Competition to write the best stand-alone article on efficient charity

by Roko 1 min read21st Nov 201026 comments


I have a friend who is currently in a 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. GWWC estimates by a factor of 10,000 at least. Therefore most money donated to charity is almostly entirely wasted.
  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
  5. Our motivational centre will tend to want to optimize for "Warm Fuzzies". These should be purchased separately from utilons. 

but without using any unexplained LW Jargon. (Utilons, Warm Fuzzies, optimizing). Linking to posts explaining jargon is NOT OK. I will judge the winner based upon these criteria and the score that the article gets on LW. I may present a small prize to the winner, if (s)he desires it! 

Happy Writing


EDIT: As well as saying that he will pay $100 to the winner, Jsalvatier makes two additional points that I feel should be included in the specification of the article:

6.  Your intuition about what counts as a cause worth giving money to is extremely bad. This is completely natural: everyone's intuition about this is bad. Why? Because your brain was not optimized by evolution to be good at thinking clearly about large problems involving millions of people and how to allocate resources. 

7. Not only is your intuition about this naturally very bad (as well as cultural memes surrounding how to donate to charity being utterly awful), you don't realize that your intuition is bad. This is a deceptively hard problem. 

And I would also like to add:

8. Explicitly make the point that our current norm of ranking charities based upon how much (or little) they spend on overheads is utterly insane. Yes, the entire world of charities is stupid with respect to the problem of how to prioritize their own efforts. 

9. Mention the point that other groups are slowly edging their way towards the same conclusion, e.g. Giving What We Can (GWWC), Copenhagen Consensus, GiveWell.