Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 09 December 2016 10:47:22PM 1 point [-]

Firstly: I think we should use the interpretation of the pledge that produces the best outcome. The use GWWC and I apply is completely mainstream use of the term pledge (e.g. you 'pledge' to stay with the person you marry, but people nonetheless get divorced if they think the marriage is too harmful to continue).

A looser interpretation is better because more people will be willing to participate, and each person gain from a smaller and more reasonable push towards moral behaviour. We certainly don't want people to be compelled to do things they think are morally wrong - that doesn't achieve an EA goal. That would be bad. Indeed it's the original complaint here.

Secondly: An "evil future you" who didn't care about the good you can do through donations probably wouldn't care much about keeping promises made by a different kind of person in the past either, I wouldn't think.

Thirdly: The coordination thing doesn't really matter here because you are only 'cooperating' with your future self, who can't really reject you because they don't exist yet (unlike another person who is deciding whether to help you).

One thing I suspect is going on here is that people on the autism spectrum interpret all kinds of promises to be more binding than neurotypical people do (e.g. https://www.reddit.com/r/aspergers/comments/46zo2s/promises/). I don't know if that applies to any individual here specifically, but I think it explains how some of us have very different intuitions. But I expect we will be able to do more good if we apply the neurotypical intuitions that most people share.

Of course if you want to make it fully binding for yourself, then nobody can really stop you.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 18 January 2017 05:24:05AM 3 points [-]

Looking back at this, I see how this could come across as minimizing people viewpoints that are different from mine, and I regret that. I was trying to make sense of how people see this topic so differently, and I'm sorry that I came off as medicalizing people who see it differently than I do. That wasn't my intent at all.

Comment author: carneades 25 December 2016 01:05:46PM 0 points [-]

I personally do not live in a country where give directly operates, but I can speak to what people here with money they receive from similar programs, and what they tell the people who have them the money what they did with it. I have seen literally over a hundred families receive donations tell the organization that they spent it on everything from healthy vegetables to school fees when in fact they spent it on sugar, tea, larger celebrations, new sound systems and more. It is completely culturally acceptable to lie to strangers, especially if those strangers are giving you money. So I am skeptical of their statistics to say the least.

As for people refusing to do work when they have enough to get by, I live in a place where most people are subsistence farmers. Due to the lack of jobs, when there is no work to do on the farm, most people sit around and do nothing. If there are no jobs and people have enough to get by, they won't do anything. Why are there no jobs, because of organizations like AMF.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 30 December 2016 09:16:17AM *  0 points [-]

Comment author: carneades 29 December 2016 12:08:38AM 0 points [-]

a) But malaria really kills about as many people as the flu every year, but I doubt anyone would say that flu vaccines are the best way to improve the economy, or even that they have an appreciable effect. Everyone here considers malaria another version of the flu. Professionals don't call in sick with the flu for a few days, they call in sick with Malaria, and most of them are fine. Do you think that any American politician would advocate closing down several factories in the Midwest (which are the sole means of support for towns there, if it would mean that slightly fewer people would get the flu? Not a chance. Politicians in democracies that are not flooded with aid actually listen to their people (at least more than politicians where I live do).

b) The problem is that, since countries like mine have absolutely no industry (because aid organizations like AMF run them all out of business) it is not spent in a way that every cent goes back to the local population. It is spent on imports, where certainly some money is going to the distributor, but most of the money is going overseas, away from the people that most need it. The jobs are created, in other countries. This might be great for the corporation that makes AMF's nets, but it is horrible for the people on the ground.

Malaria prevention helps job creation about as much as having foreigners give out flu vaccines helps job creation at home. Sure you might prevent a couple of cases of the flu, but it is nothing compared to closing down a factory and destroying the livelihood of many people.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 29 December 2016 01:34:34AM 1 point [-]

"have absolutely no industry (because aid organizations like AMF run them all out of business)"

This is not why they have no industry. Trade does not cost jobs overall, at most it relocates who does what between and within countries. I'd read a book like Why Nations Fail for a better explanation of why some countries struggle to develop complex industries (governance and economic institutions).

In any case, importing nets results in people manufacturing them using proper economies of scale in countries like Vietnam, Thailand, China and Tanzania (where AMF buys its nets), which is also valuable.

Closing yourself off to foreign inputs is no path to economic development.

Comment author: Alex_Barry 27 December 2016 07:23:52PM 3 points [-]

To second this I was very surprised how little the attendance to the careers workshops we ran at Cambridge dropped off. I think we ended up doing five 200 person careers workshops before they stopped selling out.

If there is similar (or even only half as much) demand at other universities then there is a lot of opportunity to scale.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 27 December 2016 09:22:25PM 3 points [-]

We actually were running out on other campuses until we figured out how to get online advertising to convert into workshop attendance - now feels we can do several times as many workshops as we're doing now without running out.

Comment author: rohinmshah  (EA Profile) 25 December 2016 06:36:06PM 3 points [-]

Yes. Though where it gets tricky is making the assessment at the margin.

I was wondering about this too. Is your calculation of the marginal cost per plan change just the costs for 2016 divided by the plan changes in 2016? That doesn't seem to be an assessment at the margin.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 27 December 2016 02:58:11AM 2 points [-]

One margin is just running more workshops and that seems to have roughly the same marginal cost as our annual average. We just aren't close to running out of promising people interested in coming along.

Comment author: carneades 24 December 2016 06:26:41PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for the thoughtful response. There's a difference between demand and need. Need is the number of people that could use nets but do not. Demand is the number of people that actually want nets. The problem is that the need for nets is significantly higher than the demand. Oversupply decreases the demand for nets, no one will pay for something that is being given out for free. If you want people to actually use a net, you need to create demand, not just fill a need. Most people here literally put up their nets when they see the people that are coming to survey a village on the road. They lie about whether they sleep under a net, and spend most of peak mosquito biting time outside talking, not sleeping, so nets are left ineffective. Imagine that instead of buying many nets and shipping them in, AMF invested in local companies that produce nets to employ more people, expand their business, while simultaneously going to communities and sensitizing them about the importance of bednet use. This would increase demand as well as fill need. And, importantly it would be sustainable, AMF would eventually work themselves out of a job instead of killing off all of the local competition, and making the society completely dependent on their bed nets.

If I understand your point, you are claiming that, since bed net distributions are targeted to the poorest, the factories, which cater to the richer populations, would not have a problem. I have three concerns with this claim. First it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the sheer level of corruption that perpetrates many of these societies. In order to get resources to the poorest, (at least where I live, which is admittedly pretty high on the corruption index) you must give them to the wealthy who control the distribution centers, the ports, and the laws, and simply to be culturally appropriate and respectful. Second, this still does not address the problem that there is not actually a demand for these nets in the poorest communities, they don't want it, so of course they are going to sell it at a cheaper price than the factory can produce to the people that actually want it. Third, organizations which come into these countries rarely are able to distinguish the extreme poor from the moderately well off. Most people will pretend to be poor here in order to get handouts. I have seen families hide their television in the hopes of getting an organization to donate to them. Organizations frequently fail to actually give to the people that need it the most.

As for searchers and planners, the problem is, once again the difference between need and demand. AMF goes into areas that need nets, they don't go into areas that want nets. They go into areas that want jobs, electricity, or clean water. They don't sit down with the community and say, what do you need the most? A new market? Okay we will get that for you. They sit down with a community and say, you need bed nets, we are going to give you bed nets. If you say that you don't need them, we will go to the next village and give them bed nets instead. I have seen it. They do assessments of how many people get malaria in an area, not what people want if given the choice. The only comparable thing for someone that has not lived here is the flu. Have you gotten a flu shot every single year? Why not? People die of the flu at about the same rate as they die of malaria every year. Maybe because you think that other things are more important. These communities do too. Governments and organizations may request funding and nets, but I have spoken to many communities up and down this country, and never have they said that the thing that they need is bed nets, or malaria reduction. This is top down because AMF is not talking to the actual recipients of the aid, they are talking to intermediary organizations or governments, who ignore the needs of the people, just as much as AMF.

As for Give Directly, here's what I'm talking about. Imagine that you are a village tailor. You don't make enough as a tailor to support your three wives and 20 children (no that's not an exaggeration) so you are also a subsistence farmer. Give Directly comes in and provides you with money. You use these funds to supply your immediate needs. Give Directy proudly claims "This year we plan to provide entire communities of people with a basic income: regular cash payments that are enough for them to live on, for more than 10 years." Imagine you are one of the recipients, for ten years you get payments, so you have no need to work in your field or sew clothes. Your equipment breaks, villagers go to other tailors and you loose market share. Other people that need it more use your farms, and you let them, because culturally, those that have more must give to those that have less. Now ten years later, you were able to "eat your money" as they say, but now you have no business, no farm, and no more free income. You are worse off than you were before.

The video goes into these individual points in greater depth. What I fail to see is why effective altruists should not focus on programs that build capacity, provide jobs, actually listen to what the people want, not what international organizations determine that they need, and increase independence, instead of making recipients more and more dependent on foreign aid. I would be surprised if others who have actually lived in these communities for any substantial amount of time would disagree. The problem is that those that evaluate these charities are so far removed from the actual needs of the people, and the consequences of their actions, that they don't realize the harm that they do.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 25 December 2016 09:36:10AM *  5 points [-]

"for ten years you get payments, so you have no need to work in your field or sew clothes"

I don't believe that these cash payments, the equivalent of less than $1 a day, are sufficient to cause people to stop working. And the evidence is fairly clear from GiveDirectly's research that they do not have that effect. In fact by allowing people to invest in their education/health/business where previously they were credit constrained, they could fairly easily raise their work effort and productivity.

Comment author: carneades 24 December 2016 06:49:28PM 1 point [-]

Just because an argument is generic, does not make it incorrect. And, to be clear, they are not arguments against all types of developing world charity, simply those which ignore the impact that they have on communities by increasing dependence, destroying jobs, and limiting freedom.

As for local mosquito net factories, if you lost your job just because some foreign NGO wanted to eliminate the flu (which kills about as many people as malaria every year), and you got absolutely no say in it, you might be singing a different tune. Why should a foreigner, get to decide that flu shots are more important than putting people to work? Why should you, a foreigner, get to decide that trying to eliminate a problem that most people here see as no more harmful than the flu, is more important than a local business and people's jobs? You don't know these people, what gives you the right to steal their jobs because you know better than they do?

Furthermore, on the first point, the problem is that when organizations are donating everything to these communities, food, medicine, nets, clothing, etc. they have no opportunities to grow their own industries. What is so wrong about asking the AMF to get nets that are made in the country that they will help? Why must we get nets shipped in and employ foreigners, at the expense of jobs in developing countries? Because if we actually built up an industry in the country, everyone at AMF would be out of a job. So long as they keep the country dependent on their mosquito nets, they will stay in business.

As for the second claim, here's some further context: for searchers and planners, the problem is, the difference between need (what some outside group decides people are in need of) and demand (what people actually want). AMF goes into areas that need nets, they don't go into areas that want nets. They go into areas that want jobs, electricity, or clean water. They don't sit down with the community and say, what do you need the most? A new market? Okay we will get that for you. They sit down with a community and say, you need bed nets, we are going to give you bed nets. If you say that you don't need them, we will go to the next village and give them bed nets instead. I have seen it. They do assessments of how many people get malaria in an area, not what people want if given the choice. To understand, think back to the comparison to the flu. Have you gotten a flu shot every single year? Why not? Maybe because you think that other things are more important. These communities do too. Governments and organizations may request funding and nets, but I have spoken to many communities up and down this country, and never have they said that the thing that they need is bed nets, or malaria reduction. This is top down because AMF is not talking to the actual recipients of the aid, they are talking to intermediary organizations or governments, who ignore the needs of the people, just as much as AMF.

Finally, here's a quote from Give Directly "This year we plan to provide entire communities of people with a basic income: regular cash payments that are enough for them to live on, for more than 10 years." They do not just give one time cash payments.

If you want to understand where I am coming from more, I would suggest spending time living in one of these communities served by these organizations. Maybe you will have a different experience to mine. But where I am, these organizations do more harm than good.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 25 December 2016 09:24:58AM *  3 points [-]

Are you against buying goods from other countries when it's cheaper to get them from there, rather than manufacturing them domestically?

If you aren't, you also shouldn't be against a country receiving free bed nets. Receiving free goods from another country is just an extreme instance of goods being cheaper to buy from overseas (in this case for $0), which benefits the recipient country.

If we could get free clothes, free cars, free food, and so on from overseas, that would be awesome. People and capital are freed up to produce other good/services domestically rather than the ones which are now available at no cost.

AMF usually buys the nets from overseas because it's cheaper to get them from there - where enormous factories have economies of scale to produce them cheaply. That's where the locals should get them from as well if they want to buy them on the open market for personal use.

"never have they said that the thing that they need is bed nets, or malaria reduction"

In thats the case they can just not accept the nets, no harm done.

Comment author: rohinmshah  (EA Profile) 21 December 2016 10:18:30PM 0 points [-]

First, the person would have to say they made the pledge "due to 80k".

Yes, I'm predicting that they would say that almost always (over 90% of the time).

this already assumes only 30% is additional, once counterfactually adjusted.

That does make quite a difference. It seems plausible then that impact is mostly undercounted rather than overcounted. This seems more like an artifact of a weird calculation (why use GWWC's counterfactual instead of having a separate one)? And you still have the issue that impact may be double counted, it's just that since you tend to undercount impact in the first place the effects seem to cancel out.

That's a little uncharitable of me, but the point I'm trying to make is that there is no correction for double-counting impact -- most of your counterarguments seem to be saying "we typically underestimate our impact so this doesn't end up being a problem". You aren't using the 30% counterfactual rate because you're worried about double counting impact with GWWC. (I'm correct about that, right? It would a really strange way to handle double counting of impact.)

Nitpick: This spreadsheet suggests 53%, and then adds some more impact based on changing where people donate (which could double count with GiveWell).

Third, you can still get the undercounting issue I mentioned. If someone later takes the pledge due to the local group, but was influenced by 80k, 80k probably wouldn't count it.

I agree that impact is often undercounted. I accept that impact is often undercounted, to such a degree that double counting would not get you over 100%. I still worry that people think "Their impact numbers are great and probably significant underestimates" without thinking about the issue of double counting, especially since most orgs make sure to mention how their impact estimates are likely underestimates.

Even if people just donated on the basis of "their impact numbers are great" without thinking about both undercounting and overcounting, I would worry that they are making the right decision for the wrong reasons. We should promote more rigorous thinking.

My perspective is something like "donors should know about these considerations", whereas you may be interpreting it as "people who work in meta don't know/care about these considerations". I would only endorse the latter in the one specific case of not valuing the time of other groups/people.

What would you estimate is the opportunity cost of student group organiser time per hour?

The number I use for myself is $20, mostly just made up so that I can use it in Fermi estimates.

How would it compare to time spent by 80k staff?

Unsure. Probably a little bit higher, but not much. Say $40?

(I have not thought much about the actual numbers. I do think that the ratio between the two should be relatively small.)

I also don't care too much that 80k doesn't include costs to student groups because those costs are relatively small compared to the costs to 80k (probably). This is why I haven't really looked into it. This is not the case with GWWC pledges or chapter seeding.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 23 December 2016 04:36:22AM 2 points [-]

Hey Rohin, without getting into the details, I'm pretty unsure whether correcting for impacts from multiple orgs makes 80,000 Hours look better or worse, so I'm not sure how we should act. We win out in some cases (we get bragging rights from someone who found out about EA from another source then changes their career) and lose in others (someone who finds out about GiveWell through 80k but doesn't then attribute their donations to us).

There's double counting yes, but the orgs are also legitimately complementary of one another - not sure if the double counting exceeds the real complementarity.

We could try to measure the benefit/cost of the movement as a whole - this gets rid of the attribution and complementarity problem, though loses the ability to tell what is best within the movement.

In response to comment by kbog  (EA Profile) on Lunar Colony
Comment author: ESRogs 22 December 2016 06:13:21PM 1 point [-]

Is it good for keeping people safe against x-risks? Nope. In what scenario does having a lunar colony efficiently make humanity more resilient? If there's an asteroid, go somewhere safe on Earth...

What if it's a big asteroid?

In response to comment by ESRogs on Lunar Colony
Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 23 December 2016 12:22:08AM *  2 points [-]

If it's so big no bunkers work, how long would we have to wait on Mars before coming back?

Comment author: rohinmshah  (EA Profile) 21 December 2016 08:25:20AM 1 point [-]

80,000 Hours' average cost per plan change this year was more like £300.

Yeah, I was looking for this year's numbers because I figured it would have gone below £1000. But that's impressively low, damn. One more point to economies of scale.

The cost of getting an extra plan change by running additional workshops is about the same, which suggests the short term marginal is about the same as the short-term average.

What drove the improvement to £300?

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 21 December 2016 08:33:43PM 1 point [-]

The online career guide and workshop keep getting better, and we've become more skilled at promoting them. The fixed costs of producing it all are now spread over a much larger number of readers (~1 million a year).

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