First, I'll note that we're actually planning to change this system (likely in the next week or two), so that instead of first seeing a default allocation, donors will choose their own allocation as the first step in the donation process.
To your question, the current EA Funds default allocation was chosen as an approximation of some combination of a) a representative split of the cause areas based on their relative interest across EA, and b) a guess at what we thought the underlying funding gaps in each cause area will likely to be. It's definitely intended to be approximate, and is there partly as a guide to give an indication of how the slider allocation system works, rather than an allocation that we think everyone should choose.
Context: I help run EA Funds and am responsible for the user-facing side of things, including the website
Thank you so much for your good and thorough answer.
I see from the payout overviews that the actual distribution of donation amounts between the four focus areas the past three years has followed more or less exactly the distribution indication on the sliders. Plus minus one or two percent. Now that the sliders disappear, does that mean that any future donor will not get any EA recommendation on how to balance her donation between the four areas? Or is there a recommended balance somewhere else? I remember here Steve Pinkers words on the EA website front page:
Effective altruism — efforts that actually help people rather than making you feel good or helping you show off — is one of the great new ideas of the 21st century.
Should EA also help people in finding this hard balance, that tabs into the emerging school of patient longtermism and other academic concepts?
(Context: I have recently joined CEA to run EA Funds.)
I see from the payout overviews that the actual distribution of donation amounts between the four focus areas the past three years has followed more or less exactly the distribution indication on the sliders.
This seems to be a coincidence. Less than 10% of total donation volume is given according to the default allocation.
does that mean that any future donor will not get any EA recommendation on how to balance her donation between the four areas?
The allocation decision is based on a lot of judgment calls, such as: Do you think strong longtermism [EA · GW] is correct? Do you think that non-human animals matter morally to a significant degree? Do you want to diversify across worldviews? This flowchart and this article give you an overview of some of the judgment calls involved.
There is no clear expert consensus on these questions, and there may not even be an objective answer to some of them, so we're moving away from recommending a particular allocation. But in the future, we may provide more guidance for donors to reason through these worldview questions themselves.
I agree that many donations will be anchored by the default even if they don't use the default allocation. But donation volume is dominated by a small number of very large transactions, almost alledit: most of which use a completely different allocation (often with 100% going to just one fund).
The question in the title is completely different from the question in the post. A better title would be something like "How are the EA Funds default allocations chosen?"
Actually answering the question, I don't think there's any reason to assume that whichever EA Funds staff member selected the default allocation thinks that this is the theoretically optimal way to allocate resources – in fact I think that's very unlikely. So the real question is what higher-level method, if any, was being used to select that allocation.
I don't think anyone except a member of the appropriate team at CEA can answer that. Have you asked them?