14Joined Jan 2015


The Global Challenges Foundation has recently launched an essay competition with a $5 million prize (!) awarded to the best ideas for new forms of global decision-making. The foundation has previously funded work on global catastrophic risks, so I guess they would not be opposed to an EA mindset.

More information is available at their homepage.

Excellent point!

Especially if we consider the layman's definition of what health is: "being free from illness or injury". This definition opens up the promotion of health to the same kind of objections that fells Negative Utilitarianism, namely: if all that mattered was reducing suffering, isn't the easiest way to do so merely getting rid of all the sentient beings?

We should be open to the possibility that making the world less ill might also make it worse off, if there was also a simultaneous loss of those other things of value besides health that offset the reduction of illness.

We should be clear that when we focus on QALY's it is only because it (arguably) is one of the most tractable ways of promoting well-being.

There's nothing inherently wrong with observational studies. RCTs and observational studies may be on different rungs (or tiers) in the hierarchy of evidence, but that only means we have to put their conclusions into the proper context. This, of course, is not always easy for laymen like us.

It is true that redundancy typically adds resilience to complex systems. But how much is this added resilience worth if you try to put a dollar amount on it? I think that what GWWC is doing overall is great, but I concur with Ben, it is a bit unclear at the moment what value GWWC adds in this regard.

One nitpick regarding drone strikes: Do they really weigh "the number of civilians that would likely die through the use of drones"? If the risk of harming any civilians in a specific drone strike is not negligible, and the military proceeds anyway, aren't they intentionally violating international human rights law and/or international humanitarian law? See, for example, "The Truth about the United States Drone Program".

My gut feeling is that a strong tradition (in Sweden, at least) of aversion to the methodological individualism at the core of the EA movement is a major factor behind this.

Methodological individualism is hard (if not outright impossible) to reconcile with the historical materialism that is Karl Marx's theory of history. The latter seems to be strongly held in many Scandinavian minds.

In short, I think many of the Swedes who care about alleviating poverty will think that the proper way to go about it is through changing the ownership of the means of production, not through increasing cost-effective philanthropy from the affluent.

You raise an interesting point. If I have a quarter, what's the best I could buy with it? A chewing gum, perhaps. Certainly not a car. But if I successfully encouraged millions of others to do as I did (and buy chewing gum), I possibly could have convinced them to cooperate into buying a car instead.

If the EA movement had not hundreds or thousands of members, but millions or billions, would giving 10 percent of their income still be the best that they could do? Lets say that the EA movement grows enormously, and a decade from now comprises more than half the electorate of the US. Would the EA organisations recommend them to all vote for a specific candidate?

What about the possibility of there being EA beliefs that are false even if consequentialism is true? This is the part of the relationship between them that I find the most interesting.

Personally, I read Singer's Practical Ethics in 2005, which convinced me that I ought to donate a share of my income to charities. I can't say that notion was new to me then, but I found his argument particularly persuasive. The article Faith, hope and charities in the 13 November 2010 issue of The Economist convinced me that donors often do not exercise due diligence before deciding where to give. Despite this, it wasn't until several years later that I came into contact with the website of Giving What We Can.

I'm curious, what is the typical length of time between when people were convinced of EA ideas and when they first heard about the term or the community? Did the survey cover this?

I originally posted this on the Facebook thread that linked to this discussion, but that thread was deleted, so I'm reposting it here.

The strongest counterargument against EA that I know of is an attack on its underlying methodological individualism. By "individualism" here I mean analysing our actions as those of individuals deciding and acting in isolation. That is, looking at what we ought to do regardless of how this correlates with the behaviour of others.

To see why this could be a problem, take Downs paradox of voting, as illustrated here. In that video, Diana Thomas argues—persuasively in my view—that voting (and being an informed voter) is irrational if seen solely as an individual act. Some have attempted to counter this by saying that voters are acting altruistically, rather than egoistically. I think such explanations are insufficient because they ignore the irreducibility of voting. The impact of voting for a specific candidate is an emergent property of sufficiently many doing it. Voting only makes sense when seen as a collective, rather than individual, act.

The fundamental question underlying EA is "how can I have the most impact?" Turning this question into a movement, thus changing the "I" into a "we", doesn't necessarily mean that the answer stays the same.

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