimum wage. Since I average about 60 hours per week of work, I have a concrete goal of spending less than $22,620 per year ($7.25 x 52... Read More
Comment author: JBeshir 13 January 2017 10:08:12AM *  5 points [-]

This definitely isn't the kind of deliberate where there's an overarching plot, but it's not distinguishable from the kind of deliberate where a person sees a thing they should do or a reason to not write what they're writing and knowingly ignores it, though I'd agree in that I think it's more likely they flinched away unconsciously.

It's worth noting that while Vegan Outreach is not listed as a top charity it is listed as a standout charity, with their page here:

I don't think it is good to laud positive evidence but refer to negative evidence only via saying "there is a lack of evidence", which is what the disclaimers do- in particular there's no mention of the evidence against there being any effect at all. Nor is it good to refer to studies which are clearly entirely invalid as merely "poor" while still relying on their data. It shouldn't be "there is good evidence" when there's evidence for, and "the evidence is still under debate" when there's evidence against, and there shouldn't be a "gushing praise upfront, provisos later" approach unless you feel the praise is still justified after the provisos. And "have reservations" is pretty weak. These are not good acts from a supposedly neutral evaluator.

Until the revision in November 2016, the VO page opened with: "Vegan Outreach (VO) engages almost exclusively in a single intervention, leafleting on behalf of farmed animals, which we consider to be among the most effective ways to help animals.", as an example of this. Even now I don't think it represents the state of affairs well.

If in trying to resolve the matter of whether it has high expected impact or not, you went to the main review on leafleting (, you'd find it began with "The existing evidence on the impact of leafleting is among the strongest bodies of evidence bearing on animal advocacy methods.".

This is a very central Not Technically a Lie (; the example of a not-technically-a-lie in that post being using the phrase "The strongest painkiller I have." to refer to something with no painkilling properties when you have no painkillers. I feel this isn't something that should be taken lightly:

"NTL, by contrast, may be too cheap. If I lie about something, I realize that I'm lying and I feel bad that I have to. I may change my behaviour in the future to avoid that. I may realize that it reflects poorly on me as a person. But if I don't technically lie, well, hey! I'm still an honest, upright person and I can thus justify visciously misleading people because at least I'm not technically dishonest."

The disclaimer added now helps things, but good judgement should have resulted in an update and correction being transparently issued well before now.

The part which strikes me as most egregious was in the deprioritising of updating a review on what was described in a bunch of places as the most cost effective (and therefore most effective) intervention. I can't see any reason for that, other than that the update would have been negative.

There may not have been conscious intent behind this- I could assume that this was as a result of poor judgement rather than design- but it did mislead the discourse on effectiveness, that already happened, and not as a result of people doing the best thing given information available to them but as a result of poor decisions given this information. Whether it got more donations or not is unclear- it might have tempted more people into offsetting, but on the other hand each person who did offsetting would have paid less because they wouldn't have actually offset themselves.

However something like this is handled is also how a bad actor would be handled, because a bad actor would be indistinguishable from this; if we let this by without criticism and reform, then bad actors would also be let by without criticism and reform.

I think when it comes to responding to some pretty severe stuff of this sort, even if you assume the people made them in good faith and just made some rationality failings, more needs to be said than "mistakes were made, we'll assume you're doing the best you can to not make them again". I don't have a grand theory of how people should react here, but it needs to be more than that.

My inclination is to at the least frankly express how severe I think it is- even if it's not the nicest thing I could say.

Comment author: Ben_West  (EA Profile) 13 January 2017 11:48:35PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for the response, it helps me understand where you're coming from.

I agree that the sentence you cite could be better written (and in general ACE could improve, as could we all). I disagree with this though:

However something like this is handled is also how a bad actor would be handled, because a bad actor would be indistinguishable from this; if we let this by without criticism and reform, then bad actors would also be let by without criticism and reform.

At the object level: ACE is distinguishable from a bad actor, for example due to the fact that their most prominent pages do not recommend charities which focus on leafleting.

At the metalevel: I don't think we should have a conversational norm of "everyone should be treated as a bad actor until they can prove otherwise". It would be really awful to be a member of a community with that norm.

All this being said, it seems that ACE is responding in this post now, and it may be better to let them address concerns since they are both more knowledgeable and more articulate than me.

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