Comment by akrolsmir on 500 Million, But Not A Single One More · 2020-12-09T18:47:19.745Z · EA · GW

Sadly just missed this -- is there a recording? Couldn't find one on the Youtube page, nor the award website.

Comment by akrolsmir on Where are you donating in 2020 and why? · 2020-11-26T00:03:13.975Z · EA · GW

I have taken the GWWC pledge and have donated roughly $50k over my lifetime, but this year I plan on donating $0 for tax reasons.

Briefly, I spent a good chunk of this year underemployed, and have reason to think my marginal tax rate will be higher next year than this year, so it's more cost effective to batch for next year. Also, the US tax system of standard deduction vs itemized means that batched donations are almost always more tax effective. (happy to explain more if interested!)

I do plan on donating slightly more than the 10% of pretax salary, because I put some of the charitable funds towards higher-risk bets that ended up paying off (on Biden winning, $2k earned on $5k invested, and a personal bet with a friend for $65 earned on $35 invested). The charity framing helps me take justify riskier bets with high EV, compared to personal investing where the goal is stability.

As for causes, I'll probably throw it into a donor lottery this year (in the past I've just been going through GiveWell but lotteries seem interesting).

Comment by akrolsmir on What is the marginal impact of a small donation to an EA Fund? · 2020-11-23T12:31:29.203Z · EA · GW

Hm, I think the understanding that "$5 spent to buy a net has marginal impact, but $5 to an EA fund does not" isn't quite right. You may be correct that the $5 has a lower probability of changing anything at the margins in a fund, but you should multiply that probability by the expected impact of the change.

To pick an analogy from the animal suffering wing: is it better to reduce $5 spent on a chicken or $5 on a cow? Naively you might think "a cow costs $5000, chicken costs $5, so at the margins you should always pick chicken, cuz that's guaranteed to do something". But that excludes the expected value of the impact; any specific cow purchase only has a 1/1000 chance of being the one that pushes it over the line, but if (for example) the cow life was actually worth 2000x more than a chicken, than the expected value of your impact is better on the cow.

(Yes, I'm making lots of simplifying assumptions here - just trying to provide the intuition, not actually do a moral analysis!)

Comment by akrolsmir on Shrimp Welfare - 2020 Recommended idea · 2020-11-11T09:11:00.949Z · EA · GW

As an outsider to the field, is there a quick 3-sentence pitch as to why farmed shrimp welfare is specifically important (as opposed to any other farmed animal?) I skimmed through the report for this info but may well have missed it.

My quick read of welfare points is that it's a per-animal metric - did I get that right? If so I'm somewhat hesitant to equate the wellbeing of one eg cow to one shrimp.

Comment by akrolsmir on Evidence, cluelessness, and the long term - Hilary Greaves · 2020-11-02T22:13:41.889Z · EA · GW

My rough framing of "why pitch friends and family on donating" is that donating is a credible commitment towards altruism. It's really easy to get people to say "yeah, helping people is a good idea" but really hard to turn that into something actionable.

Even granting that the long term and thus actual impact of AMF is uncertain, I feel like the transition from "typical altruistic leaning person" to "EA giver" is much more feasible, and sets up "EA giver" to "Longtermist". Once someone is already donating 10% of their income to one effective charity, it seems easier to make a case like the one OP outlined here.

I guess one thing that would change my mind: do you know people who did jump straight into longtermism?

Comment by akrolsmir on Evidence, cluelessness, and the long term - Hilary Greaves · 2020-11-02T10:35:08.261Z · EA · GW

On one hand, basically all the smart EA people I trust seem to be into longtermism; it seems well-argued and I feel a vague obligation to join in too.

On the other, the argument for near-term evidence-based interventions like AMF is what got me (and apparently, the speaker) into EA in the first place. It's definitely a much easier pitch to friends and family, compared to this really weird meta cause whose impact at the end of the day I still don't really understand. To me, the ability to explain a concept to a layperson serves as a litmus test to how well I understand the concept myself.

Maybe I'll stay on this side of the kiddy pool, encouraging spectators to dip their toes in and see what the water is like, while the more epistemologically intrepid go off and navigate the deep oceans...

Comment by akrolsmir on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA! · 2020-10-28T07:49:15.462Z · EA · GW

Thanks for doing this! I have huge respect for Ben's blog posts (been telling my coworkers to read the "better video calls" article).

What advice would you two give to someone with a strong product & engineering background, about to transition to their first tech leadership role?


  • What are common failure cases/traps to avoid?
  • How much should I be directly coding vs "architecting" vs process management?
  • How do I approach hiring?
  • Just generally, what would you have imparted on past-you?
Comment by akrolsmir on AaronBoddy's Shortform · 2020-10-26T08:57:37.930Z · EA · GW

I think you've left out the most important point: net positive effect of Amazon as having generated trillions of dollars of value for its customers, suppliers, and employees.

  • Customers gain from having a streamlined reliable online ordering experience, with fast delivery times, large body of reviews, and friendly dispute resolution policies
  • Suppliers gain access to the huge market of said customers, as well as the infrastructure to deliver products and collect payment
  • Employees are offered a job opportunity that they may freely choose to leave

This doesn't even touch upon the huge social value from the websites built on top of their cloud. It's perhaps hard to appreciate without a background in tech, but briefly: before AWS (Amazon Web Services) and their competitors, every company had to build and manage their own servers, aka physical huge hot computers that require dedicated IT people to oversee and then break when too many people visit your website.

Zvi has a line that goes like "The world's best charity is Amazon"

Comment by akrolsmir on Suggestion that Zvi be awarded a prize for his COVID series · 2020-09-29T21:10:54.954Z · EA · GW

Would also be willing to contribute $100, for the same reasons! Message me at

Comment by akrolsmir on How to massively increase your donations, for free · 2020-07-09T18:16:45.767Z · EA · GW

I love this idea! Depending on your situation, it's possible to get the ability to itemize all by yourself, by saving up your donation amount on certain tax years. For example, Bob could hold on to 10k for two years in a row, then donate 30k all at once, to clear the 12k bar for itemizing. I've done something similar when for years when I expect my income to be lower (if I plan to leave a high paying job in a year, then perhaps I could donate extra now and do less next year for the tax advantage).

One downside is that Bob's marginal tax burden is lower than Alice's (maybe 25 percent rather than 40 percent), so having Alice donate is still more effective. But this way Bob avoids the need to coordinate with another person. Of course, coordinating could be a benefit in and of itself!