Alexander_Berger

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Kidney donation is a reasonable choice for effective altruists and more should consider it

I think this argument is wrong for broadly the reasons that pappubahry lays out below. In particular, I think it's a mistake to deploy arguments of the form, "the benefit from this altruistic activity that I'm considering are lower than the proportional benefits from donations I'm not currently making, therefore I should not do this activity."

Ryan does it when he says:

How long would it take to create $2k of value? That's generally 1-2 weeks of work. So if kidney donation makes you lose more than 1-2 weeks of life, and those weeks constitute funds that you would donate, or voluntary contributions that you would make, then it's a net negative activity for an effective altruist.

Toby says:

One way I look at it is that I wouldn't donate a kidney in order to get $2,000 (whether that was to be spent on myself or donated to effective charities), or equivalently, that I am prepared to pay $2,000 to keep my second kidney. This means that, for me at least, donating is dominated by extra donations.

The problem with these comparisons is that they're totally made up. There's a potential one-off activity (donating a kidney) which, Thomas argued above, has large benefits to recipients relative to costs to the giver. There's also a question about how much you donate to charity. Based on the rationales you're giving here, someone who is happy with the cost/benefit tradeoff of donating a kidney as a one off, but is convinced that it's not as good cost/benefit as further donations, should actually increase their donations. However, my impression is that that has not been the reaction to these arguments; instead they justify current behavior/levels of altruism. (Toby, Ryan, correct me if I'm wrong here.) But donating a kidney would, according to most parties to the discussion, be net beneficial on its own terms. So the net impact of these arguments is to prevent people from taking positive sum altruistic actions, thereby reducing value.

There are kinds of costs that do mix between these two activities - genuinely foregone wages. And if your foregone wages were large and you decided that you would offset donations rather that consumption or savings with them, it would be perfectly appropriate to conduct this comparison. (Similarly, if the financial risk to future donations were higher, that would also make sense to offset.) But idly speculating about how much you'd have to be paid to do something, while taking the current level of donation as fixed, results in net negative impacts.

I think it's a problem when the "effective" side of "effective altruism" is used as a argument against the "altruism" side. I should note that Jeff Kaufman and I had this framework argument on his post on this topic a while back on Less Wrong.

Why long-run focused effective altruism is more common sense

I agree, and I'd add that what I see as one of the key ideas of effective altruism, that people should give substantially more than is typical, is harder to get off the ground in this framework. Singer's pond example, for all its flaws, makes the case for giving a lot quite salient, in a way that I don't think general considerations about maximizing the impact of your philanthropy in the long term are going to.

Kidney donation is a reasonable choice for effective altruists and more should consider it

Yes, kidney selling is officially banned in nearly every country. My preference, at least in the U.S. context, would be to have the government offer benefits to donors to ensure high quality and fair allocation: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/06/opinion/why-selling-kidneys-should-be-legal.html