In reply to your first point. It is true that giving to some charities gives you fairly little control over where the money actually goes. That’s not a reason to give up, of course. It’s just a reason to pick charities where you do have that kind of control (or charities whose best programmes are so good that they balance out the worse ones). I remember, I think, that Village Reach, for example, has some less and some more effective projects. But they also assess the project effectiveness pretty aggressively, so you can be confident that they’ll try to improve on their bad performances and will reallocate money to more successful approaches.
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Really cool article.
No, sorry, I meant to polish them off before my final exams, but didn’t quite make it. They’ll be up shortly after my exams finish.
As for poker. Yeah, you can earn that sort of salary after a year of practice. Most people play poker for fun, and expect to lose a little. You can arbitrage that out. But only if you are reasonably smart, and (more importantly) good at disassociating your actions from biases of judgement. I know I guy who put quite a bit of effort into poker but was never able to make more than an average of a few pounds an hour because he wasn’t able to put aside his bad instincts.
May also be worth linking to my other explanation of effective altruism ”http://80000hours.org/what-is-an-effective-altruist"
I think this is pretty good advice - with one big caveat. Like Ben says, this requires serious self-discipline.
It also misses the point of college a little bit. College is partly valuable because of the course material, but most of that comes from publicly available books anyhow. A little bit of value comes from being able to ask professors questions. Some of the value comes from signalling. But most of the value comes from the fact that it gives you a straightforward introduction to meet a lot of really interesting people who will be able to help support your learning. But, like the self-education approach, you can get as much or as little as you like out of it.
Ultimately, a really driven smart person can succeed at a college or without a college. The college probably helps a bit, because it aggregates lots of smart ambitious people together. But it might not be worth the fees you have to pay in the US.
You’re absolutely right that GiveWell is doing great work addressing part of this issue. The reason I don’t think of them as a global prioritisation programme is because they focus on a sub-problem (developing world aid) rather than the broader one. They do this for a good reason - a first pass suggests that developing world aid might be one of the most promising fields.
There are lots of organisations that do good work identifying and ranking cost-effective opportunities. The issue is that there aren’t a lot that rank globally - between different disciplines.
John, I’m very sorry. You’re absolutely right that GiveWell Labs is really relevant and should have been mentioned in this post. It’s a pretty substantial oversight, and I’ll try to work it in.
Incidentally, Here’s my current working list of issues that matter enough to consider. (Some if only to rule them out). · Ageing · Animal Welfare · Biodiversity · Climate change · Communicable diseases · Conflict and arms proliferation · Education · Existential risk · Financial instability · Global prioritisation and metacharity research · Governance and corruption · Immorality · Insufficient charitable giving · Insufficient economic growth · Irrationality · Land degradation · Malnutrition and hunger · Migration · Natural disasters · Non-communicable diseases · Population growth · Unborn children · Research: social science · Research: natural science · Sanitation and access to clean water · Social inequality · Subsidies and trade barriers · Wealth inequality
In fact, all these categories are very broad. For example, one of the categories is “Research: Natural Science”. There’s room for subdivision within those categories.
Yeah, it is mostly a write-up of that, which has been some time in the making. I do also know (http://www.indiana.edu/~spea/magazine/Spring-2012/articles/brave-new-world.shtml) that there has been active progress on this reported in April 2012. I’m curious about them not responding to your contact, but perhaps they get a lot of mail.
I’ll follow this up in a bit, and see how they’re getting on - but they do say they were planning (sensibly) to take this in several stages.
Thanks, CN. I look forward to hearing more about the project!
Looking up base rates is also just often very surprising. You might not expect to discover that, for example, only 55% of law graduates in the US get into a full time job that requires their degree and lasts more than a year within 9 months of graduating.
You might still think you’re better than average - and with good reason - but that extra information will help you prioritise your studies to avoid the risk of falling into that 45%.
“And non-human animals.”
The issue of optimising action is a big one. Here’s one way to think about it, not necessarily one I agree with entirely. Optimising in this sort of case is a really tough problem. It’s obviously just too hard to solve analytically. That means you should pay attention to, and can’t not pay attention to, your underlying heuristics. Sometimes those heuristics are going to say things like “I don’t want to do this”
When you run into a reaction that goes against your first level analysis you could make the assumption that your analysis must be right and go with it. Sometimes, that’s true. Sometimes you have a lot of faith in your analysis. Sometimes you introspect and you find out your motivations for your ‘heuristic’ were just selfish and unworthy. But sometimes neither of those happens. After all, you know that your analysis isn’t always right.
When you run into a situation where your heuristics are screaming “I don’t want to do this”, and your analysis is saying ”I’ve worked it out, and I think it’s probably good.” it can actually be totally rational to run with the heuristics.
You’re right, though, that sometimes this sort of thinking encourages us to pretend we’re optimising when we’re actually being selfish. In practice, I agree with you entirely. I generally like to say “This bit is for everyone else. This part of me will act in the best way for humanity. But this part is for me, and I don’t care if I’m using it selfishly.” I can’t really justify that, except to say that I like it.