All of BenGilbert's Comments + Replies

Pay charities for results?

I see where you're coming from, but I see 3 advantages to paying for results. (1) This approach involves facing head-on the challenge of determining whether a charity is effective, which may be hard but is surely vitally important to answer. (2) It creates incentives for charities which are already effective to become even more so. (3) It could help to foster a system of charitable funding in which money goes to effective charities, not because experts have examined how they function and concluded that they work well, but just through the feedback processe... (read more)

Pay charities for results?

Yes, the first idea is what I had in mind. The problem with getting financing in order to achieve results has a few possible solutions, I mention some below in the response to Kawoomba. Which other problems did you have in mind?

The advantages seem to me to work at various levels – improved incentives, much improved knowledge, and the possibility of a system emerging where you can leave it to the financial incentives and the feedback processes they create to bring about increased effectiveness and innovation.

Pay charities for results?

I'm not sure if this is a disadvantage or an advantage. I think it might be a good thing if people starting charities thought more about what confidence they had in how effective their activities would be, rather than simply having good intentions and an idea of how they might be able to fulfil them. I'd be happier giving my money to a charity whose founders stood to lose something themselves if their work turned out to be ineffective, and welcomed the chance to prove their effectiveness one way or the other. However, I agree that people are often too risk-averse and that there might well be a need for charities to be able to share some at least of the risk with lenders who had social as well as financial goals.

1bogus9yThe point is that this requires making founders residual claimants of their "charities", otherwise no-one is going to want to start one because the risk is all on the downside. Which means that you actually have a social enterprise, rather than a charity.
Pay charities for results?

Yes, it's thinking about social impact bonds and the like that started me thinking about paying charities for results. What I would note, though, is that, at the moment, individual donors/investors can invest in social impact bonds. What they cannot do is offer money for the payouts to investors in social impact bonds. So, you can put money into a bond which pays out if charities are effective at, eg, reducing the number of children who go into care homes in the UK. (this is a real example). But you'd only want to do that if you were confident that the cha... (read more)

Pay charities for results?

I definitely agree that financing charities is an issue, but there are various possibilities. You could finance them through donations for a few years while declaring that, from x years time onwards, your funding would depend on the results obtained using the money you donated; from that point on, the system would be self-sustaining for effective charities, and not for ineffective ones (which would be, I think, a good thing). Or they could borrow money from lenders who want to support charitable causes and are willing to lend at lower interest rates, or th... (read more)

Pay charities for results?

I agree that having a good control group would be very important. I also agree that for many charitable activities this would be impossible. However, in many other activities, it would be possible. A good number of randomized controlled trials are being run to measure the effectiveness of health, educational and even political/governance activities, so they can be done. They might be costly, but that's a separate question, and, as I said, there could be very large benefits in improved knowledge from doing them.

I think your scam analogy is somewhat off-targ... (read more)

Is ethical investment effective?

Fair question, and I should have been clearer, because the meaning is ambiguous. I would say 'ethical investment' has two main meanings: 1) investing money taking into account the ethically-significant consequences of your investment decisions. 2) making investments in the secondary market which avoid companies whose activities seem socially harmful (usually understood to mean companies involved in things like weapons or tobacco) and/or put money into companies who activities seem socially beneficial (usually understood to mean companies involved in things... (read more)

0Qiaochu_Yuan9yThanks for the clarification. The post is clearer now, but as long as I'm admitting that I don't know things, I'm not sure I understand the basic economics of investment either. Is there a "for dummies" resource you could recommend here?
Is ethical investment effective?

I completely agree that it is not at all obvious what good and bad effects there are of companies' activities. I think it is very possible that some 'unethical' activites have more positive effects than many activities commonly understood as ethical. It would take a lot of reflection to work out what good and bad effects certain companies have. The point of my post was to ask, before engaging with this question, whether individuals' decisions about their investments in the secondary market have much or any influence on companies. If not, it's not urgent to... (read more)

Is ethical investment effective?

'I think it's possible to create genuine incentives for companies to act more ethically if you have a large amount of money to allocate (preferably many billions)'

-'Assets in socially screened portfolios climbed to $3.07 trillion at the start of 2010' So there are already billions invested there. However, it's questionable what is ethical about these investments. First, billions or even trillions might not make much of a difference to prices, according to the logic of the argument I gave above. Second, these funds' criteria about what is ethical are open t... (read more)

0Elithrion9yThat's a good point. For some reason it didn't click the first time I read it, but you're right. It probably depends on precisely what most other investors expect - if they're primarily investing based on their expectations of price movements, the prices might be swayed, but if they're trading on value, they probably would not. As to what constitutes ethical investment, that would certainly be the first thing to figure out. I'm not sure you would find a clear consensus even among the LW community, let alone the wider world. You're right, I should've been clearer. I meant it in the sense that such an investment would be completely indistinguishable from noise to the market at large, and would consequently make nearly no difference at all. If many people made these types of investments using the same definition of "ethical" it might be noticed; if one person makes an investment it would probably be very hard to figure out that it's correlated with ethics or to decide that it's worth considering for future decisions (that it's not one-off). I'm actually not entirely sure about that. I haven't investigated the issue very closely, but my impression has been that where companies changed their practices, this has mostly occurred as a result of consumer boycotts (or just unfavorable media coverage), of wishing to retain valuable employees, or of wishing to remain in favor with governments. Do you have any particular evidence in mind? My impression is that at least in the last decade or so this has not been the case. While I don't know the specifics, it is my impression that GiveWell [http://www.givewell.org/], for example, does extensive research to determine which charity actually has high impact (on quality-adjusted life years). I have also read that Bill Gates focuses on ensuring effective use of funds and hitting actual goals with his Foundation. I do agree with your optimism about investment being beneficial, though.
Welcome to Less Wrong! (July 2012)

Hello,

I'm Ben. I'm here mainly because I'm interested in effective altruism. I think that tracing through the consequences of one's actions is a complex task and I'm interested in setting out some ideas here in the hope that people can improve my reasoning. For example, I've a post on whether ethical investment is effective, which I'd like to put up once I've got a couple of points of karma.

I studied philosophy and theology, and worked for a while in finance. Now, I'm trying to work out how to increase the positive impact I have, which obviously demands a... (read more)