How accurately does anyone know the global distribution of income?

World income distributionHow much should you believe the numbers in figures like this?

People in the effective altruism community often refer to the global income distribution to make various points:

  • The richest people in the world are many times richer than the poor.
  • People earning professional salaries in countries like the US are usually in the top 5% of global earnings and fairly often in the top 1%. This gives them a disproportionate ability to improve the world.
  • Many people in the world live in serious absolute poverty, surviving on as little as one hundredth the income of the upper-middle class in the US.

Measuring the global income distribution is very difficult and experts who attempt to do so end up with different results. However, these core points are supported by every attempt to measure the global income distribution that we’ve seen so far.

The rest of this post will discuss the global income distribution data we’ve referred to, the uncertainty inherent in that data, and why we believe our bottom lines hold up anyway.

Will MacAskill had a striking illustration of global individual income distribution in his book Doing Good Better, that has ended up in many other articles online, including our own career guide:
 
 

 
The data in this graph was put together back in 2012 using an approach suggested by Branko Milanovic,

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What skills are effective altruist organisations short of? Results from our survey.

In August 2016, we surveyed 16 organisations in the effective altruism community about their hiring needs, and to what extent they are constrained by talent compared to funding.

What follows is a summary of the results, grouped by question asked. You can see the list of organisations surveyed in the footnotes.

Note that since the survey was carried out over six months ago, some of the information may no longer be up to date. We intend to repeat the survey in August 2017, and will report back on how the situation has changed.

What types of talent does your organisation need?

Here are the options provided on the survey, along with the number of organisations which stated that they were looking to hire people for these roles:

(Note that this table is not weighted by budget or team size, although we do not expect that this would materially affect the results.)

In open feedback, several respondents also mentioned that the community is most in need of specialist researchers rather than generalist researchers. Some other skill sets which were not included as options, but which were mentioned more than twice in the open feedback include:

  1. Economists, in 3 cases.
  2. Math and AI researchers, in 2 cases.
  3. Policy experts, in 2 cases.
  4. Scientists, especially biologists, in 3 cases.

Also see the longer list of skill sets needed by the community at the end of this summary.

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    5 reasons not to go into education

    First published June 2015. Updated February 2017.

    When we first speak to people interested in doing good with their careers, they often say they want to get involved in education in the US or the UK. This could mean donating to a school, doing education policy work, or becoming a teacher.

    However, we haven’t prioritised careers in education at 80,000 Hours. We don’t dispute that education is a highly important problem – a more educated population could enable us to solve many other global challenges, as well as yield major economic benefits. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to be very easy to solve or neglected (important elements of our problem framework). So, it looks harder to have a large impact in education compared to many other areas. In the rest of this post, we’ll give five reasons why.

    The following isn’t the result of in-depth research; it’s just meant to explain why we’ve deprioritised education so far. Our views could easily change. Note that in this post we’re not discussing education in the developing world.

    1. It’s harder to help people in the US or UK

    Everyone in the US or UK is rich by global standards: the poorest 5% of Americans are richer than the richest 5% of Indians (and that’s adjusted for the difference in purchasing power, see an explanation and the full data).

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    The effective altruism guide to donating this giving season

    People in the effective altruism community aim to use evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to best promote the wellbeing of all. To find the highest-impact charities this giving season, they’ve done tens of thousands of hours of research and published over 50,000 words of analysis this month. We read it all, and summed up the main recommendations by area.

    But which of the 9 problem areas listed should you personally give to? We’ve got you covered here too. This tool asks you six questions and adjusts the ranking based on your beliefs:2

    Quiz: Which problem should you give to? →

    In the full post, you can find (i) how we came up with the list, (ii) more advice on how to narrow down the list, (iii) more information on each charity.

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    80,000 Hours annual review Dec 2016

    Summary

    2016 was an excellent year for 80,000 Hours. Here are some highlights – full details follow.

    Metrics

    • In our last review in May 2015, we set the goal of 50 significant plan changes per month by October 2016. That month, we actually recorded over 200.
    • To make it harder to grow by adding lots of small plan changes, in October 2015 we started “impact rating” the plan changes, and tracking the impact-weighted total. 31 Dec 2015, we set the target of tripling the monthly rate of impact-adjusted plan changes over the year, which we achieved in November 2016. We now track about 150 impact-adjusted significant plan changes (IASPC) per month.

    Impact and cost-effectiveness

    • Our costs in 2016 were £250,000, up 13% on 2015. Considering that our staff could have earned to give instead, the total opportunity cost is perhaps £350,000 – £500,000.
    • Since our last review, the ratio of costs to IASPC fell almost 3-fold.
    • In 2016, we caused 115 people to take the Giving What We Can (GWWC) 10% pledge. GWWC estimates this is worth about £5 million in donations to their recommended charities (counterfactually-adjusted, time-discounted, dropout adjusted). So this alone plausibly justifies our costs, although our aim is to solve talent gaps rather than funding gaps.
    • In addition, the plan changes since our last review now include three people who each intend to donate over $100m over their lifetimes,

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    Has 80,000 Hours justified its costs?

    We set up 80,000 Hours because we thought it could become one of the most effective charities in the world. The idea was to achieve a multiplier – with a small amount of our time, we could enable thousands of others to spend their careers on whatever is most effective, and achieve thousands of times as much as we could individually.

    In this post, we examine whether 80,000 Hours has generated enough impact to justify its costs over our history, and make some rough estimates of our multiplier.

    Because it’s hard to estimate what would have happened if 80,000 Hours had never existed, all of these estimates are very uncertain, and can be debated. However, there are multiple ways we’ve plausibly justified our costs to date. In this document, we sketch out some of these pathways. We’re not aiming to be fully rigorous. Rather, consider the examples as a group. If only a few turn out to be genuine cases of impact, we’ll have justified our costs many times over.

    Is this the wrong question?

    80,000 Hours is a startup. Asking whether we’ve justified our costs to date is like asking whether Google was profitable in 2000. The aim of 80,000 Hours is to grow, and have a far larger impact years in the future.

    Most of the value of donations to 80,000 Hours comes from the chance that these donations enable us to grow 10-times or 100-times.

    That said,

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    End of year update on plan changes

    This is an update on the number of significant plan changes we’ve caused as of the end of Nov 2016.

    We define a significant plan change as:

    Someone tells us that 80,000 Hours caused them to change the career path they intend to pursue, in a way that they think increases their lifetime impact.

    More on what counts as a significant plan change here.

    Our total number of plan changes as of the end of Nov 2016 is 1,854, and after impact-adjusting these it’s 1,504.8.

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    80,000 Hours has a funding gap

    Over the past three years, we’ve grown almost 36-fold, more than tripling each year. This is measured in terms of our key metric – the number of impact-adjusted significant plan changes each month. At the same time, our budget has only increased 27% per year.

    Given this success, we think it’s time to take 80,000 Hours to the next level of funding.

    Over the next few weeks, we’ll be preparing our full annual review and fundraising documents, but here’s a preview.

    chart

    Overall, the 2017 target is to triple, measured in terms of impact-adjusted significant plan changes per month (which will mean over 3,000 over the year). We’ll do this by continuing to improve the advice, and starting to scale up marketing, with the aim of becoming the default source of career advice for talented, socially-motivated graduates.

    Concretely, here’s some priorities we could pursue:

    • Dramatically improve the career reviews and problem profiles, so we have in-depth profiles of all the best options. This will help our existing users make better changes, and bring in more traffic.
    • Upgrading – develop mentors and specialist content for the most high-potential users, such as those who want to work on AI risk, policy, EA orgs and so on. We now have a large base of engaged users (1300+ through the workshop, 80,000+ on newsletter), so there’s a lot of follow-up we could do to get more valuable plan changes from them.

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    How much is one vote worth?

    Just 537 votes in Florida would have been enough to change the outcome of the 2000 election from George Bush to Al Gore – a margin of 0.009% (recount pictured above). And that wasn’t even the closest-won state that year: in New Mexico the margin was a mere 366 votes.

    People say it’s your civic duty to vote, but it also seems like it’s very unlikely your vote will make a difference.

    Who is right? Is voting really valuable, or a waste of time?

    We looked into the research on this, especially regarding the US Presidential election. The answer, surprisingly, is that the single hour you spend voting for the President and Congress can be the most important thing you do with an hour each four years – and we expect similar numbers for other kinds of elections outside the USA. It also looks like there are effective techniques you can use to ‘get out the vote’, if you want to do more than just vote yourself.

    The impact of your vote largely depends on 2 things, which we’ll investigate in turn:

    • The chances of your vote changing the election outcome.
    • How much better for the world as a whole one candidate is, compared to another.

    At first blush it might seem that the chances of your single vote changing the election outcome are zero. But while the chances are low, they could be around 1 in 10 million if you live in a swing state.

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    Update on 80,000 Hours May 2015 – June 2016

    This is a quick update on our progress over the last year. Our next in-depth annual review, in which we’ll vet everything in more depth, will be in January 2017.

    Our impact across the year

    Here’s our key metrics for the top of our funnel. Ultimately we care about significant plan changes, which we report right below.

    Unique visitors to site
    New newsletter subscribers

    Our newsletter now has a total of over 50,000 subscribers, which we think makes it the largest in the effective altruism community (most others have about 10,000). Our total traffic also just overtook GiveWell, which we think is the next largest by traffic (we had 880,000 users over the 12 months ending June, compared to 860,000 when calculated the same way.)

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    Should you work at GiveWell? Reflections from a recent employee.

    The following are some reflections on what it’s like to work at GiveWell written by one of our readers. We’re posting their thoughts because we’ve written about GiveWell as a high-impact career in the past, and are keen to share more information about it. The opinions below, however, may not reflect our views.

    I worked at GiveWell from August 2014 to May 2016. This piece is a reflection on my time there, on things I think GiveWell does well as an employer, on things I think it could do better, and why I decided to leave.

    I envision two functions for this piece: (1) as an exercise to help me process my time at GiveWell, and (2) as a resource for people considering working at GiveWell. When I was considering taking a job at GiveWell, I found Nick Beckstead’s reflection on his internship at GiveWell to be very helpful. Outside of Nick’s piece, there isn’t very much substantive information available about working at GiveWell. Many people consider employment at GiveWell; I hope some of those people find this reflection to be useful.

    Some background

    I learned about GiveWell in Spring 2014, after reading Peter Singer’s Famine, Affluence, and Morality in a college ethics class and encountering related topics on the internet. By the time I took the ethics class, I knew that I did not want to go to graduate school immediately after my undergraduate, but I was very taken by academic ethics and wanted to continue serious thinking about the topic.

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    Trevor decided to move from a non-profit to a for-profit to do more good in the long run. Was it the right call?

    This is part of our series of profiles of people who changed their career in a major way in order to have more impact because of their exposure to 80,000 Hours.

    I recently spoke to Trevor Shorb about how his career plans changed as a result of 80,000 Hours. After finishing university, Trevor worked in the Peace Corps in El Salvador and planned to work for an NGO in the developing world. But after reading our advice, he decided to gain skills in the private sector first, in order to have a bigger impact in the long run. Today Trevor does business development for an international education company in emerging markets in Latin America. He plans to start a non-profit or for-profit in the developing world in the future.

    How and why did he make this transition? Read our interview with him to find out.

    How did you find out about 80,000 Hours and effective altruism, and what were you planning on doing with your career before that?

    I first became interested in effective altruism when I read “The Life You Can Save” around the time I graduated college and had committed to serve in the Peace Corps.

    Before that I had undergone a fundamental change in perspective. Recruited to college to play lacrosse, I was fully dedicated to the pursuit of being the best and leading the team. A case of chronic Lyme disease led to multiple operations and much time spent in doctor’s offices.

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    Is deep work the most underappreciated skill for career success? An interview with Cal Newport.

    Deep-WorkIn the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king – or so the saying goes. In his new book, Deep Work, Cal Newport argues that when it comes to deep concentration, we have become the land of the blind.

    He believes that the ability to do focused work is essential for career success, but becoming increasingly rare. And the fewer people are capable of deep work, the more of an edge you should be able to get by being the exception.

    We think Cal is one of the most interesting thinkers working on the issue of career strategy, so recommend you check it out. We interviewed Cal to learn more.

    Quick summary of the book

    Cal defines “deep work” as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task”.

    In his previous book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal argues it’s better to focus on gaining career capital rather than “following your passion” (we agree). Part one of Deep Work takes off where his previous book ends – he argues that deep work is essential to gaining valuable career capital. In short:

    • Deep work is increasingly valuable in the modern economy because it’s what allows you to master new intellectual skills and produce creative breakthroughs. People able to do both of these can take work that’s unlikely to be automated and reach the top of their fields,

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    Update on number of significant plan changes

    This is a brief update on the number of significant plan changes we’ve caused as of the end of Dec 2015.

    We define a significant plan change as:

    Someone tells us that 80,000 Hours caused them to change the career path they intend to pursue, in a way that they think increases their lifetime impact.

    More on what counts as a significant plan change here.

    Our total number of significant plan changes as of the end of Dec 2015 is 453.

    Here’s a summary of our key figures:

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    Maria Gutierrez on doing good through art, Costa Rica and why 80,000 Hours changed her career

    This week I interviewed Maria Gutierrez to learn more about how 80,000 Hours had changed her career plans. For the last year Maria has been our freelance graphic designer, producing most of the artwork on our site today.

    I sped up the recording so it is quick to listen to:

    Summary of the interview

    • In 2014 Maria had a general desire to improve the world, but no idea how to put that into practice. She didn’t see any way to do useful work while using her creative skills and was frustrated by this.
    • She stumbled onto 80,000 Hours and effective altruism while browsing the internet, and its ‘honesty’ immediately resonated with her. It provided a much more concrete way to assess what would actually be useful to do than she previously had. It was the first time she had considered ‘earning to give’ as a way to do good.
    • She realised that she could do a lot of good by using her artistic skills to contribute to any organisation that does exceptional work. She decided to make her first contribution by working for us.
    • Maria decided to move back to Costa Rica to dramatically lower her cost of living, and thereby be able to donate more. This is possible because all the work she does is online for groups in the US and UK. She recommends other people think about doing the same thing, and we suggest some careers that are particularly promising for remote work.
    • We discuss how the 80,000 Hours framework can be applied to others in the creative arts, and challenge the view that such skills are not valuable.
    • Long term, Maria is weighing up earning to give as a fine artist, against doing ‘direct work’ as a designer for non-profits or for-profits that she thinks are having a large social impact.
    • This raises tricky issues about personal fit, and which sacrifice she is willing to make and which she isn’t. Maria doesn’t think she could be happy without being challenged artistically. She also thinks she would burn out doing pure marketing.
    • Finally, we discuss RISE (Red de Impacto Sustenible y Effectivo), en effective altruism inspired organistion for Costa Rica, which she intends to launch with a friend. Maria explains why she doesn’t want to take donations away from charities that work in countries poorer than Costa Rica.

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    The rent is too damn high – should you work on reforming land use regulations?

    We’ve released a new ‘problem profile’ on reform of how land is used in cities.

    Local laws often prohibit the construction of dense new housing, which drives up prices, especially in a few large high-wage urban areas. The increased prices transfer wealth from renters to landowners and push people away from centres of economic activity, which reduces their ability to get a job or earn higher wages, likely by a very large amount.

    An opportunity to tackle the problem which nobody has yet taken is to start a non-profit or lobbying body to advocate for more housing construction in key urban areas and states. Another option would be to try to shift zoning decisions from local to state governments, where they are less likely to be determined by narrow local interests, especially existing land-owners who benefit from higher property prices.

    In the profile we cover:

    • The main reasons for and against thinking that working on land use reform is among the best uses of your time.
    • How to use your career to make housing in prospering cities more accessible to ordinary people.

    Read our full profile on land use reform.

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    New report: Is climate change the biggest problem in the world?

    We’ve released a new ‘problem profile’ on the risks posed by extreme climate change.

    There is a small but non-negligible chance that unmitigated greenhouse emissions will lead to very large increases in global temperatures, which would likely have catastrophic consequences for life on Earth.

    Though the chance of catastrophic outcomes is relatively low, the degree of harm that would result from large temperature increases is very high, meaning that the expected value of working on this problem may also be very high.

    Options for working on this problem include academic research into the extreme risks of climate change or whether they might be mitigated by geoengineering. One can also advocate for reduced greenhouse emissions through careers in politics, think-tanks or journalism, and work on developing lower emissions technology as an engineer or scientist.

    In the profile we cover:

    • The main reasons for and against thinking that the ‘tail risks’ of climate change are a highly pressing problem to work on.
    • How climate change scores on our assessment rubric for ranking the biggest problems in the world
    • How to use your career to lower the risk posed by climate change.

    Read our full profile on the most extreme risks from climate change..

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    Why and how to work on nuclear security

    We’ve released a new ‘problem profile’ on the risks posed by nuclear weapons.

    Nuclear weapons that are currently armed have the potential to kill hundreds of millions of people directly, and billions through subsequent effects on agriculture. There are many examples in history of instances in which the US or Russia came close to accidentally or deliberately using their nuclear weapons.

    Fortunately, nuclear security is already a major topic of interest for governments, inter-governmental organisations and think tanks. However, this does make it harder for any additional individual to influence the outcome.

    Most opportunities to reduce the risks posed by nuclear weapons seem to be through work in the military or foreign policy establishments, or research in the think tanks that offer them ideas on how to lessen the risk of nuclear conflict.

    In the profile we cover:

    • The main reasons for and against thinking that nuclear security is a highly pressing problem to work on.
    • How to use your career to ensure nuclear weapons are never used.

    Read our full profile on nuclear security.

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      How and why to use your career to make artificial intelligence safer

      We’ve released a new ‘problem profile’ on the risks posed by artificial intelligence.

      Many experts believe that there is a significant chance we’ll create artificially intelligent machines with abilities surpassing those of humans – superintelligence – sometime during this century. These advances could lead to extremely positive developments, but could also pose risks due to catastrophic accidents or misuse. The people working on this problem aim to maximise the chance of a positive outcome, while reducing the chance of catastrophe.

      Work on the risks posed by superintelligent machines seems mostly neglected, with total funding for this research well under $10 million a year.

      The main opportunity to deal with the problem is to conduct research in philosophy, computer science and mathematics aimed at keeping an AI’s actions and goals in alignment with human intentions, even if it were much more intelligent than us.

      In the profile we cover:

      • The main reasons for and against thinking that the future risks posed by artificial intelligence are a highly pressing problem to work on.
      • How to use your career to reduce the risks posed by artificial intelligence.

      Read our full profile on the risks posed by artificial intelligence.

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      The case for and against using your career to combat smoking

      We’ve released a new problem profile on reducing tobacco use in the developing world.

      Smoking takes an enormous toll on human health – accounting for about 6% of all ill-health globally according to the best estimates. This is more than HIV and malaria combined. Smoking continues to rise in many developing countries as people become richer and can afford to buy cigarettes.

      There are ways to lower smoking rates that have been shown to work elsewhere, such as informing people who are unaware about how much smoking damages their health, as well as simply increasing the price of cigarettes through taxes. These are little used in developing countries, suggesting there is a major opportunity to improve human health by applying the World Health Organization’s recommended anti-tobacco programs.

      In the profile we cover:

      • The main reasons for and against thinking that smoking in the developing world is a highly pressing problem to work on.
      • How to use your career to reduce the health damage caused by smoking.

      Read our profile on tobacco control in the developing world.

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