Comment author: Kit 05 December 2016 09:32:57AM 1 point [-]

GWWC is not firebombing anything, happily. War crimes are obviously bad and need no counterfactual spelled out. The principle you outline does not apply to the pledge because many people (citation) don't think the pledge is obviously bad. To engage these people in productive discourse you need to suggest at least one strategy which could be better.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 05 December 2016 05:25:32PM *  1 point [-]

The principle you outline does not apply to the pledge because many people (citation) don't think the pledge is obviously bad.

AlyssaVance isn't outlining a principle. AGB made a general claim about criticism being useless without a counterfactual. AlyssaVance's mention of firebombing was meant as a counterexample to that generalization.

Comment author: Jay_Shooster 17 May 2015 07:10:55PM *  12 points [-]

I'm so excited by all the recent public discussion about movement building. It's really encouraging to see so many brilliant people investing their time and energy into this neglected area.

That being said, I am concerned that we are reinventing the wheel, and ignoring a substantial body of empirical and theoretical work that has already been done on the subject.

Why are we starting from scratch and developing novel theories of social change? Why are we focusing on mathematics and philosophy instead of academic sociology research? I'm not an expert but, I'm familiar enough to know that lots of other smart people have studied the issues addressed in this paper. Lots of people are interested the growth and strategy of social movements.

If we were talking about ending global poverty, we would not be postulating new models of economic development. Why should we demand any less empirical/academic rigor in the context of movement building? Why are we so willing to trust our intuitions here?

I think there are two common reasons for ignoring academic sociology research here (but both of them are pretty weak): 1. The research on movement building is extremely shallow and of poor quality 2. The EA commitment to cause neutrality is so unique that analogies to other movements (and to existing academic research) are not very useful

To address the first point, I think that we have to consider "EA expert overconfidence" bias. As Rob Wiblin has pointed out, people who are experts in one area are often radically overconfident in other areas. I think EAs succumb to this pretty severely: we are all so shocked (rightly so) at how much cause prioritization is neglected by smart people that we think we have to basically do everything from scratch. But this isn't quite right. We need to distinguish between "effective means" and "effective ends." EA's might be world leaders when it comes to thinking about effective ends (i.e. worthwhile causes like global poverty, animal suffering, far future suffering etc.) but we have no reason to think we are superior when it comes to effective means. Smart people have been trying to understand the spread of ideas and the grow movements for a long time. We should be shocked if there isn't at least some good work done on the subject. My own shallow research has left me convinced that there is a lot of good stuff out there. Even though sociology has the reputation for being less rigorous than economics, there is a lot of serious, rigorous empirical and theoretical work out there.

I think the second point is also not a huge issue. First, lots of other social movements have faced the problem of maintain a broad base of support in the face of ever-changing goals/priorities (political parties and religions seem like good examples). But more importantly, even if we are unique in this regard, it seems that many of the big questions in movement building apply equally well to either case.

Ultimately, if I was GPP, I would try to convene a working group of non-EA academic experts on social movements before trying to do any more original thinking on the issue.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 04 December 2016 02:42:30PM 2 points [-]

I am concerned that we are reinventing the wheel, and ignoring a substantial body of empirical and theoretical work that has already been done on the subject.

I share this concern, and believe that EAs are often guilty of ignoring existing fields of research from which they could learn a lot. I'm not sure whether this concern applies in this particular case, however. I spent several days looking into the sociological literature on social movements and didn't find much of value. Have you stumbled across any writings that you would recommend?

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 02 December 2016 09:23:54AM *  -1 points [-]

The failure modes are manifold. The hypothetical challenges around firing someone who is, in addition to one's subordinate, a housemate, ex, and current partner of another staff member need not be explicated.

Sorry but what does this have to do with donations? In what way are these at all equivalent with donations?

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 02 December 2016 12:04:57PM *  2 points [-]

Greg's point is that the case against donating to one's employer is part of a larger argument for increased professionalization of EA orgs. The situation he describes in the paragraph you quote illustrates what can go wrong when an organization lacks the level of professionalism he thinks orgs should have.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 02 December 2016 09:22:28AM -1 points [-]

The claim that it's natural to donate to one's employer given one's prior decision to become an employee assumes that EAs—or at least those working for EA orgs—should spend all their altruistic resources (i.e. time and money) in the same way.

No, the claim is not that all employees should donate to their employers. The claim is that it's natural, viz. that there is a pro tanto reason for it.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 02 December 2016 11:45:11AM *  0 points [-]

I think the claim should be that there is a prima facie reason for donating to one's employer. If the reason was pro tanto, one would have reason for donating even after learning that one's employer e.g. has no room for more funding.

I agree with the claim so interpreted. If you believe working for some organization is the best use of your time, there's a presumption that donating to this organization is the best use of your money. So I now see that my original comment was uncharitable.

At present, I don't have a good sense of how strong this presumption should be. So it's unclear to me how much weight I should give to arguments that appeal to this presumption.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 30 November 2016 05:45:07PM *  5 points [-]

The claim that it's natural to donate to one's employer given one's prior decision to become an employee assumes that EAs—or at least those working for EA orgs—should spend all their altruistic resources (i.e. time and money) in the same way. But this assumption is clearly false: it can be perfectly reasonable for me to believe that I should spend my time working for some organization, and that I should spend my money supporting some other organization. Obviously, this will be the case if the organization I work for, but not the one I support, lacks room for more funding. But it can also be the case in many other situations, depending on the relative funding and talent constraints of both the organization I work for and the organizations I could financially support.

Comment author: ClaireZabel 26 August 2016 06:29:47AM 4 points [-]

But many of those people aren't earning to give. If they were, they would probably give more. So the survey doesn't indicate you are in the top 15% in comparative advantage just because you could clear $8k.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 26 August 2016 12:10:56PM *  3 points [-]

If many of those people aren't earning to give, then either fewer EAs are earning to give than is generally assumed, or the EA survey is not a representative sample of the EA population.

Alternatively, we may question the antecedent of that conditional, and either downgrade our confidence in our ability to infer whether someone is earning to give from information about how much they give, or lower the threshold for inferring that a person who fails to give at least that much is likely not earning to give.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 18 February 2016 11:40:21AM 4 points [-]

What are the best arguments against writing in this way?

Kudos for acting on your own advice!

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 16 November 2015 06:57:30PM *  0 points [-]

I often see media coverage of effective altruism that says "effective altruists want to maximise the number of QALYs in the world." (e.g. London Review of Books).

The specific example you mention is particularly puzzling: it is a review of Doing Good Better, which makes this point very clearly (pp. 39-40):

the same methods that were used to create the QALY could be used to measure the costs and benefits of pretty much anything. We could use these methods to estimate the degree to which your well-being is affected by stubbing your toe, or by going through a divorce, or by losing your job. We could call them well-being-adjusted life years instead. e idea would be that being dead is at 0 percent well-being; being as well off as you realistically can be is at 100 percent well-being. You can compare the impact of different activities in term of how much and for how long they increase people’s well-being. In chapter one we saw that doubling someone’s income gives a 5 percentage points increase in reported subjective well-being. On this measure, doubling someone’s income for twenty years would provide one WALY.

Thinking in terms of well-being improvements allows us to compare very different outcomes, at least in principle. For example, suppose you were unsure about whether to donate to the United Way of New York City or to Guide Dogs of America. You find out that it costs Guide Dogs of America approximately $50,000 to train and provide one guide dog for one blind person. Which is a better use of fifty dollars: providing five books, or a 1/1,000th contribution to a guide dog? It might initially seem like such a comparison is impossible, but if we knew the impact of each of these activities on people’s well-being, then we could compare them.

Suppose, hypothetically, that we found out that providing one guide dog (at a cost of $50,000) would give a 10 percentage points increase in reported well-being for one person’s life over nine years (the working life of the dog). at would be 0.9 WALYs. And suppose that providing five thousand books (at a cost of $50,000) provided a 0.001 percentage point increase in quality of life for five hundred people for forty years. at would be two WALYs. If we knew this, then we’d know that spending $50,000 on schoolbooks provided a greater benefit than spending $50,000 on one guide dog.

The difficulty of comparing different sorts of altruistic activity is therefore ultimately due to a lack of knowledge about what will happen as a result of that activity, or a lack of knowledge about how different activities translate into improvements to people’s lives. It’s not that different sorts of benefits are in principle incomparable.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 29 August 2015 01:46:20PM *  14 points [-]

Some folks argue that cryonics is or may be justified on EA grounds. Among these people, some go ahead and pay for a cryonics subscription. However, I have yet to find a single person in that group who has paid for someone else's subscription, rather than his or her own. If there was indeed an EA justification for cryonics, this would be an extraordinary coincidence. The hypothesis that these decisions were motivated by self-interest and later rationalized as justified on EA grounds seems much more plausible.

Comment author: jonathanstray 20 August 2015 04:01:58PM 0 points [-]

MacAskil discusses this in a section titled "international labor mobility" but does not mention "open borders" or draw the distinction you have. He writes:

"Increased levels of migration from poor to rich countries would provide substantial benefits for the poorest people in the world, as well as substantial increases in global economic output. However, almost all developed countries pose heavy restrictions on who can enter the country to work. ... Tractability: Not very tractable. Increased levels of immigration are incredibly unpopular in developed countries, with the majority of people in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom favoring reduced immigration."

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 21 August 2015 02:59:48AM *  1 point [-]

As the quote you provided shows, labor mobility was rated as "not very tractable", not "intractable". Moreover, labor mobility was given that rating because it was judged to be politically infeasible, in light of the low popularity of even modest migration reform proposals, and not because we lack evidence from RCTs, or due to blindness to the mechanics of political change. So I think you are mischaracterizing what was said in the book.

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