All of Alexander_Berger's Comments + Replies

Is effective altruism growing? An update on the stock of funding vs. people

Really liked this post, thanks.


Minor comment, wanted to flag that I think "Open Philanthropy has also reduced how much they donate to GiveWell-recommended charities since 2017." was true through 2019, but not in 2020, and we're expecting more growth for the GW recs (along with other areas) in the future.

2Benjamin_Todd5moThanks! I probably should have just used the 2020 figure rather than the 2017-2019 average. My estimate was an $80m allocation by Open Phil to global health, but this would suggest $100m.
If I am a US business owner, can I legally donate to an unrelated charity as a business expense to avoid the 37% income tax on that amount?

Obv disclaimer: not a tax adviser.

Seems like yes based on this (https://www.thebalancesmb.com/can-my-business-deduct-charitable-contributions-397602) and according to this (https://www.philanthropy.com/article/nonprofits-win-extended-charitable-deductions-and-paycheck-protection-loans-in-stimulus-bill) the recent stimulus bill increased the limit for 2021 to 25% of corporate taxable income (instead of the normal 10%).

1Will_Grover1yTerrific. Thanks for this info! Looks like I can do up to 25% this year (although less in a typical year).
Parenting: Things I wish I could tell my past self

Re your last paragraph, I just wanted to drop @jefftk's (IMO) amazing post here: https://www.jefftk.com/p/candy-for-nets

3Jason Schukraft1yYes, that post is fantastic!
Growth and the case against randomista development

Someone emailed me this and asked for thoughts, so I thought I'd share some cleaned up reactions here. Full disclosure--I work at Open Phil on some related issues:

  • Thanks for the post - I think it's helpful, and I agree that I would like to see the EA community engage more with Lant's arguments.
  • If we're focused primarily on near term human welfare (which seems to be the frame for the post), I think it's really important to think (and do back of the envelope calculations) more explicitly in terms of utility rather than in terms
... (read more)

Thanks for these comments Alex. I agree that it would be best to look at how growth translates into subjective wellbeing, and I am planning to do this or to get someone else to do it soon. However, I'm not sure that this defeats our main claim which is that research on and advocacy for growth are likely to be better than GW top charities. There are a few arguments for this.

(1) GW estimates that deworming is the best way to improve economic outcomes for the extreme poor, in expectation. This seems to me very unlikely to be true since deworming explain... (read more)

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 fun

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2joshcmorrison7yTo follow up on Alexander's point a bit, I think applying the charitable benefits standard to non-charity decisions leads to some really weird results. For example, say someone who identifies as an EA chooses to give 10% of her income each year to a GW charity, and she’s choosing employment between being a schoolteacher for $50K a year or a job that’s not especially prosocial that pays $55K a year; say she has no innate preference between them, prefers to make more money all things being equal, and that being a schoolteacher would be worthmore than the $500 donation. According to the logic Alexander points to about kidney donation, when deciding whether to forgo the $5000 to choose a socially beneficial job, the right calculus is -- 1. does giving up that money do as much good as donating to a GW charity (i.e. saving a life) and 2. if no, EAs shouldn't do it. That leads to the really weird result, though, of committing EA ideology to rejecting socially positive choices even if they involve fairly small sacrifices (here $5,000). Let me give one final thought experiment on this point, which can be a variant of the child-drowning-in-the-puddle -- let's say instead of a child drowning, it's an older woman, and you're wearing expensive clothing that'll be ruined. If the EA standard is -- don't do altruistic acts that aren't of similar value to GW charitable donations -- that principle could very well commit you to not saving the older woman, which, again, seems bizarre. To be clear, that's not to say that should mean donating a kidney -- far from it. Instead considering kidney donation is a way of broadening the options available to EAs beyond giving money.
1RyanCarey7y"The problem with these comparisons is that they're totally made up." I don't think this is true. I think Toby has been giving >50% of his funds and works on FHI full-time. I've used my savings to implement a career change that I wouldn't pursue for selfish reasons. So I do think we're bottlenecked substantially by our available resources at this point, making the comparison legitimate. I think that it's good to be a bit softer on people who are partially altruistic though. Dewey has said that effective altruism is what he calls the part of his life where he takes the demandingness of ethics seriously. Jeff Kaufman has written about making a budget for spending on others so one does not go insane about self/other tradeoffs during every visit to the supermarket. Utilitarianism gets roundly criticised for its vulnerability to this objection of 'demandingness' and some people find it quite psychologically challenging to (Jess' recent post here). So I lean toward including people who give only a smaller fraction of themselves to others. I guess this might be the underlying disagreement. You see this as harmful because it will discourage a beneficial act (even though I don't think it's that beneficial, I admit that this is the part that gives me the most pause), whereas on balance, I think the main issue at stake here is our inclusiveness. There's a further question of how seriously to take these opportunity cost arguments in general, which I think will be picked up in Katja's thread on vegetarianism.
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.

2Benjamin_Todd7yThat's true, though you can just present the best short-run thing as a compelling lower bound rather than an all considered answer to what maximizes your impact.
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