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Charity when time isn't convertible to money?

4 Post author: DataPacRat 29 January 2012 07:38PM

Having just re-read "Money: The Unit of Caring", I noticed that the general methods proposed therein make some assumptions which don't seem to apply to me, and I'm trying to figure out how the conclusions therein change therefrom.

Avoiding certain personal details, I'm on a fixed income; I get a monthly deposit in my bank account every month. I don't expect this to change in the foreseeable future; and at least in the general sense of 'job', it's unlikely I'll be able to acquire one. In sum - I don't have any easy way to convert my time into additional money.

However, I still want to get the occasional warm fuzzy from causing the most possible good from what I can do - even if that involves my volunteering to spend some hours of my life doing things that would be inefficient for someone else. For example, donating blood, or taking an overnight shift keeping an eye on things at the local 'out of the cold' program; and using givewell.org as a guide for what money I am able to funnel into direct donating.

 

So - does anyone have any advice? (Or questions that would help better advice be given?)

Comments (17)

Comment author: Alicorn 29 January 2012 08:09:44PM 17 points [-]

Another way to turn time into money is to pay less for convenience.

Comment author: DataPacRat 29 January 2012 08:14:07PM 7 points [-]

As in, "Don't buy that $15 meal, pay $5 for ingredients and spend an hour cooking"?

Comment author: Alicorn 29 January 2012 08:15:31PM 10 points [-]

That's a good example, yes. Or "don't put your clothes through the laundromat dryer; strew them around your room and turn on a fan". Or "don't take the bus, walk".

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 30 January 2012 06:10:07AM 4 points [-]

Wait, everyone doesn't have one of these things?

Comment author: MixedNuts 31 January 2012 03:46:20PM 0 points [-]

Takes up too much space.

Comment author: Alicorn 30 January 2012 06:22:17AM 0 points [-]

I have a rack for drying delicates flat, but not one of those things.

Comment author: DataPacRat 29 January 2012 08:19:53PM 1 point [-]

Okay, then. It's an entirely reasonable approach - and one that I already try, though it's been more from the motivation to stretch out my current fixed income as far as possible.

(Similarly, I try not to pay more for something when I can get a functional equivalent for less, I try to repair rather than replace, and I try not to pay at all when I can do without.)

Comment author: Alicorn 29 January 2012 08:21:36PM 2 points [-]

If you can source needed goods and services from people you know, you can also try barter instead of payment of money. (Don't recommend trying this with strangers, although there's Freecycle.)

Comment author: Xachariah 30 January 2012 04:28:26AM 14 points [-]

Money: The Unit of Caring doesn't apply to you. Or rather, you're on the opposite end of that spectrum.

For every $100/hr lawyer who donates an hour worth of his paycheck in exchange for labor, there needs to be ten man hours worth of available labor to convert that into charity (if they're getting paid $10/hr). If you're making less than $10/hr, then it's more efficient for you to donate time instead of money, assuming you're as productive as hired labor.

There's this thing called "Ricardo's Law of Comparative Advantage". There's this idea called "professional specialization". There's this notion of "economies of scale". There's this concept of "gains from trade". The whole reason why we have money is to realize the tremendous gains possible from each of us doing what we do best.

Yes, people are sometimes limited in their ability to trade time for money (underemployed), so that it is better for them if they can directly donate that which they would usually trade for money. 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.

If you're a lawyer, then your comparative advantage comes in the form of giving money or lawyering. If you're a minimum wage laborer, then your comparative advantage comes in the form of giving minimum wage labor or in giving yourself a professional specialization.

There also exists things where money is not an advantage. Actually, I should rephrase that. There exists things where the advantage of making more money does not out-do your inherent advantage as an interested, proximate human being. Giving blood is a great example. Yes, money allows the agencies to pay for more plasma donations, but just by being a steady donor you're trading something you don't need (excess blood production) for something a charity can use (blood). Another example is political advocacy. Your knowledge and interest in a subject is valuable, and can be converted into faxes/phonecalls/letters/emails to your congressman and senators. A $10 donation to your favorite political group is less efficient in changing policy than a $8 donation and 12 minute fax/phonecall to your elected officials.

The message of Money: The Unit of Caring isn't that we should spend cash for everything; it's that charity is not a separate magisterium. If you are most efficient doing lawyer work in the market, you're most efficient doing lawyer work for charity; if you're most efficient as a menial laborer in the market, you're most efficient as a menial laborer in charity. If the conversion from labor->dollars->charity is more efficient than labor->charity, then use the former; if it's the other way around, then use the latter.

Comment author: gwern 29 January 2012 08:23:20PM 7 points [-]

I think you are foreclosing options here. When you say

and at least in the general sense of 'job', it's unlikely I'll be able to acquire one

I read this as

I can't get a job which will pay >$20 an hour without being too much work, and working for $4 an hour on Amazon Mechanical Turk or one of the other options available to me as an Internet user just are too distasteful

Comment author: DataPacRat 29 January 2012 08:30:01PM 4 points [-]

Additional detail: I am physically unable to hold a job which pays local minimum wage. This is the reason why the government sends me the monthly deposit.

And I am unfamiliar with 'Amazon Mechanical Turk', though I'll Google it as soon as I finish looking at the Freecycle recommended elsewhere in this thread.

Comment author: gwern 29 January 2012 09:14:40PM 5 points [-]

FWIW, I've done Mechanical Turk in the past. There's plenty of work there, but I'm serious when I describe the hourly wage as $4 or less. (I view it as kind of a lower bound on the value of time.)

Comment author: DataPacRat 30 January 2012 06:16:20PM 3 points [-]

I've just finished comparing various documents; and it turns out that Mechanical Turk falls under one of the categories of my monthly deposit's rules, in that for every dollar I would be paid from performing Turk tasks, fifty cents would be deducted from my next monthly deposit. Thus, even if I put $4 of effort per hour into Turk tasks, I would increase my actual income by $2 per hour of effort; which, while more than $0, is still pretty low... the local bus costs $2.50, so I could increase my effective income by more than that per hour by simply spending my time walking everywhere rather than taking the bus.

Now that I know of MT, I'm going to keep it in the toolbox of potential options in case of emergency, but with my current understanding, I'm unlikely to make it a regular thing. (Unless I can come up with some way to do Turk tasks while doing something else at the same time, or find some other 'cheat' to increase its value - as usual, and suggestions would be appreciated.)

Comment author: gwern 30 January 2012 07:14:18PM 1 point [-]

the local bus costs $2.50, so I could increase my effective income by more than that per hour by simply spending my time walking everywhere rather than taking the bus.

You'd probably also be healthier too - who gets enough exercise? (And audiobooks apparently work well for boredom.)

Comment author: DanielLC 29 January 2012 08:18:00PM 1 point [-]

Perhaps you could go door to door trying to get people to donate to a good charity.

If you try that, tell us how it goes.

Comment author: CarlShulman 30 January 2012 01:26:26AM *  4 points [-]

Also, one can volunteer for a phone bank for a charity or political campaign, which might be easier for someone with a disability.

Comment author: atorm 30 January 2012 09:16:39PM *  0 points [-]

Today is a good day to sign up to donate bone marrow, as I mention here.