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On doing the most good

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  • Mark Lee
    Dear GiveWell, I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the most good?   M ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
    Message 1 of 21 , Jan 27, 2010
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      Dear GiveWell,

      I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the most good?  More manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I want to do the most good, what career should I pursue? 

      Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the ability to go into and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any career, as well as the average person in that career.  If I want to do the most good, should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the developing world, helping those who need it most?  Or, at one remove, should I secure a stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of my income to such charities?  Or, at one more remove, should I become a teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my students to pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a) directly help those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they can donate a lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence others to pursue such careers?

                  I’ve been thinking about these questions on and off for several years now, but have not gotten very far.  Perhaps you could shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions:  What resources are out there that are pertinent to these questions?  Who would have useful advice to give?  Should I be speaking to economists?  International development and charity folks?  Ethicists?  Groups like GiveWell?  All, some, or none of the above?  Has anything been written on these issues?  I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter Singer, Thomas Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the GiveWell and Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered anything that directly addresses these questions.

      Thanks,

      Mark


    • rnoble@sas.upenn.edu
      Mark, I m guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with utilitarianism and I d further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian. The
      Message 2 of 21 , Jan 28, 2010
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        Mark,

        I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with utilitarianism
        and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian. The first
        step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to measure
        utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied are the two
        essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) and the
        disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).

        After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do involve
        uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful might allow you
        to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are the
        probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be as a teacher,
        etc.

        As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't know of anyone
        who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to QALYS I'd
        recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine, and for
        expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend Jon Baron's
        Thinking and Deciding.

        Ron

        Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...>:

        >
        >
        > Dear GiveWell,
        >
        > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the most good?   M
        > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I want to do
        > the most good, what career should I pursue?  
        >
        > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the ability to go into
        > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any career, as
        > well as the average person in that career.   If I want to do the most good,
        > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the developing world,
        > helping those who need it most?   Or, at one remove, should I secure a
        > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of my income to
        > such charities?   Or, at one more remove, should I become a
        > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my students to
        > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a) directly help
        > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they can donate a
        > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence others to
        > pursue such careers?
        >
        >             I’ve been thinking about these questions on and off
        > for several years now, but have not gotten very far.   Perhaps you could
        > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions:   What resources
        > are out there that are pertinent to these questions?   Who would have useful
        > advice to give?   Should I be speaking to economists?   International
        > development and charity folks?   Ethicists?   Groups like GiveWell?   All,
        > some, or none of the above?   Has anything been written on these issues?  
        > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter Singer, Thomas
        > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the GiveWell and
        > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered anything that
        > directly addresses these questions.
        >
        > Thanks,
        >
        > Mark
        >


        Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
        University of Pennsylvania
      • Jareb Price
        Mark, As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the action you wish to
        Message 3 of 21 , Jan 28, 2010
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          Mark, 

          As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and simplistic throughout your life.

          Jareb Price


          To: givewell@yahoogroups.com; marklee@...
          CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com
          From: rnoble@...
          Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
          Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)

           


          Mark,

          I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with utilitarianism
          and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian. The first
          step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to measure
          utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied are the two
          essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) and the
          disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).

          After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do involve
          uncertainty- -your attempt to become very wealthy if successful might allow you
          to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are the
          probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be as a teacher,
          etc.

          As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't know of anyone
          who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to QALYS I'd
          recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine, and for
          expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend Jon Baron's
          Thinking and Deciding.

          Ron

          Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@philosophy. rutgers.edu>:

          >
          >
          > Dear GiveWell,
          >
          > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the most good?   M
          > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I want to do
          > the most good, what career should I pursue?  
          >
          > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the ability to go into
          > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any career, as
          > well as the average person in that career.   If I want to do the most good,
          > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the developing world,
          > helping those who need it most?   Or, at one remove, should I secure a
          > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of my income to
          > such charities?   Or, at one more remove, should I become a
          > teacher/professor/ other person of influence, and influence my students to
          > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a) directly help
          > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they can donate a
          > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence others to
          > pursue such careers?
          >
          >             I’ve been thinking about these questions on and off
          > for several years now, but have not gotten very far.   Perhaps you could
          > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions:   What resources
          > are out there that are pertinent to these questions?   Who would have useful
          > advice to give?   Should I be speaking to economists?   International
          > development and charity folks?   Ethicists?   Groups like GiveWell?   All,
          > some, or none of the above?   Has anything been written on these issues?  
          > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter Singer, Thomas
          > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the GiveWell and
          > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered anything that
          > directly addresses these questions.
          >
          > Thanks,
          >
          > Mark
          >

          Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
          University of Pennsylvania



          Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
        • David Morrow
          Mark, Good question. I don t know of any publication that specifically addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they re worth. I think the
          Message 4 of 21 , Jan 28, 2010
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            Mark,

            Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're worth.

            I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow your list significantly.

            We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs' ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those problems.

            I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell readers have to say.

            David

            On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...> wrote:
             

            Mark, 


            As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and simplistic throughout your life.

            Jareb Price


            To: givewell@yahoogroups.com; marklee@...
            CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com
            From: rnoble@...
            Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
            Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)

             


            Mark,

            I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with utilitarianism
            and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian. The first
            step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to measure
            utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied are the two
            essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) and the
            disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).

            After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do involve
            uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful might allow you
            to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are the
            probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be as a teacher,
            etc.

            As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't know of anyone
            who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to QALYS I'd
            recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine, and for
            expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend Jon Baron's
            Thinking and Deciding.

            Ron

            Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...>:

            >
            >
            > Dear GiveWell,
            >
            > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the most good?   M
            > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I want to do
            > the most good, what career should I pursue?  
            >
            > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the ability to go into
            > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any career, as
            > well as the average person in that career.   If I want to do the most good,
            > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the developing world,
            > helping those who need it most?   Or, at one remove, should I secure a
            > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of my income to
            > such charities?   Or, at one more remove, should I become a
            > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my students to
            > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a) directly help
            > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they can donate a
            > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence others to
            > pursue such careers?
            >
            >             I’ve been thinking about these questions on and off
            > for several years now, but have not gotten very far.   Perhaps you could
            > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions:   What resources
            > are out there that are pertinent to these questions?   Who would have useful
            > advice to give?   Should I be speaking to economists?   International
            > development and charity folks?   Ethicists?   Groups like GiveWell?   All,
            > some, or none of the above?   Has anything been written on these issues?  
            > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter Singer, Thomas
            > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the GiveWell and
            > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered anything that
            > directly addresses these questions.
            >
            > Thanks,
            >
            > Mark
            >

            Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
            University of Pennsylvania



            Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.


          • marklee_ru
            Thanks for the responses. Ron, I am indeed sympathetic to utilitarianism, and am willing to adopt the QALY as a rough measure of utility. I ll look into the
            Message 5 of 21 , Jan 28, 2010
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              Thanks for the responses.

              Ron, I am indeed sympathetic to utilitarianism, and am willing to adopt the QALY as a rough measure of utility. I'll look into the books you recommend.

              Jareb, I wish to engage in actions with largest scope, over the course of my life. I think I'd be slightly more able to stomach careers I dislike than the average person, but significantly more able to find careers likeable if I know I'd be producing more good thereby.

              David, I initially found Unger's view quite plausible. However, I now wonder whether it would be better for good and moderately engaging professors to teach large ethics classes at prestigious schools, as some notable consequentialists seem to be doing. This will depend on how effective professors are at influencing their students, and I have no idea what the data are on this score. I'll ask some of them.

              You raise the interesting question of where the bottlenecks are. I'm also eager to see if GiveWell can help answer that question.

              --- In givewell@yahoogroups.com, David Morrow <dmorrow1@...> wrote:
              >
              > Mark,
              >
              > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically addresses
              > it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're worth.
              >
              > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your first
              > assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do as well in
              > *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd also wager that
              > you could do better than average in some careers. It seems worthwhile to
              > make a list of careers that could do good, and then ask yourself which of
              > those careers you would be best at. I've heard that Peter Unger says that
              > anyone with philosophical talent like yours should go to law school, get a
              > lucrative job, and give as much as he or she can to poverty relief. On the
              > other hand, since you're already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't
              > know, is one of the best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot
              > at getting a job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who
              > will go on to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a
              > sufficiently inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should
              > narrow your list significantly.
              >
              > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose that
              > depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of the
              > following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs' ability to do
              > good: More money? More human resources (in general or of a particular kind)?
              > More information? Changes to public policy (here or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell
              > can help answer that question. Maybe you could contact people at some NGOs
              > of interest and ask them. Once you know where the bottlenecks are, you can
              > narrow your search even further by asking what you could do that would help
              > alleviate those problems.
              >
              > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell readers
              > have to say.
              >
              > David
              >
              > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...>wrote:
              >
              > >
              > >
              > > Mark,
              > >
              > > As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to clarify
              > > your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the action you wish to
              > > engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture person, or a detail person,
              > > and what is your time frame in seeing your success. These answers will help
              > > to clarify where you would be most successful in your own measure, if you
              > > are successful as an individual, the wish to give back will be that much
              > > more powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to day
              > > struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out before you can
              > > have the effect that you wish. Giving is an intensely personal process, so
              > > give it the intense personal analysis it deserves in order to keep it
              > > strong, effective and simplistic throughout your life.
              > >
              > > Jareb Price
              > >
              > > ------------------------------
              > > To: givewell@yahoogroups.com; marklee@...
              > > CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com
              > > From: rnoble@...
              > > Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
              > > Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
              > >
              > >
              > >
              > >
              > > Mark,
              > >
              > > I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
              > > utilitarianism
              > > and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian. The
              > > first
              > > step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to measure
              > > utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied are the
              > > two
              > > essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) and
              > > the
              > > disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
              > >
              > > After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do involve
              > > uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful might allow
              > > you
              > > to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are the
              > > probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be as a
              > > teacher,
              > > etc.
              > >
              > > As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't know of
              > > anyone
              > > who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to QALYS I'd
              > > recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine, and for
              > > expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend Jon
              > > Baron's
              > > Thinking and Deciding.
              > >
              > > Ron
              > >
              > > Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...>:
              > >
              > > >
              > > >
              > > > Dear GiveWell,
              > > >
              > > > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the most good?
              > > Â M
              > > > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I want to
              > > do
              > > > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
              > > >
              > > > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the ability to go
              > > into
              > > > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any career,
              > > as
              > > > well as the average person in that career. Â If I want to do the most
              > > good,
              > > > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the developing
              > > world,
              > > > helping those who need it most? Â Or, at one remove, should I secure a
              > > > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of my
              > > income to
              > > > such charities? Â Or, at one more remove, should I become a
              > > > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my students to
              > > > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a) directly help
              > > > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they can
              > > donate a
              > > > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence others to
              > > > pursue such careers?
              > > >
              > > >            I’ve been thinking about these questions on and
              > > off
              > > > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â Perhaps you could
              > > > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â What
              > > resources
              > > > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â Who would have
              > > useful
              > > > advice to give? Â Should I be speaking to economists? Â International
              > > > development and charity folks? Â Ethicists? Â Groups like GiveWell? Â
              > > All,
              > > > some, or none of the above? Â Has anything been written on these issues?
              > > Â
              > > > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter Singer,
              > > Thomas
              > > > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the GiveWell and
              > > > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered anything that
              > > > directly addresses these questions.
              > > >
              > > > Thanks,
              > > >
              > > > Mark
              > > >
              > >
              > > Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
              > > University of Pennsylvania
              > >
              > >
              > > ------------------------------
              > > Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.<http://clk.atdmt.com/GBL/go/196390707/direct/01/>
              > >
              > >
              > >
              >
            • Dario Amodei
              Mark et al, I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
              Message 6 of 21 , Jan 29, 2010
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                Mark et al,

                I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                immense. That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                many careers seem to have a winner-take-all dynamic: that is, a very
                small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                the total impactful activity in the field. One vivid example of this is
                politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                local party official. The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                business. As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                anyway. It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.

                A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                in some abstract utilitarian sense. It is probably better to be wildly
                successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.

                All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                important. One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have. Obviously
                there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.

                To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do. I
                think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008). An analysis of
                the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.

                I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                whether they exist. I suspect that such a project lies outside
                GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                naturally take it very close to these questions. For example, if
                GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research? I could imagine
                that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                sidenote to the first.

                Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell? Would
                others on this list find such analyses valuable?

                Dario

                David Morrow wrote:
                >
                >
                > Mark,
                >
                >
                > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're worth.
                >
                > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                > your list significantly.
                >
                > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                > problems.
                >
                > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                > readers have to say.
                >
                > David
                >
                > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...
                > <mailto:j.c.price@...>> wrote:
                >
                >
                >
                > Mark,
                >
                >
                > As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                > clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                > action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                > person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                > your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                > be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                > an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                > powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                > day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                > before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                > intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                > analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                > simplistic throughout your life.
                >
                > Jareb Price
                >
                > ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                > To: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>;
                > marklee@... <mailto:marklee@...>
                > CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>
                > From: rnoble@... <mailto:rnoble@...>
                > Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                > Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                >
                >
                >
                >
                > Mark,
                >
                > I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                > utilitarianism
                > and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                > The first
                > step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                > measure
                > utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                > are the two
                > essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                > (QALY) and the
                > disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                >
                > After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                > involve
                > uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                > might allow you
                > to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are the
                > probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                > as a teacher,
                > etc.
                >
                > As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                > know of anyone
                > who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                > QALYS I'd
                > recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                > and for
                > expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                > Jon Baron's
                > Thinking and Deciding.
                >
                > Ron
                >
                > Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...
                > <mailto:marklee@...>>:
                >
                > >
                > >
                > > Dear GiveWell,
                > >
                > > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                > most good? Â M
                > > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                > want to do
                > > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                > >
                > > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                > ability to go into
                > > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                > career, as
                > > well as the average person in that career. Â If I want to do
                > the most good,
                > > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                > developing world,
                > > helping those who need it most? Â Or, at one remove, should I
                > secure a
                > > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                > my income to
                > > such charities? Â Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                > > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my
                > students to
                > > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                > directly help
                > > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                > can donate a
                > > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                > others to
                > > pursue such careers?
                > >
                > >            I’ve been thinking about these
                > questions on and off
                > > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â Perhaps
                > you could
                > > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                > What resources
                > > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â Who
                > would have useful
                > > advice to give? Â Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                > International
                > > development and charity folks? Â Ethicists? Â Groups like
                > GiveWell? Â All,
                > > some, or none of the above? Â Has anything been written on
                > these issues? Â
                > > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                > Singer, Thomas
                > > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                > GiveWell and
                > > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                > anything that
                > > directly addresses these questions.
                > >
                > > Thanks,
                > >
                > > Mark
                > >
                >
                > Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                > University of Pennsylvania
                >
                >
                > ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                > Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
                > <http://clk.atdmt.com/GBL/go/196390707/direct/01/>
                >
                >
                >
              • Mac
                Mark, Allow me to start on the premises that we are made by God, …the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people
                Message 7 of 21 , Jan 29, 2010
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                  Mark,

                  Allow me to start on the premises that we are made by God, "…the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people …(Psalm 100:3)" God has a plan for each of our lives "... For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." Jeremiah 29:11 and therefore if one can know God one can find that purpose (God's purpose) and it follows that he/she stands a chance to know and fulfill his destiny and do the most good.

                  I believe the most good is to live according to the plan and best wishes of the manufacturer/ owner.

                  My analogy is this: My Jeep does the most good by performing the tasks I assign it and by abiding to Chrysler's best wishes of remaining intact for at least X years or until we dispose of it. God is both maker and owner of us.

                  Speaking from experience, I would say knowing God is not too hard because the road map is provided in the Scriptures. With His help many find Him.

                  Following on the same pattern of thought: we have gifts and talents; these are abilities to do some things very well for the benefit of others. Someone might be gifted as a carpenter, another teacher and still another counselor. There is more: some are given wealth while others are not. Some are destined to be leaders while others followers.

                  Although success is more easily measured by indicators we create ourselves, the measure of true success or what the Bible calls good success is in doing what God has purposed for our lives. I believe good success is that which is accompanied with peace; the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

                  "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success." (Joshua 1:8)

                  Which career yields the most good? I would venture to say, its the one which is in God's perfect plan for you.

                  In summary I believe this is a great question, especially upon launching on a career path. The easy answer would be: …to use every opportunity and maximize the benefit, if necessary gamble, trade, and get rich and give the most to the poor; feel good and thereby, by ordinary measures do "the most good." In truth however one is well advised to seek the way of true, good success, only found in one's maker.

                  All quotations are from the KJV version of the Bible

                  --- In givewell@yahoogroups.com, Mark Lee <marklee@...> wrote:
                  >
                  >
                  >
                  > Dear GiveWell,
                  >
                  > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the most good?   M ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I want to do the most good, what career should I pursue?  
                  >
                  > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the ability to go into and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any career, as well as the average person in that career.   If I want to do the most good, should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the developing world, helping those who need it most?   Or, at one remove, should I secure a stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of my income to such charities?   Or, at one more remove, should I become a teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my students to pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a) directly help those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they can donate a lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence others to pursue such careers?
                  >
                  >             I’ve been thinking about these questions on and off for several years now, but have not gotten very far.   Perhaps you could shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions:   What resources are out there that are pertinent to these questions?   Who would have useful advice to give?   Should I be speaking to economists?   International development and charity folks?   Ethicists?   Groups like GiveWell?   All, some, or none of the above?   Has anything been written on these issues?   I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter Singer, Thomas Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the GiveWell and Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered anything that directly addresses these questions.
                  >
                  > Thanks,
                  >
                  > Mark
                  >
                • Sarah Cobey
                  Dear Mark and GiveWell, It s exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide
                  Message 8 of 21 , Jan 29, 2010
                  • 0 Attachment
                    Dear Mark and GiveWell,

                    It's exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide your thinking.

                    I graduated from college in 2002 with largely the same approach and question as you. I had, however, majored in ecology & evolutionary biology (EEB) and minored in environmental studies and Russian studies. I loved the theory and implications of EEB, but I was concerned that the academic approach would be too "indulgent" and slow to improve welfare. I decided to do development work in SE Asia immediately after graduating; I was the only native English speaker in the office and interfaced largely between large funding bodies and the national government. Most of my day-to-day work was administrative, and working with the government of a developing country presented enormous challenges. I wondered about the ultimate impact of the projects we were funding and especially how long it would take to see changes. I was also not in a position to have substantive influence over what was happening.

                    Uncertainty over outcomes, combined with the extreme loneliness I felt as an expat in a small country (with a very small expat population) and persistent intellectual boredom, motivated me to return to the U.S. and apply to PhD programs. I recently graduated with a PhD in EEB, with a focus on infectious disease. I find research dramatically more interesting than what I was doing, and the potential impact of the work is incredible. That said, the probability that I or any scientist will make paradigm-shifting discoveries is low, but I enjoy knowing that the smaller discoveries are helpful. The burdens of scientific careers are low income and lack of job security--sometimes I struggle not to let this stress interfere with my work. I have wondered whether I might be better off in finance, donating much of my income, but I'm increasingly confident that the autonomy, growth opportunities, and undeniable importance of my scientific work compensate better than a more lucrative and stable job would.

                    Dario suggested we might be more effective doing excellent work in a field where we can succeed than doing average work in a central field. I think it's clear that there are some fields where, no matter how good you might be, your excellence will still negligibly benefit the world. For the fields where there's some possibility of a larger benefit, please consider the psychological components that contribute to your success. I was surprised by my own constraints: I need intellectual challenge and work of obvious importance (to me) and potentially far-reaching impact, and I have to live in a place where I can have enough friends. For these things, I will trade a great degree of financial welfare and job security. It took me direct experimentation to learn these things, but perhaps you can anticipate some of your preferences now and save some time.

                    Lastly, this general question about how to maximize one's impact, which includes GiveWell's overall mission, rests on such a fascinating, subjective and hidden calculus. It's exciting for me as a scientist to read philosophers' approaches to this problem.

                    Sarah


                    On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 5:51 AM, Dario Amodei <damodei@...> wrote:
                    Mark et al,

                    I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                    extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                    personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                    immense.  That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                    many careers seem to have a winner-take-all dynamic: that is, a very
                    small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                    the total impactful activity in the field.  One vivid example of this is
                    politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                    has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                    than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                    A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                    local party official.  The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                    few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                    of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                    business.  As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                    is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                    innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                    what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                    while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                    “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                    anyway.  It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                    nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.

                    A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                    may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                    in some abstract utilitarian sense.  It is probably better to be wildly
                    successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                    is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                    Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                    then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                    There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                    and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.

                    All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                    the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                    important.  One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                    various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                    an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have.  Obviously
                    there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                    would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                    career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                    choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.

                    To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                    a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                    which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do.  I
                    think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                    the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                    economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008).  An analysis of
                    the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                    industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                    one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.

                    I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                    whether they exist.  I suspect that such a project lies outside
                    GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                    naturally take it very close to these questions.  For example, if
                    GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                    research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                    the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research?  I could imagine
                    that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                    and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                    sidenote to the first.

                    Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell?  Would
                    others on this list find such analyses valuable?

                    Dario

                    David Morrow wrote:
                    >
                    >
                    > Mark,
                    >
                    >
                    > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                    > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're worth.
                    >
                    > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                    > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                    > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                    > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                    > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                    > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                    > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                    > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                    > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                    > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                    > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                    > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                    > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                    > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                    > your list significantly.
                    >
                    > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                    > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                    > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                    > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                    > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                    > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                    > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                    > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                    > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                    > problems.
                    >
                    > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                    > readers have to say.
                    >
                    > David
                    >
                    > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...
                    > <mailto:j.c.price@...>> wrote:
                    >
                    >
                    >
                    >     Mark,
                    >
                    >
                    >     As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                    >     clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                    >     action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                    >     person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                    >     your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                    >     be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                    >     an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                    >     powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                    >     day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                    >     before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                    >     intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                    >     analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                    >     simplistic throughout your life.
                    >
                    >     Jareb Price
                    >
                    >     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    >     To: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>;
                    >     marklee@... <mailto:marklee@...>
                    >     CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>
                    >     From: rnoble@... <mailto:rnoble@...>
                    >     Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                    >     Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                    >
                    >
                    >
                    >
                    >     Mark,
                    >
                    >     I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                    >     utilitarianism
                    >     and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                    >     The first
                    >     step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                    >     measure
                    >     utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                    >     are the two
                    >     essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                    >     (QALY) and the
                    >     disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                    >
                    >     After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                    >     involve
                    >     uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                    >     might allow you
                    >     to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are the
                    >     probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                    >     as a teacher,
                    >     etc.
                    >
                    >     As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                    >     know of anyone
                    >     who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                    >     QALYS I'd
                    >     recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                    >     and for
                    >     expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                    >     Jon Baron's
                    >     Thinking and Deciding.
                    >
                    >     Ron
                    >
                    >     Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...
                    >     <mailto:marklee@...>>:
                    >
                    >     >
                    >     >
                    >     > Dear GiveWell,
                    >     >
                    >     > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                    >     most good? Â  M
                    >     > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                    >     want to do
                    >     > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                    >     >
                    >     > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                    >     ability to go into
                    >     > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                    >     career, as
                    >     > well as the average person in that career. Â  If I want to do
                    >     the most good,
                    >     > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                    >     developing world,
                    >     > helping those who need it most? Â  Or, at one remove, should I
                    >     secure a
                    >     > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                    >     my income to
                    >     > such charities? Â  Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                    >     > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my
                    >     students to
                    >     > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                    >     directly help
                    >     > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                    >     can donate a
                    >     > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                    >     others to
                    >     > pursue such careers?
                    >     >
                    >     >             I’ve been thinking about these
                    >     questions on and off
                    >     > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â  Perhaps
                    >     you could
                    >     > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                    >     What resources
                    >     > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â  Who
                    >     would have useful
                    >     > advice to give? Â  Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                    >     International
                    >     > development and charity folks? Â  Ethicists? Â  Groups like
                    >     GiveWell? Â  All,
                    >     > some, or none of the above? Â  Has anything been written on
                    >     these issues? Â
                    >     > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                    >     Singer, Thomas
                    >     > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                    >     GiveWell and
                    >     > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                    >     anything that
                    >     > directly addresses these questions.
                    >     >
                    >     > Thanks,
                    >     >
                    >     > Mark
                    >     >
                    >
                    >     Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                    >     University of Pennsylvania
                    >
                    >
                    >     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    >     Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
                    ------------------------------------

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                  • Brian Slesinsky
                    I don t have any data for you, but as generic newspaper-column-style advice, there are many paths to success but you have to find the one that works for you.
                    Message 9 of 21 , Jan 29, 2010
                    • 0 Attachment
                      I don't have any data for you, but as generic newspaper-column-style advice, there are many paths to success but you have to find the one that works for you. So I think it mostly depends on your interests and talents, rather than what you can merely tolerate. High-impact achievements tend to require enthusiasm and determination to succeed in the face of setbacks. If you choose work you don't enjoy or don't consider important in itself, you'll have a harder time sticking with it long enough to really succeed.

                      That said, it's worth trying things that are most easily tried when you're younger, even if you discover that it's not right for you. Do you want to travel to third-world countries? Etc.

                      On Wed, Jan 27, 2010 at 9:24 PM, Mark Lee <marklee@...> wrote:


                      Dear GiveWell,

                      I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the most good?  More manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I want to do the most good, what career should I pursue? 

                      Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the ability to go into and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any career, as well as the average person in that career.  If I want to do the most good, should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the developing world, helping those who need it most?  Or, at one remove, should I secure a stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of my income to such charities?  Or, at one more remove, should I become a teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my students to pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a) directly help those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they can donate a lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence others to pursue such careers?

                                  I’ve been thinking about these questions on and off for several years now, but have not gotten very far.  Perhaps you could shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions:  What resources are out there that are pertinent to these questions?  Who would have useful advice to give?  Should I be speaking to economists?  International development and charity folks?  Ethicists?  Groups like GiveWell?  All, some, or none of the above?  Has anything been written on these issues?  I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter Singer, Thomas Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the GiveWell and Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered anything that directly addresses these questions.

                      Thanks,

                      Mark





                    • Nick Beckstead
                      I think it is very important to think about Mark s question. If you want to do as much good as possible for humanity, here are some paths of life that I d
                      Message 10 of 21 , Jan 30, 2010
                      • 0 Attachment

                        I think it is very important to think about Mark's question.  If you want to do as much good as possible for humanity, here are some paths of life that I'd take seriously.  I'd break the kinds of jobs into three categories: get rich and give jobs, influence jobs, and research jobs. (The distinction between 2 and 3 might be a bit arbitrary, but let's imagine researchers aren't trying to convince people to be researchers or givers.) Anyway, here are examples in each category.


                        1. Get rich and give

                          1. Finance jobs, specifically hedge funds or private equity

                          2. Some lucrative area of law

                          3. entrepreneurship

                        2. Influence jobs

                          1. Philosophy professor preaching about duties to the poor

                          2. Public health (advise a large organization, like WHO)

                          3. Work for some big international aid organization, and try to get to the top

                        3. Research jobs

                          1. Medical research (neglected tropical diseases maybe)

                          2. GiveWell

                          3. Poverty Action Lab


                        If we compare type 1 and type 2, we should ask: could givers pay/convince more people to be influencers or could influencers convince more people to be givers? If the former, 1 beats 2. If the latter, 2 beats 1. Perhaps you could argue that there aren't enough people willing and able to be influencers of the appropriate kind, and thus that it would be better for you to be an influencer.



                        But it might be questioned whether the influencers are really better at influencing. Compare, for instance, a preaching philosophy professor and a finance professional. As a professor you might interact with more students, but as a financial professional you might have contact with many individuals with a lot of wealth.  Although you'd directly contact fewer individuals, you might be more likely to convince a friend or a colleague to give away income than a student.  Even if you convince fewer people to become do-gooders, it might be better to convince a few rich people than it would be to convince a larger number of students.



                        3 can only win if influencers can't influence people to do the research as well as you could do it yourself and givers can't hire people to do the research as well as you could do it yourself. If they can't, the question will be very difficult to answer.



                        It is very hard to answer this question.



                        Best,

                        Nick






                        On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 1:43 PM, Sarah Cobey <sarahcobey@...> wrote:
                         

                        Dear Mark and GiveWell,

                        It's exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide your thinking.

                        I graduated from college in 2002 with largely the same approach and question as you. I had, however, majored in ecology & evolutionary biology (EEB) and minored in environmental studies and Russian studies. I loved the theory and implications of EEB, but I was concerned that the academic approach would be too "indulgent" and slow to improve welfare. I decided to do development work in SE Asia immediately after graduating; I was the only native English speaker in the office and interfaced largely between large funding bodies and the national government. Most of my day-to-day work was administrative, and working with the government of a developing country presented enormous challenges. I wondered about the ultimate impact of the projects we were funding and especially how long it would take to see changes. I was also not in a position to have substantive influence over what was happening.

                        Uncertainty over outcomes, combined with the extreme loneliness I felt as an expat in a small country (with a very small expat population) and persistent intellectual boredom, motivated me to return to the U.S. and apply to PhD programs. I recently graduated with a PhD in EEB, with a focus on infectious disease. I find research dramatically more interesting than what I was doing, and the potential impact of the work is incredible. That said, the probability that I or any scientist will make paradigm-shifting discoveries is low, but I enjoy knowing that the smaller discoveries are helpful. The burdens of scientific careers are low income and lack of job security--sometimes I struggle not to let this stress interfere with my work. I have wondered whether I might be better off in finance, donating much of my income, but I'm increasingly confident that the autonomy, growth opportunities, and undeniable importance of my scientific work compensate better than a more lucrative and stable job would.

                        Dario suggested we might be more effective doing excellent work in a field where we can succeed than doing average work in a central field. I think it's clear that there are some fields where, no matter how good you might be, your excellence will still negligibly benefit the world. For the fields where there's some possibility of a larger benefit, please consider the psychological components that contribute to your success. I was surprised by my own constraints: I need intellectual challenge and work of obvious importance (to me) and potentially far-reaching impact, and I have to live in a place where I can have enough friends. For these things, I will trade a great degree of financial welfare and job security. It took me direct experimentation to learn these things, but perhaps you can anticipate some of your preferences now and save some time.

                        Lastly, this general question about how to maximize one's impact, which includes GiveWell's overall mission, rests on such a fascinating, subjective and hidden calculus. It's exciting for me as a scientist to read philosophers' approaches to this problem.

                        Sarah




                        On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 5:51 AM, Dario Amodei <damodei@...> wrote:
                        Mark et al,

                        I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                        extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                        personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                        immense.  That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                        many careers seem to have a winner-take-all dynamic: that is, a very
                        small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                        the total impactful activity in the field.  One vivid example of this is
                        politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                        has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                        than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                        A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                        local party official.  The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                        few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                        of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                        business.  As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                        is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                        innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                        what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                        while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                        “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                        anyway.  It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                        nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.

                        A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                        may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                        in some abstract utilitarian sense.  It is probably better to be wildly
                        successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                        is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                        Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                        then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                        There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                        and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.

                        All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                        the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                        important.  One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                        various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                        an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have.  Obviously
                        there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                        would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                        career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                        choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.

                        To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                        a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                        which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do.  I
                        think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                        the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                        economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008).  An analysis of
                        the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                        industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                        one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.

                        I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                        whether they exist.  I suspect that such a project lies outside
                        GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                        naturally take it very close to these questions.  For example, if
                        GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                        research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                        the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research?  I could imagine
                        that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                        and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                        sidenote to the first.

                        Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell?  Would
                        others on this list find such analyses valuable?

                        Dario

                        David Morrow wrote:
                        >
                        >
                        > Mark,
                        >
                        >
                        > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                        > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're worth.
                        >
                        > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                        > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                        > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                        > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                        > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                        > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                        > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                        > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                        > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                        > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                        > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                        > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                        > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                        > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                        > your list significantly.
                        >
                        > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                        > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                        > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                        > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                        > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                        > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                        > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                        > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                        > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                        > problems.
                        >
                        > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                        > readers have to say.
                        >
                        > David
                        >
                        > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...
                        > <mailto:j.c.price@...>> wrote:
                        >
                        >
                        >
                        >     Mark,
                        >
                        >
                        >     As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                        >     clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                        >     action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                        >     person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                        >     your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                        >     be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                        >     an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                        >     powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                        >     day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                        >     before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                        >     intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                        >     analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                        >     simplistic throughout your life.
                        >
                        >     Jareb Price
                        >
                        >     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        >     To: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>;
                        >     marklee@... <mailto:marklee@...>
                        >     CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>
                        >     From: rnoble@... <mailto:rnoble@...>
                        >     Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                        >     Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                        >
                        >
                        >
                        >
                        >     Mark,
                        >
                        >     I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                        >     utilitarianism
                        >     and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                        >     The first
                        >     step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                        >     measure
                        >     utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                        >     are the two
                        >     essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                        >     (QALY) and the
                        >     disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                        >
                        >     After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                        >     involve
                        >     uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                        >     might allow you
                        >     to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are the
                        >     probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                        >     as a teacher,
                        >     etc.
                        >
                        >     As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                        >     know of anyone
                        >     who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                        >     QALYS I'd
                        >     recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                        >     and for
                        >     expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                        >     Jon Baron's
                        >     Thinking and Deciding.
                        >
                        >     Ron
                        >
                        >     Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...
                        >     <mailto:marklee@...>>:
                        >
                        >     >
                        >     >
                        >     > Dear GiveWell,
                        >     >
                        >     > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                        >     most good? Â  M
                        >     > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                        >     want to do
                        >     > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                        >     >
                        >     > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                        >     ability to go into
                        >     > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                        >     career, as
                        >     > well as the average person in that career. Â  If I want to do
                        >     the most good,
                        >     > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                        >     developing world,
                        >     > helping those who need it most? Â  Or, at one remove, should I
                        >     secure a
                        >     > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                        >     my income to
                        >     > such charities? Â  Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                        >     > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my
                        >     students to
                        >     > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                        >     directly help
                        >     > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                        >     can donate a
                        >     > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                        >     others to
                        >     > pursue such careers?
                        >     >
                        >     >             I’ve been thinking about these
                        >     questions on and off
                        >     > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â  Perhaps
                        >     you could
                        >     > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                        >     What resources
                        >     > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â  Who
                        >     would have useful
                        >     > advice to give? Â  Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                        >     International
                        >     > development and charity folks? Â  Ethicists? Â  Groups like
                        >     GiveWell? Â  All,
                        >     > some, or none of the above? Â  Has anything been written on
                        >     these issues? Â
                        >     > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                        >     Singer, Thomas
                        >     > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                        >     GiveWell and
                        >     > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                        >     anything that
                        >     > directly addresses these questions.
                        >     >
                        >     > Thanks,
                        >     >
                        >     > Mark
                        >     >
                        >
                        >     Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                        >     University of Pennsylvania
                        >
                        >
                        >     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        >     Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
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                      • J Nguyen
                        I am inspired and encouraged to see the interesting and insightful views from everyone. As a 20-year experienced chemical/environmental engineer who quit my
                        Message 11 of 21 , Feb 1, 2010
                        • 0 Attachment
                          I am inspired and encouraged to see the interesting and insightful views from everyone. As a 20-year experienced chemical/environmental engineer who quit my job last year to go back to school to pursue a career in health care, I have thought about this question, among others, for many years and have come to accept a somewhat non-answer: IT DEPENDS, on
                          1) who you are,
                          2) what you are best at (excellent and most effective),
                          3) what you love doing and
                          4) where you are in life (age and maturity).
                           
                          I believe that if one can combine #2 and #3 with the intention and awareness to give well, one will eventually get there. There is not a single job or career that would do it all for most people. Be good to yourself. Be patient. Be willing to change.
                           
                          Thank you for the question and discussions.
                          Jan Nguyen   

                          --- On Sat, 1/30/10, Nick Beckstead <nbeckstead@...> wrote:

                          From: Nick Beckstead <nbeckstead@...>
                          Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                          To: givewell@yahoogroups.com
                          Date: Saturday, January 30, 2010, 1:40 PM

                           
                          I think it is very important to think about Mark's question.  If you want to do as much good as possible for humanity, here are some paths of life that I'd take seriously.  I'd break the kinds of jobs into three categories: get rich and give jobs, influence jobs, and research jobs. (The distinction between 2 and 3 might be a bit arbitrary, but let's imagine researchers aren't trying to convince people to be researchers or givers.) Anyway, here are examples in each category.

                          1. Get rich and give
                            1. Finance jobs, specifically hedge funds or private equity
                            2. Some lucrative area of law
                            3. entrepreneurship
                          2. Influence jobs
                            1. Philosophy professor preaching about duties to the poor
                            2. Public health (advise a large organization, like WHO)
                            3. Work for some big international aid organization, and try to get to the top
                          3. Research jobs
                            1. Medical research (neglected tropical diseases maybe)
                            2. GiveWell
                            3. Poverty Action Lab

                          If we compare type 1 and type 2, we should ask: could givers pay/convince more people to be influencers or could influencers convince more people to be givers? If the former, 1 beats 2. If the latter, 2 beats 1. Perhaps you could argue that there aren't enough people willing and able to be influencers of the appropriate kind, and thus that it would be better for you to be an influencer.


                          But it might be questioned whether the influencers are really better at influencing. Compare, for instance, a preaching philosophy professor and a finance professional. As a professor you might interact with more students, but as a financial professional you might have contact with many individuals with a lot of wealth.  Although you'd directly contact fewer individuals, you might be more likely to convince a friend or a colleague to give away income than a student.  Even if you convince fewer people to become do-gooders, it might be better to convince a few rich people than it would be to convince a larger number of students.


                          3 can only win if influencers can't influence people to do the research as well as you could do it yourself and givers can't hire people to do the research as well as you could do it yourself. If they can't, the question will be very difficult to answer.


                          It is very hard to answer this question.


                          Best,
                          Nick





                          On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 1:43 PM, Sarah Cobey <sarahcobey@gmail. com> wrote:
                           
                          Dear Mark and GiveWell,

                          It's exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide your thinking.

                          I graduated from college in 2002 with largely the same approach and question as you. I had, however, majored in ecology & evolutionary biology (EEB) and minored in environmental studies and Russian studies. I loved the theory and implications of EEB, but I was concerned that the academic approach would be too "indulgent" and slow to improve welfare. I decided to do development work in SE Asia immediately after graduating; I was the only native English speaker in the office and interfaced largely between large funding bodies and the national government. Most of my day-to-day work was administrative, and working with the government of a developing country presented enormous challenges. I wondered about the ultimate impact of the projects we were funding and especially how long it would take to see changes. I was also not in a position to have substantive influence over what was happening.

                          Uncertainty over outcomes, combined with the extreme loneliness I felt as an expat in a small country (with a very small expat population) and persistent intellectual boredom, motivated me to return to the U.S. and apply to PhD programs. I recently graduated with a PhD in EEB, with a focus on infectious disease. I find research dramatically more interesting than what I was doing, and the potential impact of the work is incredible. That said, the probability that I or any scientist will make paradigm-shifting discoveries is low, but I enjoy knowing that the smaller discoveries are helpful. The burdens of scientific careers are low income and lack of job security--sometimes I struggle not to let this stress interfere with my work. I have wondered whether I might be better off in finance, donating much of my income, but I'm increasingly confident that the autonomy, growth opportunities, and undeniable importance of my scientific work compensate better than a more lucrative and stable job would.

                          Dario suggested we might be more effective doing excellent work in a field where we can succeed than doing average work in a central field. I think it's clear that there are some fields where, no matter how good you might be, your excellence will still negligibly benefit the world. For the fields where there's some possibility of a larger benefit, please consider the psychological components that contribute to your success. I was surprised by my own constraints: I need intellectual challenge and work of obvious importance (to me) and potentially far-reaching impact, and I have to live in a place where I can have enough friends. For these things, I will trade a great degree of financial welfare and job security. It took me direct experimentation to learn these things, but perhaps you can anticipate some of your preferences now and save some time.

                          Lastly, this general question about how to maximize one's impact, which includes GiveWell's overall mission, rests on such a fascinating, subjective and hidden calculus. It's exciting for me as a scientist to read philosophers' approaches to this problem.

                          Sarah



                          On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 5:51 AM, Dario Amodei <damodei@princeton. edu> wrote:
                          Mark et al,

                          I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                          extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                          personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                          immense.  That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                          many careers seem to have a winner-take- all dynamic: that is, a very
                          small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                          the total impactful activity in the field.  One vivid example of this is
                          politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                          has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                          than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                          A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                          local party official.  The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                          few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                          of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                          business.  As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                          is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                          innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                          what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                          while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                          “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                          anyway.  It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                          nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.

                          A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                          may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                          in some abstract utilitarian sense.  It is probably better to be wildly
                          successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                          is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                          Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                          then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                          There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                          and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.

                          All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                          the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                          important.  One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                          various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                          an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have.  Obviously
                          there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                          would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                          career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                          choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.

                          To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                          a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                          which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do.  I
                          think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                          the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                          economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008).  An analysis of
                          the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                          industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                          one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.

                          I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                          whether they exist.  I suspect that such a project lies outside
                          GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                          naturally take it very close to these questions.  For example, if
                          GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                          research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                          the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research?  I could imagine
                          that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                          and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                          sidenote to the first.

                          Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell?  Would
                          others on this list find such analyses valuable?

                          Dario

                          David Morrow wrote:
                          >
                          >
                          > Mark,
                          >
                          >
                          > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                          > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're worth.
                          >
                          > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                          > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                          > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                          > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                          > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                          > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                          > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                          > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                          > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                          > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                          > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                          > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                          > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                          > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                          > your list significantly.
                          >
                          > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                          > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                          > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                          > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                          > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                          > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                          > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                          > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                          > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                          > problems.
                          >
                          > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                          > readers have to say.
                          >
                          > David
                          >
                          > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@alumni. iu.edu
                          > <mailto:j.c.price@alumni. iu.edu>> wrote:
                          >
                          >
                          >
                          >     Mark,
                          >
                          >
                          >     As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                          >     clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                          >     action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                          >     person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                          >     your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                          >     be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                          >     an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                          >     powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                          >     day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                          >     before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                          >     intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                          >     analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                          >     simplistic throughout your life.
                          >
                          >     Jareb Price
                          >
                          >     ------------ --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- ------
                          >     To: givewell@yahoogroup s.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroup s.com>;
                          >     marklee@philosophy. rutgers.edu <mailto:marklee@philosophy. rutgers.edu>
                          >     CC: givewell@yahoogroup s.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroup s.com>
                          >     From: rnoble@.... edu <mailto:rnoble@.... edu>
                          >     Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                          >     Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                          >
                          >
                          >
                          >
                          >     Mark,
                          >
                          >     I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                          >     utilitarianism
                          >     and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                          >     The first
                          >     step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                          >     measure
                          >     utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                          >     are the two
                          >     essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                          >     (QALY) and the
                          >     disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                          >
                          >     After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                          >     involve
                          >     uncertainty- -your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                          >     might allow you
                          >     to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are the
                          >     probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                          >     as a teacher,
                          >     etc.
                          >
                          >     As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                          >     know of anyone
                          >     who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                          >     QALYS I'd
                          >     recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                          >     and for
                          >     expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                          >     Jon Baron's
                          >     Thinking and Deciding.
                          >
                          >     Ron
                          >
                          >     Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@philosophy. rutgers.edu
                          >     <mailto:marklee@philosophy. rutgers.edu>>:
                          >
                          >     >
                          >     >
                          >     > Dear GiveWell,
                          >     >
                          >     > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                          >     most good? Â  M
                          >     > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                          >     want to do
                          >     > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                          >     >
                          >     > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                          >     ability to go into
                          >     > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                          >     career, as
                          >     > well as the average person in that career. Â  If I want to do
                          >     the most good,
                          >     > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                          >     developing world,
                          >     > helping those who need it most? Â  Or, at one remove, should I
                          >     secure a
                          >     > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                          >     my income to
                          >     > such charities? Â  Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                          >     > teacher/professor/ other person of influence, and influence my
                          >     students to
                          >     > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                          >     directly help
                          >     > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                          >     can donate a
                          >     > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                          >     others to
                          >     > pursue such careers?
                          >     >
                          >     >             I’ve been thinking about these
                          >     questions on and off
                          >     > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â  Perhaps
                          >     you could
                          >     > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                          >     What resources
                          >     > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â  Who
                          >     would have useful
                          >     > advice to give? Â  Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                          >     International
                          >     > development and charity folks? Â  Ethicists? Â  Groups like
                          >     GiveWell? Â  All,
                          >     > some, or none of the above? Â  Has anything been written on
                          >     these issues? Â
                          >     > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                          >     Singer, Thomas
                          >     > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                          >     GiveWell and
                          >     > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                          >     anything that
                          >     > directly addresses these questions.
                          >     >
                          >     > Thanks,
                          >     >
                          >     > Mark
                          >     >
                          >
                          >     Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                          >     University of Pennsylvania
                          >
                          >
                          >     ------------ --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- ------
                          >     Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
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                        • Holden Karnofsky
                          I m broadly in agreement with the points raised by Dario, Brian Slesinsky and David Morrow, all of which stress that your personal talents/interests are a huge
                          Message 12 of 21 , Feb 1, 2010
                          • 0 Attachment
                            I'm broadly in agreement with the points raised by Dario, Brian Slesinsky and David Morrow, all of which stress that your personal talents/interests are a huge factor in the equation, making it impossible to give a very general answer.

                            From what I've seen of cost-effectiveness estimates (particularly those using DALYs), I think current methodologies are not up to the task of shedding much light on this decision.

                            One thing I'd like to add is that I feel that in these sorts of discussions, people very often seem to be underestimating the benefits of for-profit activities.  Most scholarly discussions of the enormous improvement in living standards and drastic declines in poverty over the last few hundred years give a huge amount of the credit to overall economic growth driven largely by for-profit activities.  

                            For-profit activities have a sort of built-in accountability and focus on outcomes.  It's obviously not perfect, and there are many valid concerns about the relationship between profit and social good (including Dario's worries about finance).  But in a lot of industries, making money means helping someone, and the benefits you might create by making money should be in the same conversation as the benefits you might create by giving it away.  This includes fields such as accounting and even finance (though finance has some definite problems as well) where the translation between making money and helping people doesn't seem very clear/direct/tangible.  I think the same mentality that leads people to be insufficiently critical of charities ("they're trying to help people") leads them to be overly critical of for-profit activities ("they're just trying to make a buck").

                            I think a lot of good can be done by entering celebrated, insufficiently criticized sectors *in order to* add criticism to them and change the way they operate (I see GiveWell as doing this).  But if your main value added is your ability to execute within an institutional framework, rather than challenge it, that to me is a reason to put yourself in the for-profit framework where  incentives are (in many cases) already very healthy and aligned with social good.

                            So if your situation really is that you're willing to do anything, and have an edge on other people in tolerating unpleasant or non-glamorous activities, I'd urge you to give strong consideration to shooting for an unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job.  In fact, the high pay of such a job could be taken as an indication that there is a lot of "room for more labor" in that area.

                            Note that all of this stuff is my personal thoughts, unrelated to GiveWell.  Related to the points made by Dario, David and Brian, I think the question of "What should I do?" is much harder to give general answers on than the question of "Where should I give?" and I don't see GiveWell as an institution working on this question.  However, I am personally very interested in the question and may someday see what work I can do on it.

                            On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 1:43 PM, Sarah Cobey <sarahcobey@...> wrote:
                             

                            Dear Mark and GiveWell,

                            It's exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide your thinking.

                            I graduated from college in 2002 with largely the same approach and question as you. I had, however, majored in ecology & evolutionary biology (EEB) and minored in environmental studies and Russian studies. I loved the theory and implications of EEB, but I was concerned that the academic approach would be too "indulgent" and slow to improve welfare. I decided to do development work in SE Asia immediately after graduating; I was the only native English speaker in the office and interfaced largely between large funding bodies and the national government. Most of my day-to-day work was administrative, and working with the government of a developing country presented enormous challenges. I wondered about the ultimate impact of the projects we were funding and especially how long it would take to see changes. I was also not in a position to have substantive influence over what was happening.

                            Uncertainty over outcomes, combined with the extreme loneliness I felt as an expat in a small country (with a very small expat population) and persistent intellectual boredom, motivated me to return to the U.S. and apply to PhD programs. I recently graduated with a PhD in EEB, with a focus on infectious disease. I find research dramatically more interesting than what I was doing, and the potential impact of the work is incredible. That said, the probability that I or any scientist will make paradigm-shifting discoveries is low, but I enjoy knowing that the smaller discoveries are helpful. The burdens of scientific careers are low income and lack of job security--sometimes I struggle not to let this stress interfere with my work. I have wondered whether I might be better off in finance, donating much of my income, but I'm increasingly confident that the autonomy, growth opportunities, and undeniable importance of my scientific work compensate better than a more lucrative and stable job would.

                            Dario suggested we might be more effective doing excellent work in a field where we can succeed than doing average work in a central field. I think it's clear that there are some fields where, no matter how good you might be, your excellence will still negligibly benefit the world. For the fields where there's some possibility of a larger benefit, please consider the psychological components that contribute to your success. I was surprised by my own constraints: I need intellectual challenge and work of obvious importance (to me) and potentially far-reaching impact, and I have to live in a place where I can have enough friends. For these things, I will trade a great degree of financial welfare and job security. It took me direct experimentation to learn these things, but perhaps you can anticipate some of your preferences now and save some time.

                            Lastly, this general question about how to maximize one's impact, which includes GiveWell's overall mission, rests on such a fascinating, subjective and hidden calculus. It's exciting for me as a scientist to read philosophers' approaches to this problem.

                            Sarah




                            On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 5:51 AM, Dario Amodei <damodei@...> wrote:
                            Mark et al,

                            I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                            extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                            personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                            immense.  That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                            many careers seem to have a winner-take-all dynamic: that is, a very
                            small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                            the total impactful activity in the field.  One vivid example of this is
                            politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                            has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                            than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                            A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                            local party official.  The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                            few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                            of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                            business.  As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                            is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                            innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                            what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                            while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                            “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                            anyway.  It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                            nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.

                            A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                            may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                            in some abstract utilitarian sense.  It is probably better to be wildly
                            successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                            is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                            Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                            then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                            There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                            and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.

                            All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                            the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                            important.  One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                            various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                            an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have.  Obviously
                            there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                            would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                            career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                            choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.

                            To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                            a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                            which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do.  I
                            think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                            the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                            economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008).  An analysis of
                            the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                            industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                            one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.

                            I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                            whether they exist.  I suspect that such a project lies outside
                            GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                            naturally take it very close to these questions.  For example, if
                            GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                            research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                            the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research?  I could imagine
                            that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                            and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                            sidenote to the first.

                            Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell?  Would
                            others on this list find such analyses valuable?

                            Dario

                            David Morrow wrote:
                            >
                            >
                            > Mark,
                            >
                            >
                            > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                            > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're worth.
                            >
                            > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                            > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                            > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                            > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                            > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                            > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                            > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                            > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                            > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                            > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                            > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                            > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                            > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                            > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                            > your list significantly.
                            >
                            > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                            > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                            > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                            > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                            > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                            > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                            > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                            > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                            > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                            > problems.
                            >
                            > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                            > readers have to say.
                            >
                            > David
                            >
                            > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...
                            > <mailto:j.c.price@...>> wrote:
                            >
                            >
                            >
                            >     Mark,
                            >
                            >
                            >     As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                            >     clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                            >     action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                            >     person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                            >     your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                            >     be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                            >     an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                            >     powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                            >     day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                            >     before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                            >     intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                            >     analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                            >     simplistic throughout your life.
                            >
                            >     Jareb Price
                            >
                            >     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                            >     To: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>;
                            >     marklee@... <mailto:marklee@...>
                            >     CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>
                            >     From: rnoble@... <mailto:rnoble@...>
                            >     Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                            >     Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                            >
                            >
                            >
                            >
                            >     Mark,
                            >
                            >     I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                            >     utilitarianism
                            >     and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                            >     The first
                            >     step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                            >     measure
                            >     utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                            >     are the two
                            >     essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                            >     (QALY) and the
                            >     disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                            >
                            >     After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                            >     involve
                            >     uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                            >     might allow you
                            >     to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are the
                            >     probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                            >     as a teacher,
                            >     etc.
                            >
                            >     As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                            >     know of anyone
                            >     who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                            >     QALYS I'd
                            >     recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                            >     and for
                            >     expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                            >     Jon Baron's
                            >     Thinking and Deciding.
                            >
                            >     Ron
                            >
                            >     Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...
                            >     <mailto:marklee@...>>:
                            >
                            >     >
                            >     >
                            >     > Dear GiveWell,
                            >     >
                            >     > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                            >     most good? Â  M
                            >     > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                            >     want to do
                            >     > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                            >     >
                            >     > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                            >     ability to go into
                            >     > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                            >     career, as
                            >     > well as the average person in that career. Â  If I want to do
                            >     the most good,
                            >     > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                            >     developing world,
                            >     > helping those who need it most? Â  Or, at one remove, should I
                            >     secure a
                            >     > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                            >     my income to
                            >     > such charities? Â  Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                            >     > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my
                            >     students to
                            >     > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                            >     directly help
                            >     > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                            >     can donate a
                            >     > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                            >     others to
                            >     > pursue such careers?
                            >     >
                            >     >             I’ve been thinking about these
                            >     questions on and off
                            >     > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â  Perhaps
                            >     you could
                            >     > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                            >     What resources
                            >     > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â  Who
                            >     would have useful
                            >     > advice to give? Â  Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                            >     International
                            >     > development and charity folks? Â  Ethicists? Â  Groups like
                            >     GiveWell? Â  All,
                            >     > some, or none of the above? Â  Has anything been written on
                            >     these issues? Â
                            >     > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                            >     Singer, Thomas
                            >     > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                            >     GiveWell and
                            >     > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                            >     anything that
                            >     > directly addresses these questions.
                            >     >
                            >     > Thanks,
                            >     >
                            >     > Mark
                            >     >
                            >
                            >     Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                            >     University of Pennsylvania
                            >
                            >
                            >     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                            >     Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
                            ------------------------------------

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                          • David Morrow
                            I want to second Holden s point about for-profit activity. For-profit enterprise can do a tremendous amount of good. People on this list might be particularly
                            Message 13 of 21 , Feb 1, 2010
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                              I want to second Holden's point about for-profit activity. For-profit enterprise can do a tremendous amount of good. People on this list might be particularly interested in social entrepreneurship, which blends the aims of traditional NGO work with the methods of for-profit work.

                              One other career path that hasn't been mentioned yet is religious work (e.g., becoming a member of the clergy or a lay worker for a religious organization). That requires a particular kind of interest, belief, and dedication, of course, but it offers an important way to influence people's behavior. In some ways, it may be a better platform for moral influence than some of the other positions we've been discussing.

                              David

                              On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 9:58 AM, Holden Karnofsky <holden0@...> wrote:
                               

                              I'm broadly in agreement with the points raised by Dario, Brian Slesinsky and David Morrow, all of which stress that your personal talents/interests are a huge factor in the equation, making it impossible to give a very general answer.


                              From what I've seen of cost-effectiveness estimates (particularly those using DALYs), I think current methodologies are not up to the task of shedding much light on this decision.

                              One thing I'd like to add is that I feel that in these sorts of discussions, people very often seem to be underestimating the benefits of for-profit activities.  Most scholarly discussions of the enormous improvement in living standards and drastic declines in poverty over the last few hundred years give a huge amount of the credit to overall economic growth driven largely by for-profit activities.  

                              For-profit activities have a sort of built-in accountability and focus on outcomes.  It's obviously not perfect, and there are many valid concerns about the relationship between profit and social good (including Dario's worries about finance).  But in a lot of industries, making money means helping someone, and the benefits you might create by making money should be in the same conversation as the benefits you might create by giving it away.  This includes fields such as accounting and even finance (though finance has some definite problems as well) where the translation between making money and helping people doesn't seem very clear/direct/tangible.  I think the same mentality that leads people to be insufficiently critical of charities ("they're trying to help people") leads them to be overly critical of for-profit activities ("they're just trying to make a buck").

                              I think a lot of good can be done by entering celebrated, insufficiently criticized sectors *in order to* add criticism to them and change the way they operate (I see GiveWell as doing this).  But if your main value added is your ability to execute within an institutional framework, rather than challenge it, that to me is a reason to put yourself in the for-profit framework where  incentives are (in many cases) already very healthy and aligned with social good.

                              So if your situation really is that you're willing to do anything, and have an edge on other people in tolerating unpleasant or non-glamorous activities, I'd urge you to give strong consideration to shooting for an unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job.  In fact, the high pay of such a job could be taken as an indication that there is a lot of "room for more labor" in that area.

                              Note that all of this stuff is my personal thoughts, unrelated to GiveWell.  Related to the points made by Dario, David and Brian, I think the question of "What should I do?" is much harder to give general answers on than the question of "Where should I give?" and I don't see GiveWell as an institution working on this question.  However, I am personally very interested in the question and may someday see what work I can do on it.

                              On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 1:43 PM, Sarah Cobey <sarahcobey@...> wrote:
                               

                              Dear Mark and GiveWell,

                              It's exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide your thinking.

                              I graduated from college in 2002 with largely the same approach and question as you. I had, however, majored in ecology & evolutionary biology (EEB) and minored in environmental studies and Russian studies. I loved the theory and implications of EEB, but I was concerned that the academic approach would be too "indulgent" and slow to improve welfare. I decided to do development work in SE Asia immediately after graduating; I was the only native English speaker in the office and interfaced largely between large funding bodies and the national government. Most of my day-to-day work was administrative, and working with the government of a developing country presented enormous challenges. I wondered about the ultimate impact of the projects we were funding and especially how long it would take to see changes. I was also not in a position to have substantive influence over what was happening.

                              Uncertainty over outcomes, combined with the extreme loneliness I felt as an expat in a small country (with a very small expat population) and persistent intellectual boredom, motivated me to return to the U.S. and apply to PhD programs. I recently graduated with a PhD in EEB, with a focus on infectious disease. I find research dramatically more interesting than what I was doing, and the potential impact of the work is incredible. That said, the probability that I or any scientist will make paradigm-shifting discoveries is low, but I enjoy knowing that the smaller discoveries are helpful. The burdens of scientific careers are low income and lack of job security--sometimes I struggle not to let this stress interfere with my work. I have wondered whether I might be better off in finance, donating much of my income, but I'm increasingly confident that the autonomy, growth opportunities, and undeniable importance of my scientific work compensate better than a more lucrative and stable job would.

                              Dario suggested we might be more effective doing excellent work in a field where we can succeed than doing average work in a central field. I think it's clear that there are some fields where, no matter how good you might be, your excellence will still negligibly benefit the world. For the fields where there's some possibility of a larger benefit, please consider the psychological components that contribute to your success. I was surprised by my own constraints: I need intellectual challenge and work of obvious importance (to me) and potentially far-reaching impact, and I have to live in a place where I can have enough friends. For these things, I will trade a great degree of financial welfare and job security. It took me direct experimentation to learn these things, but perhaps you can anticipate some of your preferences now and save some time.

                              Lastly, this general question about how to maximize one's impact, which includes GiveWell's overall mission, rests on such a fascinating, subjective and hidden calculus. It's exciting for me as a scientist to read philosophers' approaches to this problem.

                              Sarah




                              On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 5:51 AM, Dario Amodei <damodei@...> wrote:
                              Mark et al,

                              I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                              extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                              personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                              immense.  That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                              many careers seem to have a winner-take-all dynamic: that is, a very
                              small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                              the total impactful activity in the field.  One vivid example of this is
                              politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                              has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                              than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                              A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                              local party official.  The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                              few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                              of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                              business.  As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                              is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                              innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                              what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                              while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                              “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                              anyway.  It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                              nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.

                              A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                              may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                              in some abstract utilitarian sense.  It is probably better to be wildly
                              successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                              is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                              Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                              then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                              There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                              and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.

                              All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                              the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                              important.  One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                              various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                              an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have.  Obviously
                              there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                              would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                              career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                              choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.

                              To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                              a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                              which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do.  I
                              think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                              the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                              economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008).  An analysis of
                              the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                              industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                              one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.

                              I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                              whether they exist.  I suspect that such a project lies outside
                              GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                              naturally take it very close to these questions.  For example, if
                              GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                              research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                              the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research?  I could imagine
                              that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                              and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                              sidenote to the first.

                              Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell?  Would
                              others on this list find such analyses valuable?

                              Dario

                              David Morrow wrote:
                              >
                              >
                              > Mark,
                              >
                              >
                              > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                              > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're worth.
                              >
                              > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                              > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                              > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                              > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                              > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                              > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                              > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                              > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                              > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                              > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                              > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                              > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                              > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                              > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                              > your list significantly.
                              >
                              > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                              > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                              > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                              > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                              > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                              > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                              > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                              > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                              > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                              > problems.
                              >
                              > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                              > readers have to say.
                              >
                              > David
                              >
                              > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...
                              > <mailto:j.c.price@...>> wrote:
                              >
                              >
                              >
                              >     Mark,
                              >
                              >
                              >     As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                              >     clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                              >     action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                              >     person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                              >     your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                              >     be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                              >     an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                              >     powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                              >     day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                              >     before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                              >     intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                              >     analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                              >     simplistic throughout your life.
                              >
                              >     Jareb Price
                              >
                              >     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              >     To: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>;
                              >     marklee@... <mailto:marklee@...>
                              >     CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>
                              >     From: rnoble@... <mailto:rnoble@...>
                              >     Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                              >     Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                              >
                              >
                              >
                              >
                              >     Mark,
                              >
                              >     I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                              >     utilitarianism
                              >     and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                              >     The first
                              >     step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                              >     measure
                              >     utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                              >     are the two
                              >     essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                              >     (QALY) and the
                              >     disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                              >
                              >     After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                              >     involve
                              >     uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                              >     might allow you
                              >     to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are the
                              >     probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                              >     as a teacher,
                              >     etc.
                              >
                              >     As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                              >     know of anyone
                              >     who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                              >     QALYS I'd
                              >     recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                              >     and for
                              >     expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                              >     Jon Baron's
                              >     Thinking and Deciding.
                              >
                              >     Ron
                              >
                              >     Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...
                              >     <mailto:marklee@...>>:
                              >
                              >     >
                              >     >
                              >     > Dear GiveWell,
                              >     >
                              >     > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                              >     most good? Â  M
                              >     > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                              >     want to do
                              >     > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                              >     >
                              >     > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                              >     ability to go into
                              >     > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                              >     career, as
                              >     > well as the average person in that career. Â  If I want to do
                              >     the most good,
                              >     > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                              >     developing world,
                              >     > helping those who need it most? Â  Or, at one remove, should I
                              >     secure a
                              >     > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                              >     my income to
                              >     > such charities? Â  Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                              >     > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my
                              >     students to
                              >     > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                              >     directly help
                              >     > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                              >     can donate a
                              >     > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                              >     others to
                              >     > pursue such careers?
                              >     >
                              >     >             I’ve been thinking about these
                              >     questions on and off
                              >     > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â  Perhaps
                              >     you could
                              >     > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                              >     What resources
                              >     > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â  Who
                              >     would have useful
                              >     > advice to give? Â  Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                              >     International
                              >     > development and charity folks? Â  Ethicists? Â  Groups like
                              >     GiveWell? Â  All,
                              >     > some, or none of the above? Â  Has anything been written on
                              >     these issues? Â
                              >     > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                              >     Singer, Thomas
                              >     > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                              >     GiveWell and
                              >     > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                              >     anything that
                              >     > directly addresses these questions.
                              >     >
                              >     > Thanks,
                              >     >
                              >     > Mark
                              >     >
                              >
                              >     Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                              >     University of Pennsylvania
                              >
                              >
                              >     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              >     Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
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                            • Sarah Cobey
                              A major caveat about for-profit work is that potentially the most important areas in which help is urgently needed are those whose benefits are not currently
                              Message 14 of 21 , Feb 1, 2010
                              • 0 Attachment
                                A major caveat about for-profit work is that potentially the most important areas in which help is urgently needed are those whose benefits are not currently captured by markets. Climate change and disease management spring to mind. There are for-profit, partial solutions for both problems, but their scope is currently limited.

                                Sarah



                                On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 11:21 AM, David Morrow <dmorrow1@...> wrote:
                                 

                                I want to second Holden's point about for-profit activity. For-profit enterprise can do a tremendous amount of good. People on this list might be particularly interested in social entrepreneurship, which blends the aims of traditional NGO work with the methods of for-profit work.

                                One other career path that hasn't been mentioned yet is religious work (e.g., becoming a member of the clergy or a lay worker for a religious organization). That requires a particular kind of interest, belief, and dedication, of course, but it offers an important way to influence people's behavior. In some ways, it may be a better platform for moral influence than some of the other positions we've been discussing.

                                David



                                On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 9:58 AM, Holden Karnofsky <holden0@...> wrote:
                                 

                                I'm broadly in agreement with the points raised by Dario, Brian Slesinsky and David Morrow, all of which stress that your personal talents/interests are a huge factor in the equation, making it impossible to give a very general answer.


                                From what I've seen of cost-effectiveness estimates (particularly those using DALYs), I think current methodologies are not up to the task of shedding much light on this decision.

                                One thing I'd like to add is that I feel that in these sorts of discussions, people very often seem to be underestimating the benefits of for-profit activities.  Most scholarly discussions of the enormous improvement in living standards and drastic declines in poverty over the last few hundred years give a huge amount of the credit to overall economic growth driven largely by for-profit activities.  

                                For-profit activities have a sort of built-in accountability and focus on outcomes.  It's obviously not perfect, and there are many valid concerns about the relationship between profit and social good (including Dario's worries about finance).  But in a lot of industries, making money means helping someone, and the benefits you might create by making money should be in the same conversation as the benefits you might create by giving it away.  This includes fields such as accounting and even finance (though finance has some definite problems as well) where the translation between making money and helping people doesn't seem very clear/direct/tangible.  I think the same mentality that leads people to be insufficiently critical of charities ("they're trying to help people") leads them to be overly critical of for-profit activities ("they're just trying to make a buck").

                                I think a lot of good can be done by entering celebrated, insufficiently criticized sectors *in order to* add criticism to them and change the way they operate (I see GiveWell as doing this).  But if your main value added is your ability to execute within an institutional framework, rather than challenge it, that to me is a reason to put yourself in the for-profit framework where  incentives are (in many cases) already very healthy and aligned with social good.

                                So if your situation really is that you're willing to do anything, and have an edge on other people in tolerating unpleasant or non-glamorous activities, I'd urge you to give strong consideration to shooting for an unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job.  In fact, the high pay of such a job could be taken as an indication that there is a lot of "room for more labor" in that area.

                                Note that all of this stuff is my personal thoughts, unrelated to GiveWell.  Related to the points made by Dario, David and Brian, I think the question of "What should I do?" is much harder to give general answers on than the question of "Where should I give?" and I don't see GiveWell as an institution working on this question.  However, I am personally very interested in the question and may someday see what work I can do on it.

                                On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 1:43 PM, Sarah Cobey <sarahcobey@...> wrote:
                                 

                                Dear Mark and GiveWell,

                                It's exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide your thinking.

                                I graduated from college in 2002 with largely the same approach and question as you. I had, however, majored in ecology & evolutionary biology (EEB) and minored in environmental studies and Russian studies. I loved the theory and implications of EEB, but I was concerned that the academic approach would be too "indulgent" and slow to improve welfare. I decided to do development work in SE Asia immediately after graduating; I was the only native English speaker in the office and interfaced largely between large funding bodies and the national government. Most of my day-to-day work was administrative, and working with the government of a developing country presented enormous challenges. I wondered about the ultimate impact of the projects we were funding and especially how long it would take to see changes. I was also not in a position to have substantive influence over what was happening.

                                Uncertainty over outcomes, combined with the extreme loneliness I felt as an expat in a small country (with a very small expat population) and persistent intellectual boredom, motivated me to return to the U.S. and apply to PhD programs. I recently graduated with a PhD in EEB, with a focus on infectious disease. I find research dramatically more interesting than what I was doing, and the potential impact of the work is incredible. That said, the probability that I or any scientist will make paradigm-shifting discoveries is low, but I enjoy knowing that the smaller discoveries are helpful. The burdens of scientific careers are low income and lack of job security--sometimes I struggle not to let this stress interfere with my work. I have wondered whether I might be better off in finance, donating much of my income, but I'm increasingly confident that the autonomy, growth opportunities, and undeniable importance of my scientific work compensate better than a more lucrative and stable job would.

                                Dario suggested we might be more effective doing excellent work in a field where we can succeed than doing average work in a central field. I think it's clear that there are some fields where, no matter how good you might be, your excellence will still negligibly benefit the world. For the fields where there's some possibility of a larger benefit, please consider the psychological components that contribute to your success. I was surprised by my own constraints: I need intellectual challenge and work of obvious importance (to me) and potentially far-reaching impact, and I have to live in a place where I can have enough friends. For these things, I will trade a great degree of financial welfare and job security. It took me direct experimentation to learn these things, but perhaps you can anticipate some of your preferences now and save some time.

                                Lastly, this general question about how to maximize one's impact, which includes GiveWell's overall mission, rests on such a fascinating, subjective and hidden calculus. It's exciting for me as a scientist to read philosophers' approaches to this problem.

                                Sarah




                                On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 5:51 AM, Dario Amodei <damodei@...> wrote:
                                Mark et al,

                                I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                                extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                                personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                                immense.  That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                                many careers seem to have a winner-take-all dynamic: that is, a very
                                small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                                the total impactful activity in the field.  One vivid example of this is
                                politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                                has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                                than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                                A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                                local party official.  The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                                few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                                of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                                business.  As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                                is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                                innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                                what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                                while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                                “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                                anyway.  It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                                nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.

                                A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                                may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                                in some abstract utilitarian sense.  It is probably better to be wildly
                                successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                                is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                                Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                                then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                                There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                                and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.

                                All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                                the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                                important.  One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                                various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                                an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have.  Obviously
                                there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                                would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                                career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                                choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.

                                To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                                a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                                which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do.  I
                                think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                                the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                                economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008).  An analysis of
                                the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                                industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                                one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.

                                I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                                whether they exist.  I suspect that such a project lies outside
                                GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                                naturally take it very close to these questions.  For example, if
                                GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                                research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                                the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research?  I could imagine
                                that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                                and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                                sidenote to the first.

                                Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell?  Would
                                others on this list find such analyses valuable?

                                Dario

                                David Morrow wrote:
                                >
                                >
                                > Mark,
                                >
                                >
                                > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                                > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're worth.
                                >
                                > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                                > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                                > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                                > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                                > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                                > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                                > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                                > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                                > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                                > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                                > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                                > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                                > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                                > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                                > your list significantly.
                                >
                                > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                                > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                                > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                                > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                                > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                                > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                                > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                                > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                                > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                                > problems.
                                >
                                > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                                > readers have to say.
                                >
                                > David
                                >
                                > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...
                                > <mailto:j.c.price@...>> wrote:
                                >
                                >
                                >
                                >     Mark,
                                >
                                >
                                >     As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                                >     clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                                >     action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                                >     person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                                >     your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                                >     be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                                >     an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                                >     powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                                >     day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                                >     before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                                >     intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                                >     analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                                >     simplistic throughout your life.
                                >
                                >     Jareb Price
                                >
                                >     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                >     To: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>;
                                >     marklee@... <mailto:marklee@...>
                                >     CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>
                                >     From: rnoble@... <mailto:rnoble@...>
                                >     Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                                >     Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                                >
                                >
                                >
                                >
                                >     Mark,
                                >
                                >     I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                                >     utilitarianism
                                >     and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                                >     The first
                                >     step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                                >     measure
                                >     utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                                >     are the two
                                >     essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                                >     (QALY) and the
                                >     disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                                >
                                >     After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                                >     involve
                                >     uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                                >     might allow you
                                >     to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are the
                                >     probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                                >     as a teacher,
                                >     etc.
                                >
                                >     As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                                >     know of anyone
                                >     who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                                >     QALYS I'd
                                >     recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                                >     and for
                                >     expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                                >     Jon Baron's
                                >     Thinking and Deciding.
                                >
                                >     Ron
                                >
                                >     Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...
                                >     <mailto:marklee@...>>:
                                >
                                >     >
                                >     >
                                >     > Dear GiveWell,
                                >     >
                                >     > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                                >     most good? Â  M
                                >     > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                                >     want to do
                                >     > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                                >     >
                                >     > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                                >     ability to go into
                                >     > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                                >     career, as
                                >     > well as the average person in that career. Â  If I want to do
                                >     the most good,
                                >     > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                                >     developing world,
                                >     > helping those who need it most? Â  Or, at one remove, should I
                                >     secure a
                                >     > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                                >     my income to
                                >     > such charities? Â  Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                                >     > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my
                                >     students to
                                >     > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                                >     directly help
                                >     > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                                >     can donate a
                                >     > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                                >     others to
                                >     > pursue such careers?
                                >     >
                                >     >             I’ve been thinking about these
                                >     questions on and off
                                >     > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â  Perhaps
                                >     you could
                                >     > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                                >     What resources
                                >     > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â  Who
                                >     would have useful
                                >     > advice to give? Â  Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                                >     International
                                >     > development and charity folks? Â  Ethicists? Â  Groups like
                                >     GiveWell? Â  All,
                                >     > some, or none of the above? Â  Has anything been written on
                                >     these issues? Â
                                >     > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                                >     Singer, Thomas
                                >     > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                                >     GiveWell and
                                >     > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                                >     anything that
                                >     > directly addresses these questions.
                                >     >
                                >     > Thanks,
                                >     >
                                >     > Mark
                                >     >
                                >
                                >     Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                                >     University of Pennsylvania
                                >
                                >
                                >     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                >     Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
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                              • Nick Beckstead
                                Any thoughts on what the best unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job would be, or what some of the best ones would be? ... Any thoughts
                                Message 15 of 21 , Feb 1, 2010
                                • 0 Attachment
                                  Any thoughts on what the best unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job would be, or what some of the best ones would be?

                                  On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 10:58 AM, Holden Karnofsky <holden0@...> wrote:
                                   

                                  I'm broadly in agreement with the points raised by Dario, Brian Slesinsky and David Morrow, all of which stress that your personal talents/interests are a huge factor in the equation, making it impossible to give a very general answer.


                                  From what I've seen of cost-effectiveness estimates (particularly those using DALYs), I think current methodologies are not up to the task of shedding much light on this decision.

                                  One thing I'd like to add is that I feel that in these sorts of discussions, people very often seem to be underestimating the benefits of for-profit activities.  Most scholarly discussions of the enormous improvement in living standards and drastic declines in poverty over the last few hundred years give a huge amount of the credit to overall economic growth driven largely by for-profit activities.  

                                  For-profit activities have a sort of built-in accountability and focus on outcomes.  It's obviously not perfect, and there are many valid concerns about the relationship between profit and social good (including Dario's worries about finance).  But in a lot of industries, making money means helping someone, and the benefits you might create by making money should be in the same conversation as the benefits you might create by giving it away.  This includes fields such as accounting and even finance (though finance has some definite problems as well) where the translation between making money and helping people doesn't seem very clear/direct/tangible.  I think the same mentality that leads people to be insufficiently critical of charities ("they're trying to help people") leads them to be overly critical of for-profit activities ("they're just trying to make a buck").

                                  I think a lot of good can be done by entering celebrated, insufficiently criticized sectors *in order to* add criticism to them and change the way they operate (I see GiveWell as doing this).  But if your main value added is your ability to execute within an institutional framework, rather than challenge it, that to me is a reason to put yourself in the for-profit framework where  incentives are (in many cases) already very healthy and aligned with social good.

                                  So if your situation really is that you're willing to do anything, and have an edge on other people in tolerating unpleasant or non-glamorous activities, I'd urge you to give strong consideration to shooting for an unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job.  In fact, the high pay of such a job could be taken as an indication that there is a lot of "room for more labor" in that area.

                                  Note that all of this stuff is my personal thoughts, unrelated to GiveWell.  Related to the points made by Dario, David and Brian, I think the question of "What should I do?" is much harder to give general answers on than the question of "Where should I give?" and I don't see GiveWell as an institution working on this question.  However, I am personally very interested in the question and may someday see what work I can do on it.

                                  On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 1:43 PM, Sarah Cobey <sarahcobey@...> wrote:
                                   

                                  Dear Mark and GiveWell,

                                  It's exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide your thinking.

                                  I graduated from college in 2002 with largely the same approach and question as you. I had, however, majored in ecology & evolutionary biology (EEB) and minored in environmental studies and Russian studies. I loved the theory and implications of EEB, but I was concerned that the academic approach would be too "indulgent" and slow to improve welfare. I decided to do development work in SE Asia immediately after graduating; I was the only native English speaker in the office and interfaced largely between large funding bodies and the national government. Most of my day-to-day work was administrative, and working with the government of a developing country presented enormous challenges. I wondered about the ultimate impact of the projects we were funding and especially how long it would take to see changes. I was also not in a position to have substantive influence over what was happening.

                                  Uncertainty over outcomes, combined with the extreme loneliness I felt as an expat in a small country (with a very small expat population) and persistent intellectual boredom, motivated me to return to the U.S. and apply to PhD programs. I recently graduated with a PhD in EEB, with a focus on infectious disease. I find research dramatically more interesting than what I was doing, and the potential impact of the work is incredible. That said, the probability that I or any scientist will make paradigm-shifting discoveries is low, but I enjoy knowing that the smaller discoveries are helpful. The burdens of scientific careers are low income and lack of job security--sometimes I struggle not to let this stress interfere with my work. I have wondered whether I might be better off in finance, donating much of my income, but I'm increasingly confident that the autonomy, growth opportunities, and undeniable importance of my scientific work compensate better than a more lucrative and stable job would.

                                  Dario suggested we might be more effective doing excellent work in a field where we can succeed than doing average work in a central field. I think it's clear that there are some fields where, no matter how good you might be, your excellence will still negligibly benefit the world. For the fields where there's some possibility of a larger benefit, please consider the psychological components that contribute to your success. I was surprised by my own constraints: I need intellectual challenge and work of obvious importance (to me) and potentially far-reaching impact, and I have to live in a place where I can have enough friends. For these things, I will trade a great degree of financial welfare and job security. It took me direct experimentation to learn these things, but perhaps you can anticipate some of your preferences now and save some time.

                                  Lastly, this general question about how to maximize one's impact, which includes GiveWell's overall mission, rests on such a fascinating, subjective and hidden calculus. It's exciting for me as a scientist to read philosophers' approaches to this problem.

                                  Sarah




                                  On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 5:51 AM, Dario Amodei <damodei@...> wrote:
                                  Mark et al,

                                  I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                                  extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                                  personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                                  immense.  That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                                  many careers seem to have a winner-take-all dynamic: that is, a very
                                  small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                                  the total impactful activity in the field.  One vivid example of this is
                                  politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                                  has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                                  than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                                  A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                                  local party official.  The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                                  few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                                  of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                                  business.  As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                                  is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                                  innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                                  what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                                  while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                                  “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                                  anyway.  It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                                  nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.

                                  A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                                  may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                                  in some abstract utilitarian sense.  It is probably better to be wildly
                                  successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                                  is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                                  Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                                  then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                                  There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                                  and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.

                                  All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                                  the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                                  important.  One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                                  various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                                  an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have.  Obviously
                                  there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                                  would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                                  career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                                  choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.

                                  To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                                  a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                                  which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do.  I
                                  think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                                  the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                                  economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008).  An analysis of
                                  the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                                  industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                                  one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.

                                  I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                                  whether they exist.  I suspect that such a project lies outside
                                  GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                                  naturally take it very close to these questions.  For example, if
                                  GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                                  research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                                  the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research?  I could imagine
                                  that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                                  and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                                  sidenote to the first.

                                  Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell?  Would
                                  others on this list find such analyses valuable?

                                  Dario

                                  David Morrow wrote:
                                  >
                                  >
                                  > Mark,
                                  >
                                  >
                                  > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                                  > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're worth.
                                  >
                                  > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                                  > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                                  > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                                  > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                                  > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                                  > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                                  > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                                  > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                                  > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                                  > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                                  > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                                  > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                                  > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                                  > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                                  > your list significantly.
                                  >
                                  > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                                  > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                                  > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                                  > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                                  > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                                  > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                                  > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                                  > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                                  > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                                  > problems.
                                  >
                                  > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                                  > readers have to say.
                                  >
                                  > David
                                  >
                                  > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...
                                  > <mailto:j.c.price@...>> wrote:
                                  >
                                  >
                                  >
                                  >     Mark,
                                  >
                                  >
                                  >     As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                                  >     clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                                  >     action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                                  >     person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                                  >     your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                                  >     be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                                  >     an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                                  >     powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                                  >     day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                                  >     before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                                  >     intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                                  >     analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                                  >     simplistic throughout your life.
                                  >
                                  >     Jareb Price
                                  >
                                  >     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                  >     To: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>;
                                  >     marklee@... <mailto:marklee@...>
                                  >     CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>
                                  >     From: rnoble@... <mailto:rnoble@...>
                                  >     Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                                  >     Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                                  >
                                  >
                                  >
                                  >
                                  >     Mark,
                                  >
                                  >     I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                                  >     utilitarianism
                                  >     and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                                  >     The first
                                  >     step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                                  >     measure
                                  >     utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                                  >     are the two
                                  >     essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                                  >     (QALY) and the
                                  >     disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                                  >
                                  >     After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                                  >     involve
                                  >     uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                                  >     might allow you
                                  >     to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are the
                                  >     probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                                  >     as a teacher,
                                  >     etc.
                                  >
                                  >     As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                                  >     know of anyone
                                  >     who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                                  >     QALYS I'd
                                  >     recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                                  >     and for
                                  >     expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                                  >     Jon Baron's
                                  >     Thinking and Deciding.
                                  >
                                  >     Ron
                                  >
                                  >     Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...
                                  >     <mailto:marklee@...>>:
                                  >
                                  >     >
                                  >     >
                                  >     > Dear GiveWell,
                                  >     >
                                  >     > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                                  >     most good? Â  M
                                  >     > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                                  >     want to do
                                  >     > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                                  >     >
                                  >     > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                                  >     ability to go into
                                  >     > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                                  >     career, as
                                  >     > well as the average person in that career. Â  If I want to do
                                  >     the most good,
                                  >     > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                                  >     developing world,
                                  >     > helping those who need it most? Â  Or, at one remove, should I
                                  >     secure a
                                  >     > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                                  >     my income to
                                  >     > such charities? Â  Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                                  >     > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my
                                  >     students to
                                  >     > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                                  >     directly help
                                  >     > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                                  >     can donate a
                                  >     > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                                  >     others to
                                  >     > pursue such careers?
                                  >     >
                                  >     >             I’ve been thinking about these
                                  >     questions on and off
                                  >     > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â  Perhaps
                                  >     you could
                                  >     > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                                  >     What resources
                                  >     > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â  Who
                                  >     would have useful
                                  >     > advice to give? Â  Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                                  >     International
                                  >     > development and charity folks? Â  Ethicists? Â  Groups like
                                  >     GiveWell? Â  All,
                                  >     > some, or none of the above? Â  Has anything been written on
                                  >     these issues? Â
                                  >     > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                                  >     Singer, Thomas
                                  >     > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                                  >     GiveWell and
                                  >     > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                                  >     anything that
                                  >     > directly addresses these questions.
                                  >     >
                                  >     > Thanks,
                                  >     >
                                  >     > Mark
                                  >     >
                                  >
                                  >     Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                                  >     University of Pennsylvania
                                  >
                                  >
                                  >     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                  >     Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
                                  ------------------------------------

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                                • rnoble@sas.upenn.edu
                                  One question I haven t noticed being addressed that might be of interest: To what extent are you willing to sacrifice your own happiness (however defined) to
                                  Message 16 of 21 , Feb 1, 2010
                                  • 0 Attachment
                                    One question I haven't noticed being addressed that might be of interest: To
                                    what extent are you willing to sacrifice your own happiness (however defined)
                                    to do good for others? This could be especially salient if you go the route of
                                    a high-paying job with the intention of donating money. If you make
                                    $100,000/year, how much are you willing to donate of that $100,000, for
                                    example?

                                    As for DALYs, you can disagree with the measure but measuring good in some way
                                    seems essential. You'll have to choose between projects to put your time and
                                    effort into, so you really have to quantify good in some manner. Upon close
                                    inspection, two projects which both look "very good" in terms of doing good
                                    might differ by an order of magnitude in how much good they do.

                                    Ron




                                    Quoting Nick Beckstead <nbeckstead@...>:

                                    > Any thoughts on what the best unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated,
                                    > highly lucrative job would be, or what some of the best ones would be?
                                    >
                                    > On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 10:58 AM, Holden Karnofsky <holden0@...> wrote:
                                    >
                                    > >
                                    > >
                                    > > I'm broadly in agreement with the points raised by Dario, Brian Slesinsky
                                    > > and David Morrow, all of which stress that your personal talents/interests
                                    > > are a huge factor in the equation, making it impossible to give a very
                                    > > general answer.
                                    > >
                                    > > From what I've seen of cost-effectiveness estimates (particularly those
                                    > > using DALYs), I think current methodologies are not up to the task of
                                    > > shedding much light on this decision.
                                    > >
                                    > > One thing I'd like to add is that I feel that in these sorts of
                                    > > discussions, people very often seem to be underestimating the benefits of
                                    > > for-profit activities. Most scholarly discussions of the enormous
                                    > > improvement in living standards and drastic declines in poverty over the
                                    > > last few hundred years give a huge amount of the credit to overall economic
                                    > > growth driven largely by for-profit activities.
                                    > >
                                    > > For-profit activities have a sort of built-in accountability and focus on
                                    > > outcomes. It's obviously not perfect, and there are many valid concerns
                                    > > about the relationship between profit and social good (including Dario's
                                    > > worries about finance). But in a lot of industries, making money means
                                    > > helping someone, and the benefits you might create by making money should
                                    > be
                                    > > in the same conversation as the benefits you might create by giving it
                                    > away.
                                    > > This includes fields such as accounting and even finance (though finance
                                    > > has some definite problems as well) where the translation between making
                                    > > money and helping people doesn't seem very clear/direct/tangible. I think
                                    > > the same mentality that leads people to be insufficiently critical of
                                    > > charities ("they're trying to help people") leads them to be overly
                                    > critical
                                    > > of for-profit activities ("they're just trying to make a buck").
                                    > >
                                    > > I think a lot of good can be done by entering celebrated, insufficiently
                                    > > criticized sectors *in order to* add criticism to them and change the way
                                    > > they operate (I see GiveWell as doing this). But if your main value added
                                    > > is your ability to execute within an institutional framework, rather than
                                    > > challenge it, that to me is a reason to put yourself in the for-profit
                                    > > framework where incentives are (in many cases) already very healthy and
                                    > > aligned with social good.
                                    > >
                                    > > So if your situation really is that you're willing to do anything, and have
                                    > > an edge on other people in tolerating unpleasant or non-glamorous
                                    > > activities, I'd urge you to give strong consideration to shooting for an
                                    > > unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job. In fact,
                                    > > the high pay of such a job could be taken as an indication that there is a
                                    > > lot of "room for more labor" in that area.
                                    > >
                                    > > Note that all of this stuff is my personal thoughts, unrelated to GiveWell.
                                    > > Related to the points made by Dario, David and Brian, I think the question
                                    > > of "What should I do?" is much harder to give general answers on than the
                                    > > question of "Where should I give?" and I don't see GiveWell as an
                                    > > institution working on this question. However, I am personally very
                                    > > interested in the question and may someday see what work I can do on it.
                                    > >
                                    > > On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 1:43 PM, Sarah Cobey <sarahcobey@...> wrote:
                                    > >
                                    > >>
                                    > >>
                                    > >> Dear Mark and GiveWell,
                                    > >>
                                    > >> It's exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my
                                    > >> personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide your thinking.
                                    > >>
                                    > >> I graduated from college in 2002 with largely the same approach and
                                    > >> question as you. I had, however, majored in ecology & evolutionary biology
                                    > >> (EEB) and minored in environmental studies and Russian studies. I loved
                                    > the
                                    > >> theory and implications of EEB, but I was concerned that the academic
                                    > >> approach would be too "indulgent" and slow to improve welfare. I decided
                                    > to
                                    > >> do development work in SE Asia immediately after graduating; I was the
                                    > only
                                    > >> native English speaker in the office and interfaced largely between large
                                    > >> funding bodies and the national government. Most of my day-to-day work was
                                    > >> administrative, and working with the government of a developing country
                                    > >> presented enormous challenges. I wondered about the ultimate impact of the
                                    > >> projects we were funding and especially how long it would take to see
                                    > >> changes. I was also not in a position to have substantive influence over
                                    > >> what was happening.
                                    > >>
                                    > >> Uncertainty over outcomes, combined with the extreme loneliness I felt as
                                    > >> an expat in a small country (with a very small expat population) and
                                    > >> persistent intellectual boredom, motivated me to return to the U.S. and
                                    > >> apply to PhD programs. I recently graduated with a PhD in EEB, with a
                                    > focus
                                    > >> on infectious disease. I find research dramatically more interesting than
                                    > >> what I was doing, and the potential impact of the work is incredible. That
                                    > >> said, the probability that I or any scientist will make paradigm-shifting
                                    > >> discoveries is low, but I enjoy knowing that the smaller discoveries are
                                    > >> helpful. The burdens of scientific careers are low income and lack of job
                                    > >> security--sometimes I struggle not to let this stress interfere with my
                                    > >> work. I have wondered whether I might be better off in finance, donating
                                    > >> much of my income, but I'm increasingly confident that the autonomy,
                                    > growth
                                    > >> opportunities, and undeniable importance of my scientific work compensate
                                    > >> better than a more lucrative and stable job would.
                                    > >>
                                    > >> Dario suggested we might be more effective doing excellent work in a field
                                    > >> where we can succeed than doing average work in a central field. I think
                                    > >> it's clear that there are some fields where, no matter how good you might
                                    > >> be, your excellence will still negligibly benefit the world. For the
                                    > fields
                                    > >> where there's some possibility of a larger benefit, please consider the
                                    > >> psychological components that contribute to your success. I was surprised
                                    > by
                                    > >> my own constraints: I need intellectual challenge and work of obvious
                                    > >> importance (to me) and potentially far-reaching impact, and I have to live
                                    > >> in a place where I can have enough friends. For these things, I will trade
                                    > a
                                    > >> great degree of financial welfare and job security. It took me direct
                                    > >> experimentation to learn these things, but perhaps you can anticipate some
                                    > >> of your preferences now and save some time.
                                    > >>
                                    > >> Lastly, this general question about how to maximize one's impact, which
                                    > >> includes GiveWell's overall mission, rests on such a fascinating,
                                    > subjective
                                    > >> and hidden calculus. It's exciting for me as a scientist to read
                                    > >> philosophers' approaches to this problem.
                                    > >>
                                    > >> Sarah
                                    > >>
                                    > >>
                                    > >>
                                    > >> On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 5:51 AM, Dario Amodei
                                    > <damodei@...>wrote:
                                    > >>
                                    > >>> Mark et al,
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>> I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                                    > >>> extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                                    > >>> personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                                    > >>> immense. That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                                    > >>> many careers seem to have a winner-take-all dynamic: that is, a very
                                    > >>> small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                                    > >>> the total impactful activity in the field. One vivid example of this is
                                    > >>> politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                                    > >>> has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                                    > >>> than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                                    > >>> A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                                    > >>> local party official. The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                                    > >>> few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                                    > >>> of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                                    > >>> business. As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                                    > >>> is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                                    > >>> innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                                    > >>> what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                                    > >>> while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                                    > >>> “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                                    > >>> anyway. It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                                    > >>> nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>> A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                                    > >>> may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                                    > >>> in some abstract utilitarian sense. It is probably better to be wildly
                                    > >>> successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                                    > >>> is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                                    > >>> Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                                    > >>> then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                                    > >>> There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                                    > >>> and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>> All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                                    > >>> the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                                    > >>> important. One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                                    > >>> various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                                    > >>> an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have. Obviously
                                    > >>> there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                                    > >>> would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                                    > >>> career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                                    > >>> choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>> To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                                    > >>> a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                                    > >>> which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do. I
                                    > >>> think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                                    > >>> the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                                    > >>> economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008). An analysis of
                                    > >>> the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                                    > >>> industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                                    > >>> one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>> I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                                    > >>> whether they exist. I suspect that such a project lies outside
                                    > >>> GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                                    > >>> naturally take it very close to these questions. For example, if
                                    > >>> GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                                    > >>> research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                                    > >>> the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research? I could imagine
                                    > >>> that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                                    > >>> and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                                    > >>> sidenote to the first.
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>> Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell? Would
                                    > >>> others on this list find such analyses valuable?
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>> Dario
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>> David Morrow wrote:
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > Mark,
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                                    > >>> > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're
                                    > >>> worth.
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                                    > >>> > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                                    > >>> > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                                    > >>> > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                                    > >>> > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                                    > >>> > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                                    > >>> > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                                    > >>> > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                                    > >>> > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                                    > >>> > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                                    > >>> > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                                    > >>> > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                                    > >>> > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                                    > >>> > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                                    > >>> > your list significantly.
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                                    > >>> > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                                    > >>> > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                                    > >>> > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                                    > >>> > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                                    > >>> > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                                    > >>> > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                                    > >>> > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                                    > >>> > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                                    > >>> > problems.
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                                    > >>> > readers have to say.
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > David
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...
                                    > >>> > <mailto:j.c.price@...>> wrote:
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > Mark,
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                                    > >>> > clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                                    > >>> > action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                                    > >>> > person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                                    > >>> > your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                                    > >>> > be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                                    > >>> > an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                                    > >>> > powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                                    > >>> > day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                                    > >>> > before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                                    > >>> > intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                                    > >>> > analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                                    > >>> > simplistic throughout your life.
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > Jareb Price
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                    > >>> > To: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>;
                                    > >>> > marklee@... <mailto:
                                    > >>> marklee@...>
                                    > >>> > CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>
                                    > >>> > From: rnoble@... <mailto:rnoble@...>
                                    > >>> > Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                                    > >>> > Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > Mark,
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                                    > >>> > utilitarianism
                                    > >>> > and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                                    > >>> > The first
                                    > >>> > step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                                    > >>> > measure
                                    > >>> > utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                                    > >>> > are the two
                                    > >>> > essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                                    > >>> > (QALY) and the
                                    > >>> > disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                                    > >>> > involve
                                    > >>> > uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                                    > >>> > might allow you
                                    > >>> > to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are
                                    > >>> the
                                    > >>> > probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                                    > >>> > as a teacher,
                                    > >>> > etc.
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                                    > >>> > know of anyone
                                    > >>> > who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                                    > >>> > QALYS I'd
                                    > >>> > recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                                    > >>> > and for
                                    > >>> > expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                                    > >>> > Jon Baron's
                                    > >>> > Thinking and Deciding.
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > Ron
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...
                                    > >>> > <mailto:marklee@...>>:
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > >
                                    > >>> > >
                                    > >>> > > Dear GiveWell,
                                    > >>> > >
                                    > >>> > > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                                    > >>> > most good? Â M
                                    > >>> > > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                                    > >>> > want to do
                                    > >>> > > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                                    > >>> > >
                                    > >>> > > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                                    > >>> > ability to go into
                                    > >>> > > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                                    > >>> > career, as
                                    > >>> > > well as the average person in that career. Â If I want to do
                                    > >>> > the most good,
                                    > >>> > > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                                    > >>> > developing world,
                                    > >>> > > helping those who need it most? Â Or, at one remove, should I
                                    > >>> > secure a
                                    > >>> > > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                                    > >>> > my income to
                                    > >>> > > such charities? Â Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                                    > >>> > > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my
                                    > >>> > students to
                                    > >>> > > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                                    > >>> > directly help
                                    > >>> > > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                                    > >>> > can donate a
                                    > >>> > > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                                    > >>> > others to
                                    > >>> > > pursue such careers?
                                    > >>> > >
                                    > >>> > >            I’ve been thinking about these
                                    > >>> > questions on and off
                                    > >>> > > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â Perhaps
                                    > >>> > you could
                                    > >>> > > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                                    > >>> > What resources
                                    > >>> > > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â Who
                                    > >>> > would have useful
                                    > >>> > > advice to give? Â Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                                    > >>> > International
                                    > >>> > > development and charity folks? Â Ethicists? Â Groups like
                                    > >>> > GiveWell? Â All,
                                    > >>> > > some, or none of the above? Â Has anything been written on
                                    > >>> > these issues? Â
                                    > >>> > > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                                    > >>> > Singer, Thomas
                                    > >>> > > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                                    > >>> > GiveWell and
                                    > >>> > > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                                    > >>> > anything that
                                    > >>> > > directly addresses these questions.
                                    > >>> > >
                                    > >>> > > Thanks,
                                    > >>> > >
                                    > >>> > > Mark
                                    > >>> > >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> > Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                                    > >>> > University of Pennsylvania
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                    > >>> > Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
                                    > >>> > <http://clk.atdmt.com/GBL/go/196390707/direct/01/>
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>> >
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>> ------------------------------------
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>> This is the research mailing list of GiveWell (www.givewell.net).
                                    > >>> Emails sent over this list represent the informal thoughts and notes of
                                    > >>> staff members and other participants. They do NOT represent official
                                    > >>> positions of GiveWell.Yahoo! Groups Links
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>>
                                    > >>
                                    > >
                                    > >
                                    >


                                    Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                                    University of Pennsylvania
                                  • Jonah Sinick
                                    There are few points that I wanted to make which are likely subtext for some of the preceding posts but which I haven t seen made explicit yet: (1)The marginal
                                    Message 17 of 21 , Feb 1, 2010
                                    • 0 Attachment
                                      There are few points that I wanted to make which are likely subtext for some of the preceding posts but which I haven't seen made explicit yet:

                                      (1)The marginal impact that an individual worker has on the effectiveness of an organization (corporate or nonprofit) is usually very small. This is because most workers are replaceable in the sense that if a given worker had not signed on, the organization could have hired a slightly less qualified worker who would have done nearly as a good a job.

                                      With this in mind, it seems to me reasonable to me for the typical altruist to focus what various jobs have to offer with respect to donatable funds, personal satisfaction (with a view toward sustainability, c.f. Sarah Cobey's story), and ability to influence others, while largely ignoring the effect of the effect of one's work on society (on the grounds that somebody else would be doing it anyway).

                                      Of course, there are people with unusually strong abilities or rare combinations of abilities who are not easily replaceable, and those who are aware of possessing such skills should take this into account - my point is just that the phenomenon of replaceability should be taken into account.

                                      (2) While risk aversion is important in the context of personal finances, it has little place in the domain of charitable activity, because diminishing marginal utility sets in much faster for an individual than it does for potential benefactors (taken as a group) of a well conceived charitable effort.

                                      For two (somewhat similar) perspectives on these points, see http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/make-money.html and http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/risky-investments.html . I don't necessarily agree with everything in these essays, but the writing is clear.

                                      Holistically, and especially in light of (2) above, I think that altruistic people should seriously consider speculative endeavors (starting companies or nonprofits, getting a job early on in a start up company, trying to become a successful rock star, or film director, etc.). As Dario Amodei remarked above, influence as a function of worldly success seems to be strongly superlinear. Positive changes of the magnitude that we would most like to see require resources and influence that a given individual cannot reasonably expect to acquire, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try.

                                      "The reasonable man [resp. woman] adapts himself [resp. herself] to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself [resp. herself]. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man [resp. woman]" -- GB Shaw


                                      On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 11:58 AM, <rnoble@...> wrote:
                                       



                                      One question I haven't noticed being addressed that might be of interest: To
                                      what extent are you willing to sacrifice your own happiness (however defined)
                                      to do good for others? This could be especially salient if you go the route of
                                      a high-paying job with the intention of donating money. If you make
                                      $100,000/year, how much are you willing to donate of that $100,000, for
                                      example?

                                      As for DALYs, you can disagree with the measure but measuring good in some way
                                      seems essential. You'll have to choose between projects to put your time and
                                      effort into, so you really have to quantify good in some manner. Upon close
                                      inspection, two projects which both look "very good" in terms of doing good
                                      might differ by an order of magnitude in how much good they do.

                                      Ron



                                      Quoting Nick Beckstead <nbeckstead@...>:

                                      > Any thoughts on what the best unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated,
                                      > highly lucrative job would be, or what some of the best ones would be?
                                      >
                                      > On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 10:58 AM, Holden Karnofsky <holden0@...> wrote:
                                      >
                                      > >
                                      > >
                                      > > I'm broadly in agreement with the points raised by Dario, Brian Slesinsky
                                      > > and David Morrow, all of which stress that your personal talents/interests
                                      > > are a huge factor in the equation, making it impossible to give a very
                                      > > general answer.
                                      > >
                                      > > From what I've seen of cost-effectiveness estimates (particularly those
                                      > > using DALYs), I think current methodologies are not up to the task of
                                      > > shedding much light on this decision.
                                      > >
                                      > > One thing I'd like to add is that I feel that in these sorts of
                                      > > discussions, people very often seem to be underestimating the benefits of
                                      > > for-profit activities. Most scholarly discussions of the enormous
                                      > > improvement in living standards and drastic declines in poverty over the
                                      > > last few hundred years give a huge amount of the credit to overall economic
                                      > > growth driven largely by for-profit activities.
                                      > >
                                      > > For-profit activities have a sort of built-in accountability and focus on
                                      > > outcomes. It's obviously not perfect, and there are many valid concerns
                                      > > about the relationship between profit and social good (including Dario's
                                      > > worries about finance). But in a lot of industries, making money means
                                      > > helping someone, and the benefits you might create by making money should
                                      > be
                                      > > in the same conversation as the benefits you might create by giving it
                                      > away.
                                      > > This includes fields such as accounting and even finance (though finance
                                      > > has some definite problems as well) where the translation between making
                                      > > money and helping people doesn't seem very clear/direct/tangible. I think
                                      > > the same mentality that leads people to be insufficiently critical of
                                      > > charities ("they're trying to help people") leads them to be overly
                                      > critical
                                      > > of for-profit activities ("they're just trying to make a buck").
                                      > >
                                      > > I think a lot of good can be done by entering celebrated, insufficiently
                                      > > criticized sectors *in order to* add criticism to them and change the way
                                      > > they operate (I see GiveWell as doing this). But if your main value added
                                      > > is your ability to execute within an institutional framework, rather than
                                      > > challenge it, that to me is a reason to put yourself in the for-profit
                                      > > framework where incentives are (in many cases) already very healthy and
                                      > > aligned with social good.
                                      > >
                                      > > So if your situation really is that you're willing to do anything, and have
                                      > > an edge on other people in tolerating unpleasant or non-glamorous
                                      > > activities, I'd urge you to give strong consideration to shooting for an
                                      > > unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job. In fact,
                                      > > the high pay of such a job could be taken as an indication that there is a
                                      > > lot of "room for more labor" in that area.
                                      > >
                                      > > Note that all of this stuff is my personal thoughts, unrelated to GiveWell.
                                      > > Related to the points made by Dario, David and Brian, I think the question
                                      > > of "What should I do?" is much harder to give general answers on than the
                                      > > question of "Where should I give?" and I don't see GiveWell as an
                                      > > institution working on this question. However, I am personally very
                                      > > interested in the question and may someday see what work I can do on it.
                                      > >
                                      > > On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 1:43 PM, Sarah Cobey <sarahcobey@...> wrote:
                                      > >
                                      > >>
                                      > >>
                                      > >> Dear Mark and GiveWell,
                                      > >>
                                      > >> It's exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my
                                      > >> personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide your thinking.
                                      > >>
                                      > >> I graduated from college in 2002 with largely the same approach and
                                      > >> question as you. I had, however, majored in ecology & evolutionary biology
                                      > >> (EEB) and minored in environmental studies and Russian studies. I loved
                                      > the
                                      > >> theory and implications of EEB, but I was concerned that the academic
                                      > >> approach would be too "indulgent" and slow to improve welfare. I decided
                                      > to
                                      > >> do development work in SE Asia immediately after graduating; I was the
                                      > only
                                      > >> native English speaker in the office and interfaced largely between large
                                      > >> funding bodies and the national government. Most of my day-to-day work was
                                      > >> administrative, and working with the government of a developing country
                                      > >> presented enormous challenges. I wondered about the ultimate impact of the
                                      > >> projects we were funding and especially how long it would take to see
                                      > >> changes. I was also not in a position to have substantive influence over
                                      > >> what was happening.
                                      > >>
                                      > >> Uncertainty over outcomes, combined with the extreme loneliness I felt as
                                      > >> an expat in a small country (with a very small expat population) and
                                      > >> persistent intellectual boredom, motivated me to return to the U.S. and
                                      > >> apply to PhD programs. I recently graduated with a PhD in EEB, with a
                                      > focus
                                      > >> on infectious disease. I find research dramatically more interesting than
                                      > >> what I was doing, and the potential impact of the work is incredible. That
                                      > >> said, the probability that I or any scientist will make paradigm-shifting
                                      > >> discoveries is low, but I enjoy knowing that the smaller discoveries are
                                      > >> helpful. The burdens of scientific careers are low income and lack of job
                                      > >> security--sometimes I struggle not to let this stress interfere with my
                                      > >> work. I have wondered whether I might be better off in finance, donating
                                      > >> much of my income, but I'm increasingly confident that the autonomy,
                                      > growth
                                      > >> opportunities, and undeniable importance of my scientific work compensate
                                      > >> better than a more lucrative and stable job would.
                                      > >>
                                      > >> Dario suggested we might be more effective doing excellent work in a field
                                      > >> where we can succeed than doing average work in a central field. I think
                                      > >> it's clear that there are some fields where, no matter how good you might
                                      > >> be, your excellence will still negligibly benefit the world. For the
                                      > fields
                                      > >> where there's some possibility of a larger benefit, please consider the
                                      > >> psychological components that contribute to your success. I was surprised
                                      > by
                                      > >> my own constraints: I need intellectual challenge and work of obvious
                                      > >> importance (to me) and potentially far-reaching impact, and I have to live
                                      > >> in a place where I can have enough friends. For these things, I will trade
                                      > a
                                      > >> great degree of financial welfare and job security. It took me direct
                                      > >> experimentation to learn these things, but perhaps you can anticipate some
                                      > >> of your preferences now and save some time.
                                      > >>
                                      > >> Lastly, this general question about how to maximize one's impact, which
                                      > >> includes GiveWell's overall mission, rests on such a fascinating,
                                      > subjective
                                      > >> and hidden calculus. It's exciting for me as a scientist to read
                                      > >> philosophers' approaches to this problem.
                                      > >>
                                      > >> Sarah
                                      > >>
                                      > >>
                                      > >>
                                      > >> On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 5:51 AM, Dario Amodei
                                      > <damodei@...>wrote:
                                      > >>
                                      > >>> Mark et al,
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>> I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                                      > >>> extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                                      > >>> personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                                      > >>> immense. That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                                      > >>> many careers seem to have a winner-take-all dynamic: that is, a very
                                      > >>> small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                                      > >>> the total impactful activity in the field. One vivid example of this is
                                      > >>> politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                                      > >>> has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                                      > >>> than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                                      > >>> A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                                      > >>> local party official. The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                                      > >>> few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                                      > >>> of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                                      > >>> business. As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                                      > >>> is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                                      > >>> innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                                      > >>> what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                                      > >>> while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                                      > >>> “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                                      > >>> anyway. It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                                      > >>> nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>> A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                                      > >>> may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                                      > >>> in some abstract utilitarian sense. It is probably better to be wildly
                                      > >>> successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                                      > >>> is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                                      > >>> Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                                      > >>> then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                                      > >>> There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                                      > >>> and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>> All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                                      > >>> the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                                      > >>> important. One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                                      > >>> various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                                      > >>> an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have. Obviously
                                      > >>> there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                                      > >>> would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                                      > >>> career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                                      > >>> choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>> To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                                      > >>> a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                                      > >>> which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do. I
                                      > >>> think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                                      > >>> the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                                      > >>> economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008). An analysis of
                                      > >>> the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                                      > >>> industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                                      > >>> one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>> I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                                      > >>> whether they exist. I suspect that such a project lies outside
                                      > >>> GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                                      > >>> naturally take it very close to these questions. For example, if
                                      > >>> GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                                      > >>> research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                                      > >>> the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research? I could imagine
                                      > >>> that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                                      > >>> and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                                      > >>> sidenote to the first.
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>> Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell? Would
                                      > >>> others on this list find such analyses valuable?
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>> Dario
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>> David Morrow wrote:
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > Mark,
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                                      > >>> > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're
                                      > >>> worth.
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                                      > >>> > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                                      > >>> > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                                      > >>> > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                                      > >>> > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                                      > >>> > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                                      > >>> > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                                      > >>> > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                                      > >>> > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                                      > >>> > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                                      > >>> > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                                      > >>> > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                                      > >>> > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                                      > >>> > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                                      > >>> > your list significantly.
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                                      > >>> > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                                      > >>> > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                                      > >>> > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                                      > >>> > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                                      > >>> > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                                      > >>> > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                                      > >>> > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                                      > >>> > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                                      > >>> > problems.
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                                      > >>> > readers have to say.
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > David
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...
                                      > >>> > <mailto:j.c.price@...>> wrote:
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > Mark,
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                                      > >>> > clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                                      > >>> > action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                                      > >>> > person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                                      > >>> > your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                                      > >>> > be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                                      > >>> > an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                                      > >>> > powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                                      > >>> > day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                                      > >>> > before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                                      > >>> > intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                                      > >>> > analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                                      > >>> > simplistic throughout your life.
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > Jareb Price
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> ----------------------------------------------------------
                                      > >>> > To: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>;
                                      > >>> > marklee@... <mailto:
                                      > >>> marklee@...>
                                      > >>> > CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>
                                      > >>> > From: rnoble@... <mailto:rnoble@...>
                                      > >>> > Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                                      > >>> > Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > Mark,
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                                      > >>> > utilitarianism
                                      > >>> > and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                                      > >>> > The first
                                      > >>> > step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                                      > >>> > measure
                                      > >>> > utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                                      > >>> > are the two
                                      > >>> > essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                                      > >>> > (QALY) and the
                                      > >>> > disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                                      > >>> > involve
                                      > >>> > uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                                      > >>> > might allow you
                                      > >>> > to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are
                                      > >>> the
                                      > >>> > probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                                      > >>> > as a teacher,
                                      > >>> > etc.
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                                      > >>> > know of anyone
                                      > >>> > who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                                      > >>> > QALYS I'd
                                      > >>> > recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                                      > >>> > and for
                                      > >>> > expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                                      > >>> > Jon Baron's
                                      > >>> > Thinking and Deciding.
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > Ron
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...
                                      > >>> > <mailto:marklee@...>>:
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > >
                                      > >>> > >
                                      > >>> > > Dear GiveWell,
                                      > >>> > >
                                      > >>> > > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                                      > >>> > most good? Â M
                                      > >>> > > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                                      > >>> > want to do
                                      > >>> > > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                                      > >>> > >
                                      > >>> > > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                                      > >>> > ability to go into
                                      > >>> > > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                                      > >>> > career, as
                                      > >>> > > well as the average person in that career. Â If I want to do
                                      > >>> > the most good,
                                      > >>> > > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                                      > >>> > developing world,
                                      > >>> > > helping those who need it most? Â Or, at one remove, should I
                                      > >>> > secure a
                                      > >>> > > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                                      > >>> > my income to
                                      > >>> > > such charities? Â Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                                      > >>> > > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my
                                      > >>> > students to
                                      > >>> > > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                                      > >>> > directly help
                                      > >>> > > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                                      > >>> > can donate a
                                      > >>> > > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                                      > >>> > others to
                                      > >>> > > pursue such careers?
                                      > >>> > >
                                      > >>> > >            I’ve been thinking about these
                                      > >>> > questions on and off
                                      > >>> > > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â Perhaps
                                      > >>> > you could
                                      > >>> > > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                                      > >>> > What resources
                                      > >>> > > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â Who
                                      > >>> > would have useful
                                      > >>> > > advice to give? Â Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                                      > >>> > International
                                      > >>> > > development and charity folks? Â Ethicists? Â Groups like
                                      > >>> > GiveWell? Â All,
                                      > >>> > > some, or none of the above? Â Has anything been written on
                                      > >>> > these issues? Â
                                      > >>> > > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                                      > >>> > Singer, Thomas
                                      > >>> > > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                                      > >>> > GiveWell and
                                      > >>> > > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                                      > >>> > anything that
                                      > >>> > > directly addresses these questions.
                                      > >>> > >
                                      > >>> > > Thanks,
                                      > >>> > >
                                      > >>> > > Mark
                                      > >>> > >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> > Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                                      > >>> > University of Pennsylvania
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> ----------------------------------------------------------
                                      > >>> > Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
                                      > >>> > <http://clk.atdmt.com/GBL/go/196390707/direct/01/>
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>> >
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>> ------------------------------------
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>> This is the research mailing list of GiveWell (www.givewell.net).
                                      > >>> Emails sent over this list represent the informal thoughts and notes of
                                      > >>> staff members and other participants. They do NOT represent official
                                      > >>> positions of GiveWell.Yahoo! Groups Links
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>>
                                      > >>
                                      > >
                                      > >
                                      >

                                      Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                                      University of Pennsylvania

                                    • Holden Karnofsky
                                      I d like to respond to a few points people have raised (again, these are all personal/informal thoughts rather than GiveWell views ): *Re: social
                                      Message 18 of 21 , Feb 8, 2010
                                      • 0 Attachment
                                        I'd like to respond to a few points people have raised (again, these are all personal/informal thoughts rather than "GiveWell views"):

                                        Re: social entrepreneurship.  I actually think that going into "social entrepreneurship" should be thought of much more like going into nonprofit work than like going into for-profit work. The reason is that, as I stated before, I feel there are parts of the for-profit sector where incentives are already lined up in a very healthy way, i.e., by pursuing profit (which is very measurable) you end up pursuing social good.  By contrast, "social entrepreneurship" generally refers to areas where profit itself isn't/can't be the primary motivator.  So you have to hold yourself accountable in other ways, and I'm not confident that the sector has developed great ways of accomplishing this.  Also see http://blog.givewell.net/2009/12/01/when-donations-and-profits-meet-beware/

                                        Re: Nick's question ("Any thoughts on what the best unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job would be, or what some of the best ones would be?")  It seems like a reasonable heuristic to me to maximize your expected earnings.  Top athletes and entertainers earn enormous amounts, but that may reflect a "winner-take-all" dynamic rather than a shortage; if you feel virtually assured that you can make a lot of money in career X, *and* you feel reasonably sure that career X is in one of the areas where profit correlates with social good, you've probably found an area with a lot of "room for more labor."

                                        One specific example that jumps to mind is professional recruiter ("headhunter").  It seems to me that these people would have trouble making money, over time, unless they're helping companies find the right people for the roles they need filled.  And anecdotally, it seems like people in this area make a lot more than they would in alternative careers.  I want to reiterate that I'm not suggesting this path in general - personal talents and interests are paramount in my view.

                                        Re: Ron's point about DALYs.  I think DALYs can be useful for sub-questions like "If I'm going into global health, should I be aiming to focus on AIDS or tuberculosis?"  I think that if you try to use them to estimate the entire value of careers, you're going to end up with more error than you would get from informal reasoning. 

                                        Re: Jonah's point about "ignoring the effect of the effect of one's work on society (on the grounds that somebody else would be doing it anyway)."  As I understand this, he's arguing that if you're unusually altruistic, you might do the most good by focusing on winning zero-sum games and doing altruistic things with the rewards.  For example, if you beat person B in a contest for job/role X, there isn't much difference in how well you'll perform the job, but there's a big difference in what you'll do with the earnings and other perks (like influence) of the job.  This reasoning would push you in the opposite direction from the argument I laid out - you'd want to go into areas where incentives are *not* healthy (where profit does not align with social good), so that your altruistic focus on accomplishing good will be more unusual and add more value.

                                        It's an interesting argument.  My main comment is that I think it's easy to overestimate (a) how altruistic you really are, i.e., what you will actually do once you have a lot of money as opposed to what you think should be done from your current vantage point of not having a lot of money; (b) how "knowledgeable/powerful" you are as an altruist - i.e., how reliably the things you would spend your money and influence on would improve the world.  We've certainly seen in our research on charities that a lot of things that seem obviously good for the world turn out to be far more complex on closer inspection.

                                        Rather than relying on oneself to know and do the right thing, I like the idea of going into an area where incentives "force" you to do the right thing.  GiveWell looks for ways to increase the "force" on both charities and on ourselves (our emphasis on transparency is one of our major attempts at the latter).


                                        On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 8:02 PM, Jonah Sinick <jsinick2@...> wrote:
                                         

                                        There are few points that I wanted to make which are likely subtext for some of the preceding posts but which I haven't seen made explicit yet:

                                        (1)The marginal impact that an individual worker has on the effectiveness of an organization (corporate or nonprofit) is usually very small. This is because most workers are replaceable in the sense that if a given worker had not signed on, the organization could have hired a slightly less qualified worker who would have done nearly as a good a job.

                                        With this in mind, it seems to me reasonable to me for the typical altruist to focus what various jobs have to offer with respect to donatable funds, personal satisfaction (with a view toward sustainability, c.f. Sarah Cobey's story), and ability to influence others, while largely ignoring the effect of the effect of one's work on society (on the grounds that somebody else would be doing it anyway).

                                        Of course, there are people with unusually strong abilities or rare combinations of abilities who are not easily replaceable, and those who are aware of possessing such skills should take this into account - my point is just that the phenomenon of replaceability should be taken into account.

                                        (2) While risk aversion is important in the context of personal finances, it has little place in the domain of charitable activity, because diminishing marginal utility sets in much faster for an individual than it does for potential benefactors (taken as a group) of a well conceived charitable effort.

                                        For two (somewhat similar) perspectives on these points, see http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/make-money.html and http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/risky-investments.html . I don't necessarily agree with everything in these essays, but the writing is clear.

                                        Holistically, and especially in light of (2) above, I think that altruistic people should seriously consider speculative endeavors (starting companies or nonprofits, getting a job early on in a start up company, trying to become a successful rock star, or film director, etc.). As Dario Amodei remarked above, influence as a function of worldly success seems to be strongly superlinear. Positive changes of the magnitude that we would most like to see require resources and influence that a given individual cannot reasonably expect to acquire, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try.

                                        "The reasonable man [resp. woman] adapts himself [resp. herself] to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself [resp. herself]. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man [resp. woman]" -- GB Shaw




                                        On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 11:58 AM, <rnoble@...> wrote:
                                         



                                        One question I haven't noticed being addressed that might be of interest: To
                                        what extent are you willing to sacrifice your own happiness (however defined)
                                        to do good for others? This could be especially salient if you go the route of
                                        a high-paying job with the intention of donating money. If you make
                                        $100,000/year, how much are you willing to donate of that $100,000, for
                                        example?

                                        As for DALYs, you can disagree with the measure but measuring good in some way
                                        seems essential. You'll have to choose between projects to put your time and
                                        effort into, so you really have to quantify good in some manner. Upon close
                                        inspection, two projects which both look "very good" in terms of doing good
                                        might differ by an order of magnitude in how much good they do.

                                        Ron



                                        Quoting Nick Beckstead <nbeckstead@...>:

                                        > Any thoughts on what the best unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated,
                                        > highly lucrative job would be, or what some of the best ones would be?
                                        >
                                        > On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 10:58 AM, Holden Karnofsky <holden0@...> wrote:
                                        >
                                        > >
                                        > >
                                        > > I'm broadly in agreement with the points raised by Dario, Brian Slesinsky
                                        > > and David Morrow, all of which stress that your personal talents/interests
                                        > > are a huge factor in the equation, making it impossible to give a very
                                        > > general answer.
                                        > >
                                        > > From what I've seen of cost-effectiveness estimates (particularly those
                                        > > using DALYs), I think current methodologies are not up to the task of
                                        > > shedding much light on this decision.
                                        > >
                                        > > One thing I'd like to add is that I feel that in these sorts of
                                        > > discussions, people very often seem to be underestimating the benefits of
                                        > > for-profit activities. Most scholarly discussions of the enormous
                                        > > improvement in living standards and drastic declines in poverty over the
                                        > > last few hundred years give a huge amount of the credit to overall economic
                                        > > growth driven largely by for-profit activities.
                                        > >
                                        > > For-profit activities have a sort of built-in accountability and focus on
                                        > > outcomes. It's obviously not perfect, and there are many valid concerns
                                        > > about the relationship between profit and social good (including Dario's
                                        > > worries about finance). But in a lot of industries, making money means
                                        > > helping someone, and the benefits you might create by making money should
                                        > be
                                        > > in the same conversation as the benefits you might create by giving it
                                        > away.
                                        > > This includes fields such as accounting and even finance (though finance
                                        > > has some definite problems as well) where the translation between making
                                        > > money and helping people doesn't seem very clear/direct/tangible. I think
                                        > > the same mentality that leads people to be insufficiently critical of
                                        > > charities ("they're trying to help people") leads them to be overly
                                        > critical
                                        > > of for-profit activities ("they're just trying to make a buck").
                                        > >
                                        > > I think a lot of good can be done by entering celebrated, insufficiently
                                        > > criticized sectors *in order to* add criticism to them and change the way
                                        > > they operate (I see GiveWell as doing this). But if your main value added
                                        > > is your ability to execute within an institutional framework, rather than
                                        > > challenge it, that to me is a reason to put yourself in the for-profit
                                        > > framework where incentives are (in many cases) already very healthy and
                                        > > aligned with social good.
                                        > >
                                        > > So if your situation really is that you're willing to do anything, and have
                                        > > an edge on other people in tolerating unpleasant or non-glamorous
                                        > > activities, I'd urge you to give strong consideration to shooting for an
                                        > > unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job. In fact,
                                        > > the high pay of such a job could be taken as an indication that there is a
                                        > > lot of "room for more labor" in that area.
                                        > >
                                        > > Note that all of this stuff is my personal thoughts, unrelated to GiveWell.
                                        > > Related to the points made by Dario, David and Brian, I think the question
                                        > > of "What should I do?" is much harder to give general answers on than the
                                        > > question of "Where should I give?" and I don't see GiveWell as an
                                        > > institution working on this question. However, I am personally very
                                        > > interested in the question and may someday see what work I can do on it.
                                        > >
                                        > > On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 1:43 PM, Sarah Cobey <sarahcobey@...> wrote:
                                        > >
                                        > >>
                                        > >>
                                        > >> Dear Mark and GiveWell,
                                        > >>
                                        > >> It's exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my
                                        > >> personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide your thinking.
                                        > >>
                                        > >> I graduated from college in 2002 with largely the same approach and
                                        > >> question as you. I had, however, majored in ecology & evolutionary biology
                                        > >> (EEB) and minored in environmental studies and Russian studies. I loved
                                        > the
                                        > >> theory and implications of EEB, but I was concerned that the academic
                                        > >> approach would be too "indulgent" and slow to improve welfare. I decided
                                        > to
                                        > >> do development work in SE Asia immediately after graduating; I was the
                                        > only
                                        > >> native English speaker in the office and interfaced largely between large
                                        > >> funding bodies and the national government. Most of my day-to-day work was
                                        > >> administrative, and working with the government of a developing country
                                        > >> presented enormous challenges. I wondered about the ultimate impact of the
                                        > >> projects we were funding and especially how long it would take to see
                                        > >> changes. I was also not in a position to have substantive influence over
                                        > >> what was happening.
                                        > >>
                                        > >> Uncertainty over outcomes, combined with the extreme loneliness I felt as
                                        > >> an expat in a small country (with a very small expat population) and
                                        > >> persistent intellectual boredom, motivated me to return to the U.S. and
                                        > >> apply to PhD programs. I recently graduated with a PhD in EEB, with a
                                        > focus
                                        > >> on infectious disease. I find research dramatically more interesting than
                                        > >> what I was doing, and the potential impact of the work is incredible. That
                                        > >> said, the probability that I or any scientist will make paradigm-shifting
                                        > >> discoveries is low, but I enjoy knowing that the smaller discoveries are
                                        > >> helpful. The burdens of scientific careers are low income and lack of job
                                        > >> security--sometimes I struggle not to let this stress interfere with my
                                        > >> work. I have wondered whether I might be better off in finance, donating
                                        > >> much of my income, but I'm increasingly confident that the autonomy,
                                        > growth
                                        > >> opportunities, and undeniable importance of my scientific work compensate
                                        > >> better than a more lucrative and stable job would.
                                        > >>
                                        > >> Dario suggested we might be more effective doing excellent work in a field
                                        > >> where we can succeed than doing average work in a central field. I think
                                        > >> it's clear that there are some fields where, no matter how good you might
                                        > >> be, your excellence will still negligibly benefit the world. For the
                                        > fields
                                        > >> where there's some possibility of a larger benefit, please consider the
                                        > >> psychological components that contribute to your success. I was surprised
                                        > by
                                        > >> my own constraints: I need intellectual challenge and work of obvious
                                        > >> importance (to me) and potentially far-reaching impact, and I have to live
                                        > >> in a place where I can have enough friends. For these things, I will trade
                                        > a
                                        > >> great degree of financial welfare and job security. It took me direct
                                        > >> experimentation to learn these things, but perhaps you can anticipate some
                                        > >> of your preferences now and save some time.
                                        > >>
                                        > >> Lastly, this general question about how to maximize one's impact, which
                                        > >> includes GiveWell's overall mission, rests on such a fascinating,
                                        > subjective
                                        > >> and hidden calculus. It's exciting for me as a scientist to read
                                        > >> philosophers' approaches to this problem.
                                        > >>
                                        > >> Sarah
                                        > >>
                                        > >>
                                        > >>
                                        > >> On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 5:51 AM, Dario Amodei
                                        > <damodei@...>wrote:
                                        > >>
                                        > >>> Mark et al,
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>> I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                                        > >>> extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                                        > >>> personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                                        > >>> immense. That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                                        > >>> many careers seem to have a winner-take-all dynamic: that is, a very
                                        > >>> small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                                        > >>> the total impactful activity in the field. One vivid example of this is
                                        > >>> politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                                        > >>> has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                                        > >>> than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                                        > >>> A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                                        > >>> local party official. The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                                        > >>> few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                                        > >>> of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                                        > >>> business. As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                                        > >>> is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                                        > >>> innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                                        > >>> what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                                        > >>> while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                                        > >>> “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                                        > >>> anyway. It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                                        > >>> nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>> A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                                        > >>> may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                                        > >>> in some abstract utilitarian sense. It is probably better to be wildly
                                        > >>> successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                                        > >>> is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                                        > >>> Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                                        > >>> then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                                        > >>> There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                                        > >>> and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>> All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                                        > >>> the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                                        > >>> important. One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                                        > >>> various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                                        > >>> an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have. Obviously
                                        > >>> there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                                        > >>> would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                                        > >>> career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                                        > >>> choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>> To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                                        > >>> a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                                        > >>> which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do. I
                                        > >>> think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                                        > >>> the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                                        > >>> economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008). An analysis of
                                        > >>> the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                                        > >>> industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                                        > >>> one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>> I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                                        > >>> whether they exist. I suspect that such a project lies outside
                                        > >>> GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                                        > >>> naturally take it very close to these questions. For example, if
                                        > >>> GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                                        > >>> research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                                        > >>> the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research? I could imagine
                                        > >>> that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                                        > >>> and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                                        > >>> sidenote to the first.
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>> Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell? Would
                                        > >>> others on this list find such analyses valuable?
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>> Dario
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>> David Morrow wrote:
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > Mark,
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                                        > >>> > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're
                                        > >>> worth.
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                                        > >>> > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                                        > >>> > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                                        > >>> > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                                        > >>> > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                                        > >>> > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                                        > >>> > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                                        > >>> > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                                        > >>> > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                                        > >>> > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                                        > >>> > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                                        > >>> > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                                        > >>> > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                                        > >>> > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                                        > >>> > your list significantly.
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                                        > >>> > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                                        > >>> > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                                        > >>> > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                                        > >>> > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                                        > >>> > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                                        > >>> > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                                        > >>> > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                                        > >>> > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                                        > >>> > problems.
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                                        > >>> > readers have to say.
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > David
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...
                                        > >>> > <mailto:j.c.price@...>> wrote:
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > Mark,
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                                        > >>> > clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                                        > >>> > action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                                        > >>> > person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                                        > >>> > your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                                        > >>> > be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                                        > >>> > an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                                        > >>> > powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                                        > >>> > day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                                        > >>> > before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                                        > >>> > intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                                        > >>> > analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                                        > >>> > simplistic throughout your life.
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > Jareb Price
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> ----------------------------------------------------------
                                        > >>> > To: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>;
                                        > >>> > marklee@... <mailto:
                                        > >>> marklee@...>
                                        > >>> > CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>
                                        > >>> > From: rnoble@... <mailto:rnoble@...>
                                        > >>> > Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                                        > >>> > Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > Mark,
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                                        > >>> > utilitarianism
                                        > >>> > and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                                        > >>> > The first
                                        > >>> > step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                                        > >>> > measure
                                        > >>> > utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                                        > >>> > are the two
                                        > >>> > essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                                        > >>> > (QALY) and the
                                        > >>> > disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                                        > >>> > involve
                                        > >>> > uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                                        > >>> > might allow you
                                        > >>> > to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are
                                        > >>> the
                                        > >>> > probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                                        > >>> > as a teacher,
                                        > >>> > etc.
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                                        > >>> > know of anyone
                                        > >>> > who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                                        > >>> > QALYS I'd
                                        > >>> > recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                                        > >>> > and for
                                        > >>> > expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                                        > >>> > Jon Baron's
                                        > >>> > Thinking and Deciding.
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > Ron
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...
                                        > >>> > <mailto:marklee@...>>:
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > >
                                        > >>> > >
                                        > >>> > > Dear GiveWell,
                                        > >>> > >
                                        > >>> > > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                                        > >>> > most good? Â M
                                        > >>> > > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                                        > >>> > want to do
                                        > >>> > > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                                        > >>> > >
                                        > >>> > > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                                        > >>> > ability to go into
                                        > >>> > > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                                        > >>> > career, as
                                        > >>> > > well as the average person in that career. Â If I want to do
                                        > >>> > the most good,
                                        > >>> > > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                                        > >>> > developing world,
                                        > >>> > > helping those who need it most? Â Or, at one remove, should I
                                        > >>> > secure a
                                        > >>> > > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                                        > >>> > my income to
                                        > >>> > > such charities? Â Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                                        > >>> > > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my
                                        > >>> > students to
                                        > >>> > > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                                        > >>> > directly help
                                        > >>> > > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                                        > >>> > can donate a
                                        > >>> > > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                                        > >>> > others to
                                        > >>> > > pursue such careers?
                                        > >>> > >
                                        > >>> > >            I’ve been thinking about these
                                        > >>> > questions on and off
                                        > >>> > > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â Perhaps
                                        > >>> > you could
                                        > >>> > > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                                        > >>> > What resources
                                        > >>> > > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â Who
                                        > >>> > would have useful
                                        > >>> > > advice to give? Â Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                                        > >>> > International
                                        > >>> > > development and charity folks? Â Ethicists? Â Groups like
                                        > >>> > GiveWell? Â All,
                                        > >>> > > some, or none of the above? Â Has anything been written on
                                        > >>> > these issues? Â
                                        > >>> > > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                                        > >>> > Singer, Thomas
                                        > >>> > > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                                        > >>> > GiveWell and
                                        > >>> > > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                                        > >>> > anything that
                                        > >>> > > directly addresses these questions.
                                        > >>> > >
                                        > >>> > > Thanks,
                                        > >>> > >
                                        > >>> > > Mark
                                        > >>> > >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> > Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                                        > >>> > University of Pennsylvania
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> ----------------------------------------------------------
                                        > >>> > Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
                                        > >>> > <http://clk.atdmt.com/GBL/go/196390707/direct/01/>
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>> >
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>> ------------------------------------
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>> This is the research mailing list of GiveWell (www.givewell.net).
                                        > >>> Emails sent over this list represent the informal thoughts and notes of
                                        > >>> staff members and other participants. They do NOT represent official
                                        > >>> positions of GiveWell.Yahoo! Groups Links
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>>
                                        > >>
                                        > >
                                        > >
                                        >

                                        Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                                        University of Pennsylvania


                                      • Jonah Sinick
                                        On Holden s last message: More than arguing for a particular strategy I was arguing for taking into account the phenomenon of replaceability. For example, some
                                        Message 19 of 21 , Feb 8, 2010
                                        • 0 Attachment
                                          On Holden's last message:

                                          More than arguing for a particular strategy I was arguing for taking into account the phenomenon of replaceability.

                                          For example, some well meaning people become doctors because they want to help sick people. The question that such a person should be asking is not "what is the expected effect of the work of a doctor on sick people?" but "what is the expected effect of me personally becoming a doctor on sick people?" As Holden says, high salaries in a given area can indicate real demand, but even in such situations, naive intuition may attribute greater effects to going into such a field than are actually there. It's a matter for careful consideration.

                                          I agree with (a) of Holden's 02/08 message.

                                          I would also remark that I think that one should take into account the general perception of the effect of a line of work in predicting one's future capacity for influence. For example, working for a tobacco company seems likely to me to be a bad idea for most altruistic people on the grounds that the tobacco industry has such negative stigma.

                                          Concerning Holden's (b), I agree that in certain contexts measuring a product against economic demand can be a healthy reality check for whether or not the product produces social good. But echoing Sarah's last post, there are other areas where the potential social good is present while market incentives are not. As usual there are issues of externalities, induced demand, start up costs and individual risk aversion, etc.

                                          In any case, I think that major potential for doing good in the for-profit world is not so much in areas where the profit incentives are aligned with social good (such areas are already fine almost by definition), but in finding innovative ways to align profit incentives with social good (e.g. by recognizing an unmet demand and offering a product to meet it).

                                          I applaud GiveWell's mission and commitment to transparency.

                                          On Mon, Feb 8, 2010 at 12:43 PM, Holden Karnofsky <holden0@...> wrote:
                                           

                                          I'd like to respond to a few points people have raised (again, these are all personal/informal thoughts rather than "GiveWell views"):

                                          Re: social entrepreneurship.  I actually think that going into "social entrepreneurship" should be thought of much more like going into nonprofit work than like going into for-profit work. The reason is that, as I stated before, I feel there are parts of the for-profit sector where incentives are already lined up in a very healthy way, i.e., by pursuing profit (which is very measurable) you end up pursuing social good.  By contrast, "social entrepreneurship" generally refers to areas where profit itself isn't/can't be the primary motivator.  So you have to hold yourself accountable in other ways, and I'm not confident that the sector has developed great ways of accomplishing this.  Also see http://blog.givewell.net/2009/12/01/when-donations-and-profits-meet-beware/

                                          Re: Nick's question ("Any thoughts on what the best unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job would be, or what some of the best ones would be?")  It seems like a reasonable heuristic to me to maximize your expected earnings.  Top athletes and entertainers earn enormous amounts, but that may reflect a "winner-take-all" dynamic rather than a shortage; if you feel virtually assured that you can make a lot of money in career X, *and* you feel reasonably sure that career X is in one of the areas where profit correlates with social good, you've probably found an area with a lot of "room for more labor."

                                          One specific example that jumps to mind is professional recruiter ("headhunter").  It seems to me that these people would have trouble making money, over time, unless they're helping companies find the right people for the roles they need filled.  And anecdotally, it seems like people in this area make a lot more than they would in alternative careers.  I want to reiterate that I'm not suggesting this path in general - personal talents and interests are paramount in my view.

                                          Re: Ron's point about DALYs.  I think DALYs can be useful for sub-questions like "If I'm going into global health, should I be aiming to focus on AIDS or tuberculosis?"  I think that if you try to use them to estimate the entire value of careers, you're going to end up with more error than you would get from informal reasoning. 

                                          Re: Jonah's point about "ignoring the effect of the effect of one's work on society (on the grounds that somebody else would be doing it anyway)."  As I understand this, he's arguing that if you're unusually altruistic, you might do the most good by focusing on winning zero-sum games and doing altruistic things with the rewards.  For example, if you beat person B in a contest for job/role X, there isn't much difference in how well you'll perform the job, but there's a big difference in what you'll do with the earnings and other perks (like influence) of the job.  This reasoning would push you in the opposite direction from the argument I laid out - you'd want to go into areas where incentives are *not* healthy (where profit does not align with social good), so that your altruistic focus on accomplishing good will be more unusual and add more value.

                                          It's an interesting argument.  My main comment is that I think it's easy to overestimate (a) how altruistic you really are, i.e., what you will actually do once you have a lot of money as opposed to what you think should be done from your current vantage point of not having a lot of money; (b) how "knowledgeable/powerful" you are as an altruist - i.e., how reliably the things you would spend your money and influence on would improve the world.  We've certainly seen in our research on charities that a lot of things that seem obviously good for the world turn out to be far more complex on closer inspection.

                                          Rather than relying on oneself to know and do the right thing, I like the idea of going into an area where incentives "force" you to do the right thing.  GiveWell looks for ways to increase the "force" on both charities and on ourselves (our emphasis on transparency is one of our major attempts at the latter).



                                          On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 8:02 PM, Jonah Sinick <jsinick2@...> wrote:
                                           

                                          There are few points that I wanted to make which are likely subtext for some of the preceding posts but which I haven't seen made explicit yet:

                                          (1)The marginal impact that an individual worker has on the effectiveness of an organization (corporate or nonprofit) is usually very small. This is because most workers are replaceable in the sense that if a given worker had not signed on, the organization could have hired a slightly less qualified worker who would have done nearly as a good a job.

                                          With this in mind, it seems to me reasonable to me for the typical altruist to focus what various jobs have to offer with respect to donatable funds, personal satisfaction (with a view toward sustainability, c.f. Sarah Cobey's story), and ability to influence others, while largely ignoring the effect of the effect of one's work on society (on the grounds that somebody else would be doing it anyway).

                                          Of course, there are people with unusually strong abilities or rare combinations of abilities who are not easily replaceable, and those who are aware of possessing such skills should take this into account - my point is just that the phenomenon of replaceability should be taken into account.

                                          (2) While risk aversion is important in the context of personal finances, it has little place in the domain of charitable activity, because diminishing marginal utility sets in much faster for an individual than it does for potential benefactors (taken as a group) of a well conceived charitable effort.

                                          For two (somewhat similar) perspectives on these points, see http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/make-money.html and http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/risky-investments.html . I don't necessarily agree with everything in these essays, but the writing is clear.

                                          Holistically, and especially in light of (2) above, I think that altruistic people should seriously consider speculative endeavors (starting companies or nonprofits, getting a job early on in a start up company, trying to become a successful rock star, or film director, etc.). As Dario Amodei remarked above, influence as a function of worldly success seems to be strongly superlinear. Positive changes of the magnitude that we would most like to see require resources and influence that a given individual cannot reasonably expect to acquire, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try.

                                          "The reasonable man [resp. woman] adapts himself [resp. herself] to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself [resp. herself]. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man [resp. woman]" -- GB Shaw




                                          On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 11:58 AM, <rnoble@...> wrote:
                                           



                                          One question I haven't noticed being addressed that might be of interest: To
                                          what extent are you willing to sacrifice your own happiness (however defined)
                                          to do good for others? This could be especially salient if you go the route of
                                          a high-paying job with the intention of donating money. If you make
                                          $100,000/year, how much are you willing to donate of that $100,000, for
                                          example?

                                          As for DALYs, you can disagree with the measure but measuring good in some way
                                          seems essential. You'll have to choose between projects to put your time and
                                          effort into, so you really have to quantify good in some manner. Upon close
                                          inspection, two projects which both look "very good" in terms of doing good
                                          might differ by an order of magnitude in how much good they do.

                                          Ron



                                          Quoting Nick Beckstead <nbeckstead@...>:

                                          > Any thoughts on what the best unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated,
                                          > highly lucrative job would be, or what some of the best ones would be?
                                          >
                                          > On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 10:58 AM, Holden Karnofsky <holden0@...> wrote:
                                          >
                                          > >
                                          > >
                                          > > I'm broadly in agreement with the points raised by Dario, Brian Slesinsky
                                          > > and David Morrow, all of which stress that your personal talents/interests
                                          > > are a huge factor in the equation, making it impossible to give a very
                                          > > general answer.
                                          > >
                                          > > From what I've seen of cost-effectiveness estimates (particularly those
                                          > > using DALYs), I think current methodologies are not up to the task of
                                          > > shedding much light on this decision.
                                          > >
                                          > > One thing I'd like to add is that I feel that in these sorts of
                                          > > discussions, people very often seem to be underestimating the benefits of
                                          > > for-profit activities. Most scholarly discussions of the enormous
                                          > > improvement in living standards and drastic declines in poverty over the
                                          > > last few hundred years give a huge amount of the credit to overall economic
                                          > > growth driven largely by for-profit activities.
                                          > >
                                          > > For-profit activities have a sort of built-in accountability and focus on
                                          > > outcomes. It's obviously not perfect, and there are many valid concerns
                                          > > about the relationship between profit and social good (including Dario's
                                          > > worries about finance). But in a lot of industries, making money means
                                          > > helping someone, and the benefits you might create by making money should
                                          > be
                                          > > in the same conversation as the benefits you might create by giving it
                                          > away.
                                          > > This includes fields such as accounting and even finance (though finance
                                          > > has some definite problems as well) where the translation between making
                                          > > money and helping people doesn't seem very clear/direct/tangible. I think
                                          > > the same mentality that leads people to be insufficiently critical of
                                          > > charities ("they're trying to help people") leads them to be overly
                                          > critical
                                          > > of for-profit activities ("they're just trying to make a buck").
                                          > >
                                          > > I think a lot of good can be done by entering celebrated, insufficiently
                                          > > criticized sectors *in order to* add criticism to them and change the way
                                          > > they operate (I see GiveWell as doing this). But if your main value added
                                          > > is your ability to execute within an institutional framework, rather than
                                          > > challenge it, that to me is a reason to put yourself in the for-profit
                                          > > framework where incentives are (in many cases) already very healthy and
                                          > > aligned with social good.
                                          > >
                                          > > So if your situation really is that you're willing to do anything, and have
                                          > > an edge on other people in tolerating unpleasant or non-glamorous
                                          > > activities, I'd urge you to give strong consideration to shooting for an
                                          > > unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job. In fact,
                                          > > the high pay of such a job could be taken as an indication that there is a
                                          > > lot of "room for more labor" in that area.
                                          > >
                                          > > Note that all of this stuff is my personal thoughts, unrelated to GiveWell.
                                          > > Related to the points made by Dario, David and Brian, I think the question
                                          > > of "What should I do?" is much harder to give general answers on than the
                                          > > question of "Where should I give?" and I don't see GiveWell as an
                                          > > institution working on this question. However, I am personally very
                                          > > interested in the question and may someday see what work I can do on it.
                                          > >
                                          > > On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 1:43 PM, Sarah Cobey <sarahcobey@...> wrote:
                                          > >
                                          > >>
                                          > >>
                                          > >> Dear Mark and GiveWell,
                                          > >>
                                          > >> It's exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my
                                          > >> personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide your thinking.
                                          > >>
                                          > >> I graduated from college in 2002 with largely the same approach and
                                          > >> question as you. I had, however, majored in ecology & evolutionary biology
                                          > >> (EEB) and minored in environmental studies and Russian studies. I loved
                                          > the
                                          > >> theory and implications of EEB, but I was concerned that the academic
                                          > >> approach would be too "indulgent" and slow to improve welfare. I decided
                                          > to
                                          > >> do development work in SE Asia immediately after graduating; I was the
                                          > only
                                          > >> native English speaker in the office and interfaced largely between large
                                          > >> funding bodies and the national government. Most of my day-to-day work was
                                          > >> administrative, and working with the government of a developing country
                                          > >> presented enormous challenges. I wondered about the ultimate impact of the
                                          > >> projects we were funding and especially how long it would take to see
                                          > >> changes. I was also not in a position to have substantive influence over
                                          > >> what was happening.
                                          > >>
                                          > >> Uncertainty over outcomes, combined with the extreme loneliness I felt as
                                          > >> an expat in a small country (with a very small expat population) and
                                          > >> persistent intellectual boredom, motivated me to return to the U.S. and
                                          > >> apply to PhD programs. I recently graduated with a PhD in EEB, with a
                                          > focus
                                          > >> on infectious disease. I find research dramatically more interesting than
                                          > >> what I was doing, and the potential impact of the work is incredible. That
                                          > >> said, the probability that I or any scientist will make paradigm-shifting
                                          > >> discoveries is low, but I enjoy knowing that the smaller discoveries are
                                          > >> helpful. The burdens of scientific careers are low income and lack of job
                                          > >> security--sometimes I struggle not to let this stress interfere with my
                                          > >> work. I have wondered whether I might be better off in finance, donating
                                          > >> much of my income, but I'm increasingly confident that the autonomy,
                                          > growth
                                          > >> opportunities, and undeniable importance of my scientific work compensate
                                          > >> better than a more lucrative and stable job would.
                                          > >>
                                          > >> Dario suggested we might be more effective doing excellent work in a field
                                          > >> where we can succeed than doing average work in a central field. I think
                                          > >> it's clear that there are some fields where, no matter how good you might
                                          > >> be, your excellence will still negligibly benefit the world. For the
                                          > fields
                                          > >> where there's some possibility of a larger benefit, please consider the
                                          > >> psychological components that contribute to your success. I was surprised
                                          > by
                                          > >> my own constraints: I need intellectual challenge and work of obvious
                                          > >> importance (to me) and potentially far-reaching impact, and I have to live
                                          > >> in a place where I can have enough friends. For these things, I will trade
                                          > a
                                          > >> great degree of financial welfare and job security. It took me direct
                                          > >> experimentation to learn these things, but perhaps you can anticipate some
                                          > >> of your preferences now and save some time.
                                          > >>
                                          > >> Lastly, this general question about how to maximize one's impact, which
                                          > >> includes GiveWell's overall mission, rests on such a fascinating,
                                          > subjective
                                          > >> and hidden calculus. It's exciting for me as a scientist to read
                                          > >> philosophers' approaches to this problem.
                                          > >>
                                          > >> Sarah
                                          > >>
                                          > >>
                                          > >>
                                          > >> On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 5:51 AM, Dario Amodei
                                          > <damodei@...>wrote:
                                          > >>
                                          > >>> Mark et al,
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>> I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                                          > >>> extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                                          > >>> personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                                          > >>> immense. That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                                          > >>> many careers seem to have a winner-take-all dynamic: that is, a very
                                          > >>> small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                                          > >>> the total impactful activity in the field. One vivid example of this is
                                          > >>> politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                                          > >>> has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                                          > >>> than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                                          > >>> A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                                          > >>> local party official. The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                                          > >>> few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                                          > >>> of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                                          > >>> business. As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                                          > >>> is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                                          > >>> innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                                          > >>> what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                                          > >>> while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                                          > >>> “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                                          > >>> anyway. It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                                          > >>> nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>> A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                                          > >>> may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                                          > >>> in some abstract utilitarian sense. It is probably better to be wildly
                                          > >>> successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                                          > >>> is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                                          > >>> Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                                          > >>> then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                                          > >>> There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                                          > >>> and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>> All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                                          > >>> the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                                          > >>> important. One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                                          > >>> various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                                          > >>> an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have. Obviously
                                          > >>> there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                                          > >>> would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                                          > >>> career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                                          > >>> choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>> To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                                          > >>> a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                                          > >>> which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do. I
                                          > >>> think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                                          > >>> the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                                          > >>> economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008). An analysis of
                                          > >>> the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                                          > >>> industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                                          > >>> one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>> I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                                          > >>> whether they exist. I suspect that such a project lies outside
                                          > >>> GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                                          > >>> naturally take it very close to these questions. For example, if
                                          > >>> GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                                          > >>> research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                                          > >>> the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research? I could imagine
                                          > >>> that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                                          > >>> and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                                          > >>> sidenote to the first.
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>> Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell? Would
                                          > >>> others on this list find such analyses valuable?
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>> Dario
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>> David Morrow wrote:
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > Mark,
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                                          > >>> > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're
                                          > >>> worth.
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                                          > >>> > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                                          > >>> > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                                          > >>> > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                                          > >>> > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                                          > >>> > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                                          > >>> > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                                          > >>> > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                                          > >>> > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                                          > >>> > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                                          > >>> > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                                          > >>> > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                                          > >>> > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                                          > >>> > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                                          > >>> > your list significantly.
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                                          > >>> > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                                          > >>> > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                                          > >>> > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                                          > >>> > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                                          > >>> > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                                          > >>> > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                                          > >>> > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                                          > >>> > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                                          > >>> > problems.
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                                          > >>> > readers have to say.
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > David
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...
                                          > >>> > <mailto:j.c.price@...>> wrote:
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > Mark,
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                                          > >>> > clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                                          > >>> > action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                                          > >>> > person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                                          > >>> > your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                                          > >>> > be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                                          > >>> > an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                                          > >>> > powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                                          > >>> > day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                                          > >>> > before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                                          > >>> > intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                                          > >>> > analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                                          > >>> > simplistic throughout your life.
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > Jareb Price
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> ----------------------------------------------------------
                                          > >>> > To: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>;
                                          > >>> > marklee@... <mailto:
                                          > >>> marklee@...>
                                          > >>> > CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>
                                          > >>> > From: rnoble@... <mailto:rnoble@...>
                                          > >>> > Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                                          > >>> > Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > Mark,
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                                          > >>> > utilitarianism
                                          > >>> > and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                                          > >>> > The first
                                          > >>> > step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                                          > >>> > measure
                                          > >>> > utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                                          > >>> > are the two
                                          > >>> > essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                                          > >>> > (QALY) and the
                                          > >>> > disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                                          > >>> > involve
                                          > >>> > uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                                          > >>> > might allow you
                                          > >>> > to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are
                                          > >>> the
                                          > >>> > probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                                          > >>> > as a teacher,
                                          > >>> > etc.
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                                          > >>> > know of anyone
                                          > >>> > who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                                          > >>> > QALYS I'd
                                          > >>> > recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                                          > >>> > and for
                                          > >>> > expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                                          > >>> > Jon Baron's
                                          > >>> > Thinking and Deciding.
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > Ron
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...
                                          > >>> > <mailto:marklee@...>>:
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > >
                                          > >>> > >
                                          > >>> > > Dear GiveWell,
                                          > >>> > >
                                          > >>> > > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                                          > >>> > most good? Â M
                                          > >>> > > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                                          > >>> > want to do
                                          > >>> > > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                                          > >>> > >
                                          > >>> > > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                                          > >>> > ability to go into
                                          > >>> > > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                                          > >>> > career, as
                                          > >>> > > well as the average person in that career. Â If I want to do
                                          > >>> > the most good,
                                          > >>> > > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                                          > >>> > developing world,
                                          > >>> > > helping those who need it most? Â Or, at one remove, should I
                                          > >>> > secure a
                                          > >>> > > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                                          > >>> > my income to
                                          > >>> > > such charities? Â Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                                          > >>> > > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my
                                          > >>> > students to
                                          > >>> > > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                                          > >>> > directly help
                                          > >>> > > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                                          > >>> > can donate a
                                          > >>> > > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                                          > >>> > others to
                                          > >>> > > pursue such careers?
                                          > >>> > >
                                          > >>> > >            I’ve been thinking about these
                                          > >>> > questions on and off
                                          > >>> > > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â Perhaps
                                          > >>> > you could
                                          > >>> > > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                                          > >>> > What resources
                                          > >>> > > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â Who
                                          > >>> > would have useful
                                          > >>> > > advice to give? Â Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                                          > >>> > International
                                          > >>> > > development and charity folks? Â Ethicists? Â Groups like
                                          > >>> > GiveWell? Â All,
                                          > >>> > > some, or none of the above? Â Has anything been written on
                                          > >>> > these issues? Â
                                          > >>> > > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                                          > >>> > Singer, Thomas
                                          > >>> > > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                                          > >>> > GiveWell and
                                          > >>> > > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                                          > >>> > anything that
                                          > >>> > > directly addresses these questions.
                                          > >>> > >
                                          > >>> > > Thanks,
                                          > >>> > >
                                          > >>> > > Mark
                                          > >>> > >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> > Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                                          > >>> > University of Pennsylvania
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> ----------------------------------------------------------
                                          > >>> > Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
                                          > >>> > <http://clk.atdmt.com/GBL/go/196390707/direct/01/>
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>> >
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>> ------------------------------------
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>> This is the research mailing list of GiveWell (www.givewell.net).
                                          > >>> Emails sent over this list represent the informal thoughts and notes of
                                          > >>> staff members and other participants. They do NOT represent official
                                          > >>> positions of GiveWell.Yahoo! Groups Links
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>>
                                          > >>
                                          > >
                                          > >
                                          >

                                          Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                                          University of Pennsylvania



                                        • Brian Slesinsky
                                          ... I haven t done any analysis, but it seems pretty unlikely that there will be any shortage of opportunities for doctors to do volunteer work in poor places
                                          Message 20 of 21 , Feb 8, 2010
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                                            On Mon, Feb 8, 2010 at 10:05 PM, Jonah Sinick <jsinick2@...> wrote:

                                            For example, some well meaning people become doctors because they want to help sick people. The question that such a person should be asking is not "what is the expected effect of the work of a doctor on sick people?" but "what is the expected effect of me personally becoming a doctor on sick people?" As Holden says, high salaries in a given area can indicate real demand, but even in such situations, naive intuition may attribute greater effects to going into such a field than are actually there. It's a matter for careful consideration. 

                                            I haven't done any analysis, but it seems pretty unlikely that there will be any shortage of opportunities for doctors to do volunteer work in poor places with a very good chance of saving lives, so becoming a doctor should greatly increase a person's ability to do good. Of course there's still the question of what's the best way for a doctor to maximize that impact.

                                            - Brian

                                          • Holden Karnofsky
                                            I don t think that areas with healthy incentives are fine almost by definition. For example, the incentives to create a Google-quality search were there for
                                            Message 21 of 21 , Feb 9, 2010
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                                              I don't think that areas with healthy incentives are "fine almost by definition."  For example, the incentives to create a Google-quality search were there for a while, but someone still had to come along and do it.

                                              Again, I do think it comes down to personal strengths/weaknesses/interests.  If you think you have the ability/opportunity to change an area with currently bad incentives, that might be the right move.  If you see yourself as planning to enter an area and execute within its existing framework/status quo, I'd encourage seeking out an area where incentives are already healthy.

                                              BTW, I am leaving tomorrow for a 2-week trip to South Africa and Mozambique, during which I will be visiting VillageReach and Small Enterprise Foundation.  So I won't be sending any more thoughts on this thread until I get back.


                                              On Tue, Feb 9, 2010 at 1:05 AM, Jonah Sinick <jsinick2@...> wrote:
                                               

                                              On Holden's last message:

                                              More than arguing for a particular strategy I was arguing for taking into account the phenomenon of replaceability.

                                              For example, some well meaning people become doctors because they want to help sick people. The question that such a person should be asking is not "what is the expected effect of the work of a doctor on sick people?" but "what is the expected effect of me personally becoming a doctor on sick people?" As Holden says, high salaries in a given area can indicate real demand, but even in such situations, naive intuition may attribute greater effects to going into such a field than are actually there. It's a matter for careful consideration.

                                              I agree with (a) of Holden's 02/08 message.

                                              I would also remark that I think that one should take into account the general perception of the effect of a line of work in predicting one's future capacity for influence. For example, working for a tobacco company seems likely to me to be a bad idea for most altruistic people on the grounds that the tobacco industry has such negative stigma.

                                              Concerning Holden's (b), I agree that in certain contexts measuring a product against economic demand can be a healthy reality check for whether or not the product produces social good. But echoing Sarah's last post, there are other areas where the potential social good is present while market incentives are not. As usual there are issues of externalities, induced demand, start up costs and individual risk aversion, etc.

                                              In any case, I think that major potential for doing good in the for-profit world is not so much in areas where the profit incentives are aligned with social good (such areas are already fine almost by definition), but in finding innovative ways to align profit incentives with social good (e.g. by recognizing an unmet demand and offering a product to meet it).

                                              I applaud GiveWell's mission and commitment to transparency.



                                              On Mon, Feb 8, 2010 at 12:43 PM, Holden Karnofsky <holden0@...> wrote:
                                               

                                              I'd like to respond to a few points people have raised (again, these are all personal/informal thoughts rather than "GiveWell views"):

                                              Re: social entrepreneurship.  I actually think that going into "social entrepreneurship" should be thought of much more like going into nonprofit work than like going into for-profit work. The reason is that, as I stated before, I feel there are parts of the for-profit sector where incentives are already lined up in a very healthy way, i.e., by pursuing profit (which is very measurable) you end up pursuing social good.  By contrast, "social entrepreneurship" generally refers to areas where profit itself isn't/can't be the primary motivator.  So you have to hold yourself accountable in other ways, and I'm not confident that the sector has developed great ways of accomplishing this.  Also see http://blog.givewell.net/2009/12/01/when-donations-and-profits-meet-beware/

                                              Re: Nick's question ("Any thoughts on what the best unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job would be, or what some of the best ones would be?")  It seems like a reasonable heuristic to me to maximize your expected earnings.  Top athletes and entertainers earn enormous amounts, but that may reflect a "winner-take-all" dynamic rather than a shortage; if you feel virtually assured that you can make a lot of money in career X, *and* you feel reasonably sure that career X is in one of the areas where profit correlates with social good, you've probably found an area with a lot of "room for more labor."

                                              One specific example that jumps to mind is professional recruiter ("headhunter").  It seems to me that these people would have trouble making money, over time, unless they're helping companies find the right people for the roles they need filled.  And anecdotally, it seems like people in this area make a lot more than they would in alternative careers.  I want to reiterate that I'm not suggesting this path in general - personal talents and interests are paramount in my view.

                                              Re: Ron's point about DALYs.  I think DALYs can be useful for sub-questions like "If I'm going into global health, should I be aiming to focus on AIDS or tuberculosis?"  I think that if you try to use them to estimate the entire value of careers, you're going to end up with more error than you would get from informal reasoning. 

                                              Re: Jonah's point about "ignoring the effect of the effect of one's work on society (on the grounds that somebody else would be doing it anyway)."  As I understand this, he's arguing that if you're unusually altruistic, you might do the most good by focusing on winning zero-sum games and doing altruistic things with the rewards.  For example, if you beat person B in a contest for job/role X, there isn't much difference in how well you'll perform the job, but there's a big difference in what you'll do with the earnings and other perks (like influence) of the job.  This reasoning would push you in the opposite direction from the argument I laid out - you'd want to go into areas where incentives are *not* healthy (where profit does not align with social good), so that your altruistic focus on accomplishing good will be more unusual and add more value.

                                              It's an interesting argument.  My main comment is that I think it's easy to overestimate (a) how altruistic you really are, i.e., what you will actually do once you have a lot of money as opposed to what you think should be done from your current vantage point of not having a lot of money; (b) how "knowledgeable/powerful" you are as an altruist - i.e., how reliably the things you would spend your money and influence on would improve the world.  We've certainly seen in our research on charities that a lot of things that seem obviously good for the world turn out to be far more complex on closer inspection.

                                              Rather than relying on oneself to know and do the right thing, I like the idea of going into an area where incentives "force" you to do the right thing.  GiveWell looks for ways to increase the "force" on both charities and on ourselves (our emphasis on transparency is one of our major attempts at the latter).



                                              On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 8:02 PM, Jonah Sinick <jsinick2@...> wrote:
                                               

                                              There are few points that I wanted to make which are likely subtext for some of the preceding posts but which I haven't seen made explicit yet:

                                              (1)The marginal impact that an individual worker has on the effectiveness of an organization (corporate or nonprofit) is usually very small. This is because most workers are replaceable in the sense that if a given worker had not signed on, the organization could have hired a slightly less qualified worker who would have done nearly as a good a job.

                                              With this in mind, it seems to me reasonable to me for the typical altruist to focus what various jobs have to offer with respect to donatable funds, personal satisfaction (with a view toward sustainability, c.f. Sarah Cobey's story), and ability to influence others, while largely ignoring the effect of the effect of one's work on society (on the grounds that somebody else would be doing it anyway).

                                              Of course, there are people with unusually strong abilities or rare combinations of abilities who are not easily replaceable, and those who are aware of possessing such skills should take this into account - my point is just that the phenomenon of replaceability should be taken into account.

                                              (2) While risk aversion is important in the context of personal finances, it has little place in the domain of charitable activity, because diminishing marginal utility sets in much faster for an individual than it does for potential benefactors (taken as a group) of a well conceived charitable effort.

                                              For two (somewhat similar) perspectives on these points, see http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/make-money.html and http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/risky-investments.html . I don't necessarily agree with everything in these essays, but the writing is clear.

                                              Holistically, and especially in light of (2) above, I think that altruistic people should seriously consider speculative endeavors (starting companies or nonprofits, getting a job early on in a start up company, trying to become a successful rock star, or film director, etc.). As Dario Amodei remarked above, influence as a function of worldly success seems to be strongly superlinear. Positive changes of the magnitude that we would most like to see require resources and influence that a given individual cannot reasonably expect to acquire, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try.

                                              "The reasonable man [resp. woman] adapts himself [resp. herself] to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself [resp. herself]. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man [resp. woman]" -- GB Shaw




                                              On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 11:58 AM, <rnoble@...> wrote:
                                               



                                              One question I haven't noticed being addressed that might be of interest: To
                                              what extent are you willing to sacrifice your own happiness (however defined)
                                              to do good for others? This could be especially salient if you go the route of
                                              a high-paying job with the intention of donating money. If you make
                                              $100,000/year, how much are you willing to donate of that $100,000, for
                                              example?

                                              As for DALYs, you can disagree with the measure but measuring good in some way
                                              seems essential. You'll have to choose between projects to put your time and
                                              effort into, so you really have to quantify good in some manner. Upon close
                                              inspection, two projects which both look "very good" in terms of doing good
                                              might differ by an order of magnitude in how much good they do.

                                              Ron



                                              Quoting Nick Beckstead <nbeckstead@...>:

                                              > Any thoughts on what the best unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated,
                                              > highly lucrative job would be, or what some of the best ones would be?
                                              >
                                              > On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 10:58 AM, Holden Karnofsky <holden0@...> wrote:
                                              >
                                              > >
                                              > >
                                              > > I'm broadly in agreement with the points raised by Dario, Brian Slesinsky
                                              > > and David Morrow, all of which stress that your personal talents/interests
                                              > > are a huge factor in the equation, making it impossible to give a very
                                              > > general answer.
                                              > >
                                              > > From what I've seen of cost-effectiveness estimates (particularly those
                                              > > using DALYs), I think current methodologies are not up to the task of
                                              > > shedding much light on this decision.
                                              > >
                                              > > One thing I'd like to add is that I feel that in these sorts of
                                              > > discussions, people very often seem to be underestimating the benefits of
                                              > > for-profit activities. Most scholarly discussions of the enormous
                                              > > improvement in living standards and drastic declines in poverty over the
                                              > > last few hundred years give a huge amount of the credit to overall economic
                                              > > growth driven largely by for-profit activities.
                                              > >
                                              > > For-profit activities have a sort of built-in accountability and focus on
                                              > > outcomes. It's obviously not perfect, and there are many valid concerns
                                              > > about the relationship between profit and social good (including Dario's
                                              > > worries about finance). But in a lot of industries, making money means
                                              > > helping someone, and the benefits you might create by making money should
                                              > be
                                              > > in the same conversation as the benefits you might create by giving it
                                              > away.
                                              > > This includes fields such as accounting and even finance (though finance
                                              > > has some definite problems as well) where the translation between making
                                              > > money and helping people doesn't seem very clear/direct/tangible. I think
                                              > > the same mentality that leads people to be insufficiently critical of
                                              > > charities ("they're trying to help people") leads them to be overly
                                              > critical
                                              > > of for-profit activities ("they're just trying to make a buck").
                                              > >
                                              > > I think a lot of good can be done by entering celebrated, insufficiently
                                              > > criticized sectors *in order to* add criticism to them and change the way
                                              > > they operate (I see GiveWell as doing this). But if your main value added
                                              > > is your ability to execute within an institutional framework, rather than
                                              > > challenge it, that to me is a reason to put yourself in the for-profit
                                              > > framework where incentives are (in many cases) already very healthy and
                                              > > aligned with social good.
                                              > >
                                              > > So if your situation really is that you're willing to do anything, and have
                                              > > an edge on other people in tolerating unpleasant or non-glamorous
                                              > > activities, I'd urge you to give strong consideration to shooting for an
                                              > > unglamorous, unprestigious, uncelebrated, highly lucrative job. In fact,
                                              > > the high pay of such a job could be taken as an indication that there is a
                                              > > lot of "room for more labor" in that area.
                                              > >
                                              > > Note that all of this stuff is my personal thoughts, unrelated to GiveWell.
                                              > > Related to the points made by Dario, David and Brian, I think the question
                                              > > of "What should I do?" is much harder to give general answers on than the
                                              > > question of "Where should I give?" and I don't see GiveWell as an
                                              > > institution working on this question. However, I am personally very
                                              > > interested in the question and may someday see what work I can do on it.
                                              > >
                                              > > On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 1:43 PM, Sarah Cobey <sarahcobey@...> wrote:
                                              > >
                                              > >>
                                              > >>
                                              > >> Dear Mark and GiveWell,
                                              > >>
                                              > >> It's exciting to read such thoughtful responses to this question. I add my
                                              > >> personal experience as an anecdote that might help guide your thinking.
                                              > >>
                                              > >> I graduated from college in 2002 with largely the same approach and
                                              > >> question as you. I had, however, majored in ecology & evolutionary biology
                                              > >> (EEB) and minored in environmental studies and Russian studies. I loved
                                              > the
                                              > >> theory and implications of EEB, but I was concerned that the academic
                                              > >> approach would be too "indulgent" and slow to improve welfare. I decided
                                              > to
                                              > >> do development work in SE Asia immediately after graduating; I was the
                                              > only
                                              > >> native English speaker in the office and interfaced largely between large
                                              > >> funding bodies and the national government. Most of my day-to-day work was
                                              > >> administrative, and working with the government of a developing country
                                              > >> presented enormous challenges. I wondered about the ultimate impact of the
                                              > >> projects we were funding and especially how long it would take to see
                                              > >> changes. I was also not in a position to have substantive influence over
                                              > >> what was happening.
                                              > >>
                                              > >> Uncertainty over outcomes, combined with the extreme loneliness I felt as
                                              > >> an expat in a small country (with a very small expat population) and
                                              > >> persistent intellectual boredom, motivated me to return to the U.S. and
                                              > >> apply to PhD programs. I recently graduated with a PhD in EEB, with a
                                              > focus
                                              > >> on infectious disease. I find research dramatically more interesting than
                                              > >> what I was doing, and the potential impact of the work is incredible. That
                                              > >> said, the probability that I or any scientist will make paradigm-shifting
                                              > >> discoveries is low, but I enjoy knowing that the smaller discoveries are
                                              > >> helpful. The burdens of scientific careers are low income and lack of job
                                              > >> security--sometimes I struggle not to let this stress interfere with my
                                              > >> work. I have wondered whether I might be better off in finance, donating
                                              > >> much of my income, but I'm increasingly confident that the autonomy,
                                              > growth
                                              > >> opportunities, and undeniable importance of my scientific work compensate
                                              > >> better than a more lucrative and stable job would.
                                              > >>
                                              > >> Dario suggested we might be more effective doing excellent work in a field
                                              > >> where we can succeed than doing average work in a central field. I think
                                              > >> it's clear that there are some fields where, no matter how good you might
                                              > >> be, your excellence will still negligibly benefit the world. For the
                                              > fields
                                              > >> where there's some possibility of a larger benefit, please consider the
                                              > >> psychological components that contribute to your success. I was surprised
                                              > by
                                              > >> my own constraints: I need intellectual challenge and work of obvious
                                              > >> importance (to me) and potentially far-reaching impact, and I have to live
                                              > >> in a place where I can have enough friends. For these things, I will trade
                                              > a
                                              > >> great degree of financial welfare and job security. It took me direct
                                              > >> experimentation to learn these things, but perhaps you can anticipate some
                                              > >> of your preferences now and save some time.
                                              > >>
                                              > >> Lastly, this general question about how to maximize one's impact, which
                                              > >> includes GiveWell's overall mission, rests on such a fascinating,
                                              > subjective
                                              > >> and hidden calculus. It's exciting for me as a scientist to read
                                              > >> philosophers' approaches to this problem.
                                              > >>
                                              > >> Sarah
                                              > >>
                                              > >>
                                              > >>
                                              > >> On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 5:51 AM, Dario Amodei
                                              > <damodei@...>wrote:
                                              > >>
                                              > >>> Mark et al,
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>> I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, and my sense is that it is
                                              > >>> extremely difficult to answer rigorously -- the complexity of the
                                              > >>> personal, institutional, and even macroeconomic issues at play here is
                                              > >>> immense. That said, one relevant pattern which I’ve noticed is that
                                              > >>> many careers seem to have a winner-take-all dynamic: that is, a very
                                              > >>> small number of individuals are responsible for a sizable fraction of
                                              > >>> the total impactful activity in the field. One vivid example of this is
                                              > >>> politics: though one can argue about how much influence the US president
                                              > >>> has over public policy, it seems clear that he has much more influence
                                              > >>> than a typical elected official one level down – say a state governor.
                                              > >>> A governor, in turn, has much more influence than a town mayor or a
                                              > >>> local party official. The same dynamic holds in entrepreneurship – a
                                              > >>> few very large companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have thousands
                                              > >>> of times the profitability and impact on the economy as the average
                                              > >>> business. As a grad student it’s been my impression that this pattern
                                              > >>> is also present in science -– a relatively small number of key
                                              > >>> innovations seem to tangibly speed up the rate of progress (compared to
                                              > >>> what would have happened if their inventors hadn’t thought of them),
                                              > >>> while the bulk of scientific work is either very small in scope or is
                                              > >>> “inevitable” in the sense that someone else would have done it soon
                                              > >>> anyway. It’s my guess that many other fields, such as law, finance, and
                                              > >>> nonprofits, exhibit the same dynamic, to varying extents.
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>> A key implication of this view is that being very good at what you do
                                              > >>> may be more important than choosing the field that seems most promising
                                              > >>> in some abstract utilitarian sense. It is probably better to be wildly
                                              > >>> successful at a career with some positive effect on the world, than it
                                              > >>> is to be average in the “most” efficacious possible career choice.
                                              > >>> Thus, David’s advice to make a list of careers that could do good and
                                              > >>> then ask yourself which you are best at strikes me as very sensible.
                                              > >>> There is also the practical consideration that it is easier to work hard
                                              > >>> and persevere in a career that one has natural ability and interest in.
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>> All that said, I agree that the abstract question of which careers do
                                              > >>> the most good (at various levels of achievement) is relevant and
                                              > >>> important. One thing I would find useful is a rough analysis, for
                                              > >>> various careers, of the impact that (a) an average practitioner, and (b)
                                              > >>> an extremely successful practitioner, might expect to have. Obviously
                                              > >>> there will be a lot of unknowns, and for the reasons above I think it
                                              > >>> would be unwise to use such an analysis as the main determinant of a
                                              > >>> career decision, but it might be a valuable resource for someone
                                              > >>> choosing between two careers they are already attracted to.
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>> To give a very concrete example, I may be making such a choice myself in
                                              > >>> a year or two: after I get my PhD, I am considering a career in finance,
                                              > >>> which would allow me to give away more money than I currently do. I
                                              > >>> think I would excel at and enjoy such a career, but I’m concerned that
                                              > >>> the finance industry may be having systemic negative effects on the
                                              > >>> economy (as evidenced by the economic crash in 2008). An analysis of
                                              > >>> the possible positive and negative impacts of working in the finance
                                              > >>> industry – particularly the marginal, counterfactual impact of hiring
                                              > >>> one additional analyst - would be very helpful for me.
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>> I don’t know where one might find these types of career analyses or even
                                              > >>> whether they exist. I suspect that such a project lies outside
                                              > >>> GiveWell’s mission, but I wonder if some of GiveWell’s future work could
                                              > >>> naturally take it very close to these questions. For example, if
                                              > >>> GiveWell decided to look into the efficacy of *funding* scientific
                                              > >>> research, would it be worthwhile to also tackle the related question of
                                              > >>> the efficacy of *participating* in scientific research? I could imagine
                                              > >>> that answering these two questions might involve a large overlap of data
                                              > >>> and analysis -- perhaps the second question might even be answered as a
                                              > >>> sidenote to the first.
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>> Could this sort of thing potentially make sense for GiveWell? Would
                                              > >>> others on this list find such analyses valuable?
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>> Dario
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>> David Morrow wrote:
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > Mark,
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > Good question. I don't know of any publication that specifically
                                              > >>> > addresses it. Here are my thoughts on the matter, for what they're
                                              > >>> worth.
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > I think the question is much easier to answer if we admit that your
                                              > >>> > first assumption never holds. I would wager that no one is able to do
                                              > >>> > as well in *any* career as the average person in that career does. I'd
                                              > >>> > also wager that you could do better than average in some careers. It
                                              > >>> > seems worthwhile to make a list of careers that could do good, and
                                              > >>> > then ask yourself which of those careers you would be best at. I've
                                              > >>> > heard that Peter Unger says that anyone with philosophical talent like
                                              > >>> > yours should go to law school, get a lucrative job, and give as much
                                              > >>> > as he or she can to poverty relief. On the other hand, since you're
                                              > >>> > already at Rutgers (which, for those who don't know, is one of the
                                              > >>> > best philosophy programs in the world), you have a shot at getting a
                                              > >>> > job somewhere where you could influence a lot of people who will go on
                                              > >>> > to lucrative and powerful careers -- assuming you'd be a sufficiently
                                              > >>> > inspirational teacher. These kinds of considerations should narrow
                                              > >>> > your list significantly.
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > We might still want to know which career does the most good. I suppose
                                              > >>> > that depends on where the most important "bottlenecks" are. Which of
                                              > >>> > the following would make the biggest marginal difference to NGOs'
                                              > >>> > ability to do good: More money? More human resources (in general or of
                                              > >>> > a particular kind)? More information? Changes to public policy (here
                                              > >>> > or abroad)? Maybe GiveWell can help answer that question. Maybe you
                                              > >>> > could contact people at some NGOs of interest and ask them. Once you
                                              > >>> > know where the bottlenecks are, you can narrow your search even
                                              > >>> > further by asking what you could do that would help alleviate those
                                              > >>> > problems.
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > I hope this helps, and I look forward to hearing what other GiveWell
                                              > >>> > readers have to say.
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > David
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Jareb Price <j.c.price@...
                                              > >>> > <mailto:j.c.price@...>> wrote:
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > Mark,
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > As a BA in philosophy, I would suggest taking a couple of steps to
                                              > >>> > clarify your position. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the
                                              > >>> > action you wish to engage in, are you, individually, a big-picture
                                              > >>> > person, or a detail person, and what is your time frame in seeing
                                              > >>> > your success. These answers will help to clarify where you would
                                              > >>> > be most successful in your own measure, if you are successful as
                                              > >>> > an individual, the wish to give back will be that much more
                                              > >>> > powerful, if you aren't seeing yourself as successful, the day to
                                              > >>> > day struggles are likely to frustrate you and you may burn out
                                              > >>> > before you can have the effect that you wish. Giving is an
                                              > >>> > intensely personal process, so give it the intense personal
                                              > >>> > analysis it deserves in order to keep it strong, effective and
                                              > >>> > simplistic throughout your life.
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > Jareb Price
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> ----------------------------------------------------------
                                              > >>> > To: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>;
                                              > >>> > marklee@... <mailto:
                                              > >>> marklee@...>
                                              > >>> > CC: givewell@yahoogroups.com <mailto:givewell@yahoogroups.com>
                                              > >>> > From: rnoble@... <mailto:rnoble@...>
                                              > >>> > Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:46:35 -0500
                                              > >>> > Subject: Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > Mark,
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > I'm guessing as a philosophy major you are pretty familiar with
                                              > >>> > utilitarianism
                                              > >>> > and I'd further guess that you think of yourself as a utilitarian.
                                              > >>> > The first
                                              > >>> > step in figuring out how to do the most good is deciding how to
                                              > >>> > measure
                                              > >>> > utility. The best measure of utility that have been widely applied
                                              > >>> > are the two
                                              > >>> > essentially identical concepts of the quality-adjusted life-year
                                              > >>> > (QALY) and the
                                              > >>> > disability-adjusted life-year (DALY).
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > After that, I'd say that the decision you make about what to do
                                              > >>> > involve
                                              > >>> > uncertainty--your attempt to become very wealthy if successful
                                              > >>> > might allow you
                                              > >>> > to do much more good than if you worked for an NGO, but what are
                                              > >>> the
                                              > >>> > probabilities of success. Likewise with how influential you'd be
                                              > >>> > as a teacher,
                                              > >>> > etc.
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > As for the actual calculations about a choice like that, I don't
                                              > >>> > know of anyone
                                              > >>> > who's tried to perform them and published. But an introduction to
                                              > >>> > QALYS I'd
                                              > >>> > recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine,
                                              > >>> > and for
                                              > >>> > expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend
                                              > >>> > Jon Baron's
                                              > >>> > Thinking and Deciding.
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > Ron
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > Quoting Mark Lee <marklee@...
                                              > >>> > <mailto:marklee@...>>:
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > >
                                              > >>> > >
                                              > >>> > > Dear GiveWell,
                                              > >>> > >
                                              > >>> > > I’m interested in answering the question: how can I do the
                                              > >>> > most good? Â M
                                              > >>> > > ore manageably, I’m interested in answering the question: if I
                                              > >>> > want to do
                                              > >>> > > the most good, what career should I pursue? Â
                                              > >>> > >
                                              > >>> > > Suppose that I have just finished college, that I have the
                                              > >>> > ability to go into
                                              > >>> > > and tolerate almost any career, and that I would perform, in any
                                              > >>> > career, as
                                              > >>> > > well as the average person in that career. Â If I want to do
                                              > >>> > the most good,
                                              > >>> > > should I work for an efficient charity group or NGO in the
                                              > >>> > developing world,
                                              > >>> > > helping those who need it most? Â Or, at one remove, should I
                                              > >>> > secure a
                                              > >>> > > stable and highly lucrative job, and donate a high percentage of
                                              > >>> > my income to
                                              > >>> > > such charities? Â Or, at one more remove, should I become a
                                              > >>> > > teacher/professor/other person of influence, and influence my
                                              > >>> > students to
                                              > >>> > > pursue careers that promote the good, e.g. careers that (a)
                                              > >>> > directly help
                                              > >>> > > those who need it most, or (b) are highly lucrative so that they
                                              > >>> > can donate a
                                              > >>> > > lot, or (c) are influential so that they can in turn influence
                                              > >>> > others to
                                              > >>> > > pursue such careers?
                                              > >>> > >
                                              > >>> > >            I’ve been thinking about these
                                              > >>> > questions on and off
                                              > >>> > > for several years now, but have not gotten very far. Â Perhaps
                                              > >>> > you could
                                              > >>> > > shed some light on them, and/or on the following questions: Â
                                              > >>> > What resources
                                              > >>> > > are out there that are pertinent to these questions? Â Who
                                              > >>> > would have useful
                                              > >>> > > advice to give? Â Should I be speaking to economists? Â
                                              > >>> > International
                                              > >>> > > development and charity folks? Â Ethicists? Â Groups like
                                              > >>> > GiveWell? Â All,
                                              > >>> > > some, or none of the above? Â Has anything been written on
                                              > >>> > these issues? Â
                                              > >>> > > I’m aware of some indirectly relevant literature from Peter
                                              > >>> > Singer, Thomas
                                              > >>> > > Pogge, and Amartya Sen, and some of the information on the
                                              > >>> > GiveWell and
                                              > >>> > > Giving What We Can sites/blogs, but I’ve not encountered
                                              > >>> > anything that
                                              > >>> > > directly addresses these questions.
                                              > >>> > >
                                              > >>> > > Thanks,
                                              > >>> > >
                                              > >>> > > Mark
                                              > >>> > >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> > Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                                              > >>> > University of Pennsylvania
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> ----------------------------------------------------------
                                              > >>> > Hotmail: Trusted email with powerful SPAM protection. Sign up now.
                                              > >>> > <http://clk.atdmt.com/GBL/go/196390707/direct/01/>
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>> >
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>> ------------------------------------
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>> This is the research mailing list of GiveWell (www.givewell.net).
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                                              > >>> staff members and other participants. They do NOT represent official
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                                              > >>>
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>>
                                              > >>
                                              > >
                                              > >
                                              >

                                              Ronald Noble, Ph. D.
                                              University of Pennsylvania




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