The act of giving itself has positive impact 2021-07-17T16:27:09.236Z


Comment by Henry Howard on Open Thread: Spring 2022 · 2022-06-11T05:57:43.233Z · EA · GW

A small percentage of my donations go to local organisations. People are liable to interpret EA ideas as saying that their favourite local charity sucks. I want to emphasise to people that while their favourite local charity is great, there are even better giving opportunities out there. I think it's good messaging.

Comment by Henry Howard on The Role of Individual Consumption Decisions in Animal Welfare and Climate are Analogous · 2022-06-10T09:18:38.575Z · EA · GW

Good point with the comparison to personal carbon footprints.

I think you're underestimating the value of "social contagion" as you call it (alternatively "role-modelling" or "normalising").  I became a vegetarian because vegetarians around me were making me question my beliefs and were showing me it was possible.  Also, I think people are very dismissive of opinions that feel are hypocritical. I think the animal welfare message loses a lot of power if it's not coming from a vegetarian/vegan or, even better, a large group of vegetarians/vegans


I question your economic analysis of meat-eating:

your reduction in demand for meat makes them cheaper for others, which will lead some to increase in their consumption...

Following this logic the amount of consumption of any given non-essential good would never change. If I refuse to buy seal fur then the amount of seal fur gets cheaper so someone else buys a little more. More likely there will be a net reduction in supply.


In some cases, such as a party, a fixed quantity of meat has already been prepared and some may simply be discarded if it is not all consumed

The "fixed quantity" is based on a prediction of how much meat will be needed at the party. If an organiser knows there will be vegetarians there, they'll probably order less salami.

My takeaway from this is that we should reduce our animal product consumption AND decrease our personal carbon footprint, primarily for the social contagion/normalising/non-hypocrite effect, secondarily for the drop-in-the-bucket direct effects.

Comment by Henry Howard on Why should I care about insects? · 2022-05-20T10:42:12.392Z · EA · GW

Your suggestions are vague.

"stop using ... insecticides" and do what instead?

"get a sense of the suffering of individual insects" how?

"stop or slow down the human factory farming of insects" but with what consequences?

"changes in ag policy" of what sort and with what consequences?

There's no clear suggestion here that would reduce harm to insects without also significantly harming humans or other animals. You then have to balance human/animal and insect welfare, which is impractical to estimate (as Singer suggests), and which leads to absurd conclusions (don't stop locust plagues, let termites eat your house, sweep ants from your path,exterminate anteaters).

I agree that reducing suffering is good by itself, but you haven't suggested any ways to reduce insect suffering without some insect-human utility calculus.

Comment by Henry Howard on Why should I care about insects? · 2022-05-20T07:45:16.164Z · EA · GW

And what is the alternative to insecticides? Your suggestions are vague and seem naive.

I take insects outside instead of killing them when I can, but I think you're getting lost in the weeds and heading towards absurd conclusions.

The question of whether insects suffer is probably unanswerable. Because the conclusions would be absurd if we do consider their suffering significant, we need to treat it as mostly insignificant. The same goes for plants, fungus, diatoms, bacteria.

I suggest you look at what others have written re. insects. For example, Peter Singer wrote on insects:

Comment by Henry Howard on Why should I care about insects? · 2022-05-20T01:17:30.378Z · EA · GW

This post is well-intentioned and the bee story is sweet but beyond avoiding pulling wings off flies I don't see what more we can do.

Assigning anything above the tiniest value to the welfare of insects leads to absurd conclusions because of their sheer number .eg.:

  • Should we stop using pesticides and increase food prices/slow development because of insect welfare?

  • Should we start killing whales, birds, fish because the number of krill/insects they eat?

  • Do we need more rather than fewer locust plagues?

  • Should I let termites eat my house actually?

Widening our moral circle out this far is impractical.

Comment by Henry Howard on What should one do when someone insists on actively making life worse for many other people? · 2022-05-14T07:21:23.473Z · EA · GW

You need to consider the broader context. In this situation you were polite and gently offered help. I think that's the right thing to do. You could have been more forceful, which might (or might not) have sped things along but at the cost of making the world a less polite place. You could have ripped the phone out of their hands, which could have really sped things along while being even more rude. 

In this case the degree of "suffering" you're talking about is a few people waiting in line for 2 minutes, so going "Karen" on the person is likely to do more harm than good.

More generally, utilitarian calculations often neglect broader context. One utilitarian might argue that murdering an innocent person for their organs to save 5 organ recipients is good for the world. A better utilitarian would point out that in a world where we could each be murdered for our organs at any time, the increased fear and anxiety probably makes that world worse.

Comment by Henry Howard on Bad Omens in Current Community Building · 2022-05-13T07:56:35.580Z · EA · GW

The increasing focus on Longtermism and X-risk has made us look cultish and unrelatable.

It was much harder for people to criticise EA as cultish when we were mainly about helping poor people from starving or dying of preventable disease because everyone can see immediately that those are worthy goals. X-risk and Longtermism don't make the same intuitive sense to people, so people dismiss the movement as weird and wrong.

We should lean back towards focusing on global development

Comment by Henry Howard on EA and the current funding situation · 2022-05-12T07:09:55.933Z · EA · GW

That's great. Cause discovery should be top priority while we're running out of causes

Comment by Henry Howard on Blueprint for billionaires? · 2022-05-11T18:11:09.224Z · EA · GW

No but we should aim to because there are many billions in government and private funds that could be redirected to more effective causes.

Comment by Henry Howard on EA and the current funding situation · 2022-05-10T07:42:59.048Z · EA · GW

Great post

What are we going to spend this on? There seems to be a shortage of evidence-based global development causes. Current GiveWell charities are growing as fast as they can but the funding pool is growing faster (which is great! But it is already making me hesitant to give or encourage others to)

Should we not be working with and giving to orgs like Innovations for Poverty Action and JPAL to help us find new causes? Our cause discovery rate seems very slow as it is. The only new GiveWell cause in the last few years has been New Incentives, which is already fully-funded.

Comment by Henry Howard on Tentative Reasons You Might Be Underrating Having Kids · 2022-05-09T22:44:09.917Z · EA · GW

The economic risks of depopulation are overstated. Most value is generated by machines and a small group of people that invent those machines.

While "fewer people means fewer new ideas" is theoretically true, in the current world a very small fraction of the population are given the opportunities to be at the forefront of new idea generation because of inadequate nurturing, resources, education. If the population halved and we tripled the proportion of people who were able to attain the levels of education and training necessary to innovate, we would have more total innovation.

Concern about fertility is a red herring if the next Einstein can't go to school because she has a neglected tropical disease.

Comment by Henry Howard on Recommendation for a charity focusing efforts on Germany? · 2022-05-03T13:48:09.123Z · EA · GW

It takes a lot of effort to find and evaluate effective charities. GiveWell and OpenPhilanthropy focus their charity evaluation efforts on charities that work in developing areas where there is greatest need for improvements in health, education, economic growth. You won't find a lot of detailed EA analysis of charities that only work in developed countries like Germany or Australia because it's unlikely that we can have close to the same impact in these well-developed countries with good living standards.

Comment by Henry Howard on Stupid Reasons to Have More Kids · 2022-04-18T07:28:52.549Z · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing this.

Definitely agree with him that it can't go on forever:

"Many of the sources of growth historically — including rising educational attainment, rising research intensity, and declining misallocation — are inherently limited and cannot go on forever."

Also agree when he says:

"We are a long way from hitting any constraint that we have run out of people to hunt for new ideas"

We're way off everyone having PhDs. I'll hold off worrying about declining birth rates for a few decades.

Comment by Henry Howard on Stupid Reasons to Have More Kids · 2022-04-18T03:11:42.315Z · EA · GW

I see and hear the claim "more people = better economy" made quite often (Matt Yglesias, in this case)

But nowadays most of the production of value is done either by: a) machines, and b) a relatively small number of highly skilled people in research and development (who design and build the machines).

My intuition is that increasing the proportion of people capable of working in R&D (through education, lifting people out of poverty) would be a better way to increase an economy's capacity to produce value than just dialing up the birth rate.

Is there a reason why people believe "more people = better economy"?

Comment by Henry Howard on Why your EA group should promote effective giving (and how) · 2022-02-17T21:19:13.341Z · EA · GW

I agree and I love to see this being said.

Giving to charity does good twice: once through the charity then again when it inspires others to be more giving.

A movement of people who are doing effective giving and therefore normalising selflessness and kindness is potentially very powerful and the pivot away from effective giving and towards careers-based EA risks giving up a lot of this positive influence.

Comment by Henry Howard on Some thoughts on vegetarianism and veganism · 2022-02-16T22:27:02.213Z · EA · GW

Don't forget the benefits of normalising vegetarianism/veganism for the people around you. This makes the impact of being vegetarian/vegan bigger than just the number of chickens you don't eat.

My sister has been vegetarian since she was 6 and has passively inspired many of the rest of our family to either become vegetarian/vegan or at least reduce our meat consumption. I have in turn inspired other people to make changes. My sister's impact is much more than just the animals she hasn't eaten.

I think we tend to forget that large-scale social changes result from lots of people making "insignificant" individual choices which gently pressure others to change. It's a snowball effect  that is hard to measure and predict, so it's easy to feel like our personal choices don't matter.

Comment by Henry Howard on Introducing High-Impact Medicine (Hi-Med) · 2021-12-11T04:10:56.759Z · EA · GW

This is great. I'm a doctor in Aus. I've been giving 50% of my income to effective charities all year. I think one of the most valuable things a doctor can do is give part of their income to charity. It both a) normalises the idea for other doctors and b) restore some faith in the medical profession by  proving that they're not just in it for money.

Comment by Henry Howard on Earning To Give as a Doctor in Switzerland · 2021-09-13T11:45:45.745Z · EA · GW

This is great!

I'm a first-year doctor in Australia. I'm giving half my income to charity this year: (  Over here I'm on track to make about 95,000-100,000 AUD (~56,000-62,000 EUR) before tax for a year of ~50 hour weeks. Not quite as much as your job in Switzerland but then this is a first year internship wage and residency wages are slightly higher.

Have you considered locum work? I don't know if there's much of this in Switzerland but it's big in Australia as so much of the country is rural and it's hard to entice doctors out there other than by paying them huge amounts for short stints. Hourly rates as a locum are usually double or more the usual rate. I work with a lot of UK doctors currently doing this.

Comment by Henry Howard on Open Thread: July 2021 · 2021-07-22T11:20:09.974Z · EA · GW

Thanks! It's mainly Bootstrap on top of some free website templates. I'm interested by how design and marketing can influence people into thinking something has authority, weight, believability.

Comment by Henry Howard on The act of giving itself has positive impact · 2021-07-20T07:40:09.516Z · EA · GW

The positive impact is normalisation of altruism, which leads to others being more altruistic in the way they think/behave/vote. The size of this effect is very hard to measure - like any social movement - but because it could be large we should be careful about throwing the "cultural change" aspect of the movement out (which I think is what's happening with the shift in focus to impactful careers).

Personal anecdote: I'm a doctor in Australia. Doctors are paid very well and have huge potential to fund good causes and influence positive change. Despite this, I witness a lot of doctors getting caught up in jealously comparing themselves to other doctors and their lifestyles. Lavish lifestyle is the norm and I've seen this lead to doctors: 

  • Advocating for redirecting public funding to increasing their own wages
  • Taking the first class flight to that conference in Berlin because their colleagues do
  • Justifying buying a new Mini because the gastroenterologist drives a Morgan
  • Avoiding giving to charity

These represent a huge pool of resources that aren't being used because it's not the norm, and that's just within medicine.

Norms are hard to change but a coordinated movement of people giving might have a significant effect. It was certainly other people giving that inspired me to start giving.

I think we should at least consider that we might be losing effectiveness by giving too much space to 80,000 Hours-style impactful careers talk and pushing giving to the side. I haven't seen much consideration of this on the forum

Comment by Henry Howard on The act of giving itself has positive impact · 2021-07-18T11:04:50.686Z · EA · GW

Sorry, I'm trying to say the opposite. I've edited for clarity. 

I think the movement's underestimating the positive impact of giving. We're shifting focus from giving to impactful careers and in the process possibly losing a whole lot of positive impact.

Comment by Henry Howard on Open Thread: July 2021 · 2021-07-17T12:42:21.714Z · EA · GW

Hi! My name is Henry Howard. I'm a doctor in Australia. I'm giving 50% of my income to charity all 2021 to normalise taking only what we need and Giving What We Can. You can find me at:


twitter: @henryachoward

I love the principle of doing altruism effectively but I am hesitant to align myself with the Effective Altruism movement.

I'm worried about the Effective Altruism movement's shifting focus to longtermism which I suspect is a "Pascal's mugging" by a utility monster (the monster being the theoretical quintillions of future humans) and which I worry is making the movement look unhinged, impractical and is limiting its appeal and impact.

I'm mostly vegan but I'm concerned about overemphasis on animal welfare. I feel that the Effective Altruism movement overvalues animal well-being vs human well-being. I also feel it ignores that improving human welfare is an avenue to improving animal welfare (people who are struggling don't have room to think about whether their chickens are free range).