Max_Daniel is on the nose about what we were trying to convey.
Let’s imagine another hypothetical example from global development:
imagine that the Fairly Good Charity is 50% as good as AMF
and imagine that Warm Fuzzy Fundraising encourages current AMF donors to donate to Fairly Good Charity instead of AMF
Would we consider Fairly Good Charity to have negative impact because the funds could have gone to AMF? Arguably we could do, but in practice we don’t.
What about a donation to support the operations of Warm Fuzzy Fundraising? I think this is a negative impact. (there’s a parallel with Max_Daniel’s vegetable example)
And coming back to climate change, if we thought that funds going to REDD+ were displacing higher-impact uses of the money, then CfRN too would have net negative impact.
To follow on from alexrjl’s point about doing charity analysis for SoGive, most volunteers do this from the in-person events in London (see https://www.meetup.com/Charity-data-analysis-with-SoGive/ )
However it is also possible to do this remotely (and some volunteers have done this from home before)
Those interested in this sort of data might also be interested in seeing this compared internationally. I often refer to CAF for this; they produce a World Giving Index.
Here’s a link to the 2018 report. Unfortunately their data on giving money is based on the proportion of the population that gives, rather than the proportion of gdp or total salary given.
Good question. The section towards the end entitled “How material are these concerns” is intended to address this.
In reality it’s hard to say.
The risks to the future of the REDD+ scheme seem unlikely to move the dial by one or two orders of magnitude on their own, I believe—after all it’s baked into the Paris agreement, so a 90%+ chance of failure seems pessimistic.
However the opportunity costs might be that bad, although there’s a lot of uncertainty here.
Thank you for writing this; the forum is richer for having people investigate areas of work and analyse them in this way.
I don’t believe that replaceability has been sufficiently considered here (I read this quickly, so sorry if I missed it). By encouraging people with the relevant skills to work on this, what do we achieve? Would they replace someone who otherwise wouldn’t get that there is a problem with recommender systems not being aligned with what society wants?
If anything, it seems that this issue has had a huge amount of attention, and it’s likely that all those who are already working in this area are very conscious of this issue.
I would change my mind if I heard that someone surveyed several people working in this area and many of them said that they were ignorant of or overly pollyanna-ish about the risks to wellbeing from these systems.
I considered joining the UK equivalent of this some years ago. I opted not to:
the website suggested that I should plan on the assumption that I may experience serious fatigue for 5 days after donating
in order to do this I would need to inform my employer that I was on the list
I already had a reputation at this stage for having an “extreme” interest in charitable activity
I had to weigh up definitely strengthening my employer’s impression that I cared more about altruistic endeavours than my career against a 1-in-800 probability of doing something of value.
I think I share your concern. I don’t know to what extent people are discounting people in the far future for epistemic reasons (“do we really know that those lives will be saved 500 years from now?”) and to what extent it’s for moral reasons (“I just think that people who haven’t been born yet and are in no way linked to me or my grandchildren shouldn’t be given much moral value compared to people who are alive today”).
Interestingly this point didn’t come up in the so-called qual research that I mentioned in another comment, but perhaps with more discussion with more people it might have.
First I conducted what might grandiosely be called qualitative research. To be totally transparent about the nature of this “qualitative research”, I approached some strangers in coffee shops or similar venues and asked them a series of questions about their values, in some cases (from memory, n=4) this resulted in an in-depth discussion of the moral value of those in the far future. At the time I thought of this as supporting a different project, although in reality it informed my choice of question wording for the initial study.
Even by the standards of qual research this is a small sample size, but it gave me the impressions that
talking explicitly about discount rates is meaningless (I couldn’t bring myself to even try)
100 years from now feels closer to today than 500 years from now, because you could imagine your grandchildren being alive then, and you care about them (the people I spoke to seemed too young to have grandchildren). But 500 years from now feels like the far future, and doesn’t feel any different than, say, 1,000 years from now or 5,000 years from now.
discussions about values in the abstract were difficult, and subjects asked me for more information because they felt unable to answer questions about the amount of value they place on lives in the far future when the questions were posed in the abstract.
The trade-off questions (would you rather save 1 life today or X lives 500 years from now) were meaningful, and people felt able to answer those questions.
In the follow-up nationally representative study, Rethink formulated a different wording of question, and they may be better able to comment on those.
I think the $300m comes from an article in the Hindu Business Line, which says that “Trump’s decision [to end preferential trade status for India] will cost American businesses over USD 300 million in additional tariffs every year.” So this suggests that there is indeed an opportunity cost to the $300m; firstly because the $300m hasn’t been magicked up, the $300m could have been spent on something else. This opportunity cost doesn’t seem so bad, but another opportunity cost is that without the preferential treatment, the US may trade with other nations. We don’t know who those other nations are, so the value of the lost trade is not clear.
Thank you for this! I think this sort of challenge and thinking is really valuable and exactly what the EA community needs.
For comparison, the SoGive method of analysing charities advises focusing marginal cost-effectiveness, and not on the ITN framework. I absolutely welcome this thoughtful analysis of the framework.
(Full disclosure: I developed the SoGive method of analysing charities; it’s essentially inspired by EA thinking, but not particularly focused on the ITN framework)
Hi Lucy, thank you for contribution to the EA forum. I’m sorry it’s been a frustrating experience for you.
Some questions that came to my mind when reading your post were:
Agreed that there is no straight line from money to wellbeing, but if it *is* possible to invest a relatively small amount of money to generate a relatively large amount of money for the global poor, then that surely seems like a good thing?
I don’t recognise your characterisation of GiveWell’s views on the importance of money vs life. As I understand it, GiveWell’s moral weights consider saving the life of an infant to be around 50x more valuable than doubling consumption for one person for one year, and that rises to 80x if the life saved is of someone aged over 5. (source: GiveWell CEA, August 2019 version, ‘Moral Weights’ tab)
I do agree with your assertion that improving wealth is not sufficient or necessary to improve wellbeing, and wellbeing is what we should care about. However I think I’m missing something about how this comment is adding something of value to this post. (note that I have not downvoted this post, and can’t promise that those who have downvoted have been thinking the same thing as me)
Thanks for exploring an interesting area. I may be misunderstanding, but I think section 1 is saying:
Donate $200k LEADS TO $300m for India LEADS TO 300,000 QALYs
If this is correct, it would indeed be stunningly good. Apologies if I’m being too sceptical, but I’d like to raise two doubts:
(1) I would be surprised if paying $200k is sufficient to bring about a bill, except perhaps in fairly favourable circumstances. I tried following the sources, but I don’t have access to the book, and I didn’t listen through the half-hour podcast. If you were able to explain this, that would be very much appreciated.
(2) I also didn’t see a consideration of the opportunity costs. I.e. the bill does not magic up $300m worth of value, so without the bill, the $300m would have been used on something else. If so, what? And how much value do we place on that?
I would like to understand the sentence: “I rely on literature estimates that value a QALY as 50% of GDP per capita of that nation”—would it be possible to explain and/or provide an updated link to a source? (I tried following the link, but it said “doi not found”)
To expand on “I’ve seen this in a heading of an otherwise favorable article”, I was told in my media training that typically
the body of the article is written by one person (a journalist)
The heading is typically written by a different person (the sub-editor)
Even if you have a good relationship with the journalist, who may well *want* to write a balanced article, the sub-editor is typically unwilling to compromise on the power they have in deciding a heading, and this choice is quite important for how readers perceive the whole piece.
I like this! For my social enterprise SoGive, I have thought about multiple ways to get people involved in donating, and something like this has crossed my mind before. I’ll message you directly, happy to discuss further.
This is great! Have you considered mentioning this on the EA facebook group too? (No worries if you prefer not to for whatever reason, just thought I would mention it)
I run http://sogive.org, which produces analysis on charities. We have run many volunteer events by now, occasionally in-house in a company when the company wants to run a team/group volunteering event. We teach them the SoGive method of analysing charities, and then get them to work through a bunch of charities. If you think this might be of interest to you, feel free to contact me on sanjay [at] sogive.org
Thank you for raising the profile of trusteeship as a volunteering opportunity. I agree that it’s widely overlooked, and I think I have gained a lot from my past trusteeships.
Trustee boards are typically also short of resource, so increasing the pool of applicants is likely to be a good outcome. I’m glad you’re doing this.
I have used reach volunteering before and found it to be variable. It’s run by volunteers (or was when I last used it) and the quality of the suggestions you get depends on the quality of your volunteers
Other UK-based resources include...
… do-it.org ( https://do-it.org/channels/trustee-finder ) This site has traditionally been the primary resource for people in the UK looking for volunteering opportunities, although its history has been chequered of late, and the site hasn’t always been up.
… small charities coalition ( https://www.smallcharities.org.uk/resources-trustee-positions/ )
… NCVO is the main sector body for the charity sector in the UK, and they have a site for trustee recruitment too: https://www.ncvo.org.uk/practical-support/information/governance/trustee-bank/vacancy-search
Some points on which skills people can use to add value:
I think the charity sector’s perceived skills shortage is in finance, which is both essential and the people with the right skills are scarce. (Source: conversations with many people in the sector)
I’m not convinced that digital marketing is a top priority for the sector—for some charities their intervention may be about operating digitally, in which case this is more useful, although they are also likely to be the charities which already have this savvy. For fundraising, I’m doubtful that digital marketing is that useful in most contexts
As a trustee, it’s unlikely that you can add much value with project management skills, unless it’s a very small charity. For medium to larger charities, a trustee should keep their involvement more strategic, so they wouldn’t actively manage projects. Knowledge of Prince2/lean/etc may have some marginal value
Finally, I would question the value of the £500 estimate:
The model does nothing to consider the variability in impactfulness of charities. Many people think that the majority of charitable interventions achieve nothing, and it seems odd to ascribe value to a charity whose work isn’t achieving anything.
Not only is the impact of the charity variable, so is the impact of the trustee. It’s entirely possible for a key trustee to double a charity’s impact or have no impact at all. Given that this is so variable, modelling this as a flat percentage seems like the model is glossing over a key input.