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

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

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Comment author: lunchbox 25 December 2010 04:57:55PM 21 points [-]

It's a useful exercise for aspiring economists and rationalists to dissect charity into separate components of warm fuzzies vs. efficiency. However, maybe it's best for the general population not to be fully conscious that these are separate components, since the spirit of giving is like a frog: you can dissect it, but it dies in the process (adaptation of an E.B. White quote).

Lemma: we want charity to be enjoyable, so that more people are motivated to do it. (Analogy: capitalist countries let rich people keep their riches, to create an incentive for economic growth, even though it might create more utility in the short term to tax rich people very highly.)

Consider this quote from the article:

If he went to the beach because he wanted the sunlight and the fresh air and the warm feeling of personally contributing to something, that's fine. If he actually wanted to help people by beautifying the beach, he's chosen an objectively wrong way to go about it.

Sure, but making the lawyer conscious of this will give him a complete buzzkill. He will realize that he was unconsciously doing the act for selfish (and kind of silly) reasons. Your hope in telling him this is that he will instead opt to use his $1000 salary to hire people, but I question whether he would actually follow through with that kind of giving in the long run, since his unconscious original motive was warm fuzzies, not efficiency. In effect, you may have prevented him from doing anything charitable at all. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

So, this article is great fodder for someone trained in rationalist/economic thought, but keep in mind that this type of thinking makes many people uneasy.

Comment author: DSimon 27 December 2010 06:40:13PM *  15 points [-]

This is a genuine problem you're presenting, and I think it requires a third solution besides the presented options of "Let the lawyer do what he wants" and "Give the lawyer a buzzkill". What we need to do is find a way of getting the lawyer to understand what the right thing to do is, without making them feel defensive or like a jerk. If we make the bullet tasty enough, it'll get easier to swallow.

Rationalist marketing FTU (For The Utilons).

Comment author: Silhalnor 04 November 2015 09:26:44PM 0 points [-]

So, is my goal in explaining this stuff to someone to maximize efficiency at achieving their goals (warm fuzzies), or to maximize efficiency at achieving my goals (charity)? (Or maybe I want warm fuzzies and the lawyer wants charity, whatever.)

Comment author: DSimon 01 February 2016 12:51:46AM 0 points [-]

The lawyer wants both warm fuzzies and charitrons, but has conflated the two, and will probably get buzzkilled (and lose out on both measures) if the distinction is made clear. The best outcome is one where the lawyer gets to maximize both, and that happens at the end of a long road that begins with introspection about what warm fuzzies ought to mean.

Comment author: Mqrius 07 January 2013 10:58:26PM *  1 point [-]

Not quite the same scenario, but close: often when I'm considering donating to some charity, there's a reminder in the back of my head that if I were to truly support this charity I would donate a much larger amount. This isn't a happy thought, it generates conflict: there's another part of me that doesn't like spending large amounts of money. Thus, I often donate nothing at all.

I'm still working on this conflict.

Comment author: DanielLC 07 March 2014 08:35:14PM 0 points [-]

If you learn about how to give right, some of the warm fuzzies will go away, and fewer people will donate, but the people who do donate will donate better.

If all you're going to be doing is picking up litter at a beach, it really doesn't matter if you stop when you find out it's not helping people. You can find another hobby.