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Harder, but there are steps to take in the direction of quantification. Also, the ultra-wealthy are different from old foundations (which have outlived their founders) and government agencies. The latter can become “zombie institutions” which are more easily redirected or improved. This is less flexible than cash on hand, but for certain highly scalable causes looks like a contender.
I don’t like to make promises, lest I fail to keep them! But some of the areas where we have research to post include: law, investment banking, hedge funds, medicine, pharmacy, actuarial science, computer programming, philosophy academia, medical research, science academia generally, economist, and development professional. Any of these may appear in future posts and documents.
The point about focusing on impact rather than credit is a strong one.
I think this post risks overstating the impact of eradication as such. There was already an efficient vaccine for smallpox (along with better sanitation) which was averting the great majority of cases. Eradication meant bringing the vaccine to pockets of the unvaccinated where smallpox still existed.Without eradication, we would still have had the vaccine, and deaths would have remained far below historical rates, striking where vaccination was locally disrupted. Look at polio, which was not eradicated (the effort is ongoing) but which has still inflicted vastly reduced harm post-vaccine.
Eradication certainly had great benefits in averting the ongoing costs of vaccination, in eliminating pockets of the disease, and in averting the risk of a future vaccine-resistant strain, but I don’t think it averted hundreds of millions of deaths.
Also, the counterfactual world without Zhdanov would almost certainly have witnessed an eventual eradication effort: Zhdanov’s effect was likely bringing eradication sooner (getting some extra years of the benefits thereof, perhaps).
“Campaigning against corruption is a plan that would be very hard to analyse quantitatively. How do you measure corruption?”
The Corruption Perceptions Index seems to work pretty well, and o have a fair amount of predictive power: http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
In India, there are audit studies measuring the share of grain supposed to be distributed to the poor which is stolen along the way, or of bribes in a typical office.
“But if we think about all the indirect effects someone can have on an organisation, like decreasing team morale and consuming lots of supervisor time, then it’s not implausible that some people have an overall negative contribution.”
There are large costs in firing people (it’s unpleasant and time-consuming for managers, lowers morale for those who stay, risks lawsuits, etc) and hiring methods are quite imperfect, so it’s not surprising that people with zero or negative marginal productivity can hang around for a while.
” Looking at the degree of noise in the data, I estimate the 95% confidence interval is about 600 - 920 QALYs.”
Although this is still a huge overestimate because (as you note) it assigns no role to wealth, levels of education, smoking rates, and other things that are confounded with medical staff.
It’s quite difficult to measure the impact of media campaigns: small sample sizes, difficulty in randomization, long-term effects, and other problems make those numbers less reliable.
Also, in general the DCPP has substantial rank-switching errors frequently enough that the difference in expected value we should infer from those estimates is smaller than it looks. In the particular case of antiretrovirals there seems to be a lot of evidence that they are expensive for the benefits they provide when we compare to many other interventions, but these caveats should be made routinely.
Yes, we’ve done some research on exit options, and they’re quite nice, especially for those who stay in the business world. However, the more lucrative areas like successful hedge fund and private equity roles are scarcer, and the typical options like corporate finance and industrial management involve reduced compensation (with better lifestyle) relative to remaining on track. Certainly, elite MBAs who do investment banking make more than such MBAs in other fields.
The far right tail of finance comes from setting up one’s own funds, mostly, (there are more self-made finance billionaires in the US than technology ones, generally through this route). This bumps up earnings significantly, but not radically.
My best impression now is that for consulting and finance the exit options are on average less lucrative, even controlling for people who go off to nonprofits or academia or government Harvard. However, the exit options are still lucrative positions (better, often much better, than one would find as a non-entrepreneur engineer, say), and the stint in consulting or investment banking increases one’s marketability for them via signaling/credentialism and networking (even after accounting for the selection bias that places like McKinsey and Goldman Sachs are more selective than most MBA employers).
There are ways of estimating whole-career earnings for these fields: we’ve looked at attrition rates, tax records (which include partnership figures and raw numbers), school alumni surveys, and firm filings and other records.
Will, some examples of less consequentialist possibilities:
How much should we balance our personal projects and particular loyalties (kinship, group allegiance, reciprocity) against the demands of others?
What sacrifices can be demanded of us, when, and by whom?
You glossed over issues of distribution, fairness, and rights as not so important (in consequenialist fashion) today. But the same could be said of population ethics, infinite value, and so forth. At the moment many things are tightly coupled that may become less so in the future, and that we can affect to some degree. If we try to steer the future in one direction or another we may be pushing probability mass between worlds of tremendously different welfare, equality, etc.
The deontology of probabilistic harm is worth mentioning. A great number of actions have some small chance (subjective or objective) of harming people. How does this fact interact with side-constraints? It seems like it may vastly extend the range of situations in which deontology conflicts with utilitarianism.
Prisoner’s Dilemmas, bargaining problems, “fair divisions” and so forth are of immense practical importance in politics, international relations, and elsewhere.