$100 for the best article on efficient charity -- deadline Wednesday 1st December

by Roko 1 min read24th Nov 201057 comments


Reposted from a few days ago, noting that jsalvatier (kudos to him for putting up the prize money, very community spirited)   has promised $100 to the winner, and I have decided to set a deadline of Wednesday 1st December for submissions, as my friend has called me and asked me where the article I promised him is. This guy wants his god-damn rationality already, people! 

My friend is currently in a potentially lucrative management consultancy career, but is considering getting a job in eco-tourism because he "wants to make the world a better place" and we got into a debate about Efficient Charity, Roles vs. Goals, and Optimizing versus Acquiring Warm Fuzzies

I thought that there would be a good article here that I could send him to, but there isn't. So I've decided to ask people to write such an article. What I am looking for is an article that is less than 1800 words long, and explains the following ideas: 

  1. Charity should be about actually trying to do as much expected good as possible for a given amount of resource (time, $), in a quantified sense. I.e. "5000 lives saved in expectation", not "we made a big difference". 
  2. The norms and framing of our society regarding charity currently get it wrong, i.e. people send lots of $ to charities that do a lot less good than other charities. The "inefficiency" here is very large, i.e. Givewell estimates by a factor of 1000 at least.  Our norm of ranking charities by % spent on overheads is very very silly. 
  3. It is usually better to work a highly-paid job and donate because if you work for a charity you replace the person who would have been hired had you not applied
  4. Our instincts will tend to tempt us to optimize for signalling, this is to be resisted unless (or to the extent that) it is what you actually want to do. Our instincts will also tend to want to optimize for "Warm Fuzzies". These should be purchased separately from actual good outcomes
  5. Our human intuition about how to allocate resources is extremely bad. Moreover, since charity is typically for the so-called benefit of someone else, you, the donor, usually don't get to see the result. Lacking this feedback from experience, one tends to make all kinds of gigantic mistakes. 

but without using any unexplained LW Jargon. (Utilons, Warm Fuzzies, optimizing). Linking to posts explaining jargon is NOT OK. Just don't use any LW Jargon at all. I will judge the winner based upon these criteria and the score that the article gets on LW. Maybe the winning article will not rigidly meet all criteria: there is some flexibility. The point of the article is to persuade people who are, at least to some extent charitable and who are smart (university educated at a top university or equivalent) to seriously consider investing more time in rationality when they want to do charitable things.