Nice to see! I have also been doing the thing where you try to give significant amounts of income to efficient charity and blog about it:
Let us feel good and win status together, for great justice.
Maybe LW is a better place for it, but it might be interesting to hear more about simultaneously supporting GiveWell and knowing that they (tentatively) think the nonprofit that you actually want to support the most is ineffective.
Edited at 2012-09-21 09:53 am (UTC)
Oh yay, thank you for setting a good example.
my current three-pronged strategy
I think this is very sensible. I expect people to disagree with the details, but I think it's important to set up any sensible compromise.
shouldn't I not be publicly talking about charity
I think it's fine to be open and straightforward about giving, and it's a really good point to that it's good to establish different groups as charitable ones.
I think there is a good reason people don't like to talk about it, because some people do talk about charitable giving in holier than though way, and make people who can't afford as much feel awful, and that's why some traditions tell you not to, but as long as people are just being open, and not saying "look at me, look how virtuous I am" while being a bastard in other ways, it's a good thing.
From a purely consequentialist perspective, aren't we all gonna die anyway? What's the point of anything?
2012-09-21 03:22 pm (UTC)
The simple answer is that people flourishing and living lives they enjoy (and then dying at some point) is still better than people suffering and living lives they hate (and then dying). And sometimes it really is that simple.
Even if there's an upper bound on how much can be achieved, I still prefer more to less.
I still haven't actually signed up to GWWC, cos I'm a bit nervous about a lifetime pledge, although I am currently giving 10%, and plan to do so indefinitely. I'm going entirely for SCI at the moment (2nd on Givewell, but more tax-efficient than AMF from the UK), although I think that the SIAI/CFAR type charities are a reasonable choice. I find it very hard to evaluate the probabilities.
It's worth pointing out, by the way, that the Baha'i stipulate 19% for your income _above_ your level of comfortable living; whereas the monotheistic religions tend to stipulate 10% on everything — c.f. the parable about the woman giving a few coppers from her poverty-level means.http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=0.1*x+%3D+0.19*%28x-1%29
shows the progressions of the two approach, and we can see that you'd have to earn 211% of your comfort level before Baha'i starts being the more generous religion.
Of course, once you have a job and make more money, you may be past the 211% threshold.
One notes that a poverty-stricken Jew, even one living on charity, must give some nominal amount to charity, but the tithe is not when you need it to support family members.
Personally I give to Catholic Relief Services mostly, because they are very efficient. (And I don't earmark it so they can use it mostly efficiently.)
But if you really want a Rare Disease organization, well there is the National Organization for Rare Disorders.
What do you mean that Catholic Relief Services is efficient?
I must note that time is not, in fact, utterly fungible. You can hit the point of diminishing returns in the office, you can go stir crazy sticking to your lathe, and you have to factor in that going to the soup kitchen can also provide moral support and express relationships that can't be done with money.
Good for you!
I give to charity without examining it much -- but you've inspired me to switch to a Goodwill-approved charity. (I can't tithe -- I'm too worried of overspending and running out of money. Maybe someday when I'm more organized about my finances.)
I wouldn't worry too much about SIAI one way or another. On the one hand, at current margins there are *so few people* working on AI safety that it's clearly beneficial to humanity to pay their salaries. There's some amount that's too much to spend on such research; but middle-class salaries for two people can't possibly be it. On the other hand, I think it's an overstatement to say that it's the most important charity in the world; we have to consider not only the *need* for AI safety (a quantity with really high error bars that include some really big numbers) but the *effectiveness* of SIAI at working on it. And they're just ordinary people, with foibles, and it's fair to be skeptical about their ability to solve the problem.
I'd say: give if you're interested, don't feel guilty about it, but don't feel obligated to make it a #1 priority because there is a good case to be made that it shouldn't be. At any rate it's sort of a moot point; SIAI only needs so much money anyway, and once its needs are met, you can give the remainder to other things.
Oddly enough, I do *not* get any kind of good feeling or "fuzzies" from cute-puppies charity in the sense most people talk about. My brain is broken, I guess.
The closest thing is that I like giving to organizations that serve me-and-people-like-me directly. Like Planned Parenthood, or math camps, or museums. Sort of, "Somebody nice paid for me to have something good; I want to pay it forward so that future mini-me's can have the same experience and so that the institution will still be around for me to enjoy." An investment in making the future world more suited to Sarah-values.
I have a friend who gives to Amnesty International for the same reason. He's a political dissident of sorts, so he sees it less as "charity" than as investment in an institution that one day may save his ass. Or may help people who are enough like himself that he identifies with them.
I actually would not get warm fuzzies from a literal cute puppies charity because I would just feel like a gullible idiot. What I'm talking about is a charity that gives me the feeling of satisfying my morals. SIAI doesn't do that because I feel like it's probably wasted money (even if there's a small chance that it isn't in a big way).
Against Malaria doesn't really do that because I'm not sure how utilitarian-useful it is to save the lives of some people who will probably live unpleasant lives and then go on to have children who are themselves just at risk of malaria as their parents and so it's kind of throwing water from a sinking ship.
But a charity that directly and quickly improves people's lives will incentivize me to keep donating. I chose Helen Keller because they tend to do a lot of work curing blind people, and I can totally imagine how that would make a bunch of people really happy and improve their lives.
Why not give time and money directly to people you know? That way you would be sure of them going to good use.
I've done that a little, but if you read the efficient charity links, well...I mostly know Americans, mostly around the middle class. It takes a lot of money to vastly improve their lives - for example, if a friend has cancer, it might take $50,000 to save their lives through health care donations.
It takes almost no money to vastly improve the lives of poor Third Worlders. If they have malaria or something, they might be dying for lack of a $10 medication, so if I donate that $10 medication I've done just as much good as if I gave my First World friend the $50,000 cancer treatment, but for 1/5000th of the cost.
Likewise, I could make my friend's whole month by buying them a new car or something for $20000, and I could make an African kid's whole month by buying them a month's worth of food for $20. Same effect, able to scale it up 1000x.
Also, I actually trust a GiveWell approved charity that's gone through huge amounts of vetting and study more than many of my friends!
2012-09-21 02:17 pm (UTC)
Man when I tried this on lw I got super downvoted
2012-09-21 03:28 pm (UTC)
Scott's post had a lot of well-written and interesting content beyond "look at me, I donate to charity". If I recall correctly the post you wrote, the same was not true of it.
It's like saying "why did you all laugh at his artfully constructed joke, but not laugh when I shouted 'MONKEY BALLS'? We were both trying to be funny!"
This makes sense, so I made a similar post: http://www.jefftk.com/news/2012-09-21
Edited at 2012-09-22 12:12 am (UTC)
2012-09-21 05:53 pm (UTC)
What I have to say about this comes from a kind of nasty, defensive place, but I think it makes sense anyway.
Promoting a pledge of "I'll donate 10% of my income to charity" seems rankly hypocritical when it's done by someone who is devoting most of their resources to private goods other than money.
The cleanest example might be Toby Ord, who as I recall founded GWWC while he was a grad student in philosophy and now appears to be on some kind of post-doc research fellowship. Now Toby Ord is (evidently) a high-IQ self-starter -- he could develop his talents and earn a high wage in the marketplace if he wanted to. If, counterfactually, he had devoted himself more to making money, he might not have become one of the richest people in the world, but he could probably earn an upper-class income for more or less his whole life. I think lifetime earnings of USD$10M is a somewhat conservative estimate. Instead he has decided to undertake an academic lifestyle, where as a grad student and fellow he has probably taken home incomes in the low five figures, and as a professor he can hope to earn low-six-figures when he reaches full seniority, perhaps years down the road.
Now I don't want to make the straightforward utilitarian argument that one should maximize their income so they can maximize their giving -- I'm really only meaning to talk about the "ickiness" here, for better or worse; hypocrisy is a form of "ickiness."
But think about it this way. Instead of the money he might have earned as an engineer or an investment banker, Toby Ord is compensated for his professional work in other ways. He receives the intellectual stimulation of inquiry in a field he finds interesting; long vacations and sabbaticals; the prestige associated with academia; job security; educational benefits and tuition breaks for any children you have; etc. Imagine that Toby Ord is getting paid a lifetime income of USD$2M, as well as an additional lifetime 8M Academic Fuzzyons. Every year he gets paid a small number of dollars and a larger hoard of Academic Fuzzyons. He gives away 10% of the dollars and keeps all the Fuzzyons himself. Over his lifetime he will give away USD$200K and no Fuzzyons, out of his total earnings of USD$2M and 8M Fuzzyons -- so it looks like Ord is really only giving away 200K / 10M = 2% of his lifetime earnings.
Most of the wealth he produces in his lifetime is sheltered in Fuzzyons, which he privately consumes while urging others to give away their dollars.
Consider by contrast someone who is earning more of their product in money compensation: Toby's evil cousin, Oby Tord, corporate lawyer. Oby Tord has the same productive capacity as Toby Ord but he is choosing to earn it in money instead of untraceable Fuzzyons. As a corporate lawyer, he will make lifetime earnings of $10M. A 10% tithe would yield $1M of giving, but Oby Tord doesn't really want to tithe. Toby Ord would have to tithe 50% to give that much. Isn't Oby Tord within his rights to criticize his cousin for advocating generosity while behaving like a skinflint?
2012-09-21 05:58 pm (UTC)
Note also that Fuzzyons as described above are mostly tax-free. Factor in even slightly progressive taxation (i.e. linear on income) and the dynamic described above becomes even sharper.
That's lovely news. Seeing as you wrote two of my favorite essays on giving, I had been wondering what your approach in real life was.
2012-09-22 01:11 am (UTC)
Which two essays were those?
2012-09-22 01:17 am (UTC)
Wouldn't it be more efficient to just occasionally give five bucks to random feel-good charities instead of allocating money for large, infrequent donations, thus giving you more frequent warm fuzzies for less cost?
Because there is the warm fuzzy background knowledge that one is the person who gives on a regular basis, which also adds meaning to one's life?
Without exception, any time I tell anyone that I am doing something, my motivation to do it decreases. I also have a powerful urge to tell people what I am doing. I am wary of the advice to boast about giving.
2012-09-22 02:33 pm (UTC)
This is a common problem, Patri Friedman wrote a Post about it on LessWrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/z8/image_vs_impact_can_public_commitment_be/
Reading this made me decide to increase my giving.
I used to have the goal of eventually spending one third of my after-rent-and-taxes income on charity, but now that I'm working for SIAI, actually *donating* money seems a little pointless since I can just bill them less instead.
I'm sort of having the same problem with working for them. Not really sure what to do about it. Billing them less seems kind of silly.
Hey, satisfying emotional needs can generate utility too.
Yes, but that's utility for you. (Called "fuzzies" elsewhere in the thread.) If you're interested in buying utility for other people (such as 'not dying'), you'll do better to buy that separately, because it may not provide much in the way of fuzzies. And it can be dangerously easy to convince yourself that your fuzzies are providing a reasonable, let alone, efficient amount of utility for others.
You should just save your charitable funds until you *do* know what to do with them.
This is not clearly optimal. Donations to SIAI, for example, are likely to be heavily time-discounted; deciding to donate X/3 is probably substantially more valuable than deciding to donate X in a year. (So I guess if you're unsure of what to do, you should lend money to SIAI and then decide whether to ask for it back in the future?)
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