Jason Schukraft

I'm a research fellow on Open Philanthropy's cause prioritization team. Prior to that I was a senior research manager at Rethink Priorities. And prior to that I earned a PhD in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin.


Moral Weight Series
Invertebrate Sentience

Topic Contributions


How should Effective Altruists think about Leftist Ethics?

I think part of my confusion stems from the distinction between "X is a concern we're noting" and "X is a parameter in the cost-effectiveness model"

The distinction is largely pragmatic. Charter cities, like many complex interventions, are hard to model quantitatively. For the report, we replicated, adjusted, and extended a quantitative model that Charter Cities Institute originally proposed. If that's your primary theory of change for charter cities, it seems like the numbers don't quite work out. But there are many other possible theories of change, and we would love to see charter city advocates spend some time turning those theories of change into quantitative models.

I think PR risks are relevant to most theories of change that involve charter cities, but they are certainly not my main concern.

How should Effective Altruists think about Leftist Ethics?

One of the authors of the charter cities report here. I'll just add a few remarks to clarify how we intended the quoted passage. I'll highlight three disagreements with the interpretation offered in the original post.

We should care if neocolonialism is real, if it's bad, and if it's induced by Charter Cities. If so, that should impact the cost-effectiveness estimate, not just factor in as a side-comment about PR-risk.

(1) We absolutely care whether neocolonialism is bad (or, if neocolonialism is inherently bad, we care about whether charter cities would instantiate neocolonialism). However, we only had ~100 research hours to devote to this topic, so we bracketed that concern for the time being. These sort of prioritization decisions are difficult but necessary in order to produce research outputs in a timely manner.

We should cite and engage with specific arguments, not imagine and then be haunted by some imagined spectre of Leftism. The authors mention the "neocolonialist critique" three times, never bothering to actually explain what it is, who advocates for it, how harmful it is, or how it could be avoided.

(2) The neocolonial critique of charter cities is well-known in the relevant circles, though it comes in many varieties. (See, among others, van de Sand 2019 and citations therein.) We probably should have included a footnote with examples. The fact that we didn't engage with the critique more extensively (or really, at all) is some indication of how seriously we take the argument. We could have been more explicit about that.

The question of PR-risk is a purely logistical question that should be bracketed from discussions of cost-effectiveness. In the case that an intervention is found to have high cost-effectiveness and high PR-risk, we should think strategically about how to fund it, perhaps by privately recommending the intervention to individual donors as opposed to foundations.

(3) I'm not entirely sure why PR-risk needs to be excluded from cost effectiveness analysis (it's just another downside), though I'm not opposed in practice to doing this. I agree that there are ways to mitigate PR risk. At no point in the report did we claim that PR risks ought to disqualify charter cities (or any other intervention) from funding.

We’re Rethink Priorities. Ask us anything!

The person who replaces me has all my same skills but in addition has many connections to policymakers, more management experience, and stronger quantitative abilities than I do.

We’re Rethink Priorities. Ask us anything!

Hi James, thanks for your question. The climate change work currently on our research calendar includes:

  1. A look at how climate damages are accounted for in various integrated assessment models
  2. A cost effectiveness analysis of anti-deforestation interventions
  3. A review of the landscape of climate change philanthropy
  4. An analysis of how scalable different carbon offsetting programs are
Annual donation rituals?

This is also motivated by having a (still very young) kid we're thinking about how to eventually engage with our giving.

I have a four-year-old and a six-year-old. We discuss our giving with them regularly. When my daughter turned five, we started giving her a weekly allowance with the strong expectation (though no outright requirement) that she would make her own charitable donation every December. During the giving process, we talk a lot about her values and offer guidance, but the ultimate amount and destination of the donation is up to her. Last year she donated $10 (about 10% of her total allowance) to The Nature Conservancy. It will be interesting to see how her decision making evolves over time. (Unfortunately, she seems to be quite swayed by the fact that The Nature Conservancy sent her a calendar!)

Philosophy PhD Application: Advice on Written Submission

Hi tcelferact,

I have a PhD in philosophy, and I'm a senior research manager at Rethink Priorities. If you want to discuss PhD applications, shoot me a PM and we can set up a call. My main piece of advice is to optimize the writing sample for getting accepted to whatever programs you think are the best fit for you. Optimizing that metric might result in a much different writing sample than trying to find an actual good idea and writing about that.

Intervention Report: Charter Cities

Despite the skepticism about charter cities that Dave and I express in the report, I would be comfortable recommending @effective_jobs retweet openings at Charter Cities Institute. There are plenty of folks in the EA community who would be a good fit for CCI, and it seems to me that an aggregator like @effective_jobs should lean toward casting a wider rather than narrower net.

Comparisons of Capacity for Welfare and Moral Status Across Species

Hi Alex,

Thanks for your comment. I've written a bit about the potential relevance of intelligence and emotional complexity to capacity for welfare here. But I share your skepticism about their relevance to moral status. I'm reminded of this comic:

saulius's Shortform

Someone could say that they will torture animals unless vegans give them money, I guess. I think this doesn't happen for multiple reasons.

Interestingly, there is at least one instance where this apparently has happened. (It's possible it was just a joke, though.) There was even a law review article about the incident.

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