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In response to Persistent Idealism
Comment author: Izeinwinter 28 August 2014 07:39:51PM *  0 points [-]

It isn't just corruption that is a worry it is also the simple fact that if you are not corrupted, you will fit in really, really badly in your at-work social context. If you are obviously one of the righteous, and you are working at vampire squid headquarters, people are going to be rightly concerned that you may at any moment redo your utility calculations in the light of new data about just how vile they are and decide that the greatest net good you can accomplish is to, oh, copy every file you can lay your hands on, turn states evidence and in general pull a Samson in the temple on them. So, you know, perhaps not the most likely person to receive promotions.

More practically: Given the ability to get this sort of job you can almost certainly do much more net good by going into engineering, medicine or similar and working very hard at perfecting something which has broad use. The low-cost solar powered air-conditioner, the app that has a walkthrough on how to build the best possible house and outhouse given local ´materials, a shovel and lots of time (the third world has quite high smartphone penetration, and it will only go higher) Heck, even a humanities degree can be leveraged to outperform any plausible amount of giving if you laser down at producing something which makes the lives of enough people better. - Because in any given job, far more resources will pass through your hands than will be diverted into your bank account. It thus matters more what you do than what you earn. Pick a vocation. Be conscientious and diligent in executing it - this may result in personal wealth, or may not, but the mere act of doing a good job at a good task improves the world.

Comment author: jkaufman 28 August 2014 09:18:05PM 1 point [-]

"working at vampire squid headquarters..."

Earning to give doesn't require working for companies that are actively evil with secret malicious blow-the-whistle-on plans, and I don't think working for such organizations would be a good idea. But if you're working in tech (ex: me) or finance (ex: Jason Trigg) you can still fit in fine with your coworkers. You don't "ooze righteousness" or anything. (And I think trying to avoid coming off as "holier than thou" is very important if we don't want effective altruism to appear arrogant and offputting.)

"you can almost certainly do much more net good by going into engineering, medicine or similar and working very hard at perfecting something which has broad use"

You're making pretty strong claims ("outperform any plausible amount of giving") but the only evidence you're giving seems to be the claim that "in any given job, far more resources will pass through your hands than will be diverted into your bank account". Each individual doesn't have that much control over resources passing through their hands, while they have a lot of control over what they do with money they earn and can donate. But let's look at an example.

As the tech lead for the pagespeed module I'm one of ~10 people working on open source web server software that speeds up ~0.5% of internet page views by ~0.1s. There are about 1M page views per second on the internet, so every second we save people about 500s, or 500 person-years of time every year. That's 50-years per team member, so you could say through my work I save one life a year. Now for this work I get paid enough enough that I can donate about $100k/year. Donations to the AMF save a life for ~$2.5k but let's say $5k to be safe. So that's 20 lives. This is rough, but in my case at least my donations are going about 20x farther than my work. Add in replaceability and that shifts the balance even further in favor of donations.

Comment author: cameroncowan 28 August 2014 07:50:14PM 1 point [-]

Being a man, I'm very good at compartmentalizing thing so I view giving and charity in its own box of things that I do. I hold what I do around charity and giving and this kind of thing in extremely high esteem especially because I work within myself, within my soul, within subtle realms, and this kind of thing. However, while I guess that is a method of giving I think living a good life and having sufficient resources to invest in oneself is a far safer bet than giving away as much money as possible. You really have to think of yourself in order not to become a charity case yourself. Doing that which is fulfilling and making you a better person has a duplicative effect and amplifies all that you do without the burnout or poverty stricken state that I think this system leads to. I agree that to the person doing it its not as hard as it might seem. I live on very little an most people think that I'm crazy or that its so hard but its not. However, there are moments like when my car needs something done or there is an event I'd like to go to that I really wish I had those resources to just pick up and go do that thing. I guess in that way I don't see this extreme sacrifice method of giving is conducive to a good life. Does that make sense?

Comment author: jkaufman 28 August 2014 08:30:38PM *  4 points [-]

"You really have to think of yourself in order not to become a charity case yourself. Doing that which is fulfilling and making you a better person has a duplicative effect and amplifies all that you do without the burnout or poverty stricken state that I think this system leads to."

This is a good argument against donating too much, but you can still keep enough for yourself to avoid poverty and burnout while earning to give. For example, of what my wife and I earn this year we'll be dividing the money up like:

50% donations
23% taxes
21% saving
6% spending

You can see we're saving several times our annual spending, which gives us a good safety margin in case something goes wrong. Part of why we're able to have a budget like this is that we (me, wife, daughter) live frugally, and part of it is that we've tried to earn more so we can give more.

Comment author: EStokes 26 August 2014 05:21:45PM 3 points [-]

Good point! When I asked her earlier she said she wanted to save the rainforest to stop global warming, but I don't think she's completely inflexible about this.

Comment author: jkaufman 26 August 2014 07:05:30PM 3 points [-]

"she wanted to save the rainforest to stop global warming"

Katja Grace (of Meteuphoric) did some research for Giving What We Can looking into climate change charities. She wrote up her findings as a blog post.

In response to Persistent Idealism
Comment author: shminux 26 August 2014 04:55:25PM *  13 points [-]

Or maybe they realize that their younger self's values and goals are no longer their current values and goals, and give in to a bit of indulgence guilt-free.

It is certainly wise to keep a diary of one's goals, values, reasons and intentions, so that some time later one can tell whether the arguments you made when you are 20 are still persuasive when you are 40. Also reviewing one's diary on a regular basis is likely to mitigate any unintentional value drift.

What is probably not wise is trying to lock your future self in with precommitments. After all, would you want to be constrained at 20 by what your 12-yo self thought? That's how you might think about yourself at 20 when you are 40.

Comment author: jkaufman 26 August 2014 06:47:45PM *  3 points [-]

"What is probably not wise is trying to lock your future self in with precommitments."

The outside view suggests that as I get older I will probably get less idealistic and less altruistic. For example, from something I happened to be reading this morning:

Bob’s lack of ambition, which had initially seemed so noble, began to irritate Jacqui. “Everybody else in the animal-rights movement was growing up, starting to settle down, moving out of the squats and all that,” she recalled. “He was already a lot older, and he was not progressing.” While Bob was in the pub, plotting direct actions, Jacqui was at home, worrying about money.

(In this case Bob hasn't "grown up" because he's actually a government spy assigned to the animal rights movement, but if anything that makes this stronger.)

I expect that morally I will still believe that we should be helping others, I just will be pulled more and more to spend money on myself and people around me. Commitment here isn't to lock myself into the values of a much younger self so much as keep myself doing what I have all along thought was the right thing to do.

In response to Persistent Idealism
Comment author: gjm 26 August 2014 03:15:20PM 5 points [-]

The following two strategies seem (to me) roughly equally plausible but (unfortunately) exactly opposite.

  • Establish a ruthless Schelling fence like "never keep more than $X of income in a year" where X is a rather small number.

  • Accept that you are likely to be unable to maintain a really unspendy lifestyle when surrounded by spendy rich people, and instead decide from the outset on a level of self-indulgence that you are likely to be able to keep up.

If forced to guess, my guess is that the former is probably easier to keep up for longer but may lead to a more drastic failure mode when it fails. But I have no reason to trust my guesses much on this. I'd be interested in others' opinions.

In response to comment by gjm on Persistent Idealism
Comment author: jkaufman 26 August 2014 06:31:42PM 1 point [-]

"instead decide from the outset on a level of self-indulgence that you are likely to be able to keep up."

For example, by setting a percentage to donate.

Comment author: ChristianKl 26 August 2014 02:47:28PM 1 point [-]

EA do consider working for banks who are guilty of defrauding their customers on multiple occasions.

Comment author: jkaufman 26 August 2014 06:28:42PM 3 points [-]

Could you expand more? EAs clearly shouldn't defraud people.

Comment author: EStokes 26 August 2014 12:48:22PM 1 point [-]

My sister is interested in environmental charities, a category which Givewell has no recommendations about. Does anyone know of any actually good ones?

Comment author: jkaufman 26 August 2014 01:19:50PM *  8 points [-]

What draws her to environmental charities? Concern for animals? Concern for humans? Fighting global warming with its likely negative effects on both?

Before GiveWell/whoever can make a recommendation they need to know what the person wants. The best environmental charity for preventing species extinction is going to be very different than the best one for preventing animal suffering.

In response to Persistent Idealism
Comment author: DanielLC 26 August 2014 03:22:13AM 3 points [-]

I think part of it is that activism is more immediate. If you decide to go to college so you can make more money, and then once you graduate you backslide, you never help anyone. If you were an activist, then you'd at least have been an activist for a few years.

Comment author: jkaufman 26 August 2014 01:13:17PM 1 point [-]

"If you decide to go to college so you can make more money, and then once you graduate you backslide, you never help anyone."

This makes a lot of sense for people who wouldn't be starting earning to give right away, but I usually see the 'backsliding' argument applied to people already earning to give or considering whether that's what they should do next.

In response to Persistent Idealism
Comment author: mushroom 26 August 2014 03:28:36AM *  1 point [-]

If the increase from optimizing income is large enough, quite a bit of backsliding can occur while donations increase.

If having regular social relationships at work helps you make more money (e.g. playing golf with the boss) then "avoid your coworkers" might be bad advice for an aspiring philanthropist. Likewise, if your income will suffer from not fitting in, and if fitting in requires some amount of conspicuous consumption (expensive suits or whatever), then there isn't really a trade-off here.

EDIT: The caution against being "Penny-wise and pound foolish" should apply to moral as well as financial matters.

Comment author: jkaufman 26 August 2014 01:09:38PM 1 point [-]

"'avoid your coworkers' might be bad advice for an aspiring philanthropist."

I don't think you should avoid your coworkers. That's definitely bad advice. Not only are there the potential advantages you describe, they're probably really interesting people! I'm saying you should try to have a lot of different influences, and not let your coworkers form too much of your social circle.

(Which is also a good strategy given that you may may lose your job, and don't want to lose all your friends with it.)

Persistent Idealism

9 jkaufman 26 August 2014 01:38AM

When I talk to people about earning to give, it's common to hear worries about "backsliding". Yes, you say you're going to go make a lot of money and donate it, but once you're surrounded by rich coworkers spending heavily on cars, clothes, and nights out, will you follow through? Working at a greedy company in a selfishness-promoting culture you could easily become corrupted and lose initial values and motivation.

First off, this is a totally reasonable concern. People do change, and we are pulled towards thinking like the people around us. I see two main ways of working against this:

  1. Be public with your giving. Make visible commitments and then list your donations. This means that you can't slowly slip away from giving; either you publish updates saying you're not going to do what you said you would, or you just stop updating and your pages become stale. By making a public promise you've given friends permission to notice that you've stopped and ask "what changed?"
  2. Don't just surround yourself with coworkers. Keep in touch with friends and family. Spend some time with other people in the effective altruism movement. You could throw yourself entirely into your work, maximizing income while sending occasional substantial checks to GiveWell's top picks, but without some ongoing engagement with the community and the research this doesn't seem likely to last.

One implication of the "won't you drift away" objection, however, is often that if instead of going into earning to give you become an activist then you'll remain true to your values. I'm not so sure about this: many people who are really into activism and radical change in their 20s have become much less ambitious and idealistic by their 30s. You can call it "burning out" or "selling out" but decreasing idealism with age is very common. This doesn't mean people earning to give don't have to worry about losing their motivation—in fact it points the opposite way—but this isn't a danger unique to the "go work at something lucrative" approach. Trying honestly to do the most good possible is far from the default in our society, and wherever you are there's going to be pressure to do the easy thing, the normal thing, and stop putting so much effort into altruism.

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