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Re: [givewell] On doing the most good (my two cents)

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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 1 of 21 , Feb 1, 2010
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      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 2 of 21 , Feb 1, 2010
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        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 3 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 4 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 5 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 6 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 7 of 21 , Feb 1, 2010
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                  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 8 of 21 , Feb 8, 2010
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                    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 9 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 10 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 11 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).
                          > >>> 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




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