Posts

Giving Later in Life: Giving More 2018-05-03T12:21:36.712Z · score: 8 (10 votes)
Volunteering for a non-EA charity - a write up 2017-11-23T13:23:45.711Z · score: 13 (11 votes)

Comments

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Giving Later in Life: Giving More · 2020-01-04T22:58:28.695Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I wrote this post a while ago and my thinking has moved on a little since then so I thought it would be worth adding further thoughts as a comment;

1) In the original post I suggest people should save more when they are young rather than give, but I don't offer an explicit rules based alternative. I think rules based giving makes a lot of sense, and helps to compartmentalize so that we don't spend time and mental energy weighing up every spending decision we make vs opportunity of EA donation. I now have thought about how to solve this problem in my own life, which is to switch from 'I aim to donate x% of my income', to 'I aim to donate x% of my spending, until I reach level Y, at which point I donate all income above my consumption level'. I like this rule because it is simple and robust from lifestyle creep. If I want to save money for buffer building etc. my EA goals won't get in the way. However, if I'm willing to pass on saving to spend money now, then I should be willing to donate in proportion.

2) I wish looking back that I had not mentioned the thing about saving for a house. As was mentioned by others in the comments this is a very specific issue and doesn't apply generally. A much more generalisable point is that savings allow us to take greater risks, especially with our career. I think there are a lot of employers who understand that some of their employees are risk averse and react to this by paying them less. I also think people who are career risk averse do not develop as far or as quickly. From the people I have dealt with in my life so far (which I appreciate is a very small sample), very few seem to get to retirement with the 'right' amount of money for their level of consumption. People either have too little or way too much. I think a good use of money is making sure you fall in to that latter category, and once you are confident you'll end up there start donating to the point that your excess above desired consumption is minimal.

3) The title Giving Later; Giving More has (I think) led many people to conclude that I'm suggesting investing money with a view to donating the original amount plus the investment returns later. This is not at all my point and I am generally of the opinion that the discount rate for donations, especially in the area of global poverty / health is much higher than one could feasibly expect to make by investing. My point is that having a buffer may allow you to have a much more productive (and therefore financially rewarding) life, and therefore the return on investment of this buffer (I believe) is far in excess of this discount rate.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Giving Later in Life: Giving More · 2018-05-05T15:03:07.725Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Definitely, I think that the discount rate each of us applies to future donations is an extremely important factor to consider. In fact, I would be in the camp that this discount rate is likely very high - mostly in agreement with the points you have made.

Now that I have reached a point where I can start giving without affecting my life choices, I'm planning on giving away a majority of the balance as soon as I get my hands on it, rather than investing to increase future donations.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Giving Later in Life: Giving More · 2018-05-05T14:54:20.827Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the link, I hadn't come across it before and agree it is a very useful analysis of investing vs giving depending on one's opinions about opportunities for investment and the discount rate applied to future donations. I think this point is related to mine and very useful in it's own right, but the point I am trying to make also involves personal utility.

I'm worried about the sustainability of giving which requires sacrifice on the part of the donor - which I believe is the path of least resistance for those interested in EA at college and who end up taking the GWWC pledge at that time. I'm trying to communicate that it is possibly, and perhaps even likely, to be more productive to reach a level of wealth at which you can sustain your desired lifestyle and then give large amounts in excess of that level, rather than giving a significant % from the moment you join the workforce.

I agree that tax treatment of property varies from country to country along with several other relevant variables. I only offered an imaginary numerical example for illustrative purposes. My goal is certainly not to convince people to buy property without knowing anything about their circumstances, only to have them consider the possibility that it might be beneficial, and that running the numbers specific to their case is an exercise worth doing.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Giving Later in Life: Giving More · 2018-05-04T05:52:11.940Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Agreed, though most people naturally settle down at around 30-35, at which point people tend to move much less frequently. Even if you move once every 5 years from this point, I would still say that most of the time it is worth buying vs renting. This in mind I think people younger than this should consider saving to the point where they at least have the option to do this when they reach this point in their lives/careers.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Giving Later in Life: Giving More · 2018-05-04T05:46:25.076Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hey Thomas, I have a spreadsheet to highlight the disparity rather than a source, I can send it to you'd if you like? As an illustrative example though let's imagine we have a 30 year old person with $50k saved up. They can either donate this to charity and continue to rent, or use it as a deposit (down-payment) to buy the same house, which let's say is valued at 500k. The numbers will depend by city, but let's assume mortgage interest rate of 4.5%, rental yield of 3% and an average house price increase of 3% per year.

If you have a 450k mortgage on a 30 year schedule, you will pay a total of $773k in mortgage repayments (450k in capital repayments and 323k in interest) and at the end of the 30 years you will own a house worth $1.21 million. If you choose to rent, you will pay $713k in rental payments over the 30 years and obviously at the end you will not own anything. The most difficult part of this calculation is the amortization schedule for mortgages, but there are websites that will do this work for you such as this one;

http://www.amortization-calc.com/

Does this mean that housing is mispriced? I don't think so. Firstly there is a huge tax advantage to owning your own house vs renting. This is because you don't pay any tax on the rent you avoid paying. However, if you buy an investment property under the same terms and rent it out, you will have to pay income tax on the rent received. Second, in my example investors make 6% a year (pre-tax) owning housing in the long run. This compares with 8-10% by owning stocks in the long run. In general property is considered a safer asset than stocks, so a lower return makes sense, but given government bonds usually return 3-4% and they are much safer than property, a return of 6% or even higher seems reasonable.

Do people make a lot of money by investing in housing? This is a separate question to that of inefficiency and the answer is generally yes they do! One of the huge drivers of wealth inequality (Piketty) is that wealthy people have their money invested in long term assets like property and stocks, where the return is 6-10%. Meanwhile most working and middle class people have a substantial amount of their capital sitting in current (checking) and savings accounts earning 0-2%.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Empirical data on value drift · 2018-05-01T07:08:26.961Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Good work, it's great to have any numbers on this at all. Given these are acquaintances I wonder could you follow up to try to get some reasons from the drifters. I would like to be able to classiy the reasons for changes in behaviour in one of the following two buckets; 1) I am lazier, more self-centred than in the past 2) I was young and naive, I know better now

In combating future potential value drift, we are considering tactics to essentially coerce our future selves. If we are confident this is because 1) then I think this coercion is merited, but if it's 2) then maybe we are compounding an error?

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Cash transfers are not necessarily wealth transfers · 2017-12-02T14:01:41.305Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Very interesting and I like the central point that cash transfers aren't an automatic win and are therefore worth studying, which I hadn't considered to the same extent before. On the education stuff, it seems like a lot of these problems could be solved if jobs were allocated based on the results of a standardized exam rather than years of schooling or some similar metric. I'm not talking about one run by schools, because it's likely the process wouldn't be trustworthy, I'm talking about when you advertise a job that requires reading, writing, or filing skills, you test for these skills with a written exam. Encouraging governments and other large employers to act in this way would surely encourage students (and parents) to actually learn rather than simply attend school as a box-ticking exercise.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Volunteering for a non-EA charity - a write up · 2017-12-01T23:04:45.788Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I want to be careful not to put words in her mouth here, as it's been a while now, but I can share more detail on what I took out of the conversation. Basically, to have any large impact you need to change the whole chain of events rather than focus on one particular area. Taking an extreme example, consider a mining town in Britain in the 19th century, where after primary school, working class children go to work in the mines and remain there for the rest of their lives. Improving the standard of primary education they achieve will have very little direct impact on their lives, if they still end up with the same probability of ending up in the mines. This is an extreme example, and I imagine that some (more) of the kids in the schools we contributed will progress further in education and employment. Even for those that don't, it's likely better reading and writing skills will stand to them over the course of their lives. Still, there is a reality here that needs to be faced, there were 3 young girls who spoke at the 'closing ceremony', thanking us deeply for helping them in their dream of becoming doctors, which all 3 of them were determined to do and confident they would achieve. However, from speaking to this lady it seems very unlikely that any of these three most promising students from the school will actually make it all the way through university and medical school.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Volunteering for a non-EA charity - a write up · 2017-12-01T22:50:45.748Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Not that I'm aware, although I do remember reading that Philipp Gruissem went to Uganda, and the Givewell guys have been on site visits. I imagine that if you are a frequent or large donor one of them would facilitate, but it would be interesting to explore an organised EA trip.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Volunteering for a non-EA charity - a write up · 2017-12-01T22:46:05.289Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

As you say, people are and will be driven by emotion for the forseeable future. Therefore there will always be demand to give to charities which cater to this need, so their will always be charities that target relatively ineffective solutions. Within that though, I think charities understand that they have some scope for discretion as to how exactly to spend their budget. I'd be hopeful by nudging the right people at the right time, and by making EA a thing that people have heard about, we can have a positive impact on effectiveness.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on [deleted post] 2017-02-25T07:19:05.761Z

The idea of trying to come up with a minimum level of giving to fulfill your moral obligation is a nice one, and one Singer tries to address in his 'Life You Can Save Pledge by varying the % of donation with income. However, you are going to need a lot more logical rigour when attempting to construct a framework.There is no direct logical link between point 6. and the previous points, which you seem to be framing as the assumptions required to reach your conclusion.

I would also ask you to question your assumptions. Consider for example assumption 1; some people find it extremely onerous to live a frugal lifestyle, while others find it onerous to work long hours or in stressful jobs. Imagine you have a job where you can always choose to work over-time. I would argue that if you choose to work 60 hours a week, spend more than you need to on yourself, (multiple vehicles etc.) and donate $2k a month to charity then that is certainly no worse than choosing to work 40 hours a week and donating $1.5k a month. While I generally find truth in the idea that those with more disposable income have a greater relative obligation to help others, I see nothing inherently wrong with living well.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Why I left EA · 2017-02-20T12:39:03.009Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Every so often this sort of thing happens to me - deep down I wonder if philosophy is much more interesting than it is useful! As you say I think trying to get a human (ie myself) to figure out how they make decisions and then act in a fully rational manner is a task that's too difficult, or at least too for me.

However, what I come back to is that I don't need to make things complicated to believe that donating to AMF or GiveDirectly is fundamentally a worthwhile activity.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Clarifying the Giving What We Can pledge · 2017-02-19T08:06:00.417Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I like the pledge in it's current form and I think it strikes an excellent balance. However, I'm a little uncomfortable with the GWWC Pledge 'Drive' in it's current form.

I like the analogy of marriage that you've used above Julia, but I this further clarifies to me something that the Pledge is a very serious, long-term decision. Such decisions require a lot of thought and planning and the specifics of an individual's situation are important, and even then they don't always work out, particularly if taken at a young age. As such, I worry it is inappropriate to actively encourage a person to take such a decision, particularly in a short time frame. I would prefer to see advocacy focus initially on getting people excited about the concepts of EA, doing their own reading etc. Once they've decided they want to participate by donating, I think the GWWC website is a great resource and encouraging people to sign up for the 'Try Giving' section is good too because it seems like a really useful tool to track your giving and make sure you hold yourself accountable to the actions you believe to be correct. Hopefully, this will eventually lead to many of them making their own decision to take the Pledge in their own time.

Let's say the focus of the Drive switched from new 'Pledges' to new 'Try Givers'. It seems likely to me that each of these Try Givers will take the Pledge in their own time or they'll realize the commitment was too much for them and not take it. In the case of the former, the outcome of switching is the same. In the case of the latter, it's likely that these people would have regretted taking the Pledge pre-maturely and likely will default on it at some stage. Perhaps guilt will lead them to donate more or try harder to stick with it, but I'm not sure that's really a winning outcome.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on GiveWell and the problem of partial funding · 2017-02-18T14:24:11.690Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

A very interesting piece, my initial reaction to GiveWell's splitting approach was similar to yours. Via the comments in that Dec 15 blogpost on the GiveWell website we narrowed the point of disagreement between myself and Holden to the effectiveness of Good Ventures' future giving opportunities.

At some time GV hope to (and I believe will) have made themselves experts in donation, having much more information than they do now about how to give best. However, given the pace at which the world is improving through economic growth and the impact of other charitable donations, I am concerned/hopeful that there will not be such low hanging fruit as exists and has been identified by GW right now. However, I also believe the people within GW/GV/OPP have considered this and have more information than me to make the decision. Still, until convinced I remain in the belief that GV should look to contribute Z - Y to GW's top charities, where Z is the total room for more funding (in the top 5 categories of priority) and Y is the total expected amount from other donors.

Holden, to put it your terms I agree with your 'broad market efficiency' assumption, and I don't doubt your ability to be able to beat the market in time given the work you are putting in. However, I do believe that the market rate of return changes over time. As more competing capital flows in to Effective Altruism and the number of opportunities to cheaply saves lives diminish, the market rate is likely to be lowered dramatically. Therefore, you could end up dramatically beating the market in a number of years time, and still end up with a rate of effectiveness which is lower than the current market rate.

Ben, to point 2) I would echo what Holden says and add the following: Aside from the direct impact GiveWell has by influencing donations in the short term, I think it is also adding a huge amount of value by the way it is changing the whole way in which people think about philanthropy and charitable donation. The most important thing Good Ventures can do for GiveWell is provide it with a stable funding base and positive signalling, by donating large amounts to the top rated charities. This I think is an excellent argument for GV's current approach even if they believe they will have better opportunities to give in future, comparing purely on direct impact.

Comment by jamie_cassidy on Effective Altruism Outreach winter fundraiser · 2015-12-14T21:38:23.931Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

While it's likely true that many people are currently beyond convincing, a movement has to start somewhere if it's ever going to become mainstream. This was true for the abolition of slavery early in the 19th century, women's suffrage in the early 20th century and to some extent gay marriage in the recent past. One reasonable explanation for this is that older people are much more difficult to convince than those who are still in their formative years. So while there will be many > 30 who will be drawn immediately to the movement, it is likely that broader success will be slower. It's also unlikely that it will simply happen, but with perseverance from those within the movement, outreach focused in the right areas, and the passage of time, Effect Altruism will hopefully some day become a social norm.