All of Jakob_J's Comments + Replies

EA is a Career Endpoint

Don't try to wake up and save the world. Don't be bycatch. Take 15 years and become a domain expert. Take a career and become a macrostrategy expert. Mentor. Run small and non-EA projects. Circle back to EA periodically with your newfound skills and see what a difference you can make then. There is absolutely no way we can have a longtermist movement if we can't be longtermist about our own lives and careers. But if we can, then we can.


Many social movements I have been a part of (political, sports, religious etc.) have a sort of "more is more" aspect to th... (read more)

Should you do a PhD in science?

PhDs get a lot of negative hype these days, so much that I wonder if it is potentially underrated it as a viable career step. I am just coming out of a PhD programme in the UK, and while I didn't always enjoy my topic nor want to continue research in my field, I still think it is overall a positive experience. It is important to realize that most people starting PhDs are well aware of the low chances of becoming a professor, but luckily there are still many good career options outside academia (however I do think all the negative hype around academic caree... (read more)

Jakob_J's Shortform

Thanks for sharing your perspective! It seems like having a family in major metropolitan areas are especially challenging due to the much higher housing cost. I am wondering if you have any examples of the types of jobs you think would be difficult to afford raising a family in London (alternatively, what salary)? For example, it seems that a civil servant could earn £40,000 per year after a few years of experience, and I suspect other sectors where EAs would want to work might pay a similar amount (academia, NGOs etc).

Regarding having lots of time, it is ... (read more)

3Denise_Melchin10moI was thinking of a salary in the mid £40k range when I said that I feel like I need a higher salary to be able to afford living in London with children as it is my salary as a civil servant. :-) That is significantly above median and average UK salary. And still ~20% above median London salary, though I struggled to quickly find numbers for average London salary. I think if you have two people earning £40k+ each having kids in London is pretty doable even if both are GWWC pledgers. I think I'd feel uncomfortable if both parents brought in less than £30k, though it would be fine in different areas of the UK. Only few people in the UK can earn above £80k. Most people have kids anyway. I personally wouldn't think the trade-off you are suggesting is worth it on selfish/child benefiting grounds alone (ignoring EtG potential). But different parents want to make different trade-offs for their children, they value different things. If you are surrounded by people who think £80k salaries are a necessity to raise children, maybe you would find it helpful to surround yourself more with many different kinds of families of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Their kids can be happy too :-)
Jakob_J's Shortform

How much money is required to raise a family?

A big part of many peoples motivation for earning a high income seems to be the perception that it is a necessity in order to raise a family. Many EA-aligned jobs are in the public or NGO sector and are less paid than what people could earn in the private sector, and since close to 80% people have children, this could be big factor for people to give up on an EA-aligned career. 

I am wondering whether this reasoning is valid, and where the extra cost for children comes from. In most western countries, there ... (read more)

5Larks10moChildcare is a very big cost - if you think that you are trying to spend a portion of your income on childcare, but for the worker this is their entire income, and the number of children one person can look after is limited (both by practicalities and also regulation), you can see why it tends to be expensive. I would however keep in mind that most people who work in the public or NGO sector do manage to raise families though!
3Denise_Melchin10moThis depends on where you live. But for Europe and the US, usually the biggest expense factors are housing (bigger place required, particularly in the long term) and childcare (both in terms of paid childcare for young children as well as lost wages). In some countries, childcare is subsidized however, sometimes heavily so, reducing the costs. If just having lots of time was most important for being "successful" in raising a family, it would still cost a lot of money - it is time you cannot spend working. When I lived in Germany with heavily subsidized childcare, I never felt like I needed to earn a lot of money to have children. Living in the UK now, particularly in London, with very little subsidized childcare, I feel more forced to have a higher earning job. Julia has written about her experience here [https://thewholesky.wordpress.com/2018/12/27/how-much-do-kids-cost-the-first-5-years/] .
What is going on in the world?
  • Most human effort is being wasted on endeavors with no abiding value.
  • Nothing we do matters for any of several reasons (moral non-realism, infinite ethics, living in a simulation, being a Boltzmann brain, ..?)

 

Things certainly feel very doom & gloom right now, but I still think there is scope for optimism in the current moment. If I had been asked in February last year what the best and worst outcomes would have been of the pandemic a year later, I would probably have guessed a whole lot worse than what turned out to be the case. I also don't think... (read more)

Tommy Raskin: In Memoriam

This terrible news. I also did not know Tommy, but my heart really goes out to his friends and family. Reading the statement I was touched by his strength of character - he appears to have been extremely gifted, loving and humble and with a genuine interest in helping others and the world. We can all surely find great inspiration in the exemplary  life Tommy led.

This is also a stark reminder that no matter how outwardly successful or happy we might appear, we all carry our share of troubles and negative feelings; doubting ourselves and our worthiness,... (read more)

The Folly of "EAs Should"

Yes, I agree that when we are trying to maximise the amount of good we do with limited resources, these local charities are not likely to be a good target for donations. However, as you mention, EA is different from utilitarianism because we don't believe everyone should use all or most of their resources to do as much good as possible. 

So when we spend money on ourselves or others for reasons other than trying to maximise the good this might also include donations to local causes. It seems inconsistent to say that we can spend money on whatever we wa... (read more)

Yes, I think this point is both important and underrated - we need to stop saying "don't donate to your local theatre" or "don't be a doctor" because actually those are very alienating statements that turn out to be bad advice a lot of the time

The Folly of "EAs Should"

"Most supporters of EA don't tell people not to go out to nice restaurants and get gourmet food for themselves, or not to go the the opera, or not to support local organizations they are involved with or wish to support, including the arts."

Thanks, I agree with this statement! However, in Halsteads comment it said

"I just think it is true that EAs shouldn't donate to their local opera house, pet sanctuary, homeless shelter or to their private school, and that is what makes EA distinctive."

I think it would be good to be clearer in our communication and say t... (read more)

6Davidmanheim1yI made a similar claim here, regarding carbon offsets: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/brTXG5pS3JgTatP7i/carbon-offsets-as-an-non-altruistic-expense
5Harrison D1yI think it’s helpful to just put aside the “EA Budget” thread for a moment; I think what Halstead was trying to get at is the idea/argument “If you are trying to maximize the amount of good you do (e.g., from a utilitarian perspective), that will (almost) never involve (substantive) donations to your local opera house, pet shelter, ...” I think this is a pretty defensible claim. The thing is, nobody is a perfect utilitarian; trying to actually maximize good is very demanding, so a lot of people do it within limits. This might relate to the concept of leisure, stress relief, personal enjoyment, etc. which is a complicated subject: perhaps someone could make an argument that having a few local/ineffective donations like you describe is optimal in the long term because it makes you happier with your lifestyle and thus more likely to continue focusing on EA causes... etc. But “the EA (utilitarian) choice” would very rarely actually be to donate to the local opera house, etc.
The Folly of "EAs Should"

"I just think it is true that EAs shouldn't donate to their local opera house, pet sanctuary, homeless shelter or to their private school"

This is a very minor point, but I don't quite understand what EA has against cultural establishments like opera houses and museums. Of course, counting the number of lives saved one shouldn't donate to museums, but that kind of misses the point that these institutions might be offering free or discounted tickets in exchange for charitable donations. If they switched over to everyone paying a full price they would probably still get a similar revenue, but it would be an objectively worse situation since fewer people would get the chance to visit.

7Mauricio1yHi, thanks for your comment! Good points--many cultural establishments are valuable in ways that calculations of lives saved miss, and the part of the situation you describe would be worse if people don't donate to museums. I'm still worried by this: if we don't (for example) donate to the purchase of bednets that protect people from malaria, then more kids will die of preventable diseases, which would also be a worse situation. So I'm not sure I understand where you're coming from here--it seems to me that any good cause we don't donate to will be worse off if we don't donate to it, so noticing this about some cause won't go far in helping us find the best opportunities to help others.

If you're pledging 10% of your income to EA causes, none of that money should go the local opera house or your kid's private school. (And if you instead pledge 50%, or 5%, the same is true of the other 50%, or 95%.)

What you do with the remainder of your money is a separate question - and it has moral implications, but that's a different discussion. I've said this elsewhere, but think it's worth repeating:
Most supporters of EA don't tell people not to go out to nice restaurants and get gourmet food for themselves, or not to go the the opera, or not to suppo... (read more)

Careers Questions Open Thread

I think lots of people can relate to this sentiment! 

I could recommend having a look at Escape the City which provides a list of career opportunities for mid-career professionals wanting more social impact in their work: https://www.escapethecity.org/

If you are interested in short or long term volunteering with your tech skills, I can recommend a number of organisations that provide ample opportunities for this in the UK:

https://techforuk.com/
"Tech For UK aims to enable people to transform British democracy through technology and digital media that im... (read more)

AMA: Jason Crawford, The Roots of Progress

I would also highlight the contribution towards creating an educational platform that extends beyond the immediate participants in the course. I believe most of the talks are available on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCR4WNZP7Uxfe4F1XNugu5_g

A great resource!

My mistakes on the path to impact

I actually think the principles of deference to expertise and avoiding accidental harm are in principle good and we should continue using them. However, in EA the barrier to being seen as an expert is very low - often its enough to have written a blog or forum post on something, having invested less than 100 hours in total. For me an expert is someone who has spent the better part of his or her career working in a field, for example climate policy. While I think the former is still useful to give an introduction to a field, the latter form of expertise has been somewhat undervalued in EA.

4Stefan_Schubert1yI guess it depends on what topics you're referring to, but regarding many topics, the bar for being seen as an expert within EA seems substantially higher than 100 hours.
My mistakes on the path to impact

Hi Michael, thanks for your reply!

I agree with everything you are saying, and I did not mean to imply that people should not consider working at explicit EA organisations. Indeed, I would also be interested at working at one of them at some point!

The point I wanted to make is that the goal of "getting a job at an EA organisation" in itself is a near-term career goal, since it does not answer many of the questions choosing a career entails, many of which have been highlighted in the post above as well as by 80,000 hours. I am thinking of questions like:

How ... (read more)

My mistakes on the path to impact

Thanks for writing and sharing your insights! I think the whole EA community would be a lot healthier if people had a much more limited view of EA, striving to take jobs that have positive impact in the long  run, rather than focussing so much on the much shorter-term goal of taking jobs in high-profile EA organisations, at great personal expense.

I share the view that a lot of EAs probably focus much too much on getting roles at explicitly EA organisations, implicitly interpret "direct work" as "work at an explicitly EA orgs", should broaden the set of roles and orgs they consider or apply for, etc. And obviously there are many roles outside of explicitly EA orgs where one can have a big positive impact. I think highlighting this is valuable, as this post and various other posts over the last couple years have, as 80,000 Hours tries to do, and as this comment does.

That said, I disagree with part of... (read more)

AaronBoddy's Shortform

I agree with most of the benefits, but think that the "employees may freely choose to leave" part may be somewhat contentious. People need money to survive, and one argument that is often brought forward is that Amazon has driven a lot of smaller businesses out of the market, so that employees may not have that many choices of where to work any more.

Can my self-worth compare to my instrumental value?

Great post! I've also experienced similar things during my time with EA. I think there are several ways to approach the issue of self-worth:

  1. Its important to realize that EA is not the same as utilitarianism and therefore does not suffer from the problem of demandingness (this is also discussed in the latest 80K podcast with Benjamin Todd). EA does not prescribe how much of resources we should share, only that the ones we do share should be distributed in an effective way.
  2. Unfortunately there is a tendency in EA to undervalue "small" contributions (i.e. t
... (read more)
3C Tilli1yI think I mostly agree with this, and I'd also like to clarify that I don't think this problem originates from EA or from my contact with EA. It is not that I feel that "EA" demands too much of me, rather that when I focus a lot on impact potential it becomes (even more) difficult to separate self-worth from performance. Different versions of contingent self-worth (contingent self-esteem, performance-contingent self-esteem - there are a lot of similar concepts and I am not completely sure about which terms to use, but basically the concept that how much we like and value ourselves is connected strongly to our ability to perform) seem to be a problem for a lot of people outside of EA, that also relates to the risk for burn-out. My thinking is that there are people with this issue in EA, possibly more than in the general population, and that even though it does not come from EA philosophy there is some relation between these types of self-worth issues and a focus on instrumental value. I'm not arguing that this is "right" or useful, I think it'd be a lot better if we could all have a strong and stable sense of non-contingent self-worth.
Jakob_J's Shortform

Are emergencies different from non-emergencies? A new paper ( https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11098-020-01566-0 ) argues that the obligation of saving a drowning child is different from the obligation of donating to effective charities in order to save a life. They claim that in emergencies where we can directly intervene to save a life, we are obliged as participants in an informal insurance scheme in society to intervene even at great cost to ourselves. Through this model they aim to explain the "common sense" moral intuition that it... (read more)

We should choose between moral theories based on the scale of the problem

I would say that depends slightly on the circumstances. If for example you are a single parent and need $100 to spend on medicines for your children (even if it is for a non life-threatening condition), I would say that you need to fulfill that obligation before you should consider donating to AMF.

We should choose between moral theories based on the scale of the problem

Thanks Darius! I agree that this is probably one of the strongest arguments against my model; what I gather from your reply is that we don't need other moral theories since everything can already be explained by utilitarianism.

I agree with you that some sort of a consequentalist moral theory probably underpins the other moral theories (why should we be virtuous if it didn't have a good consequences?). However - I think this is not giving enough credit to those theories, since if their moral prescriptions are correct according to utilitarianism, ... (read more)

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We should choose between moral theories based on the scale of the problem

Thanks! I have only recently started thinking about it in terms of scale so I am mainly basing it on my own intuitions (I am also not a philosopher, so not sure if I would be able to formalize the arguments). However, if I were to try to make a prescriptive version I would probably start by saying that we have obligations to each other (i.e. like parents have obligations to their children), and at each "scale" or population size, some of these obligations cancel out (a state doesn't have obligations to a particular child but to its children in general). At the largest scale, the only obligation left is to preserve life itself, which is why utilitarianism works so well here.

2EdoArad2yOk, that's a good start. Let me challenge your view a bit. In this framework, how do you choose whether to invest 100$ in your family, or donating them to AMF?
2lbbhecht2yI agree with your observation about scale. It's interesting to think about where the idea of parents having obligations to their children - or of individuals having a special obligation to their community members/fellow citizens - comes from. I think these might come partially from a notion of neglectedness. My child is not more important, morally, than any other, but I can assume most other children already have parents looking out for them, so my child is counterfactually the most neglected cause (and the most tractable cause among children I could care for).
How to Make Billions of Dollars Reducing Loneliness

Nice post. Your friend wrote that

"Lately, I've been having an alarming amount of conversations arise about the burdens of loneliness, alienation, rootlessness, and a lack of belonging that many of my peers feel, especially in the Bay Area",

which made me wonder if there are geographical areas or cities in the western world that have a particularly high level of connection and community? Maybe those cities could be studied and promising cultural characteristics be spread to other cities and communities?


6Jemma2yAlthough I can't comment on the sense of community felt by the local residents, I observed and to some extent experienced this in Spain. I'd say the key was the combination of high urban density and availability of shared spaces. Another factor could be the low price of eating/drinking outside the home - - I'd say this facilitates socializing since it's easier to say "Let's meet at X at 9pm [Spanish people have dinner very late!]" rather than having to prepare your house to host guests. There's a joke that you only go into a Spanish person's flat for a wake (which is an exaggeration, but somewhat based on truth). Someone also mentioned to me that it is culturally more normal in Europe for people to socialize after work, likely due to some of the factors I mentioned. Cal Newport recently implied that this may have been the case in other countries pre-television. It's also socially acceptable to take children to most events, even late into the evening. Unfortunately, these aren't really cultural characteristics, as I'd say it's fundamentally based in the high urban density.
What books or bodies of work, not about EA or EA cause areas, might be beneficial to EAs?

Thanks for posting! I have an analytic background and have therefore found it particularly useful to shore up on "soft skills" from books like:

Working with emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman

Daring greatly, Brené Brown

The wilderness, Brené Brown

I also read articles and listen to podcasts from Harvard Business Review on emotional intelligence, leadership, and management.

Why we should be less productive.

Thanks for your comments Aaron and Lukas. From my own experience, I have definitely encountered more people with an always-working mentality within EA than outside it. Anectodally, almost all the people (~ 10) I have met who seriously consider meal replacements as adequate alternatives to home cooked food have been EAs. This might be an inverse causal effect (ambitious people might like the EA concept more than others), but it is still problematic if people feel the need to constantly optimize themselves and work harder due to the social pressure within EA.

1Liam_Donovan3y-
9anonymous_ea3yIn my experience (which could be different from yours), meal replacements are less about productivity than things like whether you like eating food, enjoy cooking food, have time to cook food, don't want to eat food you don't like, etc. In other words, it's more about valuing food or the process of cooking it less, rather than necessarily valuing productivity more.
Why we should be less productive.

Thanks for your comment, and I think you are correct on the mechanism of action. I have noticed that my own productivity has gone up since I started giving myself more unproductive time every day, as I am more able to focus and feel less distracted by thoughts. But it only works when I allow the unproductive time to be truly for myself, and not spent thinking about how this will make me more productive.

Why we should be less productive.

I think productivity is highly emphasized both within EA and within the wider society, especially in the context of work and studies. There is not nearly the same amount of emphasis placed on unproductive downtime and its value for our mental and physical well-being. I think that if most of our productive "output" comes over a long-term career, we need to value our own time more.

Another way of thinking about it is that being highly productive is not in itself a virtue, a bit like driving 150 km/h on the highway in a random direction doesn't ... (read more)

After one year of applying for EA jobs: It is really, really hard to get hired by an EA organisation

Thanks for sharing, and thanks to everyone for adding their own perspectives to this discussion. I would like to offer my view, which is informed by having gone through difficult periods myself.

I think its a mistake to get too involved with the view that getting a job in an EA org is the only way to make a difference in the world, or indeed to ourselves. In order to stay healthy I think we need to realize that there are other things that matter in the world than EA, such as our relations and our wellbeing. If we get too emotionally attached to the idea of ... (read more)

8katyt3yAgree about the importance of looking after yourself. I get the feeling that it's especially important to talk about mental health in the EA community. And not because it's a promising area for effective altruism :), but because I think EAs are probably more vulnerable than average to mental health problems, like anxiety. Not only in the job hunting area, but I think it goes along with the whole concept of EA. If your main aim in life is to do the most good you can in the world, and you are extremely rigorous about making sure you're living up to that, you're opening yourself up to a lot of potential self-judgement. My view at the moment is that I want to strike a balance between focusing on others (e.g. through effective altruism) and focusing on myself (e.g. through mindfulness / meditation / exercise / chilling out) and my immediate environment / relationships (e.g. through socialising ;) ). Agree about the added benefit too.