ESG investing isn’t high-impact, but it could be

Those interested in this path might enjoy interviews with Lauren Taylor Wolfe — and reading about the work of Québec's pension plan, John Kerry and Mark Gallogly, and Mark Carney to drive more effective ESG investing and governance norms.

AMA: Ian David Moss, strategy consultant to foundations and other institutions

If you were advising someone five years behind you, but on a somewhat similar track (a MBA type leaving a  senior role at a mission-driven organization to become an independent consultant), what would your top pieces of advice be re: 

  • transitioning into consulting from a more-stable organization 
  • structuring outreach to and refining proposals with prospective clients
  • (and) managing the peaks and valleys of client work?

Thank you!

Possible gaps in the EA community

Thank you for sharing! I hadn't looked deeply into RISC's work before — and very helpful to know about Levitt's ties to Schmidt Futures.

Thoughts on Personal Finance for Effective Altruists

I should have known that at the price of a small premium I could have insured myself against a lot of negative and annoying things in life. Most people have insurance for their health care, liability insurance, and insurance for their car. But you can basically ensure yourself against everything such as the inability to work or your belongings. So to prevent the hassle of bad events and time wasted dealing with them, I plan to insure myself for more negative outcomes in the future.

I also tend to invest more rather than less in insurance. This includes legal insurance, etc. Exceptions include travel insurance, supplemental life insurance, and cell phone insurance — where the hassle of submitting an Asurion claim, combined with the deductible, left me more willing to bear future full replacement costs. Until recently I also had an unwise habit of choosing PPO rather than more-minimalist HDHP health insurance plans. I switched when I better understood how U.S. tax laws make the HDHP/HSA combination attractive for relatively healthy people in their 20s and 30s.

That said, I do think this EA-leaning personal finance writer is onto something with his minimalist approach to insurance. Even if I'm far from his school of thought in personal practice, as he wrote in 2011's Insurance: A Tax on People  Who Are Bad At Math?, self-insuring in many categories beyond travel, life, etc., likely makes sense for more people than currently practice self-insuring:

Get almost [no insurance]. Especially if you already have a healthy stash of savings built up and could thus afford any unexpected expenses...

Then for the insurance lines that you are keeping, do a nice afternoon of shopping around – I did this last January and sliced about $300 per year off of my remaining home and car insurance...

Then put all the savings from these premiums into growing your nest egg, realizing that you are now getting paid to be your own insurance company.

It sounds risky if you let the fear creep in. But it should actually feel deeply satisfying and safe. By not buying into a product where the odds are stacked against you, you are STATISTICALLY likely to win. We can’t predict the future, but we do have one tool that lets us turn the unknown to our advantage, and that is statistics....

Over the past 10 years, I’ve saved about $40,000 in insurance premiums compared to the average level of spending, and now that $40K is sitting alongside my other employees, producing $2,800 of passive income each year, and already more than big enough to cover replacing a crashed car or paying any possible deductibles on medical bills.

And after 10 years of relatively exciting living, I haven’t even had to dip into it once. Now I see why insurance companies make so much money!

Personal preference is important here as I'd rather forego other "luxuries" to overpay a few hundred dollars a year for certain categories of peace of mind, but I've appreciated learning the minimalist perspective and adopting small parts of it in recent years. 

Thanks for a thoughtful post!

Possible gaps in the EA community

Agreed. The University of Chicago — with its Becker Friedman Institute, Center for Decision Research,  broad EA community, and generous economics funders — could be a promising option

Money Can't (Easily) Buy Talent

You might not have to identify them in advance, rather than 10+ years into their post-doctoral career. Googling "mid-career grant history" leads to a few links like these — where charitable or governmental foundations provide support to experienced scholars. 

The American Historical Association promoted the same grant here. One could imagine a similar grant (perhaps hosted at FHI, Princeton, or another EA-experienced university [or at Rethink Priorities]) where "architectural history," "preservation-related," and other italicized words below are replaced with EA-aligned project parameters that FHI and its donors would hope to support.

FITCH MID-CAREER FELLOWSHIP: Research grants of up to $15,000 will be awarded to one or more mid-career professionals with academic backgrounds, professional experience, and an established identity in one or more of the following fields... [truncated] architectural history and the decorative arts. The James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation will consider proposals for the research and/or the execution of the preservation-related projects in any of these fields.

One could also structure fewer grants at a higher price point than $15K (say, $50K) to fund more ambitious projects that may absorb 6-9 months of a scholar's time — rather than 2-3 months. As star scholars are identified, their funding could be renewed for multiple years. (Open Phil has certainly followed that model for rising stars and their high-potential projects. See their extension of Jade's grant funding here.)

My Career Decision-Making Process

Regarding this valuable excerpt:

  1. Working part-time might be more profitable than one might intuitively think. This is due to two factors: the first is that, at least in Israel, the income tax is progressive, making the marginal earning smaller; the second is that in some circumstances a freelancer or a consultant can earn even more per hour than a full-time employee.

Others thinking about this very sensible path of "part-time EtG" might scan a book like this one. The author (a long-term independent consultant who also helps part- and full-time expert contractors set up their practices) validates your approach from a slightly different angle. In a section that reads Make Certain You Charge Enough,  Katcher writes that many new consultants think it is better to have a low-paying client than no client at all, which he describes as a "mistaken belief." He  advocates for protecting a consultant's personal time and perceived value in the marketplace.

Potential part-time EtG practitioners might think about the demand for their time as a labor supply-demand curve in miniature. Given consulting clients 1, 2, and 3 below, someone looking at EtG might decline to serve client 3 in order to free up those 15 hours of workday support a week for self-study, formal study, or other rewarding independent projects (exercise, cooking, writing, etc.): 

  1. Client that requires ~15 hours a week of support and is willing to pay $150 (or €150/£150/etc.) an hour, with limited career capital benefits for the consultant
  2. Client that requires ~10 hours a week of support and is willing to pay $75 (or €75/£75/etc. ) an hour, with significant career capital benefits for the consultant
  3. Client that requires ~15 hours a week of support and is willing to pay $75 (or €75/£75/etc. ) an hour, with limited career capital benefits for the consultant

Declining client 3 can also provide the part-time EtG contractor more workday time to identify and pitch to prospective clients who are even more profitable or desirable from a career capital perspective than clients 1 and 2. (Of course, individuals might want to mentally reorder those in terms of price points, hours, etc., if helpful to think ex ante about the shadow price of one's time and what categories of career capital one might value.) Thanks for this thoughtful write-up, and best wishes for your new PhD studies and set of projects!

Money Can't (Easily) Buy Talent

Agreed. I appreciate this post and responses alike, but think there are many examples of:

  • Brilliant mathematics/CS graduates who might earn $1M+ in finance, but of which there is an undersupply in direct work
  • Brilliant PhDs in history or other fields whose private-sector alternatives are rarely >$90K/year, and of which there is also an undersupply in direct work

I expect there are several cases a year where the world would be better off if an individual in category 1 would EtG and fund direct work of 5-10 individuals in category 2, than if the individual in bullet 1 were to choose direct work instead. Not that those in category 1 should mostly EtG rather than do direct work, but I'd be more bullish on the EtG path in some cases than Mark is given the huge labor supply in category 2. 

A sad example of the glut of brilliant history PhDs is the challenging labor market and career that Thea Hunter confronted, despite her extraordinary reputation/abilities according to Foner and others. Her painful trajectory is a sign that there is real slack in the "brilliant historian" market. I expect some rising star historians could be induced to work on EA-relevant problems via grants from those whose academic backgrounds offer greater potential to EtG than history or political science PhDs do.

“She had this ability to be extemporaneous and brilliant,” he said. Eric Foner, a renowned American historian and Thea’s adviser, noticed this too...

Her work provided a new way of thinking about America’s past. And she had an ambition: to use an Atlantic understanding of history, of liberty, of freedom, to better grasp the present. It’s one thing to call for a new perspective on history, Foner says; it’s a completely different thing to be one of the “pioneering young scholars” to develop it.

Hilary Greaves: The collectivist critique of the EA movement

Thank you for cross-posting. Very valuable to have at hand, especially to share with people new to EA who may gravitate toward the strawman argument.

What are some good online courses relevant to EA?

Per Michael's suggestion here, here are links to several free and reputable:

For those interested in more-generic professional skills along with EA content/skills courses.

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