...this is the first crazy idea I've ever heard for generating a billion dollars out of nothing that could actually work. I mean, ever.  -Eliezer Yudkowsky

We can reasonably debate torture vs. dust specks when it is one person being tortured versus 3^^^3 people being subjected to motes of dust.

However, there should be little debate when we are comparing the torture of one person to the minimal suffering of a mere millions of people. I propose a way to generate approximately one billion dollars for charity over five years: The Craigslist Revolution.

In 2006, Craigslist's CEO Jim Buckmaster said that if enough users told them to "raise revenue and plow it into charity" that they would consider doing it. I have more recently emailed Craig Newmark and he indicated that they remain receptive to the idea if that's what the users want.

A simple text advertising banner at the top of the Craigslist home or listing pages would generate enormous amounts of revenue. They could put a large "X" next to the ad, allowing you to permanently close it. There seems to be little objection to this idea. The optional banner is harmless, and a billion dollars could be enough to dramatically improve the lives of millions or make a serious impact in the causes we take seriously around here. As a moral calculus, the decision seems a no brainer. It's possible that some or many dollars would support bad charities, but the marginal impact of supporting some truly good charities makes the whole thing worthwhile.

I don't have access to Craigslist's detailed traffic data, but I think one billion USD over five years is a reasonable estimate for a single optional banner ad. With 20 billion pageviews a month, a Google Adwords banner would bring in about 200 million dollars a year. Over five years that will be well over a billion dollars. With employees selling the advertising rather than Google, that number could very well be multiplied. An extremely low bound for the amount of additional revenue that could be trivially generated over five years would be 100 million.

I'm very open to other ideas, but I think the best way to assemble a critical mass of Craigslist users is via a Facebook fan page. Facebook makes it very easy to advertise Facebook pages so we can do viral marketing as well as paying Facebook to direct people to our page.

50,000 users would surely count as a critical mass, meaning that each member of the Facebook page effectively created $20,000 for charity. I don't think there has been any time in history where a single click had the potential to do so much good, and the disbelief that this is possible is the main thing that our viral campaign would have to overcome. After the Facebook fan page got beyond a certain number of users, we could more aggressively take the campaign to Twitter and email.

Are there any social media marketers in the house? The first step is deciding what to call the Facebook page; it's limited to 75 characters.

It's time to shut up and multiply. I will match the first $250 donated towards the advertising budget for this, more next month depending on my personal finances. If anyone independently wealthy is reading this, $20,000 is probably enough to get the critical mass of users this week.

I welcome all of your criticism, especially as far as the mechanics of actually making this happen. As far as how to optimally distribute money to charity, that is very much an unsolved problem, but I think it's one that we can mostly worry about when we get that far. I also expect Craig and Jim to take a leadership roll as far as the distribution of the money goes.

Also see previous discussion.

New Comment
227 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

I don't think there has been any time in history where a single click had the potential to do so much good, and the disbelief that this is possible is the main thing that our viral campaign would have to overcome.


People can readily understand putting an ad on craigslist for charity, and can get that it will make lots of money, and that craigslist will do it if enough people want them to.

You've worked out that you can present that case in a different, mathy, and incredible sounding way. Don't.

I think the incredible conclusion could work if done right. "Incredible but true: Generate $20,000 for charity with just a few clicks! (Details inside.)"
That sounds even more suspicious. Generally taking something suspicious and then adding a phrase like "this seems suspicious, but it actually is true!" is a sure fire way to increase suspicion even further.
I don't quite understand the passion in the objection. Even when things are already know, sometimes speaking of them can be useful. This is especially the case when things are put into perspective. Now, I might object that the math put forward was based off highly dubious assumptions. In particular, the 50,000 facebook clickers doesn't sound believable to me. I have no idea about the$1,000,000,000 number. But if I actually accepted those premises then putting out the figure $20,000 per person would be useful. People don't naturally make that sort of calculation, even in an approximate way. $1b is just 'big number' and 50,000 looks pretty much like a big number too. So if the premises were right I would say get that math out there as clearly as possible. Emphasise the conclusion ($20,000 per person) and not the working out.

"As far as how to optimally distribute money to charity, that is very much an unsolved problem, but I think it's one that we can mostly worry about when we get that far."

I like the rest of your proposal, but I seriously think we need to look more carefully at this part. Once a billion dollars is already on the line, it's worthwhile for large charities that won't do very much good to spend $100M on marketing for a 12% chance at getting it, which does no one any good at all (except the marketing companies). If we make the decision beforehand- even if it is completely arbitrary (eg., we take all the charities recommended by GiveWell and put them on a giant roulette wheel)- then charities won't spend large amounts of money competing amongst themselves for the money, which would defeat the original purpose.

Steve Rayhawk once showed me an article claiming that (nearly) all of the value of the land on the American frontier literally vanished because of considerations like these. It was one of the most horrifying things I'd ever seen.

I would love to see said article.

Scroll about halfway down to "The Most Expensive Mistake" http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Laws_Order_draft/laws_order_ch_10.htm
In my opinion, the easiest way to handle this is to pick a handful of charities (with the input and approval of Buckmaster) and have the Facebook group vote on which they like. It gives them the impression of control but since you picked the options on the poll you can guide it to somewhere that will do something useful with it.
I have not been convinced that this scenario or various permutations is not what we should go for. I think the chance of failure goes up dramatically if we do not allow for some sort of ongoing, annual vote for the charity distribution. We will have the bully pulpit of a Facebook page and mailing list to teach our fellow activists about rational giving, but the choice should be made by the people. Craig and Jim like to think they are not dictators and picking the charities and the division of money between them will probably go against their sense of fairness. One charity I know Craig supports is Kiva. Is Kiva really that bad? I've heard some backlash against them recently. Craig also seems to be involved with various anti-corruption causes; that is something I would be ok getting behind that beats "The Society for Rare Diseases in Photogenic Puppies".
True, but technically this is their money we are giving away. I personally don't know much about charities. I just think it is an easier sell if we pick names that people recognize and let them choose from the ones we consider the best. By "we" I mean someone around here who knows more about charities. The easiest way to handle this is to pick the names of potential charities now with Craig and Jim's approval and put all of them on the website with details about how we will choose between them. The actual vote will happen after the Facebook group succeeds. This does multiple things: (a) we get to use more names for charities, (b) people who have an aversion to specific charities will have an incentive to vote but will not be discouraged from joining, (c) locks in potential charities so we can avoid golddiggers sniffing around after success. So, for example, we say:
Good point, Tom. Of course, even better than picking something completely arbitrary would be to steer the money towards the causes that matter most. Off the top of my head I would say SIAI, the Methuselah Foundation, and the Lifeboat Foundation. Unfortunately I don't think any of these would be able to attract 50,000 supporters, but maybe there's some way we could package them with other charities.
Sadly, I don't think existential risk reduction is sufficiently sympathetic to the general population (and we do need them on board for this to work). And if you have a large basket with stuff like the Methuselah foundation in it, you're likely to have people wondering why they can't put in "The Society for Rare Diseases in Photogenic Puppies". Ideally, you'd pick something simple and widely acceptable. Obviously, it would be difficult to find a single charity that could productively use a billion extra dollars per year. But the basket should be as simple and uncontroversial (and obviously, productive) as possible). Edit: Thinking about it, using a trusted intermediary might make the most sense. Using a grant-making agency avoids the appearance that we're funneling the money to our pet causes, it reduces the marketing/lobbying incentives (though it doesn't eliminate them) and it makes the money relatively productive (if we choose a good agency). Givewell may be a poor choice, due to the Metafilter flap, but we could specify, say the MIT Poverty Action Lab or something. Obviously, we'd need the organizations cooperation, or at least permission.

I would like to see this bundled with a Rational Charity meme. Let's be frank here: if this ends up going to the Society for Rare Diseases in Photogenic Puppies, it wasn't worth LW's time. If we can manage to get some money to things that actually matter, it was.

Trying to get something worthwhile done, as opposed to "making a billion dollars go to charity", might make the whole project fail because of that added extra inconvenience. So what?

If you wanted to boil it down to a meme, it would be "Do something effective for a change". Supposing you actually can generate a billion dollars, that's enough for ten million dollars for one hundred charities. "Ten million dollars apiece for one hundred unusual and effective charities." Like that.

6Paul Crowley
In the past, you've pointed out that it can never be more efficient to split a small donation between two charities than to give all to the best bet, even if you are uncertain which is best. So I take it the advantage of lots of charities here is a political one, that we can include some sops to fuzzy-purchasing, lots of GiveWell-ish charities whose efficiency we can calculate, and perhaps one or two x-risk charities which we consider to be very efficient but which most people aren't sold on?
We're not talking about a small donation.
1Paul Crowley
True :-) But is it really so much that in order not to reach diminishing returns on an individual charity, it has to be split 100 ways? Even splitting it five ways would seem to be enough to offset that effect. Unless one of the charities is SingInst.
As long as some amount of it goes to worthwhile charities, I think the whole thing would be worthwhile. I think we'd be hard pressed to lose control of the meme such that of a billion dollars at least 10 million didn't go to charities that we would want to support.
I think it ought to be something unimaginative but reliable, like clean water or vaccines to third world countries. I can't find it at the moment but there's a highly reputable charity that provides clean drinking water to African communities. IIRC they estimated that every $400 or so saved the life of a child. A billion dollars into such a charity - saving 2.5 million children - isn't a difficult PR sell.
The problem is not finding an effective, productive, and reputable charity. There are plenty out there (even if a majority are not). It's finding a charity than can effectively and productively use an extra billion dollars. Many charities don't have the oversight and planning infrastructure to use a windfall of that size.
There is an obvious solution to this: fund multiple charities.
Philanthropy by Americans alone is about $300 billion per year. The guesstimated annual cashflow here is less than one-thousandth of that.
Most of that is given to churches, hospitals, rich-country education, etc. Much, much less is given to overseas public health aid, and less of that to efficient programs.
Mimicking the Gates Foundation grants to GAVI could absorb a lot, but would risk missing a lot of the potential to use this to promote more efficient giving.
I was thinking yesterday about what I'd do if I won the lottery. Then I recalled that Robin Hanson gave the best version of the "What I'd do with a million" story I've yet heard, so I figured I'd give it to him. I don't know what he'd do with a billion, but I'd still point to his plan as one of the top ways to increase efficiency through spending money.
It seems to me that to do this effectively, Less Wrong will need to make a lot of good decisions. Upvoting and downvoting comments works for deciding what quotes should appear first in a rationality quote thread, but to do something as important as choosing which charities to promote or choosing the name of a Facebook group, I think we could use something higher-caliber. Range voting looks pretty good but maybe someone who has studied voting systems can suggest something better. I'm thinking maybe a web app that would make it easy to create polls, add options, and vote on them, maybe with captchas associated with all those actions to discourage any lurking 4chan types. It's 2 AM in my time zone, and I'm below the journeyman level in web development, so perhaps someone else would like to cook this up. If not I'll probably work on it tomorrow. Edit: Looks like something similar already exists, see http://vote.superduperapps.com/

watching LW try to influence the real world reminds me of the AI in the box. craig here being the guy with the button.

Can we include save the world funding advertisements on Less Wrong? I don't know how much that would be worth, but it could give us more credibility when we say that CraigsList (or Wikipedia) should do it. The credibility would be especially useful if we are actually talking about saving the world, and not just supporting the far less effecient charities supported by the general public.


Why not just start a fund that takes ad revenues from any site that wants to join. Less Wrong could be the founding member but any site that wanted to could direct ad revenue to the fund. A lot of sites don't make enough to bother- a few dollars a month. But if you get 10,000 small blogs and a couple hundred large ones... thats a decent sized fund. And once the system is already in place then it gets easier to convince larger sites to join. There is a norm of sites giving their ad revenue to charity, etc.

This seems like both a wonderful idea, and not mutually exclusive with the original. Having this organization could potentially increase the credibility of the entire thing, get some underdog points with the general public (although I don't know how powerful this is for average people), and act as a backup plan.
I think they actually are mutually exclusive. The original plan calls for quickly getting lots of people to support using ads on CraigsList to support inefficient causes that are already popular with the general public. The plan to start with ads on LessWrong supporting high value organizations such as SIAI, and then expanding virally through other blogs has a long term goal of getting big sites such as CraigsList to join. If these big targets already have entrenched competing programs, this would be much harder. To be compatible, the original plan needs to involve convincing people to support high value causes.
Excellent idea. How many Less Wrong members have their own blogs and would participate in this?

I think this is a very strange situation. There's a billion dollar bill in the middle of the road, and it's been there for four years. Yes, we should figure out how we can pick it up, and use it to purchase utilons, but I think as a sub-question, we really really need to figure out why it hasn't been picked up. Because what Kevin is proposing sounds easy. I spend time on Facebook, and I've been invited to, and often joined, a ridiculous number of advocacy groups -- one million strong for Darfur, support breast cancer awareness, etc. I do not understand how a group hasn't already been started to claim this money for some popular cause, and I don't think we're going to be able to claim it ourselves unless we can understand that.

Maybe they're not trying very hard. I'm actually seriously disappointed in how hard we're trying. I saw the discussion start in the comments of the "shut up and divide" thread. I came here expecting people to be all over it like ants on a picnic. Instead, there actually appears to be more thought going into spinning theories about why it would be hard than plans for doing it, and none of it really compares to all the serious thinking about TDT, MWI, or "Free Will." Of course it's hard. The point is not that it's easy, but that it's relatively easy considering how much money is involved. Here's my own halfharted stab: This meme needs 1. A specific cause that moves people. 2. A charity that uses money effectively. 3. A good slogan. GiveWell shows four charities with its top rating: * Village Reach: Vaccines for babies in Africa * Stop TB Partnership (Stop TB): tuberculosis treatments * Nurse-Family Partnership: Early Childhood Care (USA) * Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP): K-12 Education (USA) Village Reach is the winner, as far as the cause moving people. Saving babies in Africa trumps treating TB worldwide and educating mothers or children in the US. (Nurse-Family Partnership sends nurses to teach mothers how to be mothers.) For the slogan, how about: "Save babies on Craigslist." EDIT: links, spelling
6Eliezer Yudkowsky
If this is where the putative money is going, I'm not interested in talking about it here. Are there any charities out there which could productively use $10M to get us closer to liquid-fluoride thorium reactors, say? The IEC fusion folks could use $10M. A list of the 100 most interesting projects with organizational frameworks already in existence that could start scaling up with $10M might be worth compiling in and of itself.
You don't care about $1 billion for tuberculosis control? TB may not be an existential risk, but it's still a really big, important problem, and it's one that could easily get a lot worse if universally antibiotic resistant strains start becoming common. If the Dark Lords of the Matrix offered me the choice between "tomorrow someone invents a fusion power plant that actually works, is easily built and maintained, and generates electricity energy at a lower cost than burning fossil fuels does" and "all TB bacteria spontaneously die", it's hard to say which would actually generate more utility.
7Eliezer Yudkowsky
I would take the TB cure but you are not thinking on the margins. People are already worried about TB, funding is already going there.
The only way this will work is if we trigger feelings that already exist. We cannot create new worries and feelings in the time it takes them to read a Facebook group name. We need something that will already have enough momentum to make them click the button. I could be misunderstanding your point.
So...the thing that most needs to be done is hard. Gosh, reality isn't allowed to do that to us, is it?
True, but It's still not nearly enough, though. In the short run, the Stop TB Partnership (GiveWell's #2 charity) can productively use about $20 million more to supply drugs to eligible countries.
I would take the fusion plant; an energy technology that is cheaper than fossil fuels in all major ways is basically a license to print money. Most literally it is a license to print money -- you could sell the patent for more than a billion dollars and then cure even more tuberculosis.
Note that I said "someone" - meaning someone other than me - does the inventing. And the alternative is "The TB bacteria immediately becomes extinct - nobody ever gets TB again, and everyone who has it is immediately cured."
Point taken, I misread your scenario.
Probably. But would the general public find IEC (or SIAI) compelling? I'm thinking not. For a something like this, we need something that will appeal to the average person (at least the average Facebook/Craigslist user), and I think human development projects are more likely to do that than research projects or existential risk projects.
9Eliezer Yudkowsky
Then all versions of this project that I'm interested in won't work. Still seems worth a try. I guess I'm astounded by the degree to which people seem to value "succeeding at what we set out to do" over "trying to do something important".
Probably. But maybe, also, people have different views (not necessarily correct) of the threshold of importance.
At $200 mil annual there are basically no worthwhile charities that could effectively absorb the entire thing. A good option then is to split the revenue among multiple charities. This probably means a lot to human development (education, health, econ) but some of it could go to someone working on fusion power- the Internet is pretty into alternative energy type stuff. 1 million isn't one billion but it is still worth the effort. Anyway, I think some of the more likely existential risks are significantly reduced by a better governed Africa and a better governed Africa is a lot easier with a middle class and when 15% of the population isn't HIV+ or dying from tuberculosis.
Care to expand?
Poorly governed states in social and economic turmoil create environments conducive to global terrorism and the black markets that provide weapons capable of serious destruction (which right now means nukes and chemical but in the future could mean nanotech or genetically engineered pathogens). A misgoverned sub-Saharan Africa is also the most like origin point for a naturally occurring pathogen because of the diseases they already have that could mutate to spread faster, the sanitation situation and the fact that few African governments are competent enough to pull off a quarantine. The absence of rule of law, democratic checks on the military, continual conflict and overall incompetence also increases the chances lab error or misuse of high tech weaponry as technology become more accessible while social, economic and political conditions do not improve. In general, areas of chaos become more and more dangerous to surrounding regions as technology improves.

The absence of rule of law, democratic checks on the military, continual conflict and overall incompetence also increases the chances lab error or misuse of high tech weaponry as technology become more accessible while social, economic and political conditions do not improve.

I just had a fun idea: take this premise, and the demonstrated difficulty of improving Africa, and the idea that the development vs. likeliness-to-screw-everybody-over-with-WMDs curve would be an inverted U, and calculate the point at which it would be better to cut off all aid & begin bombing Africa into (or within) the Stone Age.

The version of this that I would put forward seriously is that the Westphalian concept of inviolable national sovereignty is a convenience to the rich and complacent inhabitants of successful nations, but a huge detriment to the inhabitants of failed states, condemning them to endless slavery at the hands of incompetent dictators who need fear no invasion as they weaken and starve their captive countries. Africa might benefit enormously from being conquered by almost anyone, including China.

Probably the best thing that could be done for the poor of the world would be to greatly relax or eliminate immigration restrictions in developed nations. Of course that would be a little too much caring for the vast majority of citizens in the developed world. Far easier to salve your conscience with the occasional donation to charity than to actually have to live near these poor people!
True, but only up to a point. If you were to move everyone into a developed country ASAP, the "memetic overload" can destroy the very institutions that make those countries successful. Yes, I know this sounds suspicously simliar to something a lot of racists say, but it's still true: if you add 100 random mouthbreathers to a five-man successful Silicon Valley startup, you don't get a 2000% improvement in productivity and a 5-fold gain in wages for the newcomers. Rather, you destroy the operation.
Greatly relaxing or eliminating immigration restrictions wouldn't result in everyone moving from the developing world overnight. One of the main benefits of immigration in reducing poverty comes in the form of remittances back to family in the home country.
Now now; if you're going to be in Hanson mode, at least credit him when you're not being original: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/12/microlending-fails.html
I'm not sure that Hanson was being original. Libertarian leaning economists have been making this argument for some time.
I wasn't claiming to be original but I wouldn't credit Robin Hanson as the primary influence on me on this issue. Maybe Kerry Howley or Will Wilkinson should have got the credit.
1Paul Crowley
Is it too dangerous to the heat/light level of the discussion to ask what Iraq tells us about how that would go?

I said conquered, not trashed by a bunch of Westphalians who weren't planning on owning the place afterward.

Looks like you are assuming that the west - England, France, Spain etc conquered other countries to improve those countries. In reality, the primary motivation was to get economic leverage against the competing powers at the time. And often times, this is done at the expense of the economic well-being of the people of the conquered countries. For example, the British Raj destroyed the budding local textile industry and trade between India and other European countries, Persia and Turkey. If not, what makes you think it would be any different with Africa?
No one is assuming that. Everyone here assumes that the conquerors would be motivated by self-interest. The argument some are making is that the conquering would still have the side effect of making life better for the conquered.
Wait, you think Iraq would have gone better if we had just ruled it with a military governor and then tried to annex it?!
6Eliezer Yudkowsky
I'd have to turn this over to Michael Vassar if you want details. He's the one who convinced me that the British used to be really good at this. One key point is that it doesn't do you much good to be conquered by conquerors who are too squeamish to keep order. Remember when the Iraqis were wishing for Saddam back because he might have been utterly evil but at least his reign of terror kept peace in the streets? That's why I mentioned China. The old-time British would've been better, but you can bet China wouldn't tolerate warfare in cities they planned to go on milking. Life in China isn't perfect but it's a whole lot better than living in a failed state. I seriously think that Earth would be better off if we got out of the way and let China conquer everything that isn't a democracy.
Well I think the British were really good at that but they were good at it during a time when the areas they were taking over didn't have expectations or traditions of sovereign statehood. Nor was there a vocal international community with the same expectations. We're all Westphalians now. You just can't get away with taking over territory anymore. That could theoretically change in the future, but in a world anything like this one China invades Africa and deals with a popular and violent resistance movement that only grows.
I think you underestimate the effectiveness of authoritarian methods of pacification. There is an enormous difference between the methods the Coalition forces are using in Iraq today, and large scale use of concentration camps, hostage taking for actions against occupying forces and all those other good things. Imagine what Eastern Europe would have looked like during WW2, if German resources weren´t committed fighting the Soviets. Another good analogy is to look at is how things are in Tibet.
If you don't have ethical qualms there are certainly more effective ways to combat resistances but even the Nazis had a lot of trouble quelling resistance in places with strong national identities (France, mainly but Britain would have been hell to hold on to). All of this is a lot easier if you're already at war with most of the world-- if you also want to maintain good relations with the developed world there are some pretty firm limits on what you can do. What do you think the reaction of Europe and the Muslim world would have been to the US deciding to annex Iraq and abandon ethical restrictions on their counter insurgency tactics?
It was my belief that the counterfactual was that the rest of world agreed to stand by and allow China to take over all of the non-democratic world. The US would have faced a lot of flack if it decided to annex Iraq, yes. However, the only people who could effectively fight us in a non-Westphalian world are Russia and China. The entire Muslim world could be conquered (in the sense that got George Bush to say "Mission Accomplished") in less than 2 years. The US, however, would not embrace the tactics necessary to pacify that territory, nor would we be able to raise the number of troops necessary to control the territory. China, on the other hand, has a 2.25 million strong army and the ability to impress far more and to engage in the sorts of tactics that allow actual pacification.
I'm not sure we hold different views then. A world where no one objects to China taking over the non-Democratic world is a very different world from the one that we live in. Nonetheless, in that world it would be a decent idea.
What exactly are you planning to do once they control all the former non-democratic states, consolidated their territory and a ready to get on with business?
What exactly are you implying China would do then? No matter how much of the world they controlled, they still couldn't invade the US or any other nuclear power.
Off the top of my head, they could: * Conquer any of the stable countries that didn't have nukes and was below the threshold at which the other nuclear powers choose to scorch the earth. (Although the US should probably then trade nukes with said countries to prevent that.) * Claim the sea, preventing any shipping trade. Again, to the threshold of thermonuclear war. * Claim space. Destroy all non Chinese satellites. * Maintain a standing army that could defeat the rest of the world in conventional warfare without breaking a sweat. Just because they can. * Develop AGI. Ok yes, they could do that anyway. So all the other stuff is irrelevant.
How do you feel about Russia doing the conquering? They've still got the guts to use brutal methods when necessary; they were still willing to go all Stalin on Chechnya even after they were no longer Communist.
7Eliezer Yudkowsky
Russia seems grossly incompetent compared to China. I don't know if the conquerees would be better off.
Russian person here and I don't want to conquer anyone! Don't get me wrong, it's kind of neat to hear you and Vassar agreeing with Moldbug about colonialism, but seriously: I don't see how annexing Tajikistan would help our economy. They're already sending us all the cheap labor we want :-) This arrangement is better than back when we owned Tajikistan and a host of other now-independent countries, which were all huge money sinks. (IMO economically it would even make sense for us to let Chechnya go, but we can't do that because they'd just start the attacks again with money and volunteers flowing in from Arab countries, as it happened in the first two wars.)
Yeah, conquering foreign countries isn't very good at generating wealth for the conquerors these days. You used to be able to go take an army into a city, round up all the valuables, and sell the population into slavery. Not so much any more.
This is really strange then: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=per+capita+gdp+of+russia%2Fper+capita+gdp+of+china
Russia had a head start - and has oil wealth. For comparison, Saudi Arabia's GDP per capita is on the order of $17,000. 45% of its entire GDP is its nationalized oil industry; private industry is only 40%.
It's true. However I think people get a little caught up in the China is growing story. Russia is a dying country in a lot of ways. However, both are heavily controlled by corrupt leaders. EDIT:was->ways
That is not clearly relevant, since the graph was not about Russia being richer, but growing faster. That the USSR numbers were higher might be relevant, if it makes it easier to return to them. Russia has a similar amount of oil exports to Saudi Arabia, spread over five times the population, but has similar GDP per capita. Simply going from 0 to its current oil doesn't account for the change over the past decade. If you throw in gas, aluminum and steel, it might be a big piece of the change, though.
Oops, I only noticed the number, not the graph.
Michael Vassar, could you give the details on this?
If we were serious about it, then I think so. And by "serious", I mean "willing to massacre populations that didn't fall into line." We'd have a higher body count, but things would be better after about a generation and a half. See also: Philippine-American War
Also, in hindsight, the U.S. probably shouldn't have interfered with the Soviet Union's misadventure in Afghanistan.
Also in hindsight, the US should not have turned Haiti back over to the Haitians. Losing the corvee and getting Duvalier is, I think, a bad trade.
6Paul Crowley
I think this is voted down unfairly. I read this not as a genuine plea to nuke Africa, but as a Robin Hanson-esque caution against motivated thinking. We'd like aid to Africa to be the Right Thing, and if we're made uncomfortable by the idea that existential risk trumps that, why, here's a good reason why aid to Africa is justified on existential risk grounds! So this is a sort of antidote: if that were your real reason, you'd greet gwern's alternative solution with a great deal more equanimity than you do. EDIT: I'm obviously super-persuasive, since it's gone from downvoted to upvoted since my comment :-)
Oh, of course not. At least, not until I've crunched some numbers. Quite right. It's fun to use logical arguments to wind up in a uncomfortable place. Obviously, if you get the same number of up-votes as the original paradox/comment! ;_;
The Global economy would tailspin and the existential risk situation would get a lot worse as a result. Also, this would probably be a place where I'd depart from utilitarianism, even if it would work. Clever, if horrific, idea though.
I think you badly overestimate how important Africa is. Even assuming resources cannot be extracted while also bombing the place, Africa isn't that important. The continental GDP is just 2.7 trillion. Several percent of that is foreign aid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Africa) and their exports to the rest of the world are small enough that their balance of payments (with the rest of the world) is negative by billions (http://www.africaneconomicoutlook.org/en/data-statistics/). Now, if Africa disappeared or was suddenly destroyed, I would expect the global financial markets to drop considerably; but they are so skittish they drop at the fall of a hat. The long-term economic impact wouldn't be so bad outside of commodities like Coltan. Certainly not so bad as some grey goo getting loose. (I'd count things like AIDS as further debits to Africa, but obviously that's a sunk cost as far as this suggestion is concerned.)
I'm willing to continue participating in this discussion but it is pretty difficult without you specifying more exactly what the proposal is. To begin with, where exactly are you bombing? Are Egypt and Morocco included? South Africa? Are you paving the continent with H-Bombs or targeting infrastructure with conventional weapons? What kind of population is left after the attack? What kind of industries will be left behind? Will there be restrictions against doing business on the continent to keep them from redeveloping? Will refugees be allowed to emigrate? Some considerations: if you attack majority Muslim countries you're instantly creating billions of terrorists, especially if you target Egypt and leave it open to Israeli expansion. If you use nukes there are huge environmental implications for the Middle East, India and if you leave it, Northern Africa. The fallout would be bad enough that these countries may well declare war. Meanwhile, the use of nuclear weapons would be seriously objected to by large majorities in the Western world and would radicalize large segments of the West particularly since, at least in the US, the attack would be seen as having racist motivations- in the eyes of a lot of people this would basically be genocide. Even with minimum possible radicalization you're still going to have to do something with all the African immigrants and children of African immigrants (include, you know, a former President of the United States). Also, China is going to be pissed at what you did to their future satellite states. Whoever does the bombing probably gets trade sanctions placed on them by the rest of the world. Using conventional weapons and doing less damage probably decreases the chances of broader international conflict in the short term and lessens radicalization in the West. But bombing economies back to the stone age doesn't make the people who live there cavemen. You've still got a huge population furious at the West with nothing to lose- a
I bet that Gwern simply flinched from modeling any of this, sensing that, with that level of absurdity exposed, such an intellectual provocation would simply lose the "intellectual" part in LW's eyes.
There a high moral cost to beginning bombing Africa. It would create opposition in the Western world that would likely increase the chance of homegrown terrorism.
There is no moral cost by definition; at the point at which we would want to start bombing, the immoral thing is to not bomb. We've bombed many countries for far less than existential threats (arguably, every US bombing campaign back to WWII). Further, I think you drastically overestimate the chances of homegrown terrorism. Vietnam was long ago. Reports like millions of Iraqi refugees or hundreds of thousands of excess Iraqi deaths merely spark muted partisan arguments about whether the Lancet's statistics are right or not. It's a long way to Tipperary.
The UK had homegrown terrorism that it probably wouldn't have had without the Iraq and Afghanistan war. Additionally mosts of the deaths in Iraq are in the West considered to be collateral damage. The Western reaction would be different when we would believe that the death toll is intentional and is supposed to bomb Iraq into the stone age.
Normally I like fun ideas, but a lot of scenarios where Africa is bombed to the Stone Age (to prevent terrorism!!!) involve World War III.
What makes you think this scenario either is caused by or causes WWIII? A lot of scenarios in which your blood is shed involve you being murdered; but also a lot of other such scenarios involve a cancer being removed and saving your life.
As wake-up calls on motivated cognition go, that one is worthy of Robin Hanson. Thanks. (Not that he'd put it quite that way)
Can the SIAI absorb a billion dollars over five years, if it happened that we could get people behind it?
3Eliezer Yudkowsky
Nope, not even close, but Michael Vassar might be able to think of something else interesting to do with a billion dollars.
Buy Iceland and build a volcanic lair there.
With a GDP of >15 billion, I think you'll need more than 1 to buy it.
Convincing the general public that these causes are worthwhile sounds like a worthwhile make a desperate effort level project. Or we can just ignore expected utlity, and attempt to satisfy our desire for warm fuzzies.
That list is a great idea. But why exactly shouldn't we talk about human development projects?
GiveWell exists because most charity goes horribly awry since it is based on impulsive fuzzy-based giving that pays attention to the 'do something' and 'warm fuzzies' factors, and doesn't focus on maximizing impact. Doing something like this carefully could easily move it orders of magnitude in expected impact, and such care could be prevented with a rush of impulsive moves that poison the waters and favor a relatively inefficient approach even if successful in moving money.
I'm not sure why you think that's a bad thing. Effective project management is also about managing risks and downsides, and the most basic risk or downside an initiative can have is whether it's doable at all or worth doing at all. Raw motivation is a necessary but not sufficient condition to success. Success requires drawing up a plan that covers all links in a fairly long causal chain which starts with people having a discussion here and ends in someone writing a large check to a chosen charity, and you can't handwave away any of the links in that chain no matter how trivial the nature of that link. One of the ways to find out all the links is to indulge in negativity, which people are often good at.
Actually the greatest risk here is that we get tied up in arguing about how to do it and don't actually go and do anything. As far as I'm concerned, that's much more likely than we get this going and all of the money somehow goes to bad charities. There is no way we are going to be able to establish the complete casual chains. At a certain point along the way, we're going to have to just wing it.
Village Reach is a fantastic charity. But they would have no clue what to do with a billion dollars. They could take maybe one percent of the revenue this would generate. Edit: Which is to say that funding Village Reach is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, we just need a lot more ideas.
Is the idea to save all the ad revenue and then give it as a lump sum? That seems like a strange thing to do. Would Village Reach be able to take the amount each month of ad uptime would generate, once monthly?
GiveWell says they could absorb $2.5 million over the next year. That means if Kevin's math is right 15% of one month's revenue would top them off.
They do separate, regional projects, and that number is what they need to carry out the projects they've already committed to. If they get on Craigslist and start seeing steady money out of it, they can start a bunch of new projects in new areas.
With what staff? Maybe GiveWell or someone could answer this but right now we have no reason to think they could scale up to a budget 100x what they had last year. We also don't know what level of efficiency they could maintain with the increased size.
With staff they hire. Certain kinds of problems are both inevitable and fixable once money is in the pipeline. When you add that much money, you're giving it to the planners, not the plan. If what they're doing doesn't scale to the money they get (though I think it will) they'll do something else. Treat it like one of those business plan contests. Their success so far shows that they know how to do charity work. It will also get people to join on Facebook, without which there will be no money for anyone. But I'm not married to that particular charity. I just think that with so much money waiting to be claimed, we're having a little too much fun seeing who can predict the smallest nitty-gritties the farthest away.
GiveWell disagrees with you about the importance of scalability.
I'd rather give a lot of the money to GiveWell, earmarked for international charities. They can then decide how much would be effective in the hands of Village Reach.
OK, let's do that. You win. We can probably still use "Save babies on Craigslist" or something similar as the slogan if we make some baby-oriented charity the "poster child." EDIT: spelling
I agree that making a lump-sum donation is a bad idea. But 200 million dollars (going by the OP's estimate) per year is still a lot of money for a charity to absorb. Givewell puts the "room for more funding" at $2.5 million (for 2010). This may (probably will) go up for later years, but it's a long way from $200 million. Stop TB Partnership is a bit larger, but still not $200M/year large.
As noted in other posts, I would be concerned about the "feeding stray animals" problem.
It sounds easy, but it's a little harder to get other people to do your bidding than I would like. I welcome someone with a good answer to why no one has picked this up, but I think it's just that no one else put together that this is an inefficiency in the marketplace that is fixable. I don't know; I think that there aren't a lot of people with the particular knowledge background I have that would lead to seeing this inefficiency and then acting on it. I'm also a fair amount better at spotting these market inefficiencies than the average person, which is why I don't have a real job. I think there's a disconnect here because it's more complicated. You need to understand and believe in several key assumptions for this to seem possible, starting with an explanation of how atypical Craigslist is as a corporation. It really is the only corporation in the world of such influence that is basically run by communists. Another thing that most people don't understand is that Craigslist does what the users tell them. People see statements from Craig and Jim to that effect, but there's another mental click that needs to take place for someone to understand that they really mean it. The last time I did this my group only got to 150 people, probably 75 of whom were my friends. It's not too hard to get people to make that first join click but it's a lot harder to get them to go and invite 25 friends to join. So the problem is that people believe in the cause enough to initially join the group, but not enough to invite every one of their Facebook friends.
Yeah. It might be cold shower time. Here is a relevant discussion on CL. Doesn't look good for our heroes. EDIT: Though this person's proposal didn't involve the option to turn the ads off.
The claim that Craigslist is far from long-run profit maximizing is pretty dubious. It's compatible with the evidence as far as I can see but not very likely. That claim may just be a nice excuse in one interview. Craigslist has for-profit investors, even if they claim to be hands-off.
What investors? Given how eBay got its own Craigslist clone and is suing them, I'd say CL is far from long-run profit maximizing.
I wasn't familiar with the lawsuit, that's good evidence.
Yeah, eBay is a hostile shareholder. I believe Craig gave an early employee/cofounder 25% of the company in a verbal agreement and that verbal 25% later became worth a lot of money.
Reading that comment left me with an aftertaste of comma. ETA: Judging by the downvote, this was a bad way of pointing out that the parent comment ended in a comma.

I really think that I can handle this Kevin. Let's not move too fast but rather plan carefully. A private telephone conversation and further discussion might be a better thing to do before taking any actual actions that involve contacting Craig's List people.

I'm having major déjà vu. I had pretty much exactly the same idea in 2007 and wrote about it here:


I emailed both Craig and Jim Buckmaster, and they basically refused without giving any good reasons (rumor is that Buckmaster is a communist and doesn't like money out of principle, or something like that). I probably still have those emails somewhere, but I summarized the conclusion here:


I think the number of comments you had requesting email addresses for their amazing opportunities highlights the difficulty of getting this idea to work.

The optional banner is harmless,

Revisiting this page now in 2019, I'd take more exception to this. For entirely unrelated reasons, I ran my own banner ad A/B test, and the results were far from harmless: https://www.gwern.net/Ads And this turns out to parallel experiments by both Pandora and Mozilla. Scuttlebutt has it there are more suppressed experiments also demonstrating long-term harm. (I'm running a followup experiment which I hope will show smaller effects but I don't know what it is finding yet.)

Extrapolate the various estimates out to Craigslist and that's a lot of potential global deadweight loss from sales/deals/rentals not happening.

Yeah, we successfully asked Jim if he would do it if enough users asked for it and he straightforwardly refused. He is very consistent in his desire to keep ads off of Craigslist.

Are there any social media marketers in the house? The first step is deciding what to call the Facebook page; it's limited to 75 characters.

Craigslist Charity Initiative?

Just a suggestion but has anyone thought of creating multiple different groups (obviously with the same objective) that have different names in order to see which name/s are most effective at attracting new members? Start X groups at roughly the same time and see which has the most members after Y days. Assuming they are all promoted roughly equally. This might also create the impression that more people are campaigning for this than actually are, though I'm uncertain whether or not that is helpful.
Craigslist Saves the World Craigslist Banner Drive The Billion Dollar Ad $10^9 EDIT: I am upvoting any idea for a name, even if it is stupid. We can sort out the better ones after we have stuff to choose from.
Also, I've notice that the groups with their target in the name seem to do well. So like: 50,000 To Help Craigslist Save the World 50,000 For Craigslist Charity 50,000 People for One Billion in Charity
I like those name suggestions. As far as 50,000 people, we could try to get a firm answer from Jim about how many people it would take. You're certainly welcome to email him and/or Craig and ask. craig@craigslist.org and jim@craigslist.org

Wait. Steven0461 points out that which firm answer we get, if we do manage to get one, might depend on framing. It may be better to think through the email first.

2Eliezer Yudkowsky
Yes, wait.
I agree, I'd downmod myself, but the morale of a community activism effort is very important and I didn't want to squander the energy people had to go and do something. I'm glad to see people are still excited...
I agree, I'd downmod myself, but the morale of a community activism effort is very important and I didn't want to squander the energy people had to go and do something. I'm glad to see people are still excited...
Spamming these folk with a bunch of uncoordinated emails at this stage seems like a big risk to the idea for little benefit.
I love the first one. My alteration: Help Craigslist Save the World
Slight rewording: "Save the world with Craigslist". This rephrasing puts the reader at the forefront rather than Craigslist (while maintaining the collaborative aspect of the venture) and reduces the number of verbs to one.
The Good heart + Good head Drive

Just lookin' for a little charity ;-) - 25- (The World)

We meet at around 9:00. Drinks. We flirt. You: A a generous, kindhearted craigslister. Me: the 20% of the world that lives in poverty, illiteracy and hunger. Then back home, your place or mine :-). We get there and then you join the facebook group "50,000 to Help Craigslist Save the World". Next, you invite your friends to the group. All of them! Then we'll spread the word even farther.

After that maybe my friend Craig shows up. He sees all the people who want to help and agrees to put up a b... (read more)


Perhaps they wouldn't want to lose out on the revenue but since this amount of money would get a good deal of press maybe Google would consider doing the ads at a discount or pro bono. It seems like the kind of thing Google would be in to. If and when the Facebook group gets decently big (25k?) we could inquire about that possibility.

50,000 users would surely count as a critical mass, meaning that each member of the Facebook page effectively created $20,000 for charity.

This also means that each new member you recruit is like creating $20k for charity. ... (read more)

It's unlikely that the revenue figures would be so high. You can't plan with 100% confidence on high-end estimates. People may not want to click banner ads from craiglist resulting in low revenue.

I would like to know more about your statement "50,000 users would surely count as a critical mass". How many users does Craigslist have in total?

I especially think it's unlikely that Craigslist would be motivated by the opinions of 50,000 Facebook users, especially if you had not actually conducted a poll but merely collected the answers of those that agree with you.

You should contact Craigslist and ask them what criteria would actually convince them that Craigslist users want for-charity ads.

Actually, if you click through the link to Buckmaster's quote, there's an insta-poll right underneath it: "Should Craigslist take text ads to fund charity?" As of now there are 729 total votes and it's running 70% against. Facebook may have a little higher overlap with CL's userbase than ZDnet, but I would think the overlap in both cases is significant. Doesn't this weigh against the views of any future FB group, especially since (as Platypus points out) a poll should count for more than a petition?
This was my first thought too. Taking the question further -- even if, by some reliable polling method, you could draw a Venn diagram of CL and facebook users, wouldn't there be a lot of selection bias? If, say, 40% of CL users are also on facebook, by definition they're probably a lot more tolerant of ads than the other 60%.

If one is going to do this, it is very important to aim as high as feasible, and to get the donations given in an efficient way, which promotes efficient giving. Meta-charity like the Poverty Action Lab, Givewell, etc. Just promoting the idea of giving to charity is pretty likely to result in spending on rich country causes rather than poor country health.

Getting spending on existential risk is more difficult, but a push for efficient charity could perhaps retain that character.

As mentioned earlier somewhere in this thread, we could have a bunch of charities, and then explicitely name the ones that generate the most fuzzies. So on the Facebook page it'd read something like, "...charities including Stop TB, KIPP and Village Reach, which all recieved a top rating for effectiveness." And all the other money could go to what was less fuzzy and more effective.

5Paul Crowley
I think that people will notice. And indeed quote this exact comment.

Please don't use such long titles in the future.

Since the title appears in the URL, it's not possible to change the URL without causing the post to reappear in RSS feeds. I'll let you know if this ever fixes in the codebase (a simple solution would be to truncate, from the RSS feed only, the part of the URL that appears after the unique identifier; but this would require a codefix, so I'll let you know if the maintainers get around to it, or if someone sets up LW on their linux machine and submits a codefix).

Automatically truncating URLs might be a bad idea. It could be kinda embarrassing if the URL ended up getting automatically truncated to "The Craigslist Revolution: a real-world application of torture"
meh. There are arguable benefits to this approach as opposed to using the full title or a short numeric code, but it's neither settled nor terribly important.
Fix the system, not the users.

Some causes that might have the necessary general appeal and be improved by throwing vast amounts of money at them:

  • Actually eradicating some infectious disease, completely, like smallpox. (Is a billion dollars enough to take care of malaria? Boy would that make a difference.)
  • Clean water - this one isn't as obviously important to people who never have to think about where their water comes from, but if you can snag attention long enough, there are some good ads for it.
  • Education for soulful photogenic children. This one is a long-term investment but could lead to immense improvements in the affected areas.
4Paul Crowley
Nowhere near, I'm afraid. Bill Gates has already thrown a lot more than that at it.
Yeah, but what about a billion dollars in addition to what Bill Gates has thrown at it?
Data re the education?
Data on its ability to accumulate supporters, or data on it improving the areas in question?
Data on scalable education charities with high marginal benefits.
I don't know of specific organizations with very scalable approaches.

Wikipedia could make $110 million in annual ad revenue (assuming the OP Math is right). The Wikipedia community would probably be more amenable to funding scientific research and we probably overlap with them more than we do craigslist.

All of Wikimedia would be even more.

What other high traffic websites don't use advertising?

(EDIT: This can't be right. Checking numbers.)

No, 100M is actually probably on the low side. Heck, Firefox gets more than that for less. The problem is Craigslist is for-profit. Even assuming the Foundation had the wherewithal to execute the legal maneuvers to make advertising possible (not necessarily a safe assumption; they prefer projects like helping out starving African schools with DVDs), the community has known of the possibly money right from the start - and been adamantly against it as long. And it's not just talk either. One reason the Spanish Wikipedia is noticeably smaller than it ought to be (given its status as one of the most important languages in the world and its early start) is because the Encyclopedia Libre forked just over rumors of advertising. Now, that was with the hardcore of early contributors, so sentiment no doubt has weakened; but anyone forcing through advertising of any kind must consider that advertising will do a decent amount of damage to En, at the very least.
Yeah, I'm just brainstorming. The last thing I want to do is hurt wikipedia. Part of the problem is... is anyone here actually on craigslist on a regular basis? I might get on if I have a toaster to get rid of but I'm not part of the community that would actually be affected by the ads. Interesting. Are non-profits not allowed to sell advertising space to raise money for their cause? That seems like part of the tax code that damn well ought to be fixed.
Me? No. Too ugly & unusable, and I have no need of its services. It's difficult for non-profits; they are after all being held to higher standards to ensure they are genuinely charitable. They have to remember the 'public support' criteria the IRS applies (ie. no sugar-daddies), and their >5% disbursement requirements; I assume there are other issues. Mozilla had to set up a for-profit subsidiary which somehow channels the money back to the Mozilla foundation, IIRC.
Good point

I don't get it.

Can you explain a bit how craigslist ads GENERATE money, as opposed to just redirecting it? Wouldn't you expect that a vast majority of the money collected this way would come out of some other spending?

More specifically, why is work to get this ad put on craigslist any better than working to put charity-directed ads elsewhere, including places that already have ads?

edited: this was based on a misunderstanding of the proposal. never mind!

Allow me to summarize your argument: ' is because an would already be doing it; is not doing , so eo ipso, is .' It seems unlikely to me that the market is really allocating resources appropriately with regard to existential threats because of the many collective action issues.
Yes. It comes from companies' advertising budgets. The money would go to other websites or marketing companies, so it's being redirected to charity. It's more effective, assuming Jim will agree to donate the money to charity, because ads elsewhere require people seeing the ad to donate. This doesn't. If you pay $500 to a company for an ad that says "Donate to Charity", the $500 goes to the company, and the charity only gets what people donate. If Apple pays Craigslist $500 for an iPad ad, and Jim decides to donate it to charity X, then charity X gets the money.
Oh! I misread the proposal. I thought craigslist was offering free, exclusive ads for a charity of our choice. Selling space for random commercial ads with the proceeds going to charity is what's actually being considered, and that seems like a pure win for whatever charity gets picked. voted myself down and edited my comment.

This seems basically true:

In 2006, Craigslist's CEO Jim Buckmaster said that if enough users told them to "raise revenue and plow it into charity" that they would consider doing it. I have more recently emailed Craig Newmark and he indicated that they remain receptive to the idea if that's what the users want.

This seems basically false:

50,000 users would surely count as a critical mass, meaning that each member of the Facebook page effectively created $20,000 for charity.

Perhaps a "critical mass" to get them to look at it and fi... (read more)

That's a good point. 50,000 people who click the charity-happy link don't mean nearly as much as a similar number of people making signals that actually cost something. ie. 50,000 people that craig would think actually care.
I don't know how Craig would judge the signers of a petition. I'm more concerned that there would be a counterbalancing population seriously opposed. or a large population mildly opposed, but this would be hard for him to assess.
Correct. "Surely" is too strong, I'd put the probability at 50/50 of it actually happening. Maybe lower. The expected value is still worth the effort, even if you assign a 10% probability of the whole thing happening.

It might be counterproductive to spend money on advertising such a course. It validates the belief that you can use advertising to distort the market of ideas. If that's the ground of which Craig opposes advertisement you might support his belief against advertising by effectively buying 50,000 facebook followers for $20,000.

Advertising has a social cost. The attention of humans is a scarce good. It wastes mental cycles that could have better use and it also distorts accurate reasoning. If advertising wouldn't distort reasoning processes, companies wouldn't pay that much money for advertising.

A lot of advertising is a negative sum game. Toyota might lose when a Ford advertisement results in a customer buying a Ford instead of buying a Toyota. The customer loses because his decision making isn't focused on the merits of the different cars but is effected by the advertising.

Adve... (read more)

From a utilitarian perspective we should restrict ourselves to things that are possible, and unless you're a governor or an obscenely powerful lobbyist, I don't think you are going to be raising taxes anytime soon.
Advertising is, by nature, diametrically opposite to rational thought. Advertising stimulates emotional reptilian response. I advance the hypothesis that exposure to more advertising has negative effects on people's receptivity to and affinity with rational/utilitarian modes of thinking. So far, the most effective tool to boost popular support for SIAI and existential risk reduction has been science-fiction books and movies. Hollywood can markedly influence cultural attitudes, on a large scale, with just a few million dollars... and it's profitable. Like advertising, they often just pander to reptilian and emotional response... but even then they can also educate and convince. What most people know of and believe about AI and existential risk is what they learned from Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Isaac Asimov, etc. If Spielberg is a LW reader (maybe he lurks?), I am much more optimistic for mankind than if ads run on Craigslist. If you want people to support the right kind of research, I advance that it could be most effectively and humanely accomplished using the Direct Belief Transfer System that is storytelling. Who wants to write The Great Bayesian Novel? And the screenplay?
I think you're lumping television and brand advertising together with targeted shopping advertising. TV and brand advertising works by bombarding a suggestion into your mind so you think of it at a later date. With these Craigslist ads, the more likely scenario is that when you search for "toasters" you'll see ads for where to buy a toaster right now. Ads like that are outright useful and are no inherent insult to rationality. I don't think there is anything irrational about clicking on an ad that conveniently happens to be exactly what you want at that moment. I don't dispute that most ads inspire irrationality, but I still don't follow the argument that because ads encourage rationality, we should not follow through with this project to raise a billion dollars for charity, especially rational charities. I don't think this is going to save mankind. I proposed this as a project that would rid the entire Less Wrong community of any empathic self-loathing as a result of buying lattes instead of saving lives in developing countries and to that end I think it will work rather well. Having said that, I think you raised an important objection that Craig and Jim could raise: that there is something inherently bad about advertisements and it goes against Craigslist's mission as a public service. They'd have to make the case that their feelings about advertisements outweigh the wishes of the users. Or maybe it's just that we'd want to frame it so that was the case they'd have to make.
So, how would anyone ever find out about a new product or service without advertising?
Through hearing about the product from neutral third parties. If I want to buy a computer I can read objective reviews that tell me about the pros and cons of different computers.
How does the "neutral third party" get information about the product? Surely not through the actual producer of the product or service! Why, that would be advertising!
I think that you are reading the word advertising as more general than it was intended. Craigslist is full of ads, in a narrower sense than you are talking about. And yet it doesn't have advertising in the problematic sense.

Do you guys think that the 'mainstream' takes the AI problem seriously enough (right now at least) that they'd be willing to donate money to this cause? Especially when there are other apparently worthy charities they could be joining. I'm skeptical.

The problem lies several levels of absurdity up from there. The public is not aware of the "AI problem". If the public was aware of the "AI problem" they wouldn't understand what it's about. If they did understand it, they would not think it was important relative to other problems. If they did think it was important relative to other problems, they would still think SIAI is a bunch of nutjobs. I probably missed a few steps.

Two suggestions: Put together a short video explaining the idea and how it'll work (and ideally but not crucially snippets spoken by cragislist CEOs). Also, look for famous people in relevant fields and try to get them to support the idea publicly.

I'd love to see an unedited transcript or video of Jim speaking at the UBS conference. I think to get one we'd have to contact all of the media companies that were there and ask them if they could help us. Jim may have done a couple TV appearances in company history but he is certainly not regularly filmed speaking as Craigslist CEO. If we succeed in making contact with them them, I guess we could get snippets just for our use, but it seems unlikely to me. A two minute video could be good. I wonder if we could get any celebrities on board... 30 seconds of endorsements from important and famous people would make this idea seem more believable to people. Or 30 seconds of people affiliated with non profits talking about what they could do to help the world if they had five million dollars.
1Alex Flint
I suppose I was concerned that this worthy cause could get lost in the perpetual flood of "corporation X will do something-or-other if 100,000 people join this particular group" emails. I don't necessarily mean mainstream celebrities but rather getting people in the IT and/or charity sector that are hubs for idea dissemination can be a short-cut to spreading the word on something like this.

That title is absurdly long.

I won't even join the Facebook page until I know the following things:

  • What are the conditions under which Jim Buckmaster will agree to put up a banner?
  • What are the details of the advertising contracts? Specifically, how much money will be made and under what circumstances?
  • Who, exactly, is making the money and where is it going?
  • What are the details of the large X to close the ad? Will it never show the ad again to people who clicked it? How does this affect expected revenue?
  • What happens after $1,000,000,000?

I don't care a... (read more)

You, and probably almost all of lesswrong, are atypical facebook users. "Can this Pickle get more fans than Twilight?" has gotten 370,000 fans in a week. Keep it simple, stupid, and emotional. This is a case where "Shut Up and do the impossible" applies, not "make good rational argument to advance understanding" EDIT: We DO need to make good rational plans on how to do this, but that planning can be done by a small group of rationalists. I mean only that the front end should be targeted at less-rational people.
Shut up and do the impossible! is meant for challenges that actually seem impossible, like getting out of an AI Box. Getting a lot of fans for a cause on Facebook doesn't even rate "make a desperate effort". And it is legitimate to consider at this point if the Facebook fans will actually lead to achieving your actual goal. If Facebook fans are cheap, maybe you need the people who join to also send an email. That is the sort of consideration that you should make now, so it can be properly included in the campaign, and not added as a patch after everyone who has already joined doesn't care anymore.
(I Agree entirely that these kinds of questions are important for us to consider at this point. Edited, hopefully for clarity) Hmm, It seems that there should be some consideration of the importance. I agree that this is nowhere near 'impossible', but I think it warrants taking a stronger approach than merely deciding to try. That is, you really try and don't immediately give up, because it's important, even if the task is crossing a busy street. If there's a world-saving button, you should make sure to press it, and equally sure you don't press so hard it breaks. I would definitely want to be 'impossibly sure' that I would/did press it right. (That is, confident to a level I might currently consider preposterous or overkill.) Likewise we've probably already put way more thought into how to do this than the twilight-pickle folks. We are fully justified in putting in this much effort, even if our final facebook page is remarkably similar, because this is a much more important button. (to us.) So this is a combination of "Simple things can possibly become very hard" and "To the degree that it is important, you minimize risk of failure/maximize your ability to overcome challenges."
In this case, it is important to press the button right. But it is not hard. Being dramatic about the very small effort it takes is not helpful.
You only say that because you don't know about the angry ninja. Yet. How important it is should determine what you are willing to do to accomplish it, and what you should be prepared to do. (For even moderately important things, that includes fighting ninjas, and mindhacking) If this isn't covered by try harder/extraordinary effort/Do the impossible, then we need a whole new sequence.
You said a silly thing, and now you are saying sillier things to try to justify it. If there is a "Save the World" button and I go to press it, and then I discover an angry ninja is guarding it, then I am greatly surprised and I most likely die and never get the chance to "shut up and do the impossible". If I know in advance that there is a ninja, then it is time to "shut up and do the impossible". If I have no evidence about a ninja, but I worry about one, and spend my time working out how to get past the ninja to press the button, then I am failing to do the easy thing that saves the world.
This is hardly silly. Our very thread started with a comment about complications to an easy thing. When something is important, you should not assume you are in the position to properly evaluate its difficulty (or even that you have the right task), and adopt that level of determination. Rather you determine to do the important thing, and figure out what is it and how hard it could be. You don't do the impossible because FAI is realy hard, you decide to do the impossible because the world needs saved. And yes, you weight the risk of ninjas against all other possible challenges and the risks of preparation and inaction, the probability that you're mistaken about the button and ought to be doing something else, and all other factors within your limits. But you don't just throw out the idea of ninja-level obstacles. This means we ought to be preparing to press every possible world saving button, and counter every possible challenge, weighted against how likely they are to present themselves, and to actually save the world. Lesswrong tries at this, but we have a long way to go. Eliezer initially downvoted (I think sight unseen, the mere concept of) this billion dollar button. I would have rated the likelihood of something like this pretty low without the details of Newmark's comments, and I suspect this is typical of lesswrongers. I don't I think we've ever devoted a whole lot of thought to polite viral marketing, Advertising contracts, what to do with a billion dollars, or Facebook. Now here we are facing a ninja we didn't train for, and any of us could put up a facebook page and break the button, and we're not sure how hard to press.
Ok, I went back and read your edit: Before that, it really did seem like you were using "Shut up and do the impossible" to dismiss MrHen's questions as complaints about the difficulty. I see now that you meant to refer to the task of figuring out how to do execute the idea effectively. A major reason this was confusing is that no one was complaining that this is hard, let alone impossible. There was no reason to support it with "Shut up and do the impossible". To communicate more effectively, forget the colorful slogans and metaphors (it also wasn't clear that you meant the "save the world" button as a metaphor for the Facebook group, and not just an example), and just clearly state your position, in this case, what you want to do.
Getting a bunch of people in a Facebook group is easy. Getting that Facebook group connected to $10^9 is not as simple. If I started a Facebook group that said, "Bill Gates will give away 1 billion dollars if this hits 50,000!" it has absolutely no bearing on whether Bill Gates will give away 1 billion dollars. This Facebook trick will only work once. Make sure it counts when it works.
I agree, I misread your comment.
That is one viable strategy, actually -- get a million fans for something stupid, then aggressively market the real cause to those users. Edit: There's definitely a selection bias here though -- you only see the "Can this group get more fans than Twilight?" because it got 500,000 fans, you don't notice the vastly greater number of groups that fail.
I agree that your questions sound important, but there is a bit of a Catch 22 here and not all of them have answers. To get the answers, we need Jim's attention, but we can't get Jim's attention until he sees that we are serious about this. To that end, putting our manifesto on a web site is a very good idea. As far as closing the ad, my intended design is that closing it would store a cookie that indicates to not show you any advertising on Craigslist. Beyond cookies, it could also be associated with your Craigslist account, though most users interface with Craigslist without signing up for accounts. It can only lower expected revenue, but the kind of people who want to close the ad are probably the kind of people who were not very likely to click the ad in the first place. Edit: And yes, the title is absurdly long. I have a tendency to abuse title fields in social web apps when there is no effective limit.
So, I guess the first step is finding out how many people we need to get Jim's attention. 50K is a good guess but anything we can do to get a more accurate answer will help. Your answer for closing the ad works. Is there anyway to find out more details about much that hurts the dollar value? I imagine that someone, somewhere runs ads like that. You should be able to set an easy lower bound on this. You said, "With 20 billion pageviews a month, a Google Adwords banner would bring in about 200 million dollars a year." Just find actual quotes and keep track of the information. Shop around a bit. Or find a volunteer around here willing to do it.
Is the permanent removal of the ad a necessary part of this?
No, but it minimizes the most obvious possible objection: "I don't want ads on Craigslist."
Is that really a forceful objection given that the response is "ONE BILLION DOLLARS FOR CHARITY. DON'T BE AN ASS."? And if we're just talking plane banner ads, not flashing "You're a Winner!" pop-ups it's hard to justify to loss in revenue. Maybe some kind of compromise where clicking the x hides the ads for 24 hours? My sense is that a lot of people, when they first see the ads, will turn them off. But if once they get used to them they won't mind so much. I wouldn't want to lose a huge chunk of revenue just because people were initially bothered by the ads.
I think the objection is forceful enough to potentially derail the whole thing -- some people don't like ads, and if they don't want to see them, they should have that right without having to go and install an adblocker. Even if the objection isn't logical, it's still a very real objection that could and will be voiced. There's one person objecting in the comments on this blog post about my first, failed attempt to do this. http://journal.markbao.com/2009/07/craigslist-advertising-for-charity/ I can't find it with a quick Google search -- though I will try again later -- but I have seen at least one site owner that did this optional advertisement thing with minimal impact on revenue. Also, with this kind of thing, "permanently" closing the ad isn't really permanent. It's permanent until you clear your cookies or use a different browser. It is a shame to have to lose some revenue because some users won't just deal with the damn dust speck, but my intuition is that we're looking at a 20% decrease in revenue with this, a difference that could be made up by a better advertising sales team. The loss of revenue hurts, but I don't think it's worth a chance of losing the whole thing because some people don't want to look at ads.
Reddit does well at unobtrusive ads. Their sidebar ads are easily blocked by adblock, and occasionally they'll just run an ad with a happy reddit alien saying "thank you for not using adblock!" -- a lot of reddit users have their adblock settings set specifically to allow ads from reddit, in order to support the site. ETA: I suspect the ad would be closed less often if there were a note nearby naming the specific charity to which that ad was providing revenue.
Hmmm. Conceded. Since it looks like this was tried before and failed, I'd be interested to hear what you learned from the first attempt.
I learned that my initial copy was not viral to motivate people to join based on seeing the group name in their newsfeed. I learned that it is a whole lot easier to get someone to join a group than it is to invite their friends to join the group. I sent out a few mass messages encouraging people to invite their friends, but the third and final message I sent out resulted in a net loss in users for the group. I do still have control of that group and it's 150 members, so it's a good enough place to focus test ad copy for the next group.

Could I take a slightly different tack on this?

Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe the objective is to increase donations to charity? So if, for example, this approach generated $1bn but only from people who would have donated anyway then the gain is zero.

The core questions that we are then addressing are:

  • how do we convince people to donate more to charity than they would without our intervention?
  • what stops people from donating the full amount that they would wish to, and how can we remove these barriers?

The first would be tackled by focusing on &qu... (read more)

This approach was supposed to take ad revenue from Craigslist, that presumably would otherwise have gone to the owners of some other website, not to charity. The people being recruited here aren't being asked for money.

Rather than trying to find or make a charity that can handle this influx of cash, why not put it in a fund, and the interest from the fund goes to charity? This would start off as a tiny fraction of the money flood and be easier to find charities that could use it effectively, it would grow ever more formidable but give charities time to scale, and would still be available if craigslist stopped being popular.

Call it the "Craigslist Charity Fund" and enable people who label themselves Craigslist users to get fuzzies from the affiliation.

It seems to me that to do this effectively, Less Wrong will need to make a lot of good decisions. Upvoting and downvoting comments works for deciding what quotes should appear first in a rationality quote thread, but to do something as important as choosing the name of a Facebook group, I think we could use something higher-caliber.

Range voting looks pretty good but maybe someone who has studied voting systems can suggest something better. I'm thinking maybe a web app that would make it easy to create polls, add options, and vote on them, maybe with capt... (read more)

Revenue generated this way is not necessarily new charity revenue. Some people will donate about the same amount of money to charities every year - what may vary is which ones get their attention.

I think you had the same misunderstanding as this person: http://lesswrong.com/lw/1qf/the_craigslist_revolution_a_realworld_application/1lth In short the idea is not to give free ads for charities, but to put up normal commercial advertisements and give the proceeds to charity.

Here is a NYT blog with a different summary of Jim's answer to the most relevant question, including the quote "quite staggering" with regards to the potential ad revenue. http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/12/08/craigslist-meets-the-capitalists/

I think quoting Jim's two words "quite staggering" instead of specifying a target amount of money as part of the key meme could be a good technique.

How about running AdSense ads from Google? Craigslist has considered that, Mr. Buckmaster said. They even crunched the numbers, which were “qu

... (read more)

I would be in favor of this even without the charity angle. I'd let some ads on my blog even without bringing me any revenue, but wordpress.com doesn't care for that.


The Good heart, Good head drive


Would like some argument to the effect that such a thing would in fact raise a sum as high as 10^9 dollars.

[Eh, I can take being voted down as well as the next man, but seriously, one needs to know that the numbers are roughly correct.]


I'm still waiting for hard evidence that average charity spending has significant net positive impact.

Claims like "$1 saves 1 life in Mozambique" or so don't work at all, for if very cheap way of doing so actually existed, and there were no charities, people of Mozambique would spend such $1 on saving such 1 life. Now that charities pay for it, they spend it on booze instead - and this booze minus administrative costs is the net effect.

Head to Givewell.net, the Poverty Action Lab, and www.dcp2.org. If you want to expect to save one life with high confidence today (and don't care about future generations/x-risk, research, advocacy, and other approaches with apparently higher expected value) the figure is on the close order of $1,000.
Be that as it may, there exist above-average charities which have a net positive impact. If we select among those charities (or choose a grantmaker likely to select above-average charities), ,we can have a net positive impact.

Charity is generally harmful. The problem of charity is not how to raise money; everyone likes to purchase good feelings by contributing to charity. The problem is how to spend it so it actually helps, rather than harms.

Chances are, you're going to be spending your money more wisely if it doesn't fall from the sky.

If this is money for AI, I don't see how money is even the bottleneck at this point.

Money is fungible. If anything is the bottleneck, then money is the bottleneck, until you physically run out of resources.