Saturday, May 02, 2020

Giving Game 2020 results

This semester, I got my 'Effective Altruism' class to decide how to allocate $5000 in donations between the four EA funds. (Half the funds were provided by UM Ethics Programs, as the result of an internal grant request I submitted for this purpose. The other half were matching funds from my personal charitable budget.)  Our resulting breakdown was as follows:

* Global Health & Development: $2500
* Animal Welfare: $700
* Long-Term Future: $1450
* Effective Altruism Meta: $350

Judging from the class discussion, several students were influenced towards the long-term future fund as a result of the pandemic (I'm actually surprised there wasn't more of an effect here, though I think many were put off by the fund's apparent degree of focus on AI risk; an option more focused on biological and environmental risks might have won broader support).  Other long-termist advocates drew upon more general theoretical considerations (especially regarding scale and neglectedness) to support their choice.

I invited students to write a brief reflection piece on their experience (to be shared with UM Ethics Programs and their funders, with the student's express consent), as an extra credit option.  Probably my favourite answer was from a student who admitted that the experience hadn't changed his ethical beliefs at all, but it had helped him to better understand the reasoning behind them.  That was certainly nice to hear!

Perhaps the most surprising result was that roughly half the class expressed an intention to donate 10% of their incomes to effective charities once they are "financially comfortable".  UM students in general seem likely to end up towards the upper end of the income distribution, so any who follow through on that plan could end up doing an immense amount of good.  Hard to know how much is temporary good intentions and/or social signalling, how much is selection effects (a class on 'Effective Altruism' presumably gets disproportionately altruistic students), and how much is the class itself actually making a difference.  But even just one or two students a year in the latter category could plausibly make this teaching the morally best (value-promoting) thing I ever do in my life.

P.S. I'd encourage anyone reading this (who is at least "comfortably middle-class" -- certainly any securely-employed academics!) to also take the Giving What We Can pledge (and invite your friends to do likewise).  You can easily make several kidney-equivalent donations per year, at no real cost to yourself.  I started in grad school, and haven't regretted it for a moment.


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