Alejandro Ruiz

25 karmaJoined Working (15+ years)Retired


I'm a 40-year Rationalist first, FIRE advisor second, EA third. Working, two young children, very busy. Based on Spain. Active on Spanish-speaking EA Slack. 


I see your formulation (that I just saw, after publishing my own) is both more succinct and probably less confrontational that my own. Support. 

EA is a movement that should be striving for excellence. Merely being “average” is not good enough. What matters most is whether EA is the best it could reasonably be, and if not, what changes can be made to fix that.  

There is a lot of content packed within that "the best". An org, movement, or even person, can only be "the best" on a certain amount of measures, before you're asking for a solution to an optimization problem with too many constraints, or if I can name it on a simpler way, superpowers. 

Should EA be ethical? Sure. Wholesome? Maybe, why not. A place for intellectual and epistemic humbleness? Very important. Freedom for intellectual debate? Very useful for arriving at the truth. A safe space? Depending what you mean by that. A place completely free from interpersonal drama? That would be nice, certainly. Can all of this be achieved at the same time? No, I don't think so. Some values do funge against others to some extent. I hope I don't need to offer specific examples. 

I'm worried about this (and other recent developments) on EA. Calling for a more perfect world is, by itself, good. But asking for optimizations in one front frequently means, implicitly, de-prioritizing  other causes, if only because the proposed optimizations take a good chunk of the limited collective time, attention span and ability to intelligently communicate and discuss. 

Do I think that changes can be made to EA to make it more ethical, with less misconduct (including sexual misconduct), etc? Yes, certainly. Do I think this will have a cost? Yes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Do I think this will cause, all things considered, more or less suffering in the world? I'm not sure. But since what EA is unquestionably "the best" at, is in identifying opportunities to do the most good, in the margin. And while all improvements are changes, not all changes are improvements. I think that any changes (the more sweeping, the worse on expectation) on community composition, governance, etc. will be in the best of possible worlds, neutral to distracting for the main goal of doing most good with available resources, and in the worst, actively harmful. Thus, my proposal should be that any proposed changes should pass the bar, not only of improving the situation they purport to improve (and these articles with practical examples of what to do, how to do it, and how did it all result are certainly useful for that), but also, a reasonable case that they are at least neutral to the main mission (doing good better, if I may quote). 

So, am I advocating for an "abandon all hope, every one for themselves" policy? Not at all. I'm merely stating, if on a roundabout way, that "average" ability, as an organization, to keep your members safe, sane, and wholesome is good. Quite probably, good enough. And this is key. Since you cannot optimize for everything at the same time, one must find a compromise for most things that are not the main mission. I think sexual misconduct is one of those many, many things.

(Edit: Vasco Grilo's comment says it better, and in less words) 

Since temporalis hasn't answered to the literal question, I think I can. 

The literal text of the OP, as cited, says "Everyone that was accused of assault was banned from the club". That, to me, does not sound like the qualifiers you offer here, where "we talked to both sides and to relevant witnesses and found the accusers to be credible". That would be best summarized as "Everybody that was credibly  accused of assault was banned", and even with that, the full explanation of how was an accusation found credible should better follow, and not long after, if we are to think that it was a more-or-less like a trial process, and not a more-or-less like a witch-hunt process.

As for the direct, object-level questions you make: Yes, it's very  helpful and informative, and I don't see any major errors. In fact, the "additional funds required" and "extra time to FIRE" charts are very useful, and to my knowledge, haven't been done before. Congrats!

As for something missing, something I sometimes get requested to calculate is how great is the impact of donating now vs. donating later. Like, what if I want to extra-quickly grow my nest egg for 6-10 years or until 60-80% of the way into FI (amounts to be written-in, of course), before donating? Would that lower my donations much? That is, the reverse of "how much delay for this amount of donations?". 

As general commentary / small things / nitpicks: 

  1. On the Savings Rate vs. Donation rate, where the chart measures "years to FI", I think the caption "Years to reach Financial Independence" should be on top for ease of reading. I found it confusing otherwise, while seeing it on a phone
  2. I think it would be useful to add a knob on cell G109 (Estimated years left living based on average life expectancy), which may be as simple as adding as to let that field be write-in, default like 30 or 40, with a side note on how many years would be based on average life expectancy. That way you can put a "limit option" on how many years you plan on donating, could be useful if less (or more!) than usual expected lifespan. 
  3. Extra nitpick: 77 is current average lifespan at birth, and a more useful measure would be expected life expectancy at current age and male/female (see, e.g.,) which for me (male, 40) would be almost 39 extra years, but as you grow older, the difference increases (females at 65 still have almost 20 years left!). If you want to keep it simple (and maybe you should) then write-in, with a note for the 77 years reference, plus a link to the reference actuarial tables, should be simple, yet as precise as the user wants. 
  4. I think the graphs below, for donating your nest egg, that currently span until year 2090, should be cut/adjusted to the amount of years in G109, so as not to unnecessarily inflate the y axis. I think a simple =if(J39<=Calculator!$G$109,<formula>,"") suffices for this (I've tested it, and it works for me) (needs to be done on columns K to P on the Chart Data sheet, for the different formulas, and then can be dragged for the whole column)

As another early retiree - at least, I was, for some time, before I un-retired (hopefully temporarily) to pursue an expensive startup project, as a funder - I think you underestimate the power of the FIRE's income. By the time most of us are ready to "pull the plug", the usual question is not, "How probable is that I never run out of money?", but "How much time did I overspent working, since this safety margin is, with benefit of hindsight, obviously excessive?". Thus, most FIRE types should have more than enough to maintain donation rate, and probably increase it. 

See for example,

@Stewed_Walrus, I'm under the impression that you've dismissed @Ree's argument out of hand. I was tempted to start explaining, when I noticed that his brief summary , "The mechanism by which 'sustainable investing' claims to have a positive impact is fairly dubious", already contains mine, if on a much shorter form.  If you want to, we can discuss this claim, apart from the rest. 

As a subsection of the former, I do not think it is even difficult "to argue that shifting people away from fund 1 and toward fund 2 doesn’t have a net positive impact on the world", and in fact I have a rather standard, almost FAQ-like answer to it. On its shortest form, it is: 

  • You're a provider of liquidity, not a primary financier. Buy or do not buy the dirty stock, the company won't see that money (unless IPO). So, no impact.
  • If you don't buy the stock, or sell it if you have it, prices will fall. Another investor, price-sensitive but ESG-insensitive, will buy it (unless universal ESG principles). See, e.g. this paper. So, either no impact, or the impact is giving free money to an unscrupulous investor.

Also, this mechanism you propose might be valid as presented on your previous comment (money managers, pension funds and other providers, who only manage other people's money, and thus will never give it away to altruism, effective or otherwise), but not as presented on the OP, when it seemed to apply mainly to personal savings. 

Re: Ree's comment, I consider funging a very important aspect of public communication/outreach. People DO want to feel good, and do NOT purchase utilons and fuzzies separately. If you give them a reason to feel good that does not require giving away their money, you WILL get less donations as a result. I have the strong feeling that, on the margin, this effect will at least completely erase any potential benefits than ESG investing may have. If I seem to be too sure on this, consider that any effect your investment has is, by neccesity, dispersed and marginal (the company does not literally take your money and use it to build landmines, and it wouldn't even if its only business line was landmine manufacturing), while money donated will be used at least mainly  and certainly directly to do good. Thus I understand the effects of donations to be, at least, one order of magnitude higher than any ESG effects might be. 

Going back to the FIRE angle, you may be interested in knowing what one of the biggest names has to say: (my own take and key citation is "your spending dollars will probably have a much bigger impact than your investment dollars")

Hi all. As one of the most prominente pro-FIRE (and pro-FIRE-then-EA ) voices on the Spanish-speaking EA Slack, I was pointed here in case I could add something useful. There's really not much, since the OP clearly either is already on the FIRE community or has done his homework really well. However, I wanted to clarify a couple of points. 

On "The FIRE/EA conflict" section, the OP presents the source of the funds donated as potentially problematic. I'd like to emphasize that this viewpoint, while being, as far as I know, nearly universal within EA spaces, would be seen much less as a given within FIRE spaces. The FIRE position, roughly summarized, would be "money is money". That is, if you want to do good, and want to use money for that, you should be agnostic re: its origin. Drug money or church money, they buy the same number of mosquito nets. Or, if you prefer your Latin, "pecunia non olet". Besides belaboring the point, this is mostly so you are aware of this difference in assumptions, if you're trying to get a FIRE-enthusiast "into the fold", or nudge her towards "ethical", ESG or not, investments. 

As for "are likely to take a more active approach to selecting their own investments that most people", I would point that the mainstream position within FIRE is precisely the opposite, that is, that passive/indexed investing is preferrable, at least until well into the accumulation phase (in the vernacular, until you are already wealthy), and for most, even for the whole duration of the journey. Even the Oracle of Omaha has recommended it for his own widow-to-be on his will: "On my death, there's a fund for my then-widow, and 90% will go into an S&P 500 index fund.". While there is a subsector of FIRE who places very much emphasis on security selection and overperformance (being, on this, more a branch of usual finance than personal finance, and only different from most on their frugal habits), it is generally understood that most people do not have either the temperament or knowledge needed to pull this off reliably. And "reliability" is the name of the game. The idea is that many or most professionals, able to generate income steadily, should be able to eventually retire. While many, or most, people, should sensibly leave the management of their wealth to professionals, in the narrow sense of passive/indexed investing using mutual funds run by professional managers. 

On "The Case for FIRE-EA", the OP states that "stashing away a significant sum of money over the course of several decades, while there remains a great deal of avoidable suffering in the world, will feel instinctively wrong to many with an EA mindset". However, 

a) Not only the FIRE approach is perfectly compatible with the Giving What We Can pledge (since usual FIRE objective is upwards of 50% savings rate, thus can be safely lowered to 40% at the "mere" cost of 5 additional years to retirement - 21.6 years vs 16.6years, with some assumptions). 

b) This approach is implicitly maximalist, in the sense that any personal consumption funges against the objective of donating. And since we know that most donors, even EA donors, aren't maximalist being as frugal as they can be to donate, we should be agnostic about what is the destination of the surplus. I understand there is no moral case for saving being better than consuming. Plus, 10% is a good ticket to admission of being a good person, and a good Schelling point. 

c) "The value of donating time or money now is or may be greater than doing so at a later date.". I only want to point out that the reverse may also be true. A later donation of time, when one is at a higher professional level, can be worth more. A later donation of money, when either one's capacity to donate the ability, or the organizations capacity to absorbe it productively, or the technological leverage, is/are greater, can lead to a greater good. In any case, there is uncertanty enough to make this at least neutral in my eyes. 


Apart from these points, I think the OP makes both a reasonable presentation of the FIRE movement, and a good summary of the potential contentious points.