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

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

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Comment author: Elizabeth 25 December 2010 04:28:25PM 2 points [-]

I just had a conversation with my father on this subject which significantly clarified my thinking, and resolved most of my internal dilemma. The argument put forward in this post is correct, but there is one significant problem. I care about more than just saving children. I also care about how efficiently it is done, what peripheral good a charity is doing in the community by, say, employing locals, and any number of other things. "Children saved" is an important metric and should absolutely be considered, and it is a decision that should be made carefully, but it is not the only metric to consider. We should spend our money efficiently, but we first need to clarify our goals in order to do so, and "saving children" is not necessarily our only goal, even in cases where it is primary.

Comment author: shokwave 26 December 2010 09:30:37AM 5 points [-]

"saving children" is not necessarily our only goal

Unless you have a huge "they are in another country" discount on children's lives, or a huge "they are in my community" boost to the other goals, I can't name any goals off the top of my head that can compete with saving children's lives.

Comment author: Elizabeth 26 December 2010 03:48:31PM 3 points [-]

I didn't say that other goals could compete, but there are other goals that can be considered simultaneously. If one charity saves ten children for $100 and another saves nine and accomplishes a few other things, that is not a choice we should make mindlessly. we can't let "saving children become a buzzword that cuts off thought. What if the second charity saves the children from death and gives them some skills that will help them make a living and help their communities? In that case, I would probably choose the second charity. Think of it as a linear algebra problem, with numerous parameters with different weights. You end up with an optimal solution for all variables together rather than for a single variable alone. Just because saving children is the most heavily weighted variable doesn't mean that it is the only one.

Comment author: patrissimo 02 January 2011 06:51:29AM *  10 points [-]

At the risk of provoking defensiveness I will say that it really sounds like you are trying to rationalize your preferences as being rational when they aren't.

I say this because the examples that you were giving (local food kitchen, public radio), when compared to truly efficient charities (save lives, improve health, foster local entrepreneurship), are nothing like "save 9 kids + some other benefits" vs. "save 10 kids and nothing else". It''s more like "save 0.1 kids that you know are in your neighborhood" vs. "save 10 kids that you will never meet" (and that's probably an overestimate on the local option). Your choice of a close number is suspicious because it is so wrong and so appealing (by justifying the giving that makes you happy).

The amount of happiness that you create through local first world charities is orders of magnitude less than third world charities. Therefore, if you are choosing local first world charities that help "malnourished" kids who are fabulously nourished by third world standards, we can infer that the weight you put on "saving the lives of children" (and with it, "maximizing human quality-adjusted life years") is basically zero. Therefore, you are almost certainly buying warm fuzzies. That's consumption, not charity. I'm all for consumption, I just don't like people pretending that it's charity so they can tick their mental "give to charity" box and move on.

Comment author: Elizabeth 02 January 2011 04:47:21PM *  4 points [-]

I agree with you completely about consumption vs. charity, and had even mentioned the concept in my point about NPR donation guilt.

I also agree that the close number is wildly inaccurate, but even in context it wasn't applied to local charities and it was intended to make the point that multiple factors could and should be considered when picking charities, even when the importance multipliers on some factors are orders of magnitude higher than for other factors.

I hope this clarifies my meaning without defensiveness, because none was meant.

Comment author: patrissimo 04 January 2011 05:52:52AM 1 point [-]

Ok, great, I'm glad I misunderstood.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 October 2011 06:39:06PM 2 points [-]

Let's say you want to start a school, because you like education. You could found a very large school that educates lots of children, but at a so-so quality. Or you could spend the same amount of instruction to make a tiny, amazing school, a little gem. Some people might find it more fulfilling to build the small, wonderful school. When you've achieved your goal, a tiny corner of the world is just perfect, and it's a part you have control over.

I think this is part of the reason people sometimes are more motivated to improve conditions in their own country than abroad. On some level, I'd rather make one person really happy and successful than make 100 people just barely better off than dead.

Comment author: shokwave 26 December 2010 04:35:49PM 3 points [-]

Think of it as a linear algebra problem, with numerous parameters with different weights. You end up with an optimal solution for all variables together rather than for a single variable alone.

This is what I had in mind; I just felt that that the "saving childrens' lives" variable would have a multiplier of a few hundred in front of it (because lives are important) and the other variables like "improves their community" would have multipliers of two or three at best. I couldn't think of any other variable that would have a similar multiplier to "child's life".

Comment author: Strange7 27 December 2010 11:45:09PM 0 points [-]

Some of those other variables will feed back in to the "child's life" variable, a generation or two down the road.

Comment author: shokwave 28 December 2010 05:26:19AM 3 points [-]

Feeding back into "child's life" a few generations down the road is not a multiplier of a few hundred. That it feeds back gives it an extra 10% or so; even with the feeding back, doing anything that isn't directly saving as many lives as possible right now is an objectively worse option.