When you are your own favorite charity

post by PhilGoetz · 2011-01-04T03:11:33.413Z · score: 3 (8 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 23 comments

If you think that SIAI is the best charity, and you work for SIAI, should you give any money to charity?

23 comments

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comment by Alicorn · 2011-01-04T13:50:01.924Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

While I was visiting SIAI, I donated a small amount to it (I convinced a friend to donate during the matching challenge but she didn't have the cash on hand then so I covered for her on the (foolish) expectation of being paid back), and was scolded for this and told not to do it again. Apparently the IRS doesn't like it when people who receive room and board from a non-profit organization turn around and give that organization money. I'm not sure if this applies to people who aren't living in an SIAI home and receiving their food and shelter directly from SIAI, though.

(However, there are indirect ways for fed-and-sheltered employees/volunteers to donate - at any time, for instance, I could probably have gotten away with neglecting to submit one of my receipts for reimbursable grocery expenses when I paid for a food run.)

comment by wedrifid · 2011-01-04T23:47:48.584Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Apparently the IRS doesn't like it when people who receive room and board from a non-profit organization turn around and give that organization money.

Are there exceptions for religious reasons? Adhering to that obligation would seem to be a violation of certain decrees from on high!

However, there are indirect ways for fed-and-sheltered employees/volunteers to donate - at any time, for instance, I could probably have gotten away with neglecting to submit one of my receipts for reimbursable grocery expenses when I paid for a food run.

That is new. Someone finding sneaky ways to not get extra benefits from their job.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-01-04T23:52:07.950Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

That is new. Someone finding sneaky ways to not get extra benefits from their job.

This sort of thing is rampant at the non-profits I know of.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-01-04T16:03:44.489Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I thought this post would be the much more interesting topic of how to rationally determine how much to give to SENS and SIAI respectively given that you want a positive singularity and want to live to see it.

comment by Larks · 2011-01-04T20:22:24.798Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I know one dude who left his career (programmer?) in order to study biology; he now works on anti-aging stuff in the relevant Oxford department. His motivation is only party to speed the research; it's also to ensure he has access to it if it's prohibitively expensive.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-01-04T09:20:15.305Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you think that SIAI is the best charity, and you work for SIAI, should you give any money to charity?

The fact that you work for the SIAI does not change the payoffs much at all. If it would have been worthwhile donating to the SIAI if you did equivalent amount of work for Hewlett Packard and it was beneficial to donate to the SIAI then the same will still apply if you happen to work for the SIAI. (Crudely speaking at least.)

Incidentally, to the extent that your income from the SIAI is equal to what you could be getting for the same effort elsewhere actually working for the SIAI is not altruistic at all.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-01-04T20:14:34.106Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But then you should instead donate to them by taking a pay cut, so they don't have to pay taxes on the money they give you that you give back to them.

But you've already taken a pay cut by working at SIAI! By this logic, and induction, anyone who works for the SIAI, should work full-time, for free.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-01-04T20:33:18.032Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

By this logic, and induction, anyone who works for the SIAI, should work full-time, for free.

And if not logic then at least random free-association. In a similar vein anyone who donates to a charity should take vows of poverty!

comment by knb · 2011-01-05T06:38:08.039Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why does SIAI pay taxes!? Shouldn't they be registered as a 501(c)3? They would qualify under the "testing for public safety" category, I think.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2011-01-05T06:42:25.742Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

SIAI is a 501(c)(3), but income tax doesn't work any differently for employees of nonprofits (AFAIK).

comment by Larks · 2011-01-04T20:24:34.171Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think there may be some 'not looking like a cult' advantages to (at least on paper) paying researchers proper wages.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2011-01-04T23:40:51.536Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Plus what Phil said. Plus, even if you can get all the volunteer researchers you want, you want them to be mentally healthy, not buy into ultra-demanding self-sacrificial ideals, have something to trade to their near-mode preferences, etc.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-01-04T20:30:59.366Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There are lots of advantages to paying researchers proper wages, chief among them, getting proper researchers.

My conclusion is that the idea that everyone should give to charity is wrong.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2011-01-04T23:32:06.128Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My conclusion is that the idea that everyone should give to charity is wrong.

How many people here actually think that, with no regard to income? (Edit: i.e., think that everyone, no matter how low their income, should give to charity?)

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-01-05T05:00:51.370Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Probably no one. What I mean to say is something more like: If someone works in cancer research, and cancer is a valid charity, then asking them to donate to charity is equivalent to asking them to take a pay cut.

The number of articles on LW about how to give to charity suggests that people think giving to charity is the default state, and/or that not giving to charity should give you a karma hit. Whereas I think something more like: If you're giving money to charity, it's an indication that you have chosen for your profession work that is not directly helpful to others, and are making up for that with the money you earn at your hopefully more-profitable profession.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-04T23:52:33.641Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure what you mean by "with no regard to income" in this context. However, I do think, as I noted, the model of a thing called "the charity sector" over here, a bloblike mass of "donors" here and a not very differentiated flow of money from one to the other is rather too susceptible to lost purposes. Charities are organisations set up for people to achieve ends, not an end in themselves. I realise fungible money makes things way more efficient even as it homogenises them away from this ideal, of course.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-01-04T14:33:42.623Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

IAWYC, except there's one bit I'm not sure about.

Incidentally, to the extent that your income from the SIAI is equal to what you could be getting for the same effort elsewhere actually working for the SIAI is not altruistic at all.

If he is able to do useful work for SIAI that not many others can do, it would be better for him to work there and donate than to work elsewhere and donate the same amount. Yes?

comment by ata · 2011-01-04T20:34:58.384Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If SIAI considers your time and your productivity to be directly useful enough that they're willing to buy them from you, and happiness is useful for maintaining your productivity (as it generally is), then some purchase of fuzzies may be necessary and proper, if you don't know any more efficient ways of converting money into the right amount of altruism-promoting and productivity-promoting good feelings. But if you have some extra money that you want to give to the charity that will actually put it to the best use, and you think SIAI is the best charity, then of course you should give it to SIAI, whether or not you work for it. (If you do work for it, presumably the best way would be to ask for a pay cut.)

(I can't quite evaluate this from my own perspective, because either fuzzies don't do much for me, or utilons do at least as much as fuzzies, or I don't know what really maximizes fuzzies for me; e.g. the thought of giving $1000 to SIAI makes me happier than the thought of giving $1000 to VillageReach.)

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-04T12:28:55.990Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I volunteer with Wikimedia, have done for years and have not given a penny. Because I pay in large chunks of my soul. (And get back large chunks of soul, so it's all good.) This makes it harder for me to say "give money to Wikimedia" ... but not so much harder I won't say "give money to Wikimedia." p.s.: please give some money to Wikimedia.

Generalising, a lot of people who work for charities do so at a considerable salary hit to working elsewhere because they feel that's a worthwhile contribution to the cause in question. Warm fuzzies help, because it's nice to feel like your job's worthwhile rather than doing something you don't actually enjoy at all for more money. This is not a rational actor thing, but a how humans work thing, and of course they're pretty clearly distinct in this case.

A charity is only a tool to get something done. That there is a thing called "the charity sector" over here and a blob of potential donors over here and a not very differentiated flow of money from one to the other strikes me as a bit of an anti-pattern. It may be just me, but I think in terms of there being a group of people in a conspiracy to achieve a given end here and setting up as a charity may be a useful way to the given end. (SIAI certainly fits this description. Wikimedia started as such a thing and we're still trying to get our heads around having become more than famous.) Or just a non-profit corporation. Or a for-profit corporation. Or a trade association. Or a political party. Or no corporate body at all, just a bunch of people.

comment by endoself · 2011-01-04T03:29:14.459Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but only to the SIAI, due to the standard optimal philanthropy argument.

Oh wait, is there income tax if you work for a charity? In that case, rather than donating, just ask for salary reductions. Use http://lesswrong.com/lw/3kl/optimizing_fuzzies_and_utilons_the_altruism_chip/ to make it still feel like donating, if you find that useful. The only exception is if there is some kind of donation matching that you don't think will reach its limit unless you take your full salary and donate some of it back (or one without a limit - do they do that?). This might cause a conflict of interest though, especially with an unlimited donation matching drive, as SIAI could just give you a $1 million salary and have you donate it all back with donation matching. I can't see any situation in which this won't cause enough bad press to outweigh the monetary benefit, though.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-01-04T20:16:10.264Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I asked the question because you are already taking a salary reduction by working for SIAI.

I believe that you shouldn't give to charity if you are working for a charity-like cause - at least, not for altruistic purposes. (Many Christian ministers say that one purpose of giving to charity is to help the giver become a better person.)

comment by endoself · 2011-01-04T20:52:14.768Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I think it could depend on specifics of the situation but, ceteris paribus, I agree. Whatever factors cause giving to charity to make you a better person could probably be achieved another way, especially by someone working for a charity.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-01-05T01:02:52.924Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are better charities if you're trying to get warm fuzzies or not risk being Pascal-duped. Some SIAI-related folk (e.g. Louie) loan via Kiva. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure the answer is no.