Comment author: Jamie_Harris 12 July 2018 08:10:48AM *  1 point [-]

Thanks for exploring this topic!

A few relevant links you might find useful, if you were unaware of any of them:

1) There's an EA FB group on the topic, although unfortunately it's quite inactive

2) Hauke Hillebrandt has written and spoken about EAs engagement with impact investing

3) My blog post exploring whether it would be worth EA Funds or another EA group setting up opportunities for smaller donors/investors to get involved in impact investing. I was focusing on clean meat and plant-based meat to reduce animal suffering, but briefly consider other cause areas in the piece. TLDR: there probably aren't good opportunities for doing this at the moment, but if the landscape changes and some areas become more funding constrained, then it could be a really useful intervention.

General thoughts:

I think there are two main issues for EAs with regards to impact investing, if you come at it from a utilitarian perspective + want to maximise good.

1) Is the social impact greater in total for the same amount of "lost money" in many impact investment opportunities? Through impact investing, in theory at least, you will be losing ROI compared to the market rate. This is equivalent to a donation. Could you do more good by donating directly? If so, then EAs don't need to consider impact investing.

2) The practical issues. How do we manage this? As you note, smaller donors/investors can't invest themselves. Could we pool money together through an EA impact investing fund manager?

I explore both ideas in my blog post linked above. If you come at the issue from a non-utilitarian perspective, then you might still value Socially Responsible Investing.

Specific request / suggestion:

I like the look at a particular investment option above. But I'm not following your opinion on how impact investment there might compare to donation to Cool Earth. Since an issue for EAs is the comparison (in social "bang for your buck" terms) between a direct donation to a charity and an impact investment (which will lose you money since it will have a lower ROI than the top of the market investments), it might be helpful to have a detailed model of an individual case study, which covers estimates on impact for the same amount of lost money, and the timescales involved.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 11 July 2018 12:32:16PM *  4 points [-]

If capital markets are efficient and most people aren't impact investors, then there is no benefit to impact investing, as the coal company can get capital from someone else for the market rate as soon as you back out, and the solar company will lose most of its investors unless it offers a competitive rate of return. At the same time, there is no cost to impact investing.

In reality I think things are not always like this, but not only does inefficiency imply that impact investing has an impact, it also implies that you will get a lower financial return.

For most of us, our cause priorities are not directly addressed by publicly traded companies, so I think impact investing falls below the utility/returns frontier set by donations and investments. You can pick a combination of greedy investments and straight donations that is Pareto superior to an impact investment. If renewable energy for instance is one of your top cause priorities, then perhaps it is a different story.

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 12 July 2018 07:51:06AM 2 points [-]

This point about the cause is very important, since cause areas can have orders of magnitude difference in their impact.

However, at times, it may be possible to invest in companies in high priority cause areas. See OPP's investment into Impossible Foods here

I've written about this topic elsewhere, to explore whether it would be worth EA Funds or another EA group setting up opportunities for smaller donors/investors to get involved in impact investing. I was focusing on clean meat and plant-based meat to reduce animal suffering, but briefly consider other cause areas in the piece. TLDR: there probably aren't good opportunities for doing this at the moment, but if the landscape changes and some areas become more funding constrained, then it could be a really useful intervention.

Comment author: DavidMoss 03 July 2018 03:14:05PM 0 points [-]

Is this from EAF, not LEAN?

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 04 July 2018 09:22:17AM 0 points [-]

Yes, you're right, I got mixed up because I found it from the database of useful EA organisers' resources. I've edited the comment!

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 03 July 2018 07:52:48AM *  0 points [-]

Finding this list very useful personally, so thanks for that!

I am also planning to use it to help create a discussion group on the topic. There is a shorter version from EAF, but here are the questions for discussion I'm thinking of discussing:

  1. Suffering: a. Are we convinced that K-Selecting species have net negative lives? b. Are we convinced that R-Selecting species have net negative lives? c. Are we convinced that wild animals, in total, have net negative lives?

  2. Prioritisation: How far should we prioritise work on reducing WAS compared to: a. farm animal advocacy, b. other EA cause areas?

  3. Potential crucial considerations: a. Should we still focus on WAS if we believed that animals had net positive lives? i. Would this change how far we prioritise the cause over other cause areas? ii. What effect would this have on the actual interventions that we favoured? b. Should we still focus on WAS if a scientific consensus emerged that most insects were not sentient (but other r-selecting species, like many fish, small mammals or birds etc, still were)? i. Would this change how far we prioritise the cause over other cause areas? ii. What effect would this have on the actual interventions that we favoured?

  4. How far should we prioritise each of the following steps: a. Spreading anti-speciesism and concern for all sentient beings, including those living in the wild. b. Raising awareness of the very bad situation in which wild animals are, and spreading the view that we should be prepared to intervene to aid them. c. Doing research regarding the situation in which these animals are and the ways in which the harms they suffer can be reduced, rather than increased. d. Supporting those interventions in nature that are feasible today and present them as examples of what could be done for the good of animals in the wild at a bigger scale.

  5. What are the different actions and interventions we can take for each of the above steps: a. As a community? b. As individuals?

  6. Can we come up with 1 single personal goal to do more in this space? Create a timeframe and feedback loop or commitment device for this?

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 01 July 2018 09:14:02AM 0 points [-]

Minor question, but when I tried downloading something from libgen.io my internet browser blocked it and didn't give me any obvious options for allowing the download. I'm not exactly techy and so this sort of thing scares me - how confident are you that I can download things off the site without giving my laptop viruses etc?

If people use other sites to access free books I'd also be keen to know!

Comment author: NatKozak 26 March 2018 07:41:53PM *  5 points [-]

I'm graduating from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) with an Honors History degree this year. This gave me a nonstandard amount of experience with literature reviews and research for an undergraduate student. However, I've seen that OpenPhil generally prefers its candidates to have non-humanities majors.

1) Is the latter claim true?

2) In general, how does OpenPhil rate research experience that is not in the field(s) currently being explored?

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 04 April 2018 03:25:57PM 3 points [-]

Thanks for the question - I have wondered the same, as I also studied History at undergraduate level.

A slight detour from your question, but maybe of interest. There is currently is no community / FB group for people with backgrounds or research interests in History within EA that I know of. There have been quite a few times when discussions around the usefulness of historical studies has come up and it might be good to share ideas and collaborate.

I don't have time to try and coordinate this at the moment, but it seems like trying to establish some sort of discussion forum (or organisation?) for using the study of history to advance our understanding of (and strategy towards) cause areas which are often prioritised within EA.

If this is something you (or anyone else seeing this) has an interest in me developing, it's something to bear in mind? People should feel free to contact me at jamesaharris [at] hotmail.co.uk if you want to talk about it further.

Examples: I'm thinking primarily within Effective Animal Advocacy (Sentience Institute's study of the British antislavery movement; ACE discontinuing their social studies project; technology adoption being considered as a precedent for clean meat e.g. by Sentience Institute and Paul Shapiro) but this would also apply to other fields. The systematic approach described in the post linked at [1] seems to correlate more closely with the approach Holden and others took at OPP than it does the studies done in the Effective Animal Advocacy sphere.

[1] http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1lz/whyweshouldbedoingmoresystematic_research/

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 02 April 2018 07:04:40PM 1 point [-]

A useful exploration, thank you. I hadn't really thought of the cost effectiveness estimates not taking account for previous efforts, so this is useful. It reinforces the importance of really thinking carefully about how different organisations interrelate before we make judgements about comparative effectiveness - and especially before we make important decisions (either as a movement, or as individuals, developing career paths etc) in the light of these judgements. This is something I've been thinking a lot about since reading Harish Sethu's post for The Humane League Labs on a similar topic. [1]

In line with Hauke Hillebrandt's comment about nagging related worries about the campaigns, I feel it's worth re-emphasising the real uncertainty about the long-term implications of these campaigns, summarised by Sentience Institute [2] (and expressed by many upset abolitionists, whenever welfare campaigns or organisations are mentioned): will they lengthen the existence of factory farming by encouragin humanewashing?

Combined with information suggesting that "cage free" isn't actually much of a real welfare improvement [3], it makes me sceptical of the overall value of welfare interventions. And now Hauke Hillebrandt's comment has made me even more sceptical!

All these things combined might make considerations of cost efficiency of the intervention type fairly irrelevant - potentially these are even consideartions of the efficiency of increasing total animal suffering?

I'm possibly being overly negative here - but when THL is the only charity that ACE has recommended in all review periods, and has previously recommended MFA (who run similar programmes), it seems pretty fundamental to EAA.

[1] http://www.humaneleaguelabs.org/blog/2018-01-30-how-ranking-of-advocacy-strategies-can-mislead/

[2] https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/foundational-questions-summaries#momentum-vs.-complacency-from-welfare-reforms

[3] https://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/new-report-welfare-differences-between-cage-and-cage-free-housing

Comment author: Sanjay 21 March 2018 12:49:11PM 0 points [-]

Really? "doing as much good as possible" is confusing people? I tend to use that language, and I haven't noticed people getting confused (maybe I haven't been observant enough!)

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 02 April 2018 05:45:20PM 0 points [-]

Maybe "confusing" was the wrong word. But I tend to get the sense that people just have no idea what the concept means in practice when I say that, because its so vague / abstract. I'm guessing that people are thinking along the lines "what does he mean by 'doing good'? Surely he means something else / something more specific?" But I might just be misreading people slightly too.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 20 March 2018 09:50:23PM *  1 point [-]

The thing I find confusing about what Will says is

effective altruism is the project of using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others

I draw attention to 'benefit others'. Two of EA's main causes are farm animal welfare and reducing risks of human extinction. The former is about causing happy animals to exist rather than miserable ones, and the latter is about ensuring future humans exist (and trying to improve their welfare). But it doesn't really make sense to say that you can benefit someone by causing them to exist. It's certainly bizarre to say it's better for someone to exist than not to exist, because if the person doesn't exist there's no object to attach any predicates to. There's been a recent move by some philosophers, such as McMahan and Parfit, to say it can be good (without being better) for someone to exist, but that just seems like philosophical sleight of hand.

A great many EA philosophers, including I think Singer, MacAskill, Greaves, Ord either are totalists or very sympathetic to it. Totalis the view the best outcome is the one with the largest sum of lifetime well-being of all people - past, present, future and it's known as impersonal view in population ethics. Outcomes are not deemed good, on impersonal views, because they are good for anyone, or because the benefit anyone, they are good because there is more of the thing which is valuable, namely welfare.

So there's something fishy about saying EA is trying to benefit others when many EA activities, as mentioned, don't benefit anyone, and many EAs think we shouldn't, strictly, be trying to benefit people so much as realising more impersonal value. It would make more sense to replace 'benefit others as much as possible' with 'do as much good as possible'.

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 20 March 2018 11:14:32PM 3 points [-]

All points make sense. I find that when introducing the idea, however, people seem slightly confused by the idea of "doing as much good as possible" (I tend to use nearly identical phrasing). I think the idea seems too abstract to them, and I feel compelled to give some kind of more concrete example to help explain. Although I haven't really tried it out as an alternative, the idea of EA aiming to "benefit others" seems that it might be slightly clearer / more imaginable?

If you agree, this then raises the question of whether we should distinguish a definition of EA for "academic" and "outreach" / explanatory purposes. I'd argue that we should probably avoid separating a definition out for different contexts, so might need to keep thinking about how to word a definition which is clear, but also allows for nuance?

Comment author: Richenda  (EA Profile) 15 March 2018 10:14:30PM 5 points [-]

I've been thinking for awhile that there's a surprising lack of historical research in EA. I mean not that surprising given the dominance of STEM backgrounds, but rather in the sense that it's such an obviously useful tool to exploit.

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 20 March 2018 08:43:25PM 1 point [-]

Is there a community / FB group for people with backgrounds or research interests in History within EA? There have been quite a few times when this has come up and it might be good to share ideas and collaborate.

Examples: I'm thinking primarily within Effective Animal Advocacy (Sentience Institute's study of the British antislavery movement; ACE discontinuing their social studies project; technology adoption being considered as a precedent for clean meat e.g. by Sentience Institute and Paul Shapiro) but this would also apply to other fields. The systematic approach described in the post above seems to correlate more closely with the approach Holden and others took at OPP than it does the studies done in the Effective Animal Advocacy sphere.

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