Comments on: Adventures with quantitative philanthropy http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/06/10/adventures-with-quantitative-philanthropy/ A slice of lime in the soda Sun, 26 Oct 2014 19:05:02 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.5 By: traducere daneza http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/06/10/adventures-with-quantitative-philanthropy/comment-page-1/#comment-53401 Mon, 29 Sep 2014 13:53:44 +0000 https://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/?p=22032#comment-53401 WordPress Set up Guide’s last website… The reason Choose All of our Blogger Set up Services =-.

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By: ChristoGilberti http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/06/10/adventures-with-quantitative-philanthropy/comment-page-1/#comment-47478 Wed, 26 Jun 2013 18:24:36 +0000 https://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/?p=22032#comment-47478 Doing a search for Wall Street or ‘derivatives’ I don’t see that anyone has questioned Trigg’s choice of career if his goal is to ‘save lives’. Walls Street’s risky derivatives (CDOs) were at least partially at fault for the 2008 financial collapse, leading to millions of unemployed, and including an increased suicide rate.

By participating in this system is Trigg enabling a system that will harm possibly more people than he will save? Especially given that he will be devising the algorithms that might increase the risks. The big pool of money that Trigg will be drawing his salary / bonuses/ etc. from is the same pool that is right now lobbying Congress to eviscerate Dodd-Frank and other attempts to restore the regulations that kept the banks in check for the last 80 years.

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By: Ankit12321331 http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/06/10/adventures-with-quantitative-philanthropy/comment-page-1/#comment-47474 Wed, 26 Jun 2013 06:50:59 +0000 https://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/?p=22032#comment-47474 To ‘make a donation’ to encourage human rights awareness visit http://www.giveindia.org/iGive-leadsngo you may also find multiple donation options of your choice

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By: LeeCrawfurd http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/06/10/adventures-with-quantitative-philanthropy/comment-page-1/#comment-47347 Fri, 14 Jun 2013 00:38:35 +0000 https://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/?p=22032#comment-47347 I’m also an AMF donor, but one who works in development rather than finance.

Yes development is messy, but apart from just saying “oh it’s more complicated than that” I can’t actually see any real arguments here debunking the notion that spending $x,000 on bednets through AMF is very likely to save a child’s life. Saying that “oh but government should be doing that” doesn’t make it so. To Peter Singer’s analogy, do you not jump into the lake because there should have been a lifeguard on duty?

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By: BradleyGood http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/06/10/adventures-with-quantitative-philanthropy/comment-page-1/#comment-47322 Wed, 12 Jun 2013 17:59:11 +0000 https://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/?p=22032#comment-47322 People give for a variety of reasons: because they really care, want to support a friend, want to brag, or avoid taxes. Some give by volunteering, or inspiring others to participate. I applaud the discussion on how to make sure that dollars given have the biggest benefit possible. What is also important is that people and organizations are inspired to give. For this to occur, I would argue that individuals, companies, and charities require the proper arena to discuss, plan, and act toward addressing the issues they care about, and be able to do so with others who have a similar interest.

Perhaps it would be useful to consider “Quantitative Philanthropy” from a different perspective. Competition is a great motivator. If properly harnessed, competition can be used to encourage (okay, pressure) companies to increase their contributions, and that of their employees’, to charitable causes.

Right now there are numerous companies that truly care and materially contribute to the related causes. For example, Patagonia’s ‘1% for the Planet’ is a reflection of a true belief, and caring for the environment is deeply ingrained in the company culture. Unfortunately, many companies are not as ernest and merely view helping the communities they operate within as a necessary cost of doing business. Recently, I met with the executive director of a charity that helps the visually impaired. She said it clearly: “If one more company comes to paint that wall outside for a good photo opportunity, I’m going to go crazy!” Sadly, lots of companies are good at telling you what they have done. But, when it comes to really doing it and showing it, they are less capability.

To drive competition that generates the desired results (more giving), the key is to accurately measure the correct factors. So, I suggest for consideration, that we quantify what they and their employees have done, or contributed. It will not be perfect for sure, but we’ll at least then be able to compare one company to another, within an industry.

Simply put: Total Company Contribution equals (1) company donations, (2) employee donations, and (3) volunteer hours (which get converted to a dollar amount, using the average hourly wage.) Here is an illustration:

Total Company Donations: $7,500,000
Volunteer Hours: 750,000
Ave. Wage/Hour: $23
Est. Value of Volunteer Hrs: $17,250,000
Total Company Contribution: $24,750,000
Total Employees (or Sales); 34,400
Ave. Employee Contribution: 719 (contribution index)

By using this index, it would be possible to compare companies’ contributions, and the differences would be plain for everyone to see. And, of course, companies would then be under peer pressure to improve against a competitor, or else lose credibility to those buying their products and investors.

Bloomberg conducts analysis to track a company’s ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance). It reports this data for a number of companies, since many investors want to factor in such variables when making investment decisions. The biggest indicator in the ESG matrix right now is environmental impact. In the second half of 2010, 5,000 unique customers in 29 countries accessed more than 50 million ESG indicators via Bloomberg’s screens. The index requires tracking many different reports, and is not as scientific as many would hope.

This index would not displace Bloomberg’s ESG. However, it would be much easier to track and verify, and has relevance to all companies, without an emphasis on those with carbon footprints. I think there is a good chance that this index could be accepted within the investment and corporate community.

For consideration and discussion.

Bradley Good, CEO OurGroup.org

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By: danielbigham http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/06/10/adventures-with-quantitative-philanthropy/comment-page-1/#comment-47313 Wed, 12 Jun 2013 00:40:09 +0000 https://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/?p=22032#comment-47313 loudnotes, thanks for what you wrote in your comment above. I resonated with your response.

First I’d like to thank Felix for his article, and keeping the conversation going, which I think is very valuable. We want critical thinkers on both sides of these assertions.

I also agree with the sentiment that the concept of “X dollars saves a life” is a very rough concept at best. A worthwhile example that challenges this concept: I was chatting with a lady that worked for an organization during the Rawanda genocide, and they sat in a board room one day to try and calculate the number of dollars their NGO would need to “save a life” by providing things like food across the border for people escaping. They came up with a number and went to the public advertising it. Some time later, it became apparent that killers were crossing the border, getting food and care, and then going back into Rawanda to do further killing. Suddenly the calculation of “dollars per life saved” gets a bit more complex. Perhaps one even feels embarrassed for putting a number on it in the first place.

That said, I think doing our best to estimate these numbers is important. Yes, they are very rough guesses, and we can never even say with certainty that our efforts are net-postive. (heh, I punny) But a world full of noise and uncertainty doesn’t make quantification useless. Far from it. It just adds some well needed humility to our endeavors.

And as others have said, the “dollars per life saved” concept really isn’t the key concept here: It’s the sober realization that we have an incredible opportunity, collectively, and even as individuals, to help people who are suffering. It will take not just money — of course not — but it is an invitation to each of us to invest our time, our intelligence, our souls, into the pursuit of treating others they way we’d want them to treat us.

So let’s be humble _and_ earnest, and let’s not get side-tracked by imperfect quantification.

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By: Anonymous http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/06/10/adventures-with-quantitative-philanthropy/comment-page-1/#comment-47304 Tue, 11 Jun 2013 04:50:58 +0000 https://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/?p=22032#comment-47304 I just changed jobs, and during the process of deciding where I wanted to end up I thought a lot about what ways to measure if what I would be doing would be worthwhile. This meant struggling some with the idea of quantifying my positive impact on the world – going through periods of rejecting that way of thinking, and periods of accepting it. I think Felix rejects it too easily here.

First off I don’t think the debate over what I’ll follow Felix in calling quantitative philanthropy (QP) should be about whether its conclusions about how we should behave are true or false. That is way too ambitious. Thousands of books have been written and will be written on the topic (in broad strokes). But I think we can say something about whether QP is naïve or not – that is whether we can dismiss it without fully engaging with its very disturbing implications.

Felix, and the David Brooks column he links to, point to three potential ways that QP could be naïve: it could be naïve philosophically, it could be naïve psychologically, or it could be naïve regarding facts about causality. Let’s take these one at a time.

Is QP naïve philosophically? Brooks says yes, and he points to what he believes are two obvious philosophical truths that, he contends, it conflicts with. The first truth is that not only can actions be right or wrong, but people can be good or bad, and it is as important to attend to one’s goodness or badness as it is to attend to the rightness or wrongness of one’s actions. The second truth is related, and is Kant’s famous formulation that people must be ends and not means. But – neither of these truths are in fact considered obvious at all by anyone doing philosophy. They are highly contentious, and there isn’t even agreement about what something like “ends not means” means. Saying a philosophical theory is wrong because it conflicts with these points is begging the question, massively. It’s like saying that Tolstoy is better than Picasso because, obviously, novels are a greater art form than paintings. In fact, QP is basically a form of utilitarianism, combined with certain beliefs about the world (which we will get to in a moment). Utilitarianism is believed in (in differing flavors and with differing caveats) by many philosophers.

Felix also makes a gesture towards QP being philosophically naïve, although he comes from a different angle. His argument is a little hard to split apart (not because of anything wrong with it), because he creates a five part logic chain that mixes philosophical assertions and facts about the world. But I believe I am summarizing the philosophical argument correctly by the following: QP is dependent on the assertion that sins of inaction are as great as sins committed actively, this belief is in fact highly questionable, and thus QP is highly questionable (i.e. naïve).

If I have summarized Felix’s argument correctly, than I don’t agree with it. QP in fact depends on a weaker claim, one which I think is inarguable: that sins of inaction are in fact sins, even if we censor them at a discount to sins committed actively. Once you admit this, then QP will work fine, so long as you apply the proper discount to the utility purchased by “buying saved lives”, in the case of AMF. To see that the assertion that sins of inaction are in fact sins is inarguable, just imagine an extreme scenario along the lines of being able to save a million lives just by forgoing a penny’s worth of consumption.

Is QP psychologically naïve? Brooks argues yes, because trying to live in a way that quantifies the value of human life inculcates a set of behaviors/thought-patterns that will ultimately in a sense corrupt one, and lead one away from moral behavior. I’m going to dismiss this one quickly because I think that the way people think about moral issues is REALLY malleable, and that if we as a society took utilitarianism more seriously behavior aligning with QT would become much more common and in a strange way less “dehumanizing”. Also I place probably negative value on the virtue of having a “human” outlook on morality, given our track record. But I think there are some interesting arguments on the Brooks side and could be persuaded that I’m being too hasty on this one.

Now we come to the most interesting argument: whether or not QP is naïve about the facts. That is, is it just ridiculous to imagine that by spending X dollars we could be reasonably certain of saving a life? First off, I think we need to admit that there must be SOME figure of money that, if spent in a prescribed way, would have a near 100% chance of saving a life. If you gave someone a million dollars, they could afford to pay for many years of life-prolonging drugs for an HIV-sufferer who otherwise would have died of the disease – this is roughly equivalent to a life saved, I would say, and with near 100% effectiveness. I’m sure there are even better examples that I’m not thinking of. The point being though that we can’t flatly say “money cannot save a life” – we are left with trying to figure out how MUCH money it takes to save a life. Once you get there, I think you are no longer able to say that QP is naïve – you will have to engage in complicated arguments about what exactly it takes to save a life, how certain you can be about that figure, and whether as a whole action based around that calculation has a higher expected value than non-QP strategies; or you will have to try to go back to philosophical principles to reject QP, which again will not lead to a quick dismissal of the theory as naïve.

There is a standard objection to the idea of saying a life can be saved for X dollars, and that is to appeal to the idea of unforeseen circumstances. Let’s take the person saved from an early death from HIV as an example – what unforeseen circumstances might reduce the value we claim to be purchasing with our million dollars? Well, we might say that perhaps by reducing the perceived risk of dying from HIV – since we are creating the impression that there is a phalanx of rich people out there waiting to step in with free drugs – we are on the margin encouraging people to have less protected sex, and thus encouraging the spread of HIV, and thus causing more deaths than the single life we have saved. Or maybe we are actually causing HIV to develop drug resistance slightly more quickly than it would have otherwise, and thus hastening the outbreak of a mutated form of the disease that will cause untold suffering. I could go on but I hope the point is clear. The appeal to unforeseen circumstances makes it seem impossible to ever figure out if the life we are buying is not coming at too dear a cost.

However, there is an issue with the appeal to unforeseen circumstances, which is that it is VERY strong. Once you admit that a life cannot be considered saved, or any good deed considered done, unless every last potential consequence is mapped out and weighed, it becomes impossible to evaluate any action at all. Should I send my mother a card for her birthday? What might be the unforeseen circumstances? More seriously, should we put iodine in salt? Should we vaccinate children against the mumps? Should we try to curb carbon emissions? Looking at questions like these I think we quickly see that the appeal to unforeseen circumstances is TOO strong, and if we admit it as prima facie evidence against being able to save a life for a million dollars, we quickly lose any ability to apply any moral judgments at all. Surely SOME version of the appeal to unforeseen circumstances is appropriate, but only a weakened version; and once we accept that and begin to debate how weak, the idea that X dollars can save a life with relative certainty begins, I think, to look less and less naïve.

Therefore, all and all I do not think that QP is naïve. As I said at the beginning of this insanely long comment, that is disturbing. If QP might be correct, than it might be the case that many common activities are monstrous – buying a new laptop, for example, when you could have saved a life instead. Unfortunately this is a possibility I think we should take seriously. A world where leaps of creativity are what are most important to saving lives is more attractive than one in which the most effective tactic is rigorous self-denial.

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By: loudnotes http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/06/10/adventures-with-quantitative-philanthropy/comment-page-1/#comment-47303 Mon, 10 Jun 2013 22:25:47 +0000 https://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/?p=22032#comment-47303 Felix, I am an AMF donor who also works in finance, so this whole blogosphere debate has hit home. I think Trigg is admirable if a bit naive, as he takes his precepts to a much greater extreme than I think prudent. But much of the commentary about his story seems to start from a position of distrust of hedge funds generally and HFT specifically (never mind that it reduces spreads and isn’t hurting anyone – separate debate!) and look for ways to criticize his approach. While his philosophy is portrayed in a somewhat mercenary context, the criticism is stretched. No need to try so hard to find fault!

For your part, you seem a bit overly focused on the moral and financial accounting here. No need to split hairs. It’s not important whether the average cost of preventing a malaria death is $2500 (or $2000 or $4000, as you state). What matters is that there is an unmet need that you are aware of and have the ability to address. LLINs happens to be a particularly well-documented and straightforward means of helping reduce deaths from malaria that both suffers from a funding gap (which is also well-documented) and is easily addressable.

That doesn’t make it a morally superior charity to support, but on the margin it is probably the closest one can get to having confidence that donated funds will avert loss of life (in expected value). For the very particular philanthropic aim of maximizing measurable, near-term public health improvement per dollar, that’s about the best one can hope for.

By the same token, Give Well is an attempt – an imperfect one, to be sure – to identify unmet needs and organizations like AMF that can address them. I don’t agree with all their methodologies and find their approach to transparency a bit too influenced by Bridgewater culture for comfort. But they are performing a very useful function for those like Trigg who choose to direct their philanthropy toward causes with quantifiable outcomes.

Speaking from my own experience, adopting all five of your Singer-Trigg premises is hardly necessary to think the endeavor worthwhile. You really only have to accept #2; the others just argue the degree of imperative governing the decision to give and in what amounts. I find it odd then that you question the second point, which is the one supported by a great deal of unbiased research.

As I understand it, known numbers of nets (given shrink, misuse, distribution errors, etc.) are needed to cover known populations of individuals at risk of contracting malaria (given climate, living conditions, etc.). The funds to purchase those nets are lacking (given existing NGO resources, local government efforts, domestic funds). AMF will raise money only insofar as it has nets to purchase that are in demand. To me that seems pretty cut and dried. Better to question motives and future returns to scale once that gap has been filled.

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