Hey Jeffhe- the position you put forward looks structurally really similar to elements of Scanlon’s, and you discuss a dillema that is often discussed in the context of his work (the lifeboat/the rocks example)- It also seems like given your reply to objection 3 you might really like it’s approach (if you are not familiar with it already). Subsection 7 of this SEP article (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/contractualism/) gives a good overview of the case that is tied to the one you discuss. The idea of the separateness of persons, and the idea that one persons pain can’t cancel out another person pain, is well represented in Scanlon’s work.
I also wonder whether the right way of representing an ‘equal chance of being helped’ in this model is not to flip a coin for each group, but to roll a N sided dice, where N are the total number of people who could be helped, and then choosing whichever group the person whose number is rolled is in: that way everyone, in some sense, has a chance to be saved, and that chance is, in some sense, equal- without leading to the worrying conclusions that Bob and a million peoples lives ought to be settled through a coin flip (The coin-flipping decision theory could also be abused by dividing up groups differently, i.e. I can always re-describe the world in the way where a person I could help in extreme pain is in one group, and all other people are in a different group, but then I can simply redescribed the world to move that person into the ‘all other people’ category, and select another person, which seems to mean we can arbitrarily increase the odds of any one person being the right person to help, simply by moving them between the categories- which seems wrong).
Thanks for the comment- I might just field my best reply to these points and let Michelle chime in if I get any of it wrong!
I can totally understand your confusion- Giving What We Can does, in a great deal of its research, and its promotional material, focus on the project of eliminating extreme poverty. This is because we believe that projects that focus on the elimination of extreme poverty (the provision of bednets, or drugs for Schistosomiasis, ect) are one of the ways we can do the most good with our time and money. As you can imagine, it is hard to clearly communicate both the point that we are promoting the most effective charities alleviating poverty in the developing world and that we are choosing these charities because we think that giving money to them is plausibly the highest impact action people can take amongst all actions. Due in part to the difficulty of communicating both of these points simultaneously, we have generally focused our promotional material on the former, while always having the later as the core motivation. As Michelle mentioned, this is reflected in the Pledge which is explicitly cause neutral, and this reflects our belief that what defines us as an organisation is not merely a desire for people to give more to the most effective charities in the development space, but to all charities which reason and evidence suggests are likely to improve the world. We are currently undergoing the process of clarifying this point in our vision- roughly (and provisionally!) our new vision is: a world where giving 10% of your income to the most effective causes is the norm. This vision clearly ties into our previous vision of eliminating extreme poverty, as we believe that donations to the most effective charities that tackle extreme poverty represent -from a cause neutral point of view- some of the most effective ways for us to improve the world. After all, if we still have extreme poverty in a world where everyone is giving 10%, then we are probably doing it wrong!
In terms of confusion around branding for local groups, that the the product of two factors: 1) Giving What We Can for the last year and a half has been supporting the growth of both EA and GWWC groups, and 2) There are a number of different organisations in the local-group support space- including Giving What We Can, EAO and LEAN. The reason why there are both EA and Giving What We Can chapters is that different individuals choose to brand their groups differently- some individuals are most exited by the ideas and branding of Giving What We Can, with it’s focus on the pledge and extreme poverty, while others are most drawn to a general EA brand. In the case of Calgary, I know Reza was most exited by the Giving What We Can brand, and so went with that. We at Giving What We Can support both types of groups. All that being said, I agree this could definitely be clearer from the outside, and we will work on making it so!
I really enjoyed visiting all of you in Calgary last December, and hope to have the chance to visit again in the not too distant future! If you have any suggestions for how we can make the above considerations clearer, I would be super keen to get your input. Thanks for your questions, and thanks for helping to grow the movement!
Awesome- thanks for clarifying! Looking forward to listening to the recording.
This looks really great! I was wondering is there any chance that the conference call will be recorded? 7PM PST is a bit late for those of us in GMT, and I would be super keen to hear more about what you and your team have been up to!
Also I am probably just wrong about this, but isn’t there a fairly strong correlative link between higher IQ and higher income? Shouldn’t we expect that the IQ benefits of salt iodization would lead to increased economic outcomes given the correlation between these two traits? Or is the rough idea that we shouldn’t expect to see that correlation in the context of the developing world?
Looking forward to hearing more about this at EA Global Oxford!
I just wanted to +1 this post! In general I agree there needs to be more opportunity for open communications with new EAs! This is why I think developing new local presences/chapters for EA is so important (cue, shameless plug of what I am working on!).
I should also note that all of us at Giving What We Can are always happy to chat with new people in the movement! Alison Woodman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a great first point of contact, and I am also always happy to chat! (email@example.com)
An idea that just sprung to mind is that it might be good to have google hangouts happening every week/every other week for people in regions where there isn’t already local presences set up, to enable this kind of connection.
You can also join the Giving What We Can Mailing list at the bottom of any of the main pages of the website:
I have also made a quick video explaining the project- check it out here:
Thanks for this Alex- a really great post for EA chapters who are just starting out!
Thanks for the great post Peter! As Michelle mentioned I am spending most of my time focusing on chapter growth, and helping to support established and emerging chapters. I completely agree with everything you said about the importance of local groups- in particular I think you are right that we need to be spending more time on supporting new EA meet-ups once they have started up. More generally i think local meet-ups and chapters have a really important role to play in the ‘EA funnel’. They serve as a natural ‘next-step’ after people have heard about EA and are intrigued by the concept, “interested in EA? Why not meet up with other people in your area talking about it?”. Chapters and meet-ups also serve as natural launching-off points for other projects like pamphleting or fundraising campaigns. Also, in Giving What We Can’s experience, chapter involvement has played a large part in many people deciding to sign the pledge. This gives us some reason to think that chapters can play an important role in moving people from being interested in the ideas of EA to acting on them in their life. For all of these reasons I think that we should be working hard to both create as many chapters and meet-up groups as we can, and provide a system to support and sustain chapters these chapters once they have started out. Hopefully in the next week or so I will be posting here with concrete a proposal for a volunteer run ‘Chapter Growth Team’ which can help in this venture!
A good point- making your giving public is a really great way for getting other people involved!
If you want to make your MyGiving page public, you can find a link to do so under the ‘edit’ tab.
If you want to check out my giving history, feel free to look at the link here:
A good point! The 3-5 number averages over a number of chapters, many of whom have been running for several years and are well established, and so is likely on the optimistic side.
I absolutely agree with your point that if your chapter produces 1 pledge, that is an amazing achievement that should be congratulated! That said, I don’t think it is right to say that the median chapter produces 0 pledges a year- most chapters which start up and run a successful first year on average result in at least one or two pledges. I should also note that my analysis ignores any flow-through effects of those people at the university who become interested in EA from the chapter’s activity- these are likely also quite large although harder to calculate!
All that being said- the important common ground here is that chapters are awesome, and any chapters which get even a single pledge are doing a very good job!
Agreed- part of valuing the pledge at $20,000US (rather than the $150,000US that the median earner would donate over their life time) is an attempt to capture this sort of counter-factual concern.
I also totally agree about your point about personal connections- I think many people find that they do a lot to motivate them to do more for EA- just another way that chapters are awesome!