Comment author: Michael_Wulfsohn 09 November 2016 06:52:33AM 1 point [-]

Sorry, this is going to be a "you're doing it wrong" comment. I will try to criticize constructively!

There are too many arbitrary assumptions. Your chosen numbers, your categorization scheme, your assumption about whether giving now or giving later is better in each scenario, your assumption that there can't be some split between giving now and later, your failure to incorporate any interest rate into the calculations, your assumption that the now/later decision can't influence the scenarios' probabilities. Any of these could have decisive influence over your conclusion.

But there's also a problem with your calculation. Your conclusion is based on the fact that you expect higher utility to result from scenarios in which you believe giving now will be better. That's not actually an argument for deciding to give now, as it doesn't assess whether the world will be happier as a result of the giving decision. You would need to estimate the relative impact of giving now vs. giving later under each of those scenarios, and then weight the relative impacts by the probabilities of the scenarios.

Don't stop trying to quantify things. But remember the pitfalls. In particular, simplicity is paramount. You want to have as few "weak links" in your model as possible; i.e. moving parts that are not supported by evidence and that have significant influence on your conclusion. If it's just one or two numbers or assumptions that are arbitrary, then the model can help you understand the implications of your uncertainty about them, and you might also be able to draw some kind of conclusion after appropriate sensitivity testing. However, if it's 10 or 20, then you're probably going to be led astray by spurious results.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 14 November 2016 06:20:04AM *  1 point [-]

I basically agree with your critique, though I'd say my assumptions are more naïve than arbitrary (mostly semantic; the issues persist either way). On reflection, I don't think I've arrived at any solid conclusions here, and this exercise's main fruit is a renewed appreciation of how tangled these questions are.

I'm getting hung up on your last paragraph: "However, if it's 10 or 20, then you're probably going to be led astray by spurious results."

This is pretty unsatisfying – thinking about the future is necessarily speculative, so people are going to have to use "arbitrary" inputs in their models for want of empirical data. If they only use a few arbitrary inputs, their models will likely be too simplistic to be meaningful. But if they use many arbitrary inputs, their models will give spurious results? It sort of feels like an impossible bind for the project of modeling the future.

Or maybe I'm misunderstanding your definition of "arbitrary" inputs, and there is another class of speculative input that we should be using for model building.


Should Good Ventures focus on current giving opportunities, or save for future giving opportunities?

Around this time of year, GiveWell  traditionally spends a lot of time thinking about game theoretic considerations – specifically, what funding recommendation it ought to make to Good Ventures  so that Good Ventures allocates its resources wisely. (Here are GiveWell's game theoretic posts from 2014  & 2015 .) The main considerations... Read More
Comment author: Daniel_Dewey 24 October 2016 06:01:47PM *  0 points [-]

Thanks Milan!

I haven't thought a lot about that, and might be making the wrong call. Off the top of my head:

  • There's a community norm toward donating 10%, and I'm following that without thinking too hard.
  • I expect donation effectiveness on the scale of my donations to get worse over time, so giving earlier at the cost of giving a little (?) less over my career seems like it might be better.
  • Giving feels good in a way that paying debt doesn't. This isn't an EA reason :)

I guess I could put my 10% toward debt reduction instead -- if you or anyone else has pointers to info that might cause me to decide to do that, I'd be interested in seeing it, and in promoting it so that other debt-saddled EAs can make better decisions!

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 25 October 2016 11:08:21PM 1 point [-]

I don't have pointers to good info, other than Mr. Money Mustache's blog, which I think was already mentioned.

I'm following in intuition along the lines of "put on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you with theirs."

My bet is that my personal impact will be much larger once I'm financially independent. Giving a significant portion of my income now is a drag on reaching financial independence. I'd prefer to accelerate my progress towards financial independence at the expense of doing good today.

We're touching on the "give now vs. give later" debate here; intuitions may diverge.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 18 October 2016 08:12:23PM 0 points [-]

I enjoyed reading this, though sorry to hear about pledge-related stress!

I'm curious about your reasoning behind donating a big portion while simultaneously paying down debt. My intuition is to focus first on paying off the debt, then ramp up giving once you're debt-free.