All of GMcGowan's Comments + Replies

Economic policy in poor countries

Off topic, but I didn't realise you'd left Founders Pledge. May I ask what you're up to now?

What EA projects could grow to become megaprojects, eventually spending $100m per year?

That's true. I just listened to the most recent 80k podcast where they joke about buying up GPUs so it was in my head :) 

1Nathan Young2moHaha, fair :)
What EA projects could grow to become megaprojects, eventually spending $100m per year?

FWIW my reading of the question is: "What projects could be created, that have the potential to scale to $100m".  I didn't read it as suggesting funding a megaproject from scratch.

Many EA projects are of the "start a research institute" flavour, and will likely never absorb $100m. I see the post as a plea for projects which could (after starting with smaller amounts and then scaling) absorb these sums of money. Much like Givedirectly wasn't started with $100m/year budget right away, but has proven itself capable of deploying that much funding.

I think that's my guess too, but I could easily imagine some readers not getting that. "Megaproject" as a term has often referred to projects that have to be planned in advance.

What EA projects could grow to become megaprojects, eventually spending $100m per year?

Out of all the ideas, this seems the most shovel-ready. 

MacArthur will (presumably) be letting go of some staff who do nuclear policy work, and would (presumably) be happy to share the organisations they've granted to in the past. So you have a ready-made research staff list + grant list.

All ("all" :) ) you need is a foundation and a team to execute on it. Seems like $100 million could actually be deployed pretty rapidly. 

Possibly not all of that money would meet EA standards of cost-effectiveness though - indeed MacArthur's withdrawal provides some evidence that it isn't cost effective (if we trust their judgement).

Here's the interesting, frustrating evaluation report:  https://www.macfound.org/media/article_pdfs/nuclear-challenges-synthesis-report_public-final-1.29.21.pdf[16].pdf
Looks to me like a classic hits-based giving bet - you mostly don't make much impact, then occassionaly (Nixon arms control, H.W. Bush's START and Nunn-Lugar, maybe Obama JCPOA/New START) get a home run.

What EA projects could grow to become megaprojects, eventually spending $100m per year?

Proof of concept for a geoengineering scheme (could be controversial)

What EA projects could grow to become megaprojects, eventually spending $100m per year?

Buy up scarce resources which are being used for bad things and just sit on them. Like the thing where you buy rainforest to prevent logging. Coal mines, agricultural land used for animals, GPUs?!

6Neel Nanda2moInteresting idea! I think this works much better when supply is constrained, eg land, and not when supply is elastic (eg GPUs). I'm curious whether anyone has actually tried this
3Nathan Young2moFeels like buying GPUs would just increase their production.
What EA projects could grow to become megaprojects, eventually spending $100m per year?

Activist investment fund which invests in large companies and then leans on them to change their policies. Examples abound in climate change, but other than that:

  • Food related companies to stop factory farming
  • Biotech companies to stop them from doing gain of function or mirror life research

Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million. We could try to buy some other media groups, or at least a significant number of shares in them. Some are probably too big, like the New York Times at $8 billion market cap and Fox Corporation at $20 billion.

I think food-related companies are also probably too big relative to impact, with market caps in the billions or tens of billions of dollars for Tyson, Pilgrim's Pride, JBS SA, McDonald's. You could buy shares in smaller ones, but they also probably have a disproportionately smaller share of farmed ani... (read more)

What would you do if you had half a million dollars?

Thanks for the post, I found your thoughts interesting. I’m always glad to see discussions of where people are donating.

In general, it kind of seems like the "point" of the lottery is to do something other than allocate to a capital allocator. The lottery is "meant" to minimise work on selecting a charity to give to, but if you're happy to give that work to another allocator I feel like it makes less sense?

With that in mind, I have a couple of thoughts for things you might consider:

  • Lottery again! You could sponsor CEA to do a $1m lottery. If you thought it
... (read more)

In general, it kind of seems like the "point" of the lottery is to do something other than allocate to a capital allocator.

If you enter a donor lottery your expected donation amount is the same as if you didn't enter the lottery. If you win the lottery, it will be worth the time to think more carefully about where to allocate the money than if you had never entered, as you're giving away a much larger amount. Because extra time thinking is more likely to lead to better (rather than worse) decisions, this leads to more (expected) impact overall, even though... (read more)

In general, it kind of seems like the "point" of the lottery is to do something other than allocate to a capital allocator. The lottery is "meant" to minimise work on selecting a charity to give to, but if you're happy to give that work to another allocator I feel like it makes less sense?

When I entered the lottery, I hadn't given much thought to what I'd do if I won—I was convinced by the argument that giving to the lottery dominated giving to the LTFF (for example), since if I won the lottery I could just decide to give the money to the LTFF. I think... (read more)

EA Superpower?! 😋

There is a fantastic short story about an EA superman. Quite indulgent but I highly recommend: 

There were two words that Superman lived by, and they were “pay me”.

His time was auctioned off in blocks of five minutes. He didn’t need to sleep, so he stopped sleeping, which meant that there were 288 blocks of his time available per day, with ten blocks set aside for administration. It was rare that any of these blocks went for less than a million dollars, which meant that after his first full year in operation as Superman, he made over a hundred billion

... (read more)
Where are you donating in 2020 and why?

Thanks for reading!

I meant investing for a shortish period of time, and retaining control of the funds until I donate. So it would mostly be about deferring the decision for a bit while still getting tax benefits, as opposed to delegating the decision to the trustees of the Long-Term Fund. 

I  lean towards giving sooner instead of later for "hinginess" reasons. I also think the vast majority of EA resources are already invested in some sense (in human capital, expansion orientated organisations or  Open Philanthropy finances). 

I do think your fund is a good idea though, I can imagine changing my mind and there are certainly plenty of people who disagree with me!

How You Can Counterfactually Send Millions of Dollars to EA Charities

I broadly agree that cash management could be improved at many charities, so thanks for this post!

The interest rate for the fiscal year should probably be based on the best available bank account rate. I think that is considerably less than your given interest rates, for example in the UK the best business savings account I could find offered about 0.9%.

3Brendon_Wong9moThat’s a good point! While UK and US interest rates do differ, the interest rates are much lower now because of the COVID-19 economic situation. We used the latest Form 990 data from 2018 and 2019 and the associated interest rates from those years to calculate the prior-year opportunity costs as accurately as possible, which is a separate calculation than estimating the forward-looking counterfactual impact. We chose the federal funds rate because there’s a lot more granular and historical data on it and it’s one of the most conservative rates possible. There’s a link in my article explaining its association with savings account yields. If you look at my EA Forum post from 2019 I was referencing savings account rates of 2.4% which was the same or higher than the federal funds rate at the time. In my talk earlier this year I listed savings account yields at banks that were around 1% even as the federal funds rate was plummeting to 0%. That’s why I used a more conservative 1% interest rate in my five-year opportunity cost calculation for GiveWell (estimated at $4 million), which aligns with the lower UK interest rate of 0.9% you mentioned.
Where are you donating in 2020 and why?

I wrote about my donation decisions this year on my blog. I'm hoping to ramp up my giving over the next four years so I've decided to be more public about my thoughts.

TL;DR: I’m giving away £35k this year. £3.5k to SCI and the remainder to the Long Term Future Fund

4SjirH9moHi George, thanks for sharing this! You wrote in your blog that you were considering investing your money, but that this was difficult in the UK. If you are referring to investing to give [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/wdeDDEr6qtpac2m6d/investing-to-give-fp-research-report] rather than just postponing for a year, FYI we'll likely have a Long-Term Investment Fund [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/8vfadjWWMDaZsqghq/long-term-investment-fund-at-founders-pledge] at Founders Pledge by the end of next year, which we might open up to the public and will likely be accessible from the UK. Do let me know if this would interest you, as knowing there is non-member interest might inform our decisions around opening it up.
3MichaelA9moThanks for writing about your 2020 donations and future donation plans, and for sharing a link here! I found the linked post interesting. Really cool to hear you'll be ramping up your giving even further in the coming years, and putting (even) more time into finding and deciding on donation opportunities.
Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!

What would you like to fund, but can't because of organisational constraints? (e.g. investing in private companies is IIRC forbidden for charities).

2Jonas Vollmer10moIf a private company applied for funding to the LTFF and they checked the "forward to other funders" checkbox in their application, I'd refer them to private donors who can directly invest in private companies (and have done so once in the past, though they weren't funded).
5AdamGleave10moIt's actually pretty rare that we've not been able to fund something; I don't think this has come up at all while I've been on the fund (2 rounds), and I can only think of a handful of cases before. It helps that the fund knows some other private donors we can refer grants to (with applicants permission), so in the rare cases something is out of scope, we can often still get it funded. Of course, people who know we can't fund them because of the fund's scope may choose not to apply, so the true proportion of opportunities we're missing may be higher. A big class of things the LTFF can't fund is political campaigns. I think that might be high-impact in some high-stakes elections, though I've not donated to campaigns myself, and I'm generally pretty nervous of anything that could make long-termism perceived as a partisan issue (which it obviously is not). I don't think we'd often want to invest in private companies. As discussed elsewhere in this thread, we tend to find grants to individuals better than to orgs. Moreover, one of the attractive points of investing in a private company is that you may get a return on your investment. But I think the altruistic return on our current grants is pretty high, so I wouldn't want to lock up capital. If we had 10-100x more money to distribute and so had to invest some of it to grant out later, then investing some proportion of it in companies where there's an altruistic upside might make more sense.
Where are you donating in 2020 and why?

I have a cryonics contract with Alcor, and I pay annual dues to them. Most of this is counted as charitable giving.

Can you say a little bit more about this? I tend not to think of cryonics as charitable.

1MaxRa10moHaven't read into it, but this LessWrong essay contest [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Q7PFyobNPwqBsma9g/effective-altruism-and-cryonics-contest-results] was about the relationship between EA and cryonics. I also have the gut feeling that I'd not view a cryonics contract for myself as following my altruistic ideal for helping others, as it would have strong benefits for myself. Maybe one might want to tell Alcor to randomly choose a new customer and pay the contract for them. If I wouldn't be so excited about cryonics anymore, then probably my excitement came from something else than altruistic impact.
Tax Havens and the case for Tax Justice

There seems to be something wrong with your footnotes formatting. They all direct me to create a new post on the EA forum, as opposed to linking to the bottom of the page. E.g. `https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/newPost#sdendnote3sym`

1--alex--1yYes, sorry, I messed them up.

Interesting angle that I hadn't considered before!

Presumably this reasoning would change the calculus for a lot of other actions one could take as well? E.g. various types of global development spending that pay off in the future (e.g. deworming) would become worse relative to spending that pays off soon (e.g. bednets).

Rather than a mere 14 QALYs, kidney donation produces hundreds if not thousands of expected QALYs.

I feel that this may be too strong a claim. In the very long run, I would expect the population to rise to whatever the carrying capacity ... (read more)

Lunar Colony

The same goes for bunkers

For what it's worth, Nick did a shallow investigation of bunker building and found it was likely not very effective (not that this necessarily argues against general efforts to increase civilisation's robustness).

1RyanCarey5yYep, the robustness thing is picked up by Jebari [http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11948-014-9559-3] while some GCRI folks give their own remarks in "Isolated refuges for surviving global catastrophes"
Donor lotteries: demonstration and FAQ

How do you view this interacting with considerations of giving now vs later? An alternate plan would be invest my donations for e.g. 10 years, then those plus interest would be enough to make me a largeish donor for that year - presumably with lower transaction and coordination costs.

3CarlShulman5yIf there are relevant economies of scale then they would be worth capturing in whatever period you are donating. Restriction to reaching the desired scale through investment returns by the desired time periods would rule things out for most small donors and belief sets where it matters, so I think measures like donor lotteries or derivatives would still add value if one expects increasing returns. Donating every few years from one's DAF in larger increments makes sense to me, but on a 10 year time scale you could miss out on the expiration of low-hanging fruit as funding in relevant causes becomes more crowded.,
Should effective altruism have a norm against donating to employers?

Does that include National Insurance? As you can't claim back NI from Gift Aid, but you never pay it if you forego salary, the saving looks like it would be 12% on employee NI and 13.8% on employer NI (if I'm interpreting the taxes properly).

(source: https://www.gov.uk/national-insurance-rates-letters/contribution-rates)

4Owen_Cotton-Barratt5yWow, thanks. It was supposed to represent National Insurance, but it was based on a remembered figure. I think I must have worked out an average rate and assumed it was marginal at some point; perhaps this was also just on employee contributions. Anyhow, I think that makes it 22.5% lost to taxes (so +29% on your donation) if you're a basic rate taxpayer, and 13% lost (+15% on donation) if you're a higher rate taxpayer. Adding another mark in the "Look factual information up even when you think you know the answer" ledger.
How to leave money to charity in your will: a simple guide

Thanks Tom, nothing much to add!

The Trust can donate to anything we can justify as "relieving poverty, anywhere in the world". However, people should email me to find out whether we're willing to give to any particular charity.

Note that our charitable objects do come into conflict with donor wishes sometimes, for example we currently don't give donations unrestricted to fund Givewell's operations - as some donors have requested - as Givewell has many projects unrelated to poverty reduction.

How to leave money to charity in your will: a simple guide

I'll do a post here on the Trust at some point so that it gets a bit more visibility and we can be transparent to current donors. I think it's underutilised at the moment with regard to wills but also to leaving money to poverty related causes in the long term (if you think you should give later as opposed to now).

One month in - it's time for more introductions

I'm George - I work for CEA as their finance manager. In the future I plan to either work directly for EA orgs or go into software. I play an unhealthy amount of board games.

Open Thread 2

I think old people just have more resources than young people, so they give less as a proportion of their resources.

Alternatively, you might think old people have had a lot of time to develop commitments to various causes, and so feel obligated to give more.

2Kaj_Sotala7yBack when I was involved with party politics, I heard someone mention that pensioners with basically unlimited free time were a really major asset for the campaigns of the older and more established parties.
How a lazy eater went vegan

I think this kind of argument is interesting and important, but often rarely talked about.

I would be interested if you or anyone else were to make a top level post on this issue, to elaborate on your points and allow broader discussion. Failing that, does anyone have any links or book recommendations that argue things similar to this?

Open Thread

Have there been movements broadly like EA before? What happened to them? More generally, why have these ideas become so popular now as opposed to a few decades ago?

3Evan_Gaensbauer7yI believe the advent of the Internet has allowed scholars into abstract ideas like effective altruism (and associated communities, and cause areas) to coordinate their advocacy, and research, better than ever before. As they find one another, they build a unified and solid front which draws more attention to itself than any lone researcher or advocate could. From there, and for the last few years, the attention snowballs to form a concerned community. Larger, more frequent discussions with more publicity, and better information, accelerate the generation of new ideas. This recursively happened until a movement formed. Again, this is enabled by the Internet, especially in the last decade, what with Wikipedia, and better search engines, which allow individuals with unconventional ideas to discover others who share similar ideas like never before.

Thanks for making this Ryan, I love it already!