My own view here is:
i) Like Greg I’ve only ever seen the claim that donating some can be better for one’s own welfare, compared to a baseline of not giving at all—not that the EA approach to giving is actually the optimal for happiness (!).
Giving small amounts regularly to a variety of emotionally appealing causes is more likely to be optimal for one’s selfish welfare, at least if you don’t have an EA mindset which would render that dissatisfying. As you say, ‘give 10% once a year to the most effective charity’ is likely worse than that.
ii) Unfortunately I don’t have time to look into whether your source on income satiation points is better than the older one I used in my article. Personally, I think a focus on a ‘satiation point’ at which income yields literally zero further welfare gain is the wrong way to think about this. I am skeptical that the curve ever entirely flattens out, let alone turns back around. Rather I’d expect logarithmic returns (or perhaps something a bit sharper), up into the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of income. Given the difficulty of measuring satisfaction, especially in the upper tail of income, I would trust this more common sense model over empirical measurements claiming otherwise. Above ~$100,000, additional gains in welfare are probably just too small for our survey methods to pick up.
For this reason 80,000 Hours use more modest language like “any extra income won’t affect your happiness that much”, rather than claiming the effect is nothing.
Nonetheless, at high levels of income, further raising one’s income gradually becomes a minor issue, before it becomes an entirely unmeasurable one. At that point, many people will better accomplish their life goals by focussing on improving the world—thereby giving themselves more community, higher purpose, sense of accomplishment, and indeed actual accomplishment—rather than eking out what limited returns remain from higher earnings, and this seems important to point out to people.
iii) So, while I say from an egoist perspective ‘give 10% once a year to the most effective charity’ is probably dominated by a ‘fuzzy-hacking’ approach to charity, that’s not completely obvious.
Giving larger amounts, and giving them to the best charities one can find, often becomes a core part of people’s identity, probably raising their sense of purpose / satisfaction with their work at all times, rather than just via a warm glow immediately after they donate a small sum. I don’t think any of the evidence we’ve looked at can address this issue, except the observational studies, which are hopelessly confounded by other things.
Furthermore, being part of effective altruism or Giving What We Can can provide participants with a community of people who they feel some connection to, which many people otherwise lack, and which seems to have a larger effect on happiness than money. Finally, giving to the best charities allows people to show off to themselves about their uncommon intelligence and sophistication as a giver, which can also contribute to a positive self-conception.
We know that involvement in a religious community is correlated with large gains in welfare, and involvement in any philosophical community like effective altruism seems likely to bring with it some—though not all—of the same benefits.
Of course there are downsides too. In the absence of any actual data, I would remain agnostic, and act as though this were more or less a wash for someone’s happiness. I wouldn’t want someone to start being altruistic expecting it to make their life better, but I’d also want to challenge them if they were convinced it would make their life worse.
From this perspective, articles saying that giving or other acts of altruism are not as detrimental to someone’s welfare as one might naïvely anticipate, seem to me to be advancing a reasonable point of view, even if future research may yet show them to be mistaken.
I’ve only ever seen the claim that donating some can be better for one’s own welfare, compared to a baseline of not giving at all—not that the EA approach to giving is actually the optimal for happiness (!).
Clarified my view somewhat in this comment. See also this comment.
Thanks for this; I accord with almost all of what you’re saying.
Re: the community benefits of EA, these mostly seem to accrue via active participation in EA spaces (the Forum, facebook groups, working with EA orgs, attending meetups & conferences), rather than by making large donations.
Making donations seems important for feeling a sense of membership in the community, but I think this benefit can be realized by making nominal donations only. (The 50th percentile respondent to the 2018 EA survey gave 2.9% of their income; I speculate that folks who were motivated enough to fill out the survey probably feel like part of the EA community.)