Patrick

Name: Patrick Brinich-Langlois

Website: https://www.patbl.com

Ice-cream flavor: raspberry sorbet

Toothpaste: Colgate (original)

Pronouns: they/them

Elbow count: two

Comments

EARadio - more EA podcasts!

velutvulpes, could you update the RSS link to point to https://feeds.buzzsprout.com/1755269.rss? I'm working on migrating to a new podcast host (Buzzsprout). The old feed currently redirects there, but my understanding is that it will stop redirecting after I complete the migration.

Semi-regular Open Thread #35

This isn't your first EA podcast. This is not so much because the content is difficult, but because it has relatively low production value (it's just EA conference talks in podcast format). The 80,000 Hours Podcast, Hear This Idea, and The FLI Podcast are more entertaining and polished while still being similarly informative, and I'd recommend listening to those first.

A case against strong longtermism

I will primarily focus on The case for strong longtermism, listed as “draft status” on both Greaves and MacAskill’s personal websites as of November 23rd, 2020. It has generated quite a lot of conversation within the effective altruism (EA) community despite its status, including multiple podcast episodes on 80000 hours podcast (one, two, three), a dedicated a multi-million dollar fund listed on the EA website, numerous blog posts, and an active forum discussion.

"The Case for Strong Longtermism" is subtitled "GPI Working Paper No. 7-2019," which leads me to believe that it was originally published in 2019. Many of the things you listed (two of the podcast episodes, the fund, and several of the blog and forum posts) are from before 2019. My impression is that the paper (which I haven't read) is more a formalization and extension of various existing ideas than a totally new direction for effective alturism.

The word "longtermism" is new, which may contribute to the impression that the ideas it describes are too. This is true in some cases, but many people involved with effective altruism have long been concerned about the very long run.

What quotes do you find most inspire you to use your resources (effectively) to help others?

On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?

—Thomas Babington Macaulay

The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view (if I may so say) of the Universe, than the good of any other; unless, that is, there are special grounds for believing that more good is likely to be realized in the one case than in the other.

—Henry Sidgwick

Pain is always new to the sufferer, but loses its originality for those around him.

—Alphonse Daudet

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.

—Albert Einstein

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.

—John Lennon and Paul McCartney

On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us? —Thomas Babington Macaulay

The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view (if I may so say) of the Universe, than the good of any other; unless, that is, there are special grounds for believing that more good is likely to be realized in the one case than in the other. —Henry Sidgwick

Pain is always new to the sufferer, but loses its originality for those around him. —Alphonse Daudet

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind. —Albert Einstein

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. —John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Should EA Buy Distribution Rights for Foundational Books?

In addition to lowering the cost for readers, buying the rights to a book could allow certain improvements to be made.

The paperback version of Reasons and Persons is poorly typeset (the text is small and cramped) and unevenly printed (some parts are too light; others too dark). The form factor is close to that of a mass market paperback (short, narrow, and fat). The cover photo is bleak and blurry. These factors combine to make the book seem dated and unappealing.

On What Matters, a book with the same author and publisher, is a beautiful volume, and an example of what's possible if someone puts some effort into the process and uses modern technologies.

Living High and Letting Die influenced me more than any other book. Unfortunately, it seems not to have been edited. Here's a passage from the first page:

Now, you can write that address on an envelope well prepared for mailing. And, in it, you can place a $100 check made out to the U.S. Committee for UNICEF along with a note that's easy to write.

I count two odd-sounding filler phrases ("well prepared for mailing" and "that's easy to write"), one clearly superfluous comma (following "And" in the second sentence), and a bizarre choice to italicize the name of an organization. The whole book reads like it was dictated but not read. Another problem is that it gives unrealistically low estimates of the cost of saving a life.

Changing the text of a book might not always be feasible (you'd need the author's buy-in, and many authors wouldn't want to spend time helping to re-edit an old book), but it's something worth exploring.

What are good options for giving later?

I've looked a bit at DAFs but the fees look quite high and I wonder if I could assemble something better myself.

By "quite high," do you mean 0.6% per annum in addition to the mutual-fund expense ratio? That's the fee charged by Vanguard, Fidelity, and Charles Schwab on the first $500k. To me, the benefits a DAF offers seem worth the price:

  • immediate tax-deductibility
  • untaxed dividends and interest
  • ease of granting (you don't have to coordinate with the recipient to transfer appreciated assets)
  • pre-commitment (the money must go to a 501(c)(3) charity)

For people looking to invest millions of dollars, 0.6% would seem excessive. But larger accounts have lower fees. Here the fees for Vanguard's "Select" accounts:

| First $500K | 0.60% |
| Next $500K  | 0.30% |
| Next $29M   | 0.13% |
| Next $70M   | 0.05% |

So a $100m account would cost $77,200 in DAF fees, plus the mutual-fund fee. That seems like a steal to me (although high-rollers might prefer something with more-flexible investment options).

The main reason I can think of not to use a DAF is that you think that there's a high chance you'll want to do something with the money other than donate it to a 501(c)(3).

The case for taking AI seriously as a threat to humanity

If you haven't read the article (as I hadn't, since I came by a direct link to this comment), you should know that there's exactly one sentence about algorithmic racial discrimination in the entire article. I was surprised that a single sentence (and one rather tangential to the article) generated this much discussion.

Whatever you think about the claim, it doesn't seem like a sufficient reason not to recommend the article as an introduction to the subject.

Credit Cards for EA Giving

For people spending larger amounts, Citi Double Cash or Alliant Cashback Visa Signature are probably the best options. The Double Cash card has no annual fee and gives 2% back (assuming you pay off your credit-card bill in full). The Alliant card gives 3% cash back and waives the annual fee the first year, and gives 2.5% cash back and charges $99 in subsequent years. So you'd need to spend at least $20k per year for the Alliant card to be a better option in the long run.

Even with 2.5% cash back, it would be a better deal to send a check to the charity if the amount is large (say $10k+), the fees aren't waived, and there's no donation match that requires paying online.

Here's a good summary of the best cash-back credit cards, including most of the ones mentioned in the post.

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