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

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

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Comment author: patrissimo 02 January 2011 07:04:23AM 4 points [-]

Completely agree with your general point on marginal analysis (although I'm a TDT skeptic), and am a fan of GiveWell, but this is trivially wrong:

It is not possible for everyone to behave this way in elections: no voter is able to consider the existing distribution of votes before casting their own.

This seems to assume away information about the size of the electorate as well as any predictive power about the outcome. Surely the marginal benefit of a Presidential vote in a small swing state is massively higher than in a large solidly Democratic state, for example. And in addition to historical results, there is polling data in advance of the election to improve predictions.

Besides this being theoretically true, we can see it empirically from the spending patterns of both Presidential campaigns and political parties on Congressional races. They allocate money to the states / races where they believe it will do the most marginal good, which is often a very inequal distribution. Thus they do, in fact "consider the existing distribution of votes before casting" their advertising dollars.

Comment author: HoldenKarnofsky 03 January 2011 09:43:55PM 3 points [-]

Patrissimo, fair enough. I was thinking that voters can't vote with the same degree of knowledge of the existing situation that they can have with blood donations. Arguments over TDT certainly seem more relevant to voting than to blood donations. But you are right that voters have lots of relevant information about the likely distribution of votes that can be productively factored into their decisions regardless of the TDT debate. Glad to hear you're a fan of GiveWell.