I’m curious how this relates to OpenPhil (I’d been bucketing “OpenPhil as the research team that does harder-to-quantify/justify stuff, and Givewell as the team that does… not that”)
(Updated the title of the post, after realizing that people who thought they agreed with me only read the headline and missed the very first point that it’s still valuable to donate at least a token amount)
I think the way I’d phrase advice to someone who’s already excited to get started donating, is some combination of:
a) try to save at least as much as you donate. (As deluks mentioned elsethread, it is totally possible to both donate and save signficantly, so someone who’s already chomping at the bit to donate significantly can probably find the budget for both 10% donations and savings)
b) re total runway time, I think a reasonable plan of action is “get at least 6 months [comfortable] runway, and meanwhile be thinking about your potential longterm plans. A lot of people start out focused on donating but eventually find themselves wishing they had the freedom to start a project, or a join a lower paying job, so at least consider preparing for that sort of possibility.”
I like a lot of the directions here. My main concern is that the current implementation details here seem like a lot of work, when it seems like Grant Evaluations is already fairly bandwidth constrained.
Some alternate that I think might make a middle ground between “everyone pitches ideas randomly to the EA forum / kickstarter etc” and the “highly structured vetting process” described here:
Right now, there are several EA grantmaking bodies (CEA, BERI, OpenPhil, EA Funds, etc). My impression is there is some duplication of labor in setting up each grant funnel, and duplication of effort for a given project to submit multiple grants.
Some of those orgs actually have different requirements for who they donate to, so it makes sense for them to have different processes
But, I’d expect most of the core process to be pretty similar.
So, proposal: create a common application process which includes whatever submission criteria are shared between grantmakers, with whatever additional details are required for specific orgs. This doesn’t create any additional obligations on people’s time, just streamlines the work that’s already being done.
You could potentially also share the application publicly.
There might be additional details to work out to prevent information cascades, and to optimize the epistemics of the system.
I do think this is a promising idea, but coordination-technology is actually an area where I think it’s pretty important to get a bunch of nuances right, where just building a thing is a) unlikely to work, b) causes harm to future attempts to build the thing.
You don’t just need to build tech, you need to get lots of people on board with it at once. And every instance of getting everyone on board with a thing has a large cost, and every failed instance of that makes people less willing to try out the next thing.
(initial version of the above comment wasn’t quite replying to what deluks was saying – I accidentally started writing and then got tunnel vision and forgot the points about agentiness. Reworded a bit to address that)
For completeness sake, responding more in depth to your 80k comment. (It’s plausible this should go in the other 80k post-thread but it seemed just as much part of this conversation. shrug)
Disclaimer Re: 80k
I haven’t read 80k very thoroughly and am not sure whether I endorse their advice or if my picture of their overall advice is accurate. But what advice I’ve seen does seem like it’s aiming to fill a fairly narrow set of top-vacancies. And that it does seem pretty alienating if you’re not part of their demographic.
This doesn’t necessarily mean 80k should change focus – the top career paths are still highly important to fill and they have limited time. But I do think it probably means 80k style advice shouldn’t be the only/primary place we direct newcomer’s attention.
My own take on what kind of direct work is advisable is still a probably a bit depressing – I don’t think there are easy answers on how to help, and it’d be hard to scale across 10,000s of people.
[It’s possible 80k actually shares these views, or even that they’re listed on the website, I haven’t checked]
[edit: updated because I didn’t quite address deluks917′s points as worded]
I think the issues getting into EA Direct Work has less do with how skilled you need to be, and more to do with limitations in network bandwidth.
There is some agentiness needed to get involved, but a) I think agency is a learnable skill, b) the amount required is less than you might think.
If you can successfully get yourself into the EA network, then you can be aware of early stage projects forming. Early stage projects need a variety of skills, and just being median-competent is often enough to get them off the ground. Basically every project needs a website and an ops person (or, better – a programmer who uses their power to automate ops). They often need board members and people to sit in boring meetings, handle taxes and bureaucracy.
I think this is quite achievable for the median EA.
Early stage orgs often have neither money, or time for an extensive hiring project – people just start working together with people they know. The bottleneck is more on people knowing each other than particular skills.
But, new projects and orgs also increase the surface area of EA, adding more places for newcomers to plug into. So if you can help a budding project grow into an institution, you’re not just doing direct work, you’re helping the overall community scale.
These jobs are lower pay, sure. But that’s precisely why I think Earn-to-Save is important.
This is still a bit rate limited, and couldn’t handle an influx of 10,000s of thousands. But I think it can handle more than it currently does. And it’s definitely not because people aren’t top-half-of-oxford talented.
Meanwhile, although “being agenty enough to found a project yourself” is fairly hard, it’s learnable. The path to learning it is a bit circuitous and doesn’t necessarily fit directly into EA. But I think most EAs would benefit from taking on a complex project that forces them to grow, learning “hustle” and “networking”, etc. This works best when it’s a project you already are excited about (doesn’t matter much if it’s EA related), so it doesn’t feel like you’re making a sacrifice so much as just exploring something new and cool.
I don’t think people know if they can be agenty until they try, and I currently think it’s a better default-path for aspiring EAs to go something like:
Start donating a bit as a credible signal
Build up runway
Do some projects in your spare time, practice thinking seriously about EA, and try a few things to see if some of the direct work stuff is a good fit for you.
Depending on how the previous bit goes, do one of:
try a low-medium risk plan that could move you into a higher impact path, but fails gracefully (i.e. move to an EA hub for a regular job you’ll enjoy, but then explore the network there and see if you can transition)
try a high risk plan if you’re feeling ambitious
or, just try to move into the most lucrative version of whatever your default career was going to be anyway, if the above 2 options don’t make sense for you.
All three of which benefit from having enough runway to quit your current job.
So I have a mixture of agreements and disagreements with your quoted comment (minor meta point: I recommend formatting it such that it’s a blockquote to make it easier to see which section is which)
I’ll summarize my own version of that comment in a bit (the tldr of which is “it’s not as bad as you describe it, but yeah, it’s still pretty bad”).
But I don’t think the applicability hinges on the specifics of your comment. Instead, I’d argue:
Earn-to-save is relevant to a much broader swath of people. Even if you’re just trying to Earn-to-Give ultimately, it’s still much more important to seek out higher paying jobs than to donate when you’re at at a low-to-mid-paying job. This is relevant even if you’re “just” moving from $50k to $80k.
My biggest crux here is that having 2 years of runway is important even for switching jobs at that level, and I think this should dominate even within your framework (at least by my understanding of your position).
Meanwhile, I’d make a more speculative claim which is that while yes, most people probably won’t end up getting a Direct Impact career, the people that do still have enough expected value that that early EAs should at least be seriously considering that possibility. (I very much don’t think you need to be top-half of oxford to for direct work to be better than earning to give)
One last bit, that I realized I didn’t emphasize very hard in the OP: I’m also imagining this being pushed harder than Earning to Give is currently pushed.
The status quo is that if you ask “what do you need to do to be an Effective Altruist?” you get a murky answer, where “donate 10%” is one thing a bunch of people agree qualify, but so does working at an EA org, and maybe taking time off to learn does, and if you’re a student or poor it’s a bit ambiguous.
I would definitely oppose putting uniform pressure on everyone at an EA meetup group to donate 10% – there’s too many situations where the blunt instrument of social pressure would do the wrong thing. But I would be pretty comfortable putting uniform pressure on any EA with income to Earn to Save.
That all said, to be clear, I do also find the survey data you linked in the other comment pretty disappointing. I do think it’s often quite possible to be donating 10% and saving 10% (or more). I think this should be encouraged for people who have gotten financially situated and have a rough idea of their longterm plans.
I do think the post would be much improved if it went into details with more numbers and cases (I definitely did a low effort version of the post).
But my core point was actually subtly different from mingyuan’s, and I think the numbers that would support my point are a different sort than “how much money can people afford to donate?” (not sure which type of numbers you meant to imply)
Mingyuan’s case is one of the things I was trying to solve for. But the more important underlying claim was “it’s more important to have at least a year of runway in the bank than it is to get started donating heavily.”
(This is essentially what 80k is already recommending as Ben Todd notes elsewhere in thread. Their current post argues to donate 1% until you have 6-12 months of runway, and runway includes moving in with parents. I’d argue for a stronger claim that recommends 12-36 months and living with parents doesn’t count, but the basic principle is the same)
This obviously only makes sense as EA advice if there’s a part 2, where you actually do something with the money (be it donate, or actually use the runway to switch jobs or move cities or retrain skills).
My suggested numbers of Earning to Save weren’t an attempt to rigorously determine the optimal financial advice, they were mostly starting from the point of “we currently encourage people to donate 10%. and instead I basically think the upfront advice should switch that 10% to focus on savings until they have enough runway.”
The numbers that’d support this don’t have much to do with how much you can easily live on, and instead have more to do with “how strong are the benefits to switching careers, how likely are people to run into financial hardship, how long does it typically take to get a new job, how valuable is it to try and launch a major project or contribute to EA with direct work.”
I admittedly don’t have a clear set of numbers backing that up, but it is my pretty strong impression both from:
Personal experience and anecdotes from friends (when I quit my job with about 6 months runway it turned out I needed 18 months and I ended up homeless for awhile, and meanwhile the rationalist houses in NYC that made good community centers only worked because someone had 50k in the bank that could absorbed roommates randomly leaving, paying upfront costs for deposits etc)
80k and other EA orgs changing their direction a bit. I realize we’re currently a bit in a pendulum swing back away from the talent-constraint language, but I think a core concept is still pretty important – that much of the good you can do has to do with things other than donating, and this requires more flexible messaging.
Experience in the nonprofit landscape. My time at Agora for Good, where I was much more exposed to the broader nonprofit landscape, radically changed what I thought was important about philanthropy. AMF is basically the leftovers of the malaria landscape – the stuff that Gates Foundation doesn’t get around to. (See this comment for specifics). This has led me to think that most of the value in EA is in discovering or creating new giving opportunities that the major funders don’t believe in yet. (this is a somewhat different take on why I think EA is more talent constrained than funding constrained, and that much of the value an EA can generate has more to do with gaining skills and switching careers rather than donating)
For me, it was quite important that the project was not just “important” in the sense that it was relevant to the global good, but “important” in the sense that it was meeting all of my own needs. ie:
I felt like other people in my social circle cared about it
The end product was something that tied in with my overall self-narrative/image
Many intermediate stages were very creatively stimulating
The difficulty of the tasks were roughly at my current skill level
There was clearly nobody else who would do the thing if I didn’t do it (this is unfortunately in tension with “doing it sustainably”. It’s possible people need to be forced to learn this skill in somewhat stressful burnout-inducing environments and then later can apply it in healthier environments)
A lot of things had to go right at once, which were pretty situation-dependent (and me-dependent)
Yeah, I think something similar to this is probably best.
I do think it’s often necessary, to get support from others, to initially do some self-funded / volunteer work to demonstrate proof of concept. But it’s probably best to get outside feedback as soon as possible.
I personally have found it pretty situational – I went through a fairly binary switch from “had not had a project that felt important enough to take heroic responsibility on” to “suddenly found lots of projects where it felt fairly natural take heroic responsibility for things.”
(And then burned out and currently don’t take much buck-stops-here responsibility, but feel like I could again if I needed to. I think figuring out how to do this sustainably, both as an individual and at the org level, is pretty tricky)
Fair. I do think the underlying point of “don’t donate all your money to charity right before asking for a bunch of money for your new charity” is still pretty important. If nothing else, it should still mean that you don’t need to pay yourself.
Hmm. This feels like it’s reading more or different things into the post than I intended to convey.
Yeah. My impression was that “prioritize savings and runway” had gotten a fair amount of traction the EAsphere, but it hadn’t quite hit the point where it was the obvious advice newcomers were getting.
I would note, responding to the article, that I think it’s important to have enough runway that you can live without doing things like manage an airBnB, because part of my motivation here is to make sure people can spend their runway devoting their full cognitive attention to solving important problems.
When I was broke and airBnBing to survive, the airBnB took a lot of overhead. It was worth it, but only as a backup-backup plan, not as something I’d want to be part of my found-a-startup plan.
Similarly, living with my parents for a bit was stressful, and meant that I didn’t have immediate access to my usual network for either social support, or cross pollination of ideas, or easy exposure to opportunities.
In “Taking AI Risk Seriously”, one of the important points (but buried a bit) is advocating for people to have comfortable runway, not “you can technically live off of Ramen in your parent’s basement runway.”
I do want to note that I very specifically didn’t say giving 10% was impossible – I said it was impractical as a default option for all new EAs. This is both because for some people it can hard, but more importantly because for many people I think it’s inadvisable. I think it’s much more important for new EAs to adopt plans with option value, that start building them runway.
I have a few classes of response:
My personal experience was that living on $46k was fairly difficult. You can chalk this up to “I was bad at budgeting”, but...
I think it’s actually somewhat bad to emphasize frugality as the way new EAs approach financial problems. It incentives an approach to finance that amounts to penny-pinching over amounts that don’t matter, and not investing in things that give you additional time or multiply your power. (This is less a point against “try to save 20%” and more a point against immediately jumping to “donate 10%“). Cognitive bandwidth that you spend on “how to I make sure to meet this budget” is probably better spent on “how do I boost my income by 20k?” (or “how do I solve this problem at the high-impact org that I work at now”)
Meanwhile, the point here is not to find something “reasonably achievable”, but something that basically anyone can do as soon as they get involved with EA. Some people are making $26k instead of $50k. Some people have a lot of student debt. Some people should be taking some time off to think, or recover from burnout, or have a lot of health care costs. Some people have housemates that randomly move out without warning and their rent suddenly doubles.
I still think the GWWC pledge is a good thing for many EAs to adopt, and I think “saving 10%, donate 10%” is also a pretty good default for anyone for whom it’s practical (this is basically what I did when I got a higher paying job). I just don’t think it works as a default.
Note: this is phrased as a “rally people around an idea” kind of post.
Ideally I’d have had time to break this into two posts, one of which more dispassionately discusses the benefits of prioritizing savings (which would have fit the frontpage criteria), and one of which made the more specific claim of the “give 1% save 10%“, which was a bit more arbitrary.
I think there’s some cost to jumping straight to the “rally people to your idea” stage (if everyone’s doing it it erodes the epistemic commons). I ended up doing it anyway because I didn’t have much time and found this one easier to write, but in the interest of setting a good example on the new forum wanted to at least acknowledge that.