Microcredit may sometimes be effective, but perhaps shouldn’t be funded by donations 2020-02-19T15:30:25.623Z · score: 15 (7 votes)
Climate discounting: How do you value one tonne of CO2eq averted today versus (say) 30 years from now? 2020-02-12T16:41:21.092Z · score: 13 (4 votes)
Clean cookstoves may be competitive with GiveWell-recommended charities 2020-02-10T18:00:57.512Z · score: 21 (17 votes)
Update on CATF's plans for 2020 2019-12-24T09:21:45.875Z · score: 12 (6 votes)
Why we think the Founders Pledge report overrates CfRN 2019-11-04T17:54:13.171Z · score: 47 (22 votes)
Older people may place less moral value on the far future 2019-10-22T14:47:39.330Z · score: 26 (14 votes)
Could the crowdfunder to prosecute Boris Johnson be a high impact donation opportunity? 2019-06-05T23:43:10.114Z · score: -3 (11 votes)
Please use art to convey EA! 2019-05-25T10:46:08.885Z · score: 22 (18 votes)
Why you should NOT support Aubrey de Grey's work on ageing. (maybe) 2019-02-24T23:43:29.690Z · score: 4 (11 votes)
Why we have over-rated Cool Earth 2018-11-26T02:29:41.731Z · score: 67 (38 votes)
Nudging donors towards high-impact charities (a request for funding for SoGive) 2018-01-13T10:06:16.605Z · score: 6 (8 votes)
Medical research: cancer is hugely overfunded; here's what to choose instead 2017-08-05T15:41:06.692Z · score: 8 (10 votes)


Comment by sanjay on Clean cookstoves may be competitive with GiveWell-recommended charities · 2020-02-16T18:32:56.738Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the encouragement. I think that aiming for a "perfect" write-up has been a barrier to publishing content, so I intend for us to publish more shallow reviews to address this.

To answer your question, I think the best focus areas would be the six bullet points highlighted near the start of the article, with a particular focus on the first two (are the stoves actually used, and are they actually clean?) and the last (what is the best way to fund this work?).

Also, we would further investigate the very useful comments made by MatthewDahlhausen (which seemed very useful and was upvoted by me) and look further at the GiveWell analysis as mentioned by cole_haus (I was aware of this, but had not had the capacity to review it properly)

Comment by sanjay on How do you feel about the main EA facebook group? · 2020-02-14T10:55:31.858Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you to JanBrauner for raising this. I have had similar concerns.

However I don't think stronger moderation is the answer, especially since it's hard to moderate the comments, which is where most of the poor quality content arises.

Instead, it perhaps needs more concerted efforts from those who have thought about EA ideas more carefully to (nicely and constructively) help to improve the quality of the discussion.

This means participating in the EA facebook group more actively, rather than spending less time on it and just paying attention to the forum (which candidly, is what I've found myself doing)

Comment by sanjay on Climate discounting: How do you value one tonne of CO2eq averted today versus (say) 30 years from now? · 2020-02-13T15:29:31.875Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Note: this question was also cross-posted to the Facebook effective environmentalism group

Comment by sanjay on Nathan Young's Shortform · 2020-02-04T21:32:12.079Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

HaukeHillebrandt has recommended supporting Prof Chris Chambers to do this:

Comment by sanjay on Consequences of animal product consumption (combined model) · 2020-01-04T18:48:04.839Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I too imagined that downloading it and viewing it MS Excel might be better, but as far as I can tell there doesn't seem to be a way of downloading it. Unless I've just not found the way to download?

Comment by sanjay on Consequences of animal product consumption (combined model) · 2019-12-30T16:21:38.386Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for sharing this. Unfortunately the model shared appears to be a values-only version of the model (i.e. when I go to any cell in the spreadsheet, the formula bar just shows a number, not a formula). This makes it very hard to work out how you came to your conclusions.

I don't know whether it's showing this way because of the way One Drive operates or because you deliberately removed the formulae before uploading the spreadsheet, however I would certainly find it useful if you could find a way to share the full model. Thank you.

Comment by sanjay on Is being vegan the most moral option when it comes to eating animal products? · 2019-12-30T16:02:32.557Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Under certain assumptions, it is possible for eating animal products to be morally better than eating vegan food. In particular, you would have to believe that positive impacts on the animal's life outweigh the negative aspects, also outperform the net effect of wildlife that would have been on that land no longer being there, and the sustainability impact. I've explored this in this blog post, and I suggest in that post that it is possible for eating meat to be the better option, but it probably isn't:

Comment by sanjay on Helping the poorest without managing birth control creates vicious circle · 2019-12-30T14:00:50.508Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

As KHorton has alluded to, there is a well-established body of literature which indicates that development leads lower Total Fertility Rates. Examples include the books Common Wealth by Jeffrey Sachs and Factfulness by Hans Rosling et al. The following online resources also explore this:

Comment by sanjay on Important EA-related questions EA would like to know from general public · 2019-12-14T14:48:10.796Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Great that you're doing this, thanks so much for raising this here!

Not sure if you're already aware of this, but you might want to be aware of other studies that have looked at similar questions. In particular the Money For Good study in the US and the equivalent in the UK were interesting, albeit somewhat dated. (I have the raw data for the UK study). You might want to have a look so that you can use consistent question wording whether the questions overlap.

Some questions that we at SoGive would be interested to know more about:

  • The last time you gave to charity, what triggered you to give? (a) someone asked me (b) I decided myself [could break (a) down further, perhaps] [Note, this has been studied before, but to my knowledge not recently. Also I've never seen an analysis of the correlates of self-driven giving]
  • For the donor population, I'd like to understand the split between what we at SoGive call Organisation-loyal, Cause-specific, and Open-minded donors (hopefully the labels are self-explanatory but if not please ask). We would be interested to know specifically to what extent are those preferences moderate preferences (defined as: if the person is choosing a charity to donate to, they will follow that preference) and to what extent are they strong preferences (i.e. if someone else asks them to donate, they will say no unless the donation target is consistent with their preference). We at SoGive currently have some thoughts on this, which I can expand on if you're interested.
  • In terms of cause areas, it would be useful to know whether moral-circle thinking is a good model for explaining cause preferences. E.g. if someone is happy to support people in the developing world, are they more likely to support animals? Or those in the far future? (see also the research we conducted on attitudes to the far future)
  • A deeper understanding of why people never donate would be interesting. Self-reported answers tell us something, but there is some evidence that donors (at least some of the time) are non-donors because they just don't want to give and are looking for excuses ("motivated reasoning"). I wrote about this here, and referenced some studies, e.g. this, this and this (which were mentioned to me by a contact at Rethink Charity). Something which tried to quantify this (i.e. how many non-donors will never give, and how many non-donors would give if their needs were better met) would be really interesting, but possibly too hard for the scope of your study.

Some researchers are doing some interesting work on how people give -- the names Beth Breeze and Cat Walker spring to mind, although there are others as well. But you may well be too time-constrained to wade through all their work, in which case I suggest you just take a look at the Money for Good studies mentioned earlier.

More generally, very happy to discuss further. If you are willing to have a chat, let me know: sanjay [at]

Comment by sanjay on A corrected model suggests climate change interventions may be within a factor of two of direct cash transfers · 2019-11-28T14:46:58.373Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

And is it fair to say that if it applies to the GD impact, then applying it differentially across countries no longer makes sense? (i.e. Hauke's original approach does make sense after all?)

Comment by sanjay on A corrected model suggests climate change interventions may be within a factor of two of direct cash transfers · 2019-11-27T10:50:04.435Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for your reply, and sorry that my reply is rushed.

Re: " Also, I'm not sure I follow your claim that no income adjustment is happening in the GDvCC model. Even your new tab has a row labelled "income adjustment" with the number 1260 which is consequential in the final result " my claim isn't meant to be that there is no income adjustment, but rather that there is no income adjustment to the SCC figures -- there is income adjustment to the cash transfer figures. (Sorry, can't remember how I phrased this before, so might not have been clear)

Comment by sanjay on A corrected model suggests climate change interventions may be within a factor of two of direct cash transfers · 2019-11-26T22:36:23.487Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you very much to cole_haus for doing this. I definitely value it when people take the time to challenge analysis done by others.

As I understand it, the original analysis done by HaukeHillebrandt was correct.

Here's my understanding:

  • In his earlier post, HaukeHillebrandt set out a calculation for the ratio of the impactfulness of climate change interventions versus GiveDirectly, which can be found in this spreadsheet.
  • This spreadsheet included a (potentially somewhat confusingly labelled) row called "Social cost of carbon per tonne (relative to cash transfers)"
  • The analysis done here by cole_haus is, as I understand it, based on the assumption that we need to take the social cost of carbon and apply an income adjustment to it
  • However, I don't believe that this is necessary -- I believe that the existing social cost of carbon figures are already on a consistent basis and don't need to be adjusted further
  • What's more, the original spreadsheet doesn't seem to have actually been doing this (although it looked it did). To see this, take a look at this copy of the spreadsheet that I created. I created a new tab called " SJ CC v GD " which recreates the original calcs, but shows that there is no income adjustment to the social cost of carbon.

Happy to have my understanding corrected if I've misunderstood.

Comment by sanjay on The Economic Lives of the Poor · 2019-11-26T09:29:37.570Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

+1 to this, I definitely found Portfolios of the Poor a great way of actually understanding the lives of the globally poor

Comment by sanjay on What areas of maths are useful across disciplines? · 2019-11-18T11:23:15.200Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I would say probability and statistics.

If you want to do evidence-based things, you will want to be able to read an academic paper, including the maths. So you will want to be able to not just understand what is meant by a p-value, but also be able to have thoughts like:

  • this paper used a normal distribution, but really a students t / logit / whatever distribution would have been better, I wonder how big a difference that makes?
  • they used a normal approximation for a binomial here -- and I do/don't think that seems like a reasonable approximation
  • The paper claims this looks like a fairly good fit -- they could have used a chi squared test here; I wonder why they didn't?

This sort of ability wouldn't be useful if the existing body of research consistently used statistics well, but I don't think that's the case.

Final caveat: answering this question is hard because it's so broad. I'm extrapolating from my own experience, but what's useful for you might be different.

Comment by sanjay on Applying EA to climate change · 2019-11-18T11:10:02.143Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

"Which is better from an individual perspective: stop driving and take the bus to work, or cut food waste from 35% to 0%?"

The drawdown project seems to suggest that cutting food waste is better, because it's rated third on its list whereas mass transit is 37th. However I hesitate to suggest people follow the guidance of Drawdown. I contacted them a few years ago (before the big media splash) with some questions about their methodology and got no reply. So I don't feel willing to endorse (or condemn) their work.

Comment by sanjay on Applying EA to climate change · 2019-11-18T11:02:00.268Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

"I wonder where most of the waste happens?"

Most of the business-driven elements of the food supply chain are quite efficient, I'm told. I.e. each of manufacture, transport, and retail management. The waste comes almost entirely from customers buying things they don't need and then throwing them away.

If so, the most likely downside, if any, is the risk of people consuming food after its use-by date.

My source for this claim is a pitch from a food-waste charity. I consider this to be a slightly better source than a person chosen at random, however I didn't get the impression that the charity was rigorous about fact-checking its claims, so I can't promise this is correct.

Comment by sanjay on Why we think the Founders Pledge report overrates CfRN · 2019-11-17T11:12:55.261Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, we understand that both of those have happened (i.e. money for REDD+ coming from climate change buckets or development buckets), and, indeed, are common -- especially for it to come from money already earmarked for climate change

Comment by sanjay on Why we think the Founders Pledge report overrates CfRN · 2019-11-06T12:52:14.511Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Max_Daniel is on the nose about what we were trying to convey.

Let's imagine another hypothetical example from global development:

  • imagine that the Fairly Good Charity is 50% as good as AMF
  • and imagine that Warm Fuzzy Fundraising encourages current AMF donors to donate to Fairly Good Charity instead of AMF

Would we consider Fairly Good Charity to have negative impact because the funds could have gone to AMF? Arguably we could do, but in practice we don't.

What about a donation to support the operations of Warm Fuzzy Fundraising? I think this is a negative impact. (there's a parallel with Max_Daniel's vegetable example)

And coming back to climate change, if we thought that funds going to REDD+ were displacing higher-impact uses of the money, then CfRN too would have net negative impact.

Comment by sanjay on Can the EA community copy Teach for America? (Looking for Task Y) · 2019-11-05T18:25:19.263Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

To follow on from alexrjl's point about doing charity analysis for SoGive, most volunteers do this from the in-person events in London (see )

However it is also possible to do this remotely (and some volunteers have done this from home before)

Comment by sanjay on Americans give ~4%, not 2% · 2019-11-04T21:28:47.324Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Those interested in this sort of data might also be interested in seeing this compared internationally. I often refer to CAF for this; they produce a World Giving Index.

Here's a link to the 2018 report. Unfortunately their data on giving money is based on the proportion of the population that gives, rather than the proportion of gdp or total salary given.

Comment by sanjay on Why we think the Founders Pledge report overrates CfRN · 2019-11-04T19:39:33.373Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Good question. The section towards the end entitled "How material are these concerns" is intended to address this.

In reality it's hard to say.

The risks to the future of the REDD+ scheme seem unlikely to move the dial by one or two orders of magnitude on their own, I believe -- after all it's baked into the Paris agreement, so a 90%+ chance of failure seems pessimistic.

However the opportunity costs might be that bad, although there's a lot of uncertainty here.

Comment by sanjay on Aligning Recommender Systems as Cause Area · 2019-10-29T17:03:25.304Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for writing this; the forum is richer for having people investigate areas of work and analyse them in this way.

I don't believe that replaceability has been sufficiently considered here (I read this quickly, so sorry if I missed it). By encouraging people with the relevant skills to work on this, what do we achieve? Would they replace someone who otherwise wouldn't get that there is a problem with recommender systems not being aligned with what society wants?

If anything, it seems that this issue has had a huge amount of attention, and it's likely that all those who are already working in this area are very conscious of this issue.

I would change my mind if I heard that someone surveyed several people working in this area and many of them said that they were ignorant of or overly pollyanna-ish about the risks to wellbeing from these systems.

Comment by sanjay on Be the Match: a volunteer list for bone marrow donation · 2019-10-27T11:24:34.368Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · EA · GW

I considered joining the UK equivalent of this some years ago. I opted not to:

  • the website suggested that I should plan on the assumption that I may experience serious fatigue for 5 days after donating
  • in order to do this I would need to inform my employer that I was on the list
  • I already had a reputation at this stage for having an "extreme" interest in charitable activity

I had to weigh up definitely strengthening my employer's impression that I cared more about altruistic endeavours than my career against a 1-in-800 probability of doing something of value.

Comment by sanjay on Older people may place less moral value on the far future · 2019-10-25T09:56:51.815Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I think I share your concern. I don't know to what extent people are discounting people in the far future for epistemic reasons ("do we really know that those lives will be saved 500 years from now?") and to what extent it's for moral reasons ("I just think that people who haven't been born yet and are in no way linked to me or my grandchildren shouldn't be given much moral value compared to people who are alive today").

Interestingly this point didn't come up in the so-called qual research that I mentioned in another comment, but perhaps with more discussion with more people it might have.

Comment by sanjay on Older people may place less moral value on the far future · 2019-10-25T09:52:02.080Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA · GW

First I conducted what might grandiosely be called qualitative research. To be totally transparent about the nature of this "qualitative research", I approached some strangers in coffee shops or similar venues and asked them a series of questions about their values, in some cases (from memory, n=4) this resulted in an in-depth discussion of the moral value of those in the far future. At the time I thought of this as supporting a different project, although in reality it informed my choice of question wording for the initial study.

Even by the standards of qual research this is a small sample size, but it gave me the impressions that

  • talking explicitly about discount rates is meaningless (I couldn't bring myself to even try)
  • 100 years from now feels closer to today than 500 years from now, because you could imagine your grandchildren being alive then, and you care about them (the people I spoke to seemed too young to have grandchildren). But 500 years from now feels like the far future, and doesn't feel any different than, say, 1,000 years from now or 5,000 years from now.
  • discussions about values in the abstract were difficult, and subjects asked me for more information because they felt unable to answer questions about the amount of value they place on lives in the far future when the questions were posed in the abstract.
  • The trade-off questions (would you rather save 1 life today or X lives 500 years from now) were meaningful, and people felt able to answer those questions.

In the follow-up nationally representative study, Rethink formulated a different wording of question, and they may be better able to comment on those.

Comment by sanjay on Effective Altruism and International Trade · 2019-10-16T21:43:57.871Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I think the $300m comes from an article in the Hindu Business Line, which says that "Trump’s decision [to end preferential trade status for India] will cost American businesses over USD 300 million in additional tariffs every year." So this suggests that there is indeed an opportunity cost to the $300m; firstly because the $300m hasn't been magicked up, the $300m could have been spent on something else. This opportunity cost doesn't seem so bad, but another opportunity cost is that without the preferential treatment, the US may trade with other nations. We don't know who those other nations are, so the value of the lost trade is not clear.

Comment by sanjay on The ITN framework, cost-effectiveness, and cause prioritisation · 2019-10-15T21:29:22.373Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for this! I think this sort of challenge and thinking is really valuable and exactly what the EA community needs.

For comparison, the SoGive method of analysing charities advises focusing marginal cost-effectiveness, and not on the ITN framework. I absolutely welcome this thoughtful analysis of the framework.

(Full disclosure: I developed the SoGive method of analysing charities; it's essentially inspired by EA thinking, but not particularly focused on the ITN framework)

Comment by sanjay on Effective Altruism and International Trade · 2019-10-15T20:53:51.893Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Lucy, thank you for contribution to the EA forum. I'm sorry it's been a frustrating experience for you.

Some questions that came to my mind when reading your post were:

  • Agreed that there is no straight line from money to wellbeing, but if it *is* possible to invest a relatively small amount of money to generate a relatively large amount of money for the global poor, then that surely seems like a good thing?
  • I don't recognise your characterisation of GiveWell's views on the importance of money vs life. As I understand it, GiveWell's moral weights consider saving the life of an infant to be around 50x more valuable than doubling consumption for one person for one year, and that rises to 80x if the life saved is of someone aged over 5. (source: GiveWell CEA, August 2019 version, 'Moral Weights' tab)

I do agree with your assertion that improving wealth is not sufficient or necessary to improve wellbeing, and wellbeing is what we should care about. However I think I'm missing something about how this comment is adding something of value to this post. (note that I have not downvoted this post, and can't promise that those who have downvoted have been thinking the same thing as me)

Comment by sanjay on Effective Altruism and International Trade · 2019-10-15T20:25:50.492Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for exploring an interesting area. I may be misunderstanding, but I think section 1 is saying:

Donate $200k LEADS TO $300m for India LEADS TO 300,000 QALYs

If this is correct, it would indeed be stunningly good. Apologies if I'm being too sceptical, but I'd like to raise two doubts:

(1) I would be surprised if paying $200k is sufficient to bring about a bill, except perhaps in fairly favourable circumstances. I tried following the sources, but I don't have access to the book, and I didn't listen through the half-hour podcast. If you were able to explain this, that would be very much appreciated.

(2) I also didn't see a consideration of the opportunity costs. I.e. the bill does not magic up $300m worth of value, so without the bill, the $300m would have been used on something else. If so, what? And how much value do we place on that?

Comment by sanjay on Effective Altruism and International Trade · 2019-10-15T20:15:46.249Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I would like to understand the sentence: "I rely on literature estimates that value a QALY as 50% of GDP per capita of that nation" -- would it be possible to explain and/or provide an updated link to a source? (I tried following the link, but it said "doi not found")

Comment by sanjay on What to know before talking with journalists about EA · 2019-10-14T14:39:00.371Z · score: 12 (6 votes) · EA · GW

To expand on "I've seen this in a heading of an otherwise favorable article", I was told in my media training that typically

  • the body of the article is written by one person (a journalist)
  • The heading is typically written by a different person (the sub-editor)

Even if you have a good relationship with the journalist, who may well *want* to write a balanced article, the sub-editor is typically unwilling to compromise on the power they have in deciding a heading, and this choice is quite important for how readers perceive the whole piece.

Comment by sanjay on Making Donating Fun · 2019-10-14T13:32:21.286Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I like this! For my social enterprise SoGive, I have thought about multiple ways to get people involved in donating, and something like this has crossed my mind before. I'll message you directly, happy to discuss further.

Comment by sanjay on Altruism Coach · 2019-10-03T12:17:39.576Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · EA · GW

This is great! Have you considered mentioning this on the EA facebook group too? (No worries if you prefer not to for whatever reason, just thought I would mention it)

Comment by sanjay on Effective Pro Bono Projects · 2019-09-16T21:46:47.551Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I run, which produces analysis on charities. We have run many volunteer events by now, occasionally in-house in a company when the company wants to run a team/group volunteering event. We teach them the SoGive method of analysing charities, and then get them to work through a bunch of charities. If you think this might be of interest to you, feel free to contact me on sanjay [at]

Comment by sanjay on I Estimate Joining UK Charity Boards is worth £500/hour · 2019-09-16T21:31:35.475Z · score: 25 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for raising the profile of trusteeship as a volunteering opportunity. I agree that it's widely overlooked, and I think I have gained a lot from my past trusteeships.

Trustee boards are typically also short of resource, so increasing the pool of applicants is likely to be a good outcome. I'm glad you're doing this.

Other resources:

Some points on which skills people can use to add value:

  • I think the charity sector's perceived skills shortage is in finance, which is both essential and the people with the right skills are scarce. (Source: conversations with many people in the sector)
  • I'm not convinced that digital marketing is a top priority for the sector - for some charities their intervention may be about operating digitally, in which case this is more useful, although they are also likely to be the charities which already have this savvy. For fundraising, I'm doubtful that digital marketing is that useful in most contexts
  • As a trustee, it's unlikely that you can add much value with project management skills, unless it's a very small charity. For medium to larger charities, a trustee should keep their involvement more strategic, so they wouldn't actively manage projects. Knowledge of Prince2/lean/etc may have some marginal value

Finally, I would question the value of the £500 estimate:

  • The model does nothing to consider the variability in impactfulness of charities. Many people think that the majority of charitable interventions achieve nothing, and it seems odd to ascribe value to a charity whose work isn't achieving anything.
  • Not only is the impact of the charity variable, so is the impact of the trustee. It's entirely possible for a key trustee to double a charity's impact or have no impact at all. Given that this is so variable, modelling this as a flat percentage seems like the model is glossing over a key input.

Comment by sanjay on Ask Me Anything! · 2019-08-14T19:07:08.876Z · score: 16 (21 votes) · EA · GW

Do you worry that your involvement in could exacerbate the existing confusion and lead people to think that EA and utilitarianism are the same thing?

Comment by sanjay on Ask Me Anything! · 2019-08-14T19:05:37.096Z · score: 34 (30 votes) · EA · GW

A significant amount of your effort and the focus of the EA movement as a whole is on longtermism. Can you steelman arguments for why this might be a bad idea?

Comment by sanjay on Age-Weighted Voting · 2019-08-14T05:57:59.125Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the nudge Aaron. I'm still working on it. Have had a bit more higher-quality data added in, so incorporating that. I'll add it to the EA Forum when I get round to it.

Comment by sanjay on Age-Weighted Voting · 2019-07-15T22:20:37.624Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I'm also very excited about this idea. The format of the ultimate judgement (i.e. the retrospective evaluation) seems important. A straightforward survey of the population suffers from the problem that teasing out an answer about the quality of a policy is hard, and most people won't have put the time or effort in (even assuming they don't have a hidden agenda, as John_Maxwell_IV highlights). But a survey of experts has its own problems too.

That said, I suspect these issues are surmountable, and would be keen to see this idea turn into action.

Comment by sanjay on Age-Weighted Voting · 2019-07-15T07:03:50.382Z · score: 52 (15 votes) · EA · GW

David Moss and I recently conducted a study with about 500 participants looking at the extent to which people place moral weight on the far future.

The study found that older people give much less moral weight to the future.

The study included the following questions:

  • Is it better to save (A) 1 person now or (B) 1/2/1,000/1,000,000 people 500 years from now? (This is 4 different questions, one after the other, with differing numbers of people stated in option (B))
  • How far do you disagree or agree (on a 7-point scale) that:
  • “Future generations of people, who have not been born yet, are equal in moral importance to people who are already alive”
  • “We should morally prioritise helping people who are in need now, relative to those who have yet to be born”
Comment by sanjay on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-07-10T21:41:00.840Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Your point about advanced economies having already moved energy intensive industries abroad was really interesting. I hadn't thought about that. I wonder whether regulation that covers imports in advanced economies could be way to tackle that?

Comment by sanjay on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-07-01T13:09:01.064Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA · GW

If regulators don't think about the unintended consequences, then yes, I agree we risk unintended consequences. But surely the solution is to do regulation well?

With proper consultation with industry, regulation could induce innovation as Khorton suggested. With proper thought, it could set the right incentives and not encourage outcomes that are only marginally help. Indeed part of the point of lobbying should be to help governments see where they might go wrong and help them to get it right.

Re your comment:

"However, the basic economic fact remains that if you have two countries, one with regulation, one with less tight regulation, then, all else being equal, there is the potential for carbon leakage and that's why many people worry about economic competitiveness. "

A large company cannot move to a different jurisdiction at the drop of a hat. If the regulation is done well, with proper consultation, firms would rather work towards a regulation with a proper lead time than move countries.

Comment by sanjay on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-23T23:49:34.540Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks very much for your replies.

Re research on climate change. Let's assume that we're at a stage where we'll shortly be seeing diminishing marginal returns on this sort of research (as you claim) and that a small amount of extra research might be more valuable than a small amount of extra research of clean energy. Might that not (maybe) be a better thing to campaign for? E.g. if $1bn of climate change research outperforms $10bn of clean energy research (obviously these are made-up numbers) then campaigning for $1bn of extra government spend might be easier than campaigning for $1obn of extra spend.

Re regulation. I worry that your arguments are defeating a strawman of "campaigning for better regulation". Regulation which pushes industry to move to another country is just poor execution -- it's an outcome which neither government nor industry nor climate activists want. If done well, regulation should stimulate *the private sector* to perform research (e.g. clean energy research) in order to attain the regulatory targets. E.g. the regulation might look like: "industry must attain certain standards of climate footprint/cleanliness by (say) 2035", where the timelines/standards have been negotiated with industry and are at the ambitious end of what is attainable.

Comment by sanjay on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-01T17:57:14.770Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Great work Hauke! Love to see this sort of project supported with this sort of analysis! Some questions:

(1) Better understanding the relative rankings I would be interested to know: For "Research on climate change", you say in your spreadsheet that neglectedness is only 2 because "Much research funding already in this area and returns are probably diminishing" Do we know how much? (or any other reason for thinking that returns are diminishing here but not in the clean energy arena?) For Regulation, why is importance smaller than it is for research on clean energy? (or research on climate change, for that matter?) For Regulation, why is tractability scored lower than governments funding research when regulation costs (roughly) no money? For Regulation, when I read section 8 of your document, I wasn't sure how to interpret some of your comments. You pointed out ways that current approaches to regulation are sub-optimal. Does that mean you think there's an opportunity to campaign for regulations to be done differently? It seemed to me like a write-up that was very positive about regulation.

(2) Can clean energy R&D actually benefit from more funding?

You said in your piece:

"According to recent analyses, public energy R&D can productively absorb large amounts of additional funding and should increase 5-fold to be socially optimal."

The source for that says that the fivefold increase is based on "simple calculations". I've copied and pasted that below (see PS), but it seems that this is based on raw economics. In other words, it assumes (if I understand correctly) equal tractability in each of the research areas. If so, it begs the question, to my mind.

I think resolving this for me could be done quite simply. It would be sufficient to have someone who is an expert researcher say something like: "Yes, if there were billions more dollars thrown into this field that would be great because we have loads of leads to follow and I could list out a load of them off the top of my head if you wanted me to"  and not "To be honest, if we had loads more resource thrown at this, we would be scraping the barrel for useful things to research"

Alternatively, in your section on research on climate change, you say

"Funding more research on such topics might be even be more cost-effective than clean energy R&D funding. However, the overall funding gap is likely much lower (perhaps in the hundreds of millions) than for clean energy R&D (which is in the tens of billions) and so diminishing returns will set in earlier" -- Perhaps expanding on the rationale for this claim might (perhaps) be sufficient to satisfy my question mark on this.

(3) A couple of other questions

I also had a look at this 2016 paper from Nature energy which you linked to:

paper raised a couple of concerns which I don't think were covered in your piece (sorry if they were there and I didn't spot it)
- the discussion section suggests that the constraints for funding are likely to come from there being an adequate pool of scientist and engineering personnel available. 
- it also raises the possibility of government funding crowding out private sector funding

PS Source of the 5-fold increase estimate:

"Our own calculations based on 2016 net generation and average electricity price data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicate that these findings imply that U.S. government clean energy R&D spending should be about $5.2 billion, comprising $3.8 billion on wind/other R&D subsidies and $1.4 billion on solar R&D subsidies. By comparison, others have estimated that actual U.S. 5 government spending on renewable energy R&D in 2016 was only $1.0 billion (FSUNEP, 2017). If these numbers are correct, government support should increase by roughly five times current levels. This increase perhaps should occur gradually in order to avoid high adjustment costs, however recent evidence suggests that adjustment costs may not be a pressing concern considering current levels of public energy R&D support (Popp, 2016)."

Comment by sanjay on Please use art to convey EA! · 2019-05-30T10:55:28.635Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Aaron, I have removed the written out text of the table. Expanding them was useful, thank you for doing that.

Forum owners may be interested to know that I had assumed that clicking the corner of the image and dragging to expand would be possible, but after many many attempts I gave up.

Comment by sanjay on Does climate change deserve more attention within EA? · 2019-05-27T22:48:57.690Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

In your piece you said "John Halstead <...> argues that more emissions and warming might create destabilisation and nuclear war, but it's hard to see exactly how."

In case it helps, this Economist article may add some more colour on this:

Comment by sanjay on Why did three GiveWell board members resign in April 2019? · 2019-05-22T20:59:28.694Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW

You may also be interested to see the thread about this on the EA facebook group:

Comment by sanjay on Non-Profit Insurance Agency · 2019-05-16T18:40:24.045Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for thinking about how you can use your insurance background to make the world a better place, and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I have c 15ish years’ experience in the insurance arena, having worked as an insurance actuary, financial (ratings) analyst specialising in insurance, and a strategy consultant for the insurance space. I’ve also been on the board of several (>5) charities in the UK and consulted for ~10 more charities globally.

I’ll give some opinions about

  • What can you do to maximise impact through your work
  • Long-term business prospects for an insurance brokerage firm
  • How should you position your firm to maximise success
  • About structuring as a non-profit

First comment – you didn’t state your location, but I’m assuming you’re in the US.

What can you do to maximise impact through your work

  • You mentioned helping seniors navigate medicare. This is no doubt a good outcome, however I expect that focusing on wealth management and encouraging clients to donate more is likely to be higher impact, taking into account replaceability. As a quick calc, assume you have $10million of assets under administration (not an aggressive target for an established adviser); if you can get 1% of that to be donated per annum that otherwise wouldn’t have been, that could easily outperform your donations (unless you’re particularly profitable/frugal)
  • Note that financial advisers are currently short on tools to help them make more effective donations. My organisation SoGive is working on this in the UK, and Agora was doing this in the US (although I think they no longer are)

Long-term business prospects for insurance brokerage firms

  • Financial advisers in the UK and several other European countries is have often (until a few years ago) had a fairly low-stress, moderately high-income life. Which suggests that you might be onto something.
  • Some argue that this is because insurance providers paid them loads of commission, and this was only possible because commission is not transparent
  • Several European regulators, led by the UK, introduced new rules which banned commission (UK Retail Distribution Review 2012), introduced penal new training requirements, and broadly made a financial adviser’s business more regulation-heavy and painful. I don’t know how likely this is to happen in the US, but American regulators will certainly be aware of it.
  • The insurance intermediary sector is also at risk from disintermediation (especially if the commission payments are made more transparent) Having said that, your comment about a well-run online platform suggests that maybe you may be interested in actually *being* one of the disruptors, in which case you would stand to benefit from this risk. If you are going down this route, I don’t anticipate that it will be the easy life that some brokers have had.

How should you position your firm to maximise success

  • For a vanilla financial advice service, I am sceptical about the value of advertising the non-profit nature of your business. It risks creating confusion about the positioning of your service
  • However, if you provided financial advice covering ethical investments, structuring your business as some kind of non-profit may have some brand value. Even then I’m doubtful.
  • Note that “some sort of non-profit” includes options which are much cheaper/easier than a full-blown 501(c)(3), see below for more
  • Offering ethical investment advice could also (maybe) make sense from an impact perspective; if you advertise yourself as offering ethical investment advice, you could, as part of the advice, explain why donating is likely to outperform (i.e. because of counterfactuals).
  • If you are focusing on providing investment advice, I would encourage you to position yourself as a “holistic” adviser or “financial planner”, or failing that, at least a “tax specialist”; I would encourage you away from “investment specialist”. (Let me know if you would like me to expand on this point; also not sure if these terms transfer well across the Atlantic)

About structuring as a non-profit

  • As mentioned by other commenters, it’s unlikely for you to want to structure your organisation as a 501(c)(3) – lots of cost/effort and little upside. If your donations are going to tax-exempt (501(c)(3)) organisations, there’s no real tax benefit from you doing this
  • I haven’t checked if other commenters have covered this, but other options include a straightforward ltd company with adjustments to the constitution to stipulate that the profits must be donated, or maybe even just a non-legally-binding pledge. (I know this is possible in the UK, I imagine it’s possible in the US too). You could also be a B Corp. In the UK there is also the option to be a Community Interest Company (or CIC) – I don’t know of any similar option in the US (B Corp might be the closest thing you have to this)

Lastly, if you’re open to more wacky ideas, I’m more positive about micro-insurance than earning to give in the US. Your personal circumstances may not allow for this, but a few years working as a broker in the US, saving (not donating much) and then a few years selling insurance to the very poor (or trying to!) is likely to enable you to have more impact than this plan, assuming you have flexible skills and are able to learn lots of new skills quickly. (note: I can’t promise that everyone will agree with me on this) This attempt may fail, however it would likely teach you about what is needed to make insurance sales work better for the bottom billion, which may then make you better placed to work in micro-insurance sales for a micro-finance institution or become an entrepreneur.

Finally I’ll mention that I only check the forum occasionally, so apologies if I forget to look back soon and therefore provide slow responses to any more questions on this.

Comment by sanjay on Is preventing child abuse a plausible Cause X? · 2019-05-08T10:14:19.289Z · score: 16 (8 votes) · EA · GW

I have been on the board of one charity which focused on child sexual abuse, and another which tackled sexual abuse (not specific to children). I'll share some thoughts based on child sexual abuse (CSA) because that's the area I'm familiar with (even though I appreciate that the question is broader).

The TL;DR is that the area has caused a large scale of suffering; it's hard to tackle, but I'm optimistic that there might be tractable options out there.

  • Prevalence: I've heard people mention CSA prevalence rates that are disturbingly high (e.g. %age rates in the teens or twenties or even higher). I found this surprising. There seems to be some evidence to support this (e.g. ) however this is not a universally held view (e.g. Radford (L) et al 2011 give a figure of 5%, although even "only" 5% is horrible).
  • How bad is it per person: Through some of my other volunteering I have encountered many people whose lives have been made dramatically worse because of their CSA, with sequelae including dramatically lowered self-esteem, deliberate self-harm, suicidal ideation/intent and major depressive disorder. In short, there can be grave life-long consequences. However that's just the people I've encountered; how often do people survive relatively unscathed? (I know such people exist)
  • Tractability: Some factors will make it difficult to tackle this topic, including the fact that over 90% of sexually abused children were abused by someone they knew (again from Radford (L) et al 2011); this introduces complex family/social dynamics. Furthermore, it's hard to identify those at elevated risk of perpetrating CSA. Past behaviour is hard to use a predictor because it's disturbingly easy to perpetrate CSA and get away with it. Also, anywhere from one-fifth to two-thirds of sexual abuse is committed by other children and young people (source: Hackett, S (2014)). Educating potential victims (i.e. everyone) may be more fruitful, but I haven't looked into this.
  • Neglectedness: The ratio of (annual spend on issue by larger charities) / (number of sufferers of issue) seems to be middling for child abuse (not specific to CSA); i.e. probably higher spend (i.e. less neglected) than international aid but less spend (more neglected) than more popular causes such as homelessness and veterans. Note that this is a very rough-and-ready calc

Happy to support/ be involved if anyone wants to look into this further

Comment by sanjay on $100 Prize to Best Argument Against Donating to the EA Hotel · 2019-04-04T17:39:35.047Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I think this concern becomes much less of an issue if the EA Hotel didn't have "EA" in its name