Brad West

Topic Contributions


The Case for Reading Books

Being able to not only inhabit strange and fascinating worlds, but to see them through fresh lens is immensely enjoyable and liberating in the broadest sense of the word.

The issue is that it is hard to see the indirect benefits of reading for enjoyment as an efficient way to do good. And unfortunately, I can sympathize with speed readers and listeners who view a more mercenary treatment of literature as sensible given the time it frees up to otherwise effectuate their values. The time of an EA is a precious resource that can often be leveraged to, in expectation, cause the greatest good throughout space and time when not maximizing for the welfare of said EA agent.

Seven ways to become unstoppably agentic

Just what I needed to hear. It's easy to become discouraged, but often finding an EA who can help you in your project to work toward a better world (and finding someone whose project you can help) is a numbers game. Like you say, developing resilience and empathy regarding gaps in perspective is critical toward advancing others' good ideas and finding help for yours to be advanced by others. This is definitely something I'm acutely struggling with.

Guided Consumption: Funding Charities by Leveraging Consumer Sentiment in the Broader Economy

Red Team Responses:

1 and 2. Sorta beside the point: I can cede the point that becoming rich IS a major motivator for people to work hard, develop innovative ideas, and otherwise do great things that translate into companies that are immensely profitable. But we don’t need to be reinventing the wheel with a brand new invention or innovation (other than Guided Consumption), we can rather just be entering a competitive market equilibrium, buying one of its participants, and disrupting that equilibrium by imbuing it with an almost costless powerful weapon (I say costless because the charitable investor is not paying more than a private investor would to obtain capital, yet has a weapon in its identity that the private investor does not have.) Thus if the pre-acquisition company was worth $100 million, the post-acquisition company would be worth $100 million + X, where X is the value attributable to consumer preference toward the charity. The founder brilliance was probably what allowed that company to get to its pre-acquisition value and had made that founder immensely rich. Essentially, greed being a powerful motivation that enables excellent company performance is wholly compatible with Guiding Producers being incredibly lucrative. These objections sorta presume that the only way Guiding Producers could arise is if we had a game show pitting angelic altruistic entrepreneurs vs. a bunch of Gordon Gekko entrepreneurs. 

3. You seem to be presuming again that a Guiding Producer would be a new company rather than an acquired company. I think there might be good reasons to begin new Guiding Companies given a robust social movement having taken off and good market sector research to indicate that a given sector is a robust one, but there is no requirement that a GP would have to start from scratch and could not be the product of a buyout or a leveraged buyout by a group of charitable investors.

4. You could match the features of a successful company by buying it out, keeping its existing features in place, and advertising that you should buy its products because it helps the global poor, for instance. (don’t take these answers to mean that I don’t think starting new Guiding Producers would necessarily be a bad idea- I think in some contexts- like sales- the differentiation that profit destination would provide could be enormous. I think the potential for Guiding Producer Real Estate Agents or Life Insurance Salespeople could be obscenely lucrative).

5. This is a real issue, but one that is almost certainly resolvable through corporate finance. Charities could borrow against their inflated equity to support their projects. There could also be a 5-10% allowance for private ownership for liquidity and price discovery purposes. Furthermore, if Guiding Producers are spread across enough different industries that the risks associated with them are idiosyncratic, they could form insurance pools that facilitates greater leveraging in borrowing, allowing more funds in relation to equity to be available through borrowing. Periodically, debts could be serviced and equity reestablished by dividends.

6. Hmm it strikes me as rather crazy if there was a CEO of a Guiding Producer for like a an electronics company that made $20 mil/year and a CEO of a competitor normal Producer making $20 mil a year that this umbrage at the Guiding Producer’s CEO’s compensation would cause them to screw over the charity by going with the normal Producer and thus enrich the wealthy shareholders. I think in this conversation, the real villains, if any, would be the Normal Producers.

7. Yes, Guiding Producers would have the same constraints normal Producers would have in this regard. Normal producers sometimes cash out too much to their shareholders/owners and compromise the financial stability of the business. This isn’t really an objection to Guided Consumption so much as a business reality that still applies.

8. Still this thinking that Guiding Producers have to be built from the ground-up… let the founders, angel investors, and venture capitalists do their thing, unless there is a particularly auspicious GC opportunity. Then disrupt established equilibria through the magic of a special investor who magically gets better returns (I say magical because it kind of is in that the same cost investment would yield a different return for charitable investors than other investors).

9. I call it non-psychopathy. The Consumer Power Initiative is trying to get to the point where the consumer has a virtually identical product at an identical price and the only choice is whether to help a worthy charity or line the pockets of an anonymous moneybags. 

10. Totally agreed. There needs to be transparency as well as partnerships with those trusted in many communities that Guiding Producers are doing what they say they are.

11. I agree. I think the focus of CPI should be on pure Guiding Producers. There is also a concern that gamesmanship could allow for firms that donate 100% of “profit” to charities, but a deliberate effort to actually distribute almost all the money generated to key employees, with a pittance for the charity they supposedly serve. CPI will have a key role in credentialing for that as well.

12. Definitely needs to be some thought on the tax end of things. Think these issues are ultimately tractable through creative legal forms, etc. Needs to be investigated further.

13. Very interesting issue… I guess if a Guiding Producer needed to adopt the practices in its sector to be competitive, you could argue that it is still better than the counterfactual normal producer in its place. Needs to be grappled with as Guided Consumption develops.

14. Probably people care about certain ineffective and effective charities more than they do normal shareholders. There is an issue that once we reach the Age of Consumer Power, ineffective charities may be competing against effective charities for market share of their  Guiding Firms. This is one of the reasons I would be interested in getting the Effective Altruist community in on this new frontier of Consumer Power.

15. They’ll figure it out eventually. I hear they’re supposed to be pretty smart.

16. The problem is that I have very little to effectively signal that I have something to say that is worth spending an hour of one’s time. The analytics page, as of the writing of this post, show that 16 uniqute devices have spent more than 5 minutes on this page. Th


Notes on positive things

  1. Yeah, really could promote a good mission culture. You can be a life insurance salesperson, cashier, etc. any part of a Guiding Producer, big or small, and you’re working for a very noble purpose. I really think this could potentially open the Earning To Give door very widely.
  2. Yeah, once they start to realize what’s going on, I suspect there is the good will among many philanthropists to get the “early phase” going. Once that is wildly successful, it’s going to be the wild west as the wealthy try to weaponize Consumer Power to their will.
  3. Yup.
  4. Exactly, using the prosocial nature of Guiding Producers could give them even unfair market advantages.
  5. Really need to look into the tax stuff at some point. Hopefully some good opportunities.
  6. Exactly… we could have like campaigns about the median wealth or income of investors in the competitor. Do you want to help the 1% or someone who makes less than $2.50/day?
  7. Yeah, in some prosocial industries this could be an even greater superpower.
  8. Yeah, I wasn’t fair to Newman’s Own. It just really gets to me that this ethic of not promoting discussion in the charitable discourse (such as the donative decisions one makes) strikes me as super toxic. I’m glad the EA community is so committed to discussing charity.
  9. Yeah, at the very least NCCO’s jobs will be easier. I still think there will be a function in facilitating the ease of consumers channeling consumption through GCs.
  10. Yep.
  11. I think your method is the most competitive form of GC (capital agnosticism), but I still think that there may be a value in steering consumers toward super effective causes that are still popular. Also, might strengthen the message if the impact is concentrated rather than diffuse against a portfolio of charities.
  12. Agreed
  13. I suppose I would be worried about Guiding Producers creating monopolies in some sectors where there aren’t many other dimensions firms can effectively compete. That would be a nice problem to have.
  14. Yeah, cryptos are fraught with some reputational issues, but there’s definitely some possibilities there.

Anyway, I need to get to sleep for our 7:00 A.M. (my time call)!

Guided Consumption: Funding Charities by Leveraging Consumer Sentiment in the Broader Economy

I am thinking a good direction for the Consumer Power Initiative is going to be aggregating and making people become aware of Guiding Producers such as BOAS. I want to have something similar to BOAS for the States called The Giving Store.

Once we have enough awareness and get a movement going, get some experts studying the market areas where Guiding Producers would have the greatest advantage, and then fundraise to either buy out firms for charities or create our own.

The Role of Individual Consumption Decisions in Animal Welfare and Climate are Analogous

I agree. Commenting on the animal welfare side:

We should, as a community, encourage veganism but direct some attention to effective charities as well as an extremely conservative basis for meat-eaters to offset their negative impact on animal welfare. I think it would be worth developing a fund managed by people who study animal welfare and can best assess what organizations are, in expectation, going to have the best impact on the victims of factory farming. Then compute a conservative amount (which would probably depend a lot on how many chicken products one consumes) and encourage meat eaters (or vegans for that matter) to contribute some multiple of that to the fund.

If offsetting is easy, it could probably be sold to even many outside the EA community.

Misercordia Launch!!!

I'm really flattered! I I will share this with everyone I know and buy myself some clothes.

I hope to work with you going forward to make a world economy brimming with Misercordias!

Guided Consumption: Funding Charities by Leveraging Consumer Sentiment in the Broader Economy

Tomer: thank you for reading and the thoughtful response!

I agree with you and ColdButtonIssues that luxury goods, allowing for virtue signaling that could warrant the toleration of higher costs and thus higher margins. However, especially if we're talking about a long-term in which the general public is familiar with GC, it is unclear why popular profit destinations would not be used to compete in other consumer sectors. The structural advantage conferred by popular ownership is not offset by a corresponding disadvantage, and thus, where there is a meeting of the philanthropic will to create companies that serve causes and a consumer society that prefers the designated cause over a nameless shareholder GCs should tend to dominate. As I had stated in my paper, I anticipate that this advantage would be especially decisive in areas of few dimensions of product differentiation. I would be interested in thoughts as to what I might be missing in this analysis.

I'd take you up on that offer regarding the books. It sounds like they have some insights I could definitely use.

I would say that I have do have a pretty strong belief in Guided Consumption, though my unwavering faith would regard that this phenomenon will eventually become dominant moreso than in my own ability to personally usher it in. Given an insufficiently exploited means of a structural advantage, one of these decades, someone will find a way to effectively use ownership identity to get an edge over the traditional firms. Virtually any charitable cause is more popular than the competition: nameless, rich shareholders. My hope is that the Effective Altruism community can have influence inwhich causes prevail come the advent of the age of consumer power, because they are very thoughtful regarding how to do the most good. In any case, even if there was a low probability of my success, given the magnitude of good that would accompany a successful effort, I will try to tame anything in me that urges me to stop.

Guided Consumption: Funding Charities by Leveraging Consumer Sentiment in the Broader Economy

Re Dropshipping: why do you doubt people would choose a dropshipper on the basis of charitable alignment? I suspect many people would prefer a charity get the profit over a private individual, especially EAs.

I also think fashion could be a good direction to go, capitalizing on a virtue-signaling advantage while forgoing the "no-brainer" advantage allowed by products with few dimensions of variability. But if you can get an apples-to-apples comparison, why wouldn't a consumer choose a charity?

Guided Consumption: Funding Charities by Leveraging Consumer Sentiment in the Broader Economy

Thanks for reading it and the well-wishes!

Yes, I'm familiar with Newman's Own and that is definitely an example of a Guiding Producer. It's great that there's a charitable trust that benefits from our purchases. In my view, this feature was insufficiently exploited by the company. Initially Newman was intending not to advertise the pro-social ownership (thankfully he was persuaded otherwise). But with the degree of advertising and consumer awareness of Newman's Own's mission, I suspect it is not enjoying the degree of advantage that it potentially could if it more explicitly viewed itself as a channel of pro-social Consumer Power. Another issue would be that the product dimensions numerosity may make it not an ideal GP.

If there was a broad effort to inform and empower consumers as well as a broad representation in the economy of Guiding Producers in the economy, I believe GPs could rapidly capture market share. The key would be enabling the convenient "no-brainer" decision for consumers.

Using Networks to Facilitate Effective Consumption

Sure... It could start with just one person who made the commitment and then a network of people who channel their buying of whatever he or she sells through that person.

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