Value drift & commitment accounts
One weapon against value drift is putting money away in an account that keeps it safe from future-you’s lack of alignment. I think it’s worth thinking concretely about about what that might look like. Throughout, concrete financial institutions (in the UK) are bolded, so you have somewhere to start investigations. Note: I haven’t done this, nor am I currently planning to, but this is what I came up with when I looked into it.
First, Joey Savoie mentions that you can put your cash in a donor-advised fund. This is a pretty good option: it means the money getting interest while you figure out what to do with it, and it’s locked in to going to a charity.
I think this is a pretty solid option, if you have enough money to invest. The places I found in the UK (NPT UK and Charities Aid Foundation) required a minimum of 50k and 10k respectively. That said, there are some high-flyers in the EA community, and maybe some of them are worried about value drift. In that case, something like this could work. Note that I’m not endorsing either of these (or any other institutions I mention) as a good option, I just hope it lowers the barrier to taking action.
Another problem with donor-advised funds is the lack of flexibility—by ensuring you have to give the money to charity, you end up stuck only with those altruistic opportunities that are verifiably charitable. I think many opportunities at the right scale for a small donor aren’t officially charities. For example, funding individuals (possibly yourself) to do uncompensated altruistic work or retraining.
(Speaking of scale, it’s not clear to me if you would be able to enter a donor lottery from a DAF. Partly that will depend on how the lottery is set up (can you transfer money to the organising institution directly?) and partly on the legalities of DAFs.)
But suppose we’re interested in the case of funding individuals or unofficial charitable work. Is my suggestion for combating value drift saving up money in a normal account to spend on yourself at a future date? Fortunately not.
One solution is to find another way to check your ability to spend the money. I looked into joint bank accounts where both parties are needed to release funds. For example, Nationwide offers this kind of account (though both opening the account and withdrawing money must be done in-branch).
If you can find another party that you trust to model your altruistic goals, you can force yourself to go through them whenever you access the saved money.
Were I going to do this, here are some things I’d want from the account holder:
Models me accurately
I’m comfortable with them knowing a lot about my finances
They’re comfortable saying no to me
Our relationship is robust to tension and possibly refusing to release funds
Limited stake in how I spend the money
I don’t particularly imagine 3 being tested in practice, but if it wasn’t present, I might be willing to ask for funds without much justification.
For me, and perhaps for others, this would suggest a family member. If that’s not true for you, consider who might fulfil all these criteria or which ones you might be willing to drop.
Other things I’d want to get clear in the setup:
Can I use personal funds in emergencies?
What exactly is the procedure for releasing funds (written case for whatever I want to spend it on? sit-down meeting? trial by combat?)
What release schedules would be possible for self-funding? (for example, can I get all the money if I want to do a high-impact startup?)
Though I think the ideal answer for 1 is no, I don’t know anyone who would enforce (particularly because they might end up paying to help me if it were really desperate), so it’s probably better to accept reality and say it’s allowed. 2 & 3 I think would be more idiosyncratic.
Investment account plus joint account
This gives you flexibility vs the DAF approach and tries to hold on to some of the alignment-keeping bite (at the cost of weird tension with someone you know). But it does lose the ability to get gains from savings—all the double-signature accounts I could find were current accounts.
Some investment accounts—like Hargreaves Lansdown—have a nominated bank account that all withdrawals must go to. Pair this with the double signature account, and it looks like we’ve made ourselves a more flexible DAF!
Not quite. First, I imagine there are some tax differences (though I haven’t checked). More relevantly, this might have completely undermined the entire project of protecting against value drift: at least at Hargreaves Lansdown, either account holder can unilaterally change the nominated bank account (not an anti-endorsement!). So if your joint holder won’t let you squander your altruistic savings, you can just redirect to your normal account. This is a pretty big loophole!
Perhaps I wouldn’t abuse this loophole—a combination of the delay in the account-switching taking effect and the crossing-the-Rubicon nature of hitting the escape button feels like it would be enough to keep me from doing so. I’m not very confident about that without evidence though; it seems like a pretty convenient story for me to tell myself. I’d want to reflect a lot more before going this route.
If you don’t want to give now (perhaps because you haven’t figured out where it would be mot valuable to give), you can make it harder for your future self to defect against your current values. Flexibility, financial efficiency & strength of binding trade off against each other. I’ve pointed to some particular places in the space of options.
All this said, it’s worth considering why you don’t want to give now, and if you can avoid your concerns without having to hold onto money for awhile.
For example, maybe you don’t see how you can make a reasoned choice without a level of investigation and deliberation your scale of donation can’t justify. A good choice in this case (and, in my opinion, better than using one of these systems) is the donor lottery that CEA sometimes runs. There should be one this year. Among its benefits, it allows you to move all the deliberation work to worlds in which you are disbursing enough to justify a lot of evaluative work.