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SRStarin comments on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... - Less Wrong

130 Post author: Yvain 24 December 2010 09:26PM

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Comment author: SRStarin 25 December 2010 02:23:13AM *  2 points [-]

The points made here are sound. I was particularly awakened by calling out the rule about overhead as wrong, since that has been a major factor in my charitiable giving in the past.

However, if we imagine everyone behaving according to these rules, we wind up with very few (incompetent) people running a few charities with piles of cash. If no lawyers take time off and contribute their expertise to a charity, then how do charities protect themselves from lawsuits, for example? The optimal charity solution is not for everyone to follow your guidelines, but for almost everyone to follow your guidelines, and a few people to deviate. Yet, how do we know whether we should be the ones who deviate?

Comment author: Emile 25 December 2010 11:00:54AM 10 points [-]

However, if we imagine everyone behaving according to these rules, we wind up with very few (incompetent) people running a few charities with piles of cash.

If the choice is between charities making antimalarial drugs run by competent people, and charities making (more useful) mosquito nets run by incompetent people, then yes on the short term you might see incompetent people with loads of cash, but then other charities will probably pop up making malarial nets with low overhead, and then they'll get the most donarions.

Or if you're concerned about competent people all getting a "real" job and donating money: it's only rational to do so when the marginal utility of volunteering is less than the marginal utility of working and donating. If that's the case now (too many volunteers, not enough money), that doesn't mean that all volunteers should stop and go get a job.

Comment author: ata 25 December 2010 02:47:01AM *  8 points [-]

If no lawyers take time off and contribute their expertise to a charity, then how do charities protect themselves from lawsuits, for example?

The lawyer example wasn't about lawyers donating lawyering to charities, it was about lawyers buying fuzzies by doing volunteer work like picking up litter or working at a food bank instead of doing overtime legal work and using the extra money to generate ten times as much charitable work.

Under some circumstances, the most efficient thing might be for a lawyer to provide pro-bono legal work to a charity, if a good lawyer is willing to do that, but in general, the answer to "how do charities protect themselves from lawsuits?" is "by paying for legal representation with part of the money people donate to them".

Comment author: GuySrinivasan 25 December 2010 04:52:14AM 2 points [-]

The answer is that until the world's culture of giving changes massively, you should not be the one to deviate. And you'll notice when the world's culture of giving is changing massively. And then we can solve the new problem of "but the marginal gain of one lawyer from zero really is large!", but until then, it's nothing more than a hypothetical.

Unless! I haven't thought about this before, but what if the great majority of people of important-to-charity category X who currently donate their time are also the sort of people who will switch to these much better guidelines before it becomes a worldwide phenomenon? Does such a category exist? It's the only thing that would make a "just switch to these guidelines and fix the other problems if these guidelines are widely adopted" policy turn out badly if implemented, I think...

Comment author: imbatman 12 June 2012 06:02:35PM 1 point [-]

this was covered here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/65/money_the_unit_of_caring/

"If the soup kitchen needed a lawyer, and the lawyer donated a large contiguous high-priority block of lawyering, then that sort of volunteering makes sense—that's the same specialized capability the lawyer ordinarily trades for money. But "volunteering" just one hour of legal work, constantly delayed, spread across three weeks in casual minutes between other jobs? This is not the way something gets done when anyone actually cares about it, or to state it near-equivalently, when money is involved."