What types of charity will be the most effective for creating a more equal society?

post by Maksim · 2020-10-12T05:05:24.885Z · score: 13 (29 votes) · EA · GW · 7 comments

This is a question post.

Contents

  Answers
    44 Sanjay
    10 HaukeHillebrandt
    8 Thomas Kwa
    5 James_Banks
    4 --alex--
    2 Daniel_Eth
None
7 comments

Hello. I have a question about rational altruism.

I sometimes donate a little money to charities that help homeless people, shelters for homeless animals, sterilization of homeless animals, a fund that provides free vegetarian food to those in need, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, an international human rights group that protects illegally detained at peaceful protests, other human rights defenders, the Committee against torture, Greenpeace, and artists and musicians who receive donations, maybe I forgot something, but the essence is clear.

But now I think that this is plugging holes, and not a solution to the cause of all these troubles. My conviction, based on the data of scientists, that the root cause of most of the ills of society is inequality, primarily economic inequality - income inequality. Therefore, I want to direct my modest efforts to eliminate the root cause of most of society's ills - inequality.

The system where the 8 richest people on the planet have a fortune equal to the state of 3.5 billion (!) of the poorest people is deeply sick and all other problems are just derivatives of this disease.

Accordingly, the question is - what types of charity will be the most effective for creating a more equal society?

Please, if you disagree with me, carry your precious opinion elsewhere. I am only interested in opinions on how to most effectively create a more equal society.

Answers

answer by Sanjay · 2020-10-12T22:42:31.656Z · score: 44 (16 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

This question appears to be unpopular -- at time of writing it has a karma of -6.

However I'd like to defend/steelman this question.

First, let's try to understand those who appear not to like this post.

The post makes the claim that inequality is the "the root cause of most of society's ills", however it does not provide evidence for this claim.

I'm not going to try to defend this claim.

What I will say is that whether or not the claim is correct, I would like the Effective Altruism community to be able to help with the question raised by the original poster:

What types of charity will be the most effective for creating a more equal society?

EA ways of thinking *should* be a tool to enable people to answer practical ethical questions such as this, even if the link between a more equal society and all of society's ills is not clear.

For example, some may believe that equality is an intrinsic good.

So, having made the case that this community should be more supportive of this question, here are some brief thoughts.

Society can be made more equal by

(a) raising the wealth/standards for those on the bottom rung

(b) redistributing from the richest to the poorest

Also, most EA thinking tends to either focus on direct impacts work, which is typically required to have good cost-effectiveness, or hits-based work, which is required to have a potentially huge impact.

  • When helping the poor, the EA community tends to take a global perspective, because people in the developing world are typically much poorer and easier to help than those in the developed world.
  • A good choice of charity for a redistribution charity with a direct impact is GiveDirectly, which is recommended by GiveWell
  • For a more hits based approach, some have given consideration to Tax. I have seen a write-up [EA · GW] on the EA Forum about this, however I have not reviewed it, and I neither endorse nor disavow it.

As for raising the wealth of the poorest people without simply giving people money, this has turned out to be surprisingly difficult. For example, microcredit [EA · GW] does not appear to be particularly effective at this.

Apologies that this response is too brief to do justice to this complex question.

Thank you to Maksim for engaging with the EA community, and I hope you find the responses to your question useful.

answer by HaukeHillebrandt · 2020-10-13T09:59:33.463Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

You might be interested in this 80,000 Hours podcast with Glen Weyl on uprooting capitalism and democracy for a just society: 

Radical institutional reforms that make capitalism & democracy work better, and how to get them

answer by Thomas Kwa · 2020-10-13T03:40:36.339Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

First off, welcome to the EA community! If you haven't already, you might want to read the Introduction to Effective Altruism [? · GW]. I don't have time to write up a full answer, so here are a few of my thoughts.

Usually in the effective altruism community, we are cause-neutral; that is, we try to address whichever charitable cause area maximizes impact. While it's intuitively compelling that the most cost-effective effort is to eliminate the root cause of a problem, this could be a suboptimal choice for a few reasons.

  • Most things have multiple causes [EA(p) · GW(p)], and it's not obvious which one to spend the most resources on without an in-depth analysis; one could just as easily say that the root cause of poverty-related problems is a lack of caring about the poor, or inability to coordinate to fix large problems, or the high cost of basic necessities like medicine and clean water.
  • Even if systemic change would fix wealth inequality, actually finding and implementing such change could be difficult or expensive enough [? · GW] that it's more impactful to address the needs of the extreme poor first.
  • It could be tractable to research, say, government structures that incentivize redistribution of wealth if you have a political science PhD, but there might be no good way for the average person to spend money on the cause area.

I haven't looked in depth at the arguments for systemic change being cost-effective, partly because global health isn't my specialty. If you have a strong argument for it that isn't already addressed in a literature review, I encourage posting it here as an article or shortform post.

answer by James_Banks · 2020-10-12T19:25:46.545Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Here are some ideas:

The rich have too much money relative to poor:

Taking money versus eliciting money.

Taking via

  • revolution
  • taxation

Eliciting via

  • shame, pressure, guilt
  • persuasion, psychological skill
  • friendship

Change of culture

  • culture in general
  • elite culture

Targeting elite money

  • used to be stewards of investments
  • used for personal spending

--

Revolutions are risky and can lead to worse governments.

Taxation might work better. (Closing tax haven loopholes.) Building political will for higher taxes on wealthy. There are people in the US who don't want there to be higher taxes on wealthy even though it would materially benefit them (culture change opportunity).

Eliciting could be more effective. Social justice culture (OK with shame, pressure, guilt) has philanthropic charities. (Not exactly aligned with EA.) Guerrilla Foundation, Resource Generation. (Already established. You could donate or join now.)

Eliciting via persuasion or psychological tactics sounds like it would appeal to some people to try to do.

Eliciting via friendship: what if a person, or movement, was very good friends with both rich and poor people? Then they could represent the legitimate interests of both to each other in a trustworthy way. I'm not sure anyone is trying this route. Maybe the Giving Pledge counts?

Change of culture. What are the roots of the altruistic mindset? What would help people have, or prepare people to have, values of altruists (a list of such for EA or EA-compatible people [EA · GW]; there could be other lists)? Can this be something that gets "in the water" of culture at large? Can culture at large reach into elite culture, or does there have to be a special intervention to get values into elite culture? This sounds more like a project for a movement or set of movements than for a discrete charity.

Elite people have money that they spend on themselves personally -- easy to imagine they could just spend $30,000 a year on themselves and no more, give the balance to charity. But they also have money tied up in investments. Not so easy to ask them to liquidate those investments. If they are still in charge of those investments, then there is an inequality of power, since they can make decisions that affect many people without really understanding the situation of those people. Maybe nationalize industries? But then there can still be an inequality of power between governments and citizens.

If there can be a good flow between citizens and governments, whereby the citizens' voices are heard by the government, then could there be a similar thing between citizens and unelected elite? Probably somebody needs to be in charge of complex and powerful infrastructure, inevitably leading to potential for inequalities of power. Do the elite have an effective norm of listening to non-elite?

--

You might also consider the effect of AI and genetic engineering, or other technologies, on the problem of creating a more equal society. AI will either be basically under human control, or not. If it is, the humans who control it will be yet another elite. If it isn't, then we have to live with whatever society it comes up with. We can hope that maybe AI will enforce norms that we all really want deep down but couldn't enforce ourselves, like equality.

On the other hand, maybe, given the ability to change our own nature using genetic engineering, we (perhaps with the help of the elite) will choose to no longer care about inequality, only a basic sense of happiness which will be attainable by the emerging status quo.

answer by --alex-- · 2020-10-13T16:45:10.789Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Maksim, great question. Thank you for posting this!

Three charities you might find relevant:

Global Financial Integrity - they focus on combatting illicit financial flows, arguably a key driver of inequality

Global Witness - they focus on the interaction between natural resources, conflict and corruption

Tax Justice Network - see my write-up here [EA · GW]

In addition to donations, career choices and how you spend non-work time can have an important impact. Feel free to message me to discuss further.

comment by Khorton · 2020-10-13T18:26:46.967Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd include the Jubilee Debt Campaign in this list as well, which campaigns for cancelling the debts of poor countries (especially when that debt was agreed to by a dictator who's no longer in power!) https://jubileedebt.org.uk/

comment by HStencil · 2020-10-16T20:27:42.254Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd also add the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. They do fantastic work in a similar vein.

answer by Daniel_Eth · 2020-10-13T13:34:10.474Z · score: 2 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

"the root cause of most of the ills of society is inequality, primarily economic inequality - income inequality"

While I think income inequality (or, perhaps even more so, consumption inequality) is a large problem, I don't think it's the root cause of most of the ills of society. I'd imagine that tribalism, selfishness, mental-health problems, and so on are larger causes. In the US, for instance, my sense is that racism is a root of more problems than is income inequality.

More specifically answering the question you asked, I'd imagine political solutions would be the most effective here, as the government plays such a large role in influencing the economic distribution, and the amount of money in politics is incredibly small compared to the effect of political outcomes. I could imagine effective organizations in this area could include think tanks searching for political solutions, firms lobbying for implementing these solutions, or organizations that work to elect politicians/parties that are more likely to appropriately address these concerns.

[I'd also note that, from a global perspective, inequality between countries may typically larger than within countries, so it would perhaps be better to focus on health and development charities such as AMF, though one could make an argument that (for instance) social problems in the US spill over into problems for the rest of the world, so focusing on inequality in the US may be more important that a naive calculation would indicate.]

comment by Khorton · 2020-10-13T18:28:34.966Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I downvoted this comment because the original poster specifically asked people to accept that inequality was a major problem as the premise and work from there - the first half of your answer ignores their request and I don't think that's very polite.

comment by Daniel_Eth · 2020-10-14T08:41:42.375Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think it's really bad if people feel like they can't push back against claims they don't agree with (especially regarding cause/intervention prioritization), and I don't think the author of a post saying (effectively) "please don't push back against this claim if you disagree with it" should be able to insulate claims from scrutiny. Note that the author didn't say "if we think claim X is true, what should we do, but please let's stay focused and not argue about claim X here" but instead "I think claim X is true - given that, what should we do?"

comment by Khorton · 2020-10-14T09:45:36.666Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

"Note that the author didn't say "if we think claim X is true, what should we do, but please let's stay focused and not argue about claim X here" but instead "I think claim X is true - given that, what should we do?""

I think this is just pedantic - if the writer knew the "in group" way of asking you to stay on topic, you would respect their wishes, but because they're new you refuse. I don't think it's welcoming or kind at all.

7 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Thomas Kwa (tkwa) · 2020-10-12T19:27:29.227Z · score: 22 (11 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

In the interest of being helpful and welcoming to this new user, could any downvoters give feedback or explain their votes?

Edit: Someone is trying to join, or at least interface with, the EA community by asking a question that we can answer. The question is well-formed, represents an hour or more of thought, and addresses a popular idea among the altruistically-minded. The only concrete thing I don't like about this post is that the OP is slightly rude in saying "Please, if you disagree with me, carry your precious opinion elsewhere."

I think that people are downvoting this because the OP is not impartial, and has a preferred way to improve the world. I think that in general, automatically downvoting posts by such people is wrong, and if we have good epistemic hygiene, the benefits (being more welcoming and intellectually diverse, helping future people understand EA by addressing popular misconceptions and mistakes) by engaging with the question will far outweigh risks of dilution [EA(p) · GW(p)]. This is because dilution only becomes a big problem when people start to misunderstand or misappropriate EA ideas, and we address such misunderstandings precisely through high-fidelity communication. Engaging here is one of the highest-fidelity forms of text-based communication possible.

comment by HowieL · 2020-10-13T14:01:02.028Z · score: 28 (12 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I downvoted this. "Please, if you disagree with me, carry your precious opinion elsewhere" reads to me as more than slightly rude and effectively an intentional insult to people who disagree with the OP and would otherwise have shared their views. I think it's totally reasonable to worry in advance about a thread veering away from the topic you want to discuss and to preempt that with a request to directly answer your question [Edited slightly] and I wouldn't have downvoted without the reference to other people's "precious views."

comment by HaukeHillebrandt · 2020-10-13T15:08:16.619Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I downvoted this for comment for not addressing the central claim but only the tone.

Getting the tone right can sometimes be challenging especially for non-native speakers.

comment by HowieL · 2020-10-13T16:24:52.561Z · score: 17 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Fair enough.

Fwiw, the forum explicitly discourages [? · GW] unnecessary rudeness (and encourages kindness). I think tone is part of that and the voting system is a reasonable mechanism for setting that norm. But there's room for disagreement.

If the original poster came back and edited in response to feedback or said that the tone wasn't intentional, I'd happily remove my downvote.

comment by Maxdalton · 2020-10-13T05:57:15.186Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I didn't downvote, but I imagine people are reacting to a couple of phrases in the OP:

Please, if you disagree with me, carry your precious opinion elsewhere. I am only interested in opinions on how to most effectively create a more equal society.

I think that being open to changing your mind is an important norm. I think you could read this sentence as a very reasonable request to keep this discussion on topic, but I worry that it is a more general stance. (I also find the phrasing a bit rude.)

Some of the other phrases (e.g. "conviction" "deeply sick" "all other problems are just derivatives") make me worry about whether this person will change their mind, make me worry that they're overconfident, and make me worry that they'll use heated discourse in arguments rather than collaboratively truth seeking. All of these (if true) would make me a bit less excited about welcoming them to the community.

I also think that I could be reading too much into such phrases - I hope this person will go on to engage open-mindedly in discussion.

I really liked your answer - I think it's absolutely worth sharing resources, gently challenging, and reinforcing norms around open-minded cause prio. I personally think that that's a better solution than downvoting, if people have the time to do so.

comment by HaukeHillebrandt · 2020-10-13T09:52:22.695Z · score: 0 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that being open to changing your mind is an important norm. I think you could read this sentence as a very reasonable request to keep this discussion on topic, but I worry that it is a more general stance. 

OP seems very open to change their mind, as evidenced by having donated to help animals and humans,  to direct interventions and systemic change, as well as a recent rethink of their approach. Within their cause, they seem open to change their mind about the most effective interventions (like many other posts on the EA forum that are not very cause neutral).

Some of the other phrases (e.g. "conviction" "deeply sick" "all other problems are just derivatives") make me worry about whether this person will change their mind, make me worry that they're overconfident, and make me worry that they'll use heated discourse in arguments rather than collaboratively truth seeking. All of these also make me a bit less excited about welcoming them to the community.

Emotionally laden language is sometimes apt. If  we stereotype against this sort of language in EA, then people who are justifiably upset about issues such as inequality, especially those personally affected (in contrast to many in the EA community), might feel unwelcome.

comment by Maxdalton · 2020-10-13T10:06:33.522Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! Those are both good points. I think you're right that they're open to changing their minds about some important aspects of their worldview (though I do think that "Please, if you disagree with me, carry your precious opinion elsewhere. " is some evidence that there are aspects that they're not very open to changing their mind about).

I also think that I reacted too strongly to the emotionally laden language - I agree this can be justified and appropriate, though I think it can also make collaborative truth-seeking harder. This makes me think that it's good to acknowledge, feel, and empathize with anger/sadness, whilst still being careful about the potential impact it might have when we're trying to work together to figure out what to do to help others. I do still feel worried about some sort of oversimplification/overconfidence wrt "all other problems are just derivatives".

To be clear, I always thought it was good to engage in discussion here rather than downvote, but I'm now a bit more optimistic about the dialogue going well.