Proportional Giving

post by gjm · 2014-03-02T21:09:07.597Z · score: 6 (14 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 88 comments

Executive summary: The practice of giving a fixed fraction of one's income to charity is near-universal but possibly indefensible. I describe one approach that certainly doesn't defend it, speculate vaguely about a possible way of fixing it up, and invite better ideas from others.


Many of us give a certain fraction of our income to charitable causes. This sort of practice has a long history:

Deuteronomy 14:22 Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year.

(note that "tithe" here means "give one-tenth of") and is widely practised today:

GWWC Pledge: I recognise that I can use part of my income to do a significant amount of good in the developing world. Since I can live well enough on a smaller income, I pledge that from today until the day I retire, I shall give at least ten percent of what I earn to whichever organizations can most effectively use it to help people in developing countries. I make this pledge freely, openly, and without regret.

And of course it's roughly how typical taxation systems (which are kinda-sorta like charitable donation, if you squint) operate. But does it make sense? Is there some underlying principle from which a policy of giving away a certain fraction of one's income (not necessarily the traditional 10%, of course) follows?

The most obvious candidate for such a principle would be what we might call

Weighted Utilitarianism: Act so as to maximize a weighted sum of utility, where (e.g.) one's own utility may be weighted much higher than that of random far-away people.

But this can't produce anything remotely like a policy of proportional giving. Assuming you aren't giving away many millions per year (which is a fair assumption if you're thinking in terms of a fraction of your salary) then the level of utility-per-unit-money achievable by your giving is basically independent of what you give, and so is the weight you attach to the utility of the beneficiaries.

So suppose that when your income, after taking out donations, is $X, your utility (all else equal) is u(X), so that your utility per marginal dollar is u'(X); and suppose you attach weight 1 to your own utility and weight w to that of the people who'd benefit from your donations; and suppose their gain in utility per marginal dollar given is t. Then when your income is S you will set your giving g so that u'(S-g) = wt.

What this says is that a weighted-utilitarian should keep a fixed absolute amount S-g of his or her income, and give all the rest away. The fixed absolute amount will depend on the weight w (hence, on exactly which people are benefited by the donations) and on the utility per dollar given t (hence, on exactly what charities are serving them and how severe their need is), but not on the person's pre-donation income S.

(Here's a quick oversimplified example. Suppose that utility is proportional to log(income), that the people your donations will help have an income equivalent to $1k/year, that you care 100x more about your utility than about theirs, and that your donations are the equivalent of direct cash transfers to those people. Then u' = 1/income, so you should keep everything up to $100k/year and give the rest away. The generalization to other weighting factors and beneficiary incomes should be obvious.)

This argument seems reasonably watertight given its premises, but proportional giving is so well-established a phenomenon that we might reasonably trust our predisposition in its favour more than our arguments against. Can we salvage it somehow?

Here's one possibility. One effect of income is (supposedly) to incentivize work, and maybe (mumble near mode mumble) this effect is governed entirely by anticipated personal utility and not by any benefit conferred on others. Then the policy derived above, which above the threshold makes personal utility independent of effort, would lead to minimum effort and hence maybe less net weighted utility than could be attained with a different policy. Does this lead to anything like proportional giving, at least for some semi-plausible assumptions about the relationship between effort and income?

At the moment, I don't know. I have a page full of scribbled attempts to derive something of the kind, but they didn't work out. And of course there might be some better way to get proportional giving out of plausible ethical principles. Anyone want to do better?

88 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by benkuhn · 2014-03-02T23:55:44.682Z · score: 19 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Proportional giving was designed for people who didn't even necessarily want to be intrinsically motivated to give money (e.g. paying taxes or perhaps tithing to a church). If you want to raise money from such people, proportional donation aligns the incentives much better than threshold.

That said, there are a couple reasons why it's still useful for effective altruists:

  • The thing you mentioned about near mode.

  • As you get older, you gain more ability to buy utility at good prices: for instance, kids become increasingly expensive as they age.

  • It sets a norm that's easier for people to follow. For instance, fewer people would join Giving What We Can if the pledge were "give everything above $X" instead of "give 10% of your income".

  • It's more inclusive. Not everyone can give away everything above (e.g.) US$36k. A lot more people can give away 10% of income.

Nevertheless, many effective altruists (e.g. Toby Ord) do practice the fixed-income approach.

comment by Antisuji · 2014-03-04T04:39:51.194Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As you get older, you gain more ability to buy utility at good prices: for instance, kids become increasingly expensive as they age.

Perhaps because my economic intuition isn't that sharp, I'm having trouble connecting the dots on this statement. I'm not seeing how the example implies the assertion, and I'm having trouble coming up with another example. Can you expand on this?

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2014-03-04T23:27:20.218Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As kids grow older, they become more expensive because they increasingly demand more money.

The reason they demand more money is because money becomes more valuable to them as they age.

The reason money becomes more valuable to them as they age is because they can buy more utility per dollar.

(I don't know if this is true, I'm just explaining the argument).

Analogous to: People who like chocolate more eat more chocolate, people will spend more money when the store has a special sales deal, etc. Lower prices//higher benefits drive up demand.

comment by benkuhn · 2014-03-04T05:39:02.678Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Suppose that I weight my own utility such that I'm willing to buy utility at 10 utils per dollar. As gjm noted, this exchange rate should stay constant unless my utility weightings change. But suppose that there are a number of things that provide utility at this rate:

  • playing video games
  • drinking alcohol
  • renting fancy cars
  • owning a house
  • having children

These things become available increasingly late in life, so my consumption would increase even though I spent money rationally (well, rationally_{weighted utilitarianism}) throughout.

comment by ESRogs · 2014-03-04T20:48:03.587Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm still confused about how kids becoming more expensive is an example of becoming an increasingly good utility deal. Doesn't it sound like the opposite? Or do you assume that the utility from parenting goes up faster as the children age than the cost does?

comment by benkuhn · 2014-03-05T04:54:16.604Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't matter how the utility is distributed, just that it averages out to 10 utils per dollar (such that having the kid is a good buy overall), while the costs rise.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-04T21:04:51.413Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am fairly confused as well, but the parent post might mean opportunity costs.

If when you are young you can buy 10 utilons per dollar and when you are older you can get 20 utilons per dollar then spending the same amount of dollars on your kids represents a greater "loss" of utilons at the later age.

comment by gjm · 2014-03-03T10:23:11.474Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Toby Ord

Damn, I meant to mention him and then forgot. (Is it really many effective altruists? He's the only example I know of, but I haven't gone looking very hard.)

comment by peter_hurford · 2014-03-03T15:00:58.022Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's the basis for Giving What We Can's Further Pledge. I know of a few other people who have taken it, either implicitly or explicitly.

comment by gjm · 2014-03-03T15:17:16.943Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Gotcha. Thanks.

comment by benkuhn · 2014-03-04T05:20:46.241Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Will MacAskill does, and I think many other CEA employees. I think Jeff Kaufman and Julia Wise do an ad-hoc thing but similar in that they mostly don't treat the percentage donated as relevant--they set their personal allowance based on making their best effort without taking into account how much they're currently earning. (I'm not 100% sure this is accurate though.) I don't know the giving habits of many other EtGers but I wouldn't be surprised if they used a broadly similar method to Jeff and Julia.

comment by jkaufman · 2014-03-05T22:25:31.206Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Julia and I handle our donations differently:

  • Everything Julia earns is donated, after taxes.
  • I pick a percentage of my income at the beginning of the year to be donated.

Last year I went for 30%, this year I'm going for 33%.

EDIT: As of 2014-07-15 we're now using a simpler system: we both donate half of what we earn.

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2014-03-03T01:37:38.032Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

There's a difference between what the best course of action for you personally is, and the best recommendation to push towards society at large. The best recommendation to push for has different priorities: short message lengths are easier to communicate, putting different burdens on different people feels unfair and turns people off, and more onerous demands are less likely to be met.

"Give at least 10% of what you make" is low enough to get people on board, conveniently occupies a very nice Schelling point, short enough to communicate effectively, and high enough to get a lot out of the targets it hits. Furthermore, if you want to give more, you're still following the rule, so you can ask people to do the same without hypocrisy.

In short, it's a good social policy to push for and reward those who follow it. Personally, you should follow some kind of weighted utilitarianism, since if you get the utility function good enough then small errors in how you distribute your spending don't make much difference.

As an aside, an altruism-maximizer with a higher income may spend more money on themselves than one with a lower income - usually in the form of buying goods and services that make their income-generating ability better. Say, eating nourishing meals rather than the cheapest available one, so that their work performance goes up.

comment by scrafty · 2014-03-03T04:34:02.823Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

A compromise that I find appealing and might implement for myself is giving a fixed percentage over a fixed amount, with that fixed percentage being relatively high (well above ten percent). You could also have multiple "donation brackets" with an increased marginal donation rate as your income increases.

comment by gjm · 2014-03-03T10:02:35.060Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I like this approach too.

comment by peter_hurford · 2014-03-03T15:02:02.897Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is what Peter Singer proposes.

comment by gjm · 2019-10-30T12:45:43.481Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Singer's proposal in that article isn't _quite_ that, though it may be that he just didn't think it through carefully enough (or deliberately simplified in an article intended for general consumption). He proposes that the fraction you give of your _total_ income should be, if you're in the top [10%, 1%, 0.1%, 0.01%], [10%, 15%, 25%, 33%], producing discontinuities at the boundaries of those groups. I suspect that if pressed on that point he'd be happy to go with something smoother.

comment by Tedav · 2014-03-04T03:31:10.073Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I like this approach.

It makes sense, and it mostly dodges the problem that other "simple" formulae for charity have - namely that most simple systems tend to be essentially voluntary regressive taxation.

This is why the 10% rule has always bugged me - it is a culturally accepted voluntary regressive tax, and as such it exacerbates social inequality.

[Also, one of my friends likes to joke that our culture holds that you give 10% of your income to charity, but capital gains are exempt...]

I'm always on the lookout for things that seem innocuous or even beneficial that actually are ways of enforcing the social structure and preventing upwards mobility, like our strange insistence on prescriptive rules of language, and upon the necessity of "sounding intelligent".

Language are evolved social constructs, and "correct grammar" is determined by native speakers. However, we impose additional rules that stray from the natural form of the language, and develop a notion that certain ways of speaking/writing are proper, and that other ways are ignorant. To learn how to speak in a way that sounds intelligent requires additional investment of time and effort, and those that cannot afford to do so (can't afford to spend as much time reading, or comes from an area with worse schools) will grow up speaking a completely intelligible version of the language, but one that is generally recognized as sounding like a marker of ignorance, and thus limits possibilities for advancement.

Ok, I really got off topic there, but my point was that our cultural construct that people should give a fixed percentage of their income to charity might very well not be a force for good, but rather a force opposing good.

It is a regressive taxation system, but one that is culturally supported. Further, because so many people feel like everyone is already voluntarily consenting to give to charity (especially through religious organizations) that actual taxation is an unnecessary imposition.

If we didn't have a culturally accepted obligation for charity, we wouldn't give as much money to inefficient charities and religious institutions, and might be more willing to consent to a higher progressive tax.

comment by Dias · 2014-03-05T03:00:12.205Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If we didn't have a culturally accepted obligation for charity, we wouldn't give as much money to inefficient charities and religious institutions, and might be more willing to consent to a higher progressive tax.

And if people didn't naturally want to have sex, we might be more willing to consent to government-assigned reproduction!

comment by Tedav · 2014-03-05T20:35:32.716Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that is true as well.

My point was that since our cultural instinct is to give, but in practice this is done inefficiently, [charities are wasteful, people don't give to charities to optimize utility but rather to charities that they think they like, and a flat percentage is probably worse than a progressive tax], and therefore it would probably be better for society if we didn't expect charity from people - this seemingly beneficial cultural obligation can be argued to be harmful.

comment by gjm · 2014-03-04T09:28:48.488Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

voluntary regressive tax

How is it regressive? (I suppose if A has a policy of giving 10% of what you get after tax and B looks at A's giving as a fraction of income before tax then it'll look like a regressive policy. But you could equally say that if A gives 10% of income before tax, and B looks at giving as a fraction of income after tax, then proportional giving looks like a progressive policy.)

Many advocates of proportional giving would say that if you're poor then you shouldn't be feeling obliged to give at all, which would make the policy progressive overall.

but capital gains are exempt

I don't think it's fair to blame this on the idea of proportional giving.

If we didn't have a culturally accepted obligation for charity, we [...] might be more willing to consent to a higher progressive tax.

I suppose that's possible in theory. I gravely doubt it would actually happen in practice. (Perhaps if we were forbidden to give to charities privately, but that seems like an obviously really terrible idea.)

comment by TsviBT · 2014-03-02T21:27:34.355Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

One factor you didn't mention is that significantly harder working people might need to spend more income to maintain their productivity. E.g. traders working 80-hour weeks might spend more on food because they don't have time to cook, more on clothes because their job requires signaling, more on airplane tickets because they have short-notice time-sensitive tasks requiring travel, etc. But there's still no reason this should work out to anything like proportional giving, so your point stands.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-03T16:34:14.354Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you only add this effect while keeping the rest of the reasoning the same, the amount you should give is your discretionary income minus a constant, rather than your total income minus a constant.

comment by scrafty · 2014-03-03T04:30:32.648Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A compromise that I find appealing and might implement for myself is giving a fixed percentage over a fixed amount, with that fixed percentage being relatively high (well above ten percent). You could also have multiple "donation brackets" with an increased marginal donation rate as your income increases.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-04T08:17:41.706Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A pro of proportional giving is that it's dead simple to budget and keep in mind.

It can also get people to give a certain amount continually and keep them emotionally invested in charitable effort, while allowing them plenty of savings for contingencies and perhaps an eventual larger lump sum donation.

And even if it's not optimal, "indefensible" is a pretty strong claim.

comment by gjm · 2014-03-04T09:18:24.961Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"indefensible" is a pretty strong claim.

That would be why I put "possibly" in front of it.

For the avoidance of doubt, I agree that it's simple and works pretty well in practice. That's why I'm curious whether there's a good theoretical justification for something like it.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-04T16:56:43.069Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you won't find anything without a lot of assumptions and caveats; Any concave utility function will simply never lead to proportional giving.

But certainly, many people will scale up their own expectations of lifestyle along with their income until a pretty high point: that is, they'll try to tell you or at least behave as if they don't have a concave utility function, until they're well into the six figures (sometimes more). Since income changes are slow and tend to co-occur with many other life changes, this, along with psychological biases, complicate any earnest attempt to sit down and say "I'll be best off giving X portion of my income this year".

comment by lincolnquirk · 2014-03-02T23:57:18.580Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I try to apply the hybrid philosophy of: "work hard, make money, give what you can afford to give today, give yourself a near-mode incentive to make more money, and create savings for the future".

The savings one is a big one you didn't mention. I feel like my future self has a high chance to smack me if I commit too much money now. It seems like the places I would give today can benefit more now from my donation than in the future, but I may find better places to spend the money or give it away in the future. Hence the hybrid.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-03-02T23:13:40.613Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you're an egoist, giving a fixed portion of your income has a fixed cost (since the marginally utility of money is approximately inversely proportional to what you have) and gives you a fixed amount of prestige, or signalling or whatever. That sort of thinking is useful for maximizing inclusive genetic fitness, so it's no surprise that we think that way.

comment by gjm · 2014-03-03T01:16:07.461Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Does it give a fixed amount of prestige/signalling/whatever? Firstly, it only does so if you're telling the world about your giving (which, e.g., at least one of the ancient traditions featuring "tithing" strongly discourages); secondly, whether reasonably or not, I think you get more prestige from giving away 10% of what you have if you are either very poor (so that doing so really hurts) or very rich (so that it's an impressive-sounding sum that seems like it can do a lot of good).

However, the fact that a fixed fraction of income is kinda like a fixed sacrifice of utility does seem like it might be an important piece of the picture. Somehow.

comment by Nisan · 2014-03-05T15:22:35.701Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

An additional consideration is that a parliament of agents that cannot bind themselves to a contract would probably agree to split their resources in a way that reflects their political power. So if you model yourself as a parliament of agents, some egoist and some altruist, donating a fixed portion of your wealth and income can be "rational" in the sense that it is the result of your subagents behaving rationally in the context of politics. I think this is actually a reason people give a fixed portion of their income.

comment by jsalvatier · 2014-03-05T01:24:55.098Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This seems obviously correct to me. In my experience this is not obvious to everyone and many people find it a bit distasteful to talk about. I'm glad you bring it up.

I haven't really tried hard, but I think I would find it pretty difficult to get myself to behave this way.

The way I "resolve" this dissonance is by thinking in terms of a parliamentary model of me. Parts of me want to be altruistic and part of me is selfish and they sort of "vote" over the use of resources.

comment by drethelin · 2014-03-04T02:58:09.619Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

proportional giving is good because it's a kind of giving that you can get a lot of people to do. Not for weird math reasons. I agree with what you're saying given utilitarian calculations but I don't think you're doing the right calculation.

comment by gjm · 2014-03-04T09:20:55.515Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is Less Wrong. We tend to be all about the weird math reasons! Seriously, I was doing utilitarian calculations not because I think they're necessarily right but because they're an example of something that might have given something like the desired result, while also being a kinda-plausible way of weighing one's own interests against those of others.

comment by jsalvatier · 2014-03-06T19:58:53.023Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Can you expand on that? What do you think would be closer to the right calculation?

comment by drethelin · 2014-03-06T21:05:49.790Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think when proposing charitable giving strategies there are a few things that need to be considered that are usually forgotten. First, and something that a lot of people in this thread have said, is the probability of adoption and persistence of a given method. I think trying to get 10 percent of people to give 50 percent of their money is less likely to work than trying to get 50 percent to give 10 percent. a popular and relatively easy charitable giving strategy can give you a lot of friends who also do it, whereas a very costly and difficult one will make you poorer than everyone you know. In terms of social incentives, I think being unable to go to as many fun activities or have as good houses as people you know could easily counteract the bonus of "I give more to charity than anyone I know" since those facts are salient and come up a lot.

Second: I really like capitalism. I think capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful force that collates and acts on huge amounts of distributed information about what people want and can do, and is better at allocating resources than anything else we've tried so far. I don't think capitalism is perfect. Indeed, it's somewhat like fire. It lets us do things we never could without it but also can punish us in ways that nothing else can. One of the ways capitalism can act is to foster long-term technological growth, and historically, a lot of technological growth seems to be incentivized by the very wealthy. I don't know that there's a good way to measure this phenomenon, but there are examples such as automobiles, cellphones, televisions, computers, etc. which seem like, without attracting the money of the wealthy, they never would've become as useful or ubiquitous. And I think condemning people for spending their wealth on "themselves" can have chilling effects on this sort of slow, costly innovation.

Third, or kind of a subset of the second, is that encouraging huge donations instead of huge investments might be anti-utilitarian in the longterm, since fundamentally selfish profit seeking investment is how we develop a lot of our infrastructure and gather a lot of our resources. EDIT- as an elaboration: capitalism is better at skin in the game and feedback than charity, such that big capitalist efforts more reliably give many people what is wanted than big charity efforts. giving a 100 people food for a month might keep them alive but what does that buy us compared to a hundred people getting hammers? unknown.

I don't know and haven't really tried to figure out proper ratios, but I don't think "if you're wealthy, you should give everything above what you need to live to charity" is either going to be very widespread or necessarily good.

comment by gjm · 2014-03-06T23:41:55.350Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just in case I failed to make it clear, it is not my opinion that the calculation I described means that we should all give everything beyond what we need to charity, or that we should all give everything beyond some fixed threshold, or anything of that kind. I don't think weighted utilitarianism is necessarily a good system, nor do I think it's clear that (e.g.) motivational effects don't make a big enough difference to invalidate that naive calculation completely.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-03T16:42:23.390Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One effect of income is (supposedly) to incentivize work,

A way of modelling this is replacing u(x) with a u(X, L), where L is the number of non-work hours in a week, and replacing S with (168 - L)W, where 168 is the total number of hours in a week and W is your hourly wage. Then you maximize u((168 - L)W - g, L) + wtg with respect to L and g.

comment by jmb1968 · 2014-03-08T18:30:14.008Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Let's pull our heads out of the rabbit hole and understand that the monetary system is the most inefficient way to get anything done. "Charity" is a word used to elicit guilt so that the general populous will cover the gaps created by misappropriated funds collected by governments. If you desire to live in a community then take care of the members of that community, as they would take care of you. No money need change hands.

comment by Slackson · 2014-03-08T19:36:39.456Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Erm, the monetary system is generally a pretty efficient way to get anything done. Things like division of labour and comparative advantage are pretty handy when it comes to charity too.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-03-03T08:01:27.925Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Given that there are competing incentives (altruism vs. egoism and others) it is clear that some trade-off is needed. An optimum solution might be too complex to be understood and accepted as fair by everyone. Thus we have to look for simple approximations.

The simplest are

1 give nothing: g(x)=0

2 give a fixed amount: g(x)=c

3 give a fixed fraction: g(x)=fx

4 give everything above a treshold: g(x)=x>c?x-c:0

5 give a fixed fraction above a treshold: g(x)=x>c?f(x-c):0

6 give a by second order polynomial: g(x)=ax^2+bx+c

7 give a by second order polynomial with treshold: g(x)=x>c?ax^2+bx+d:0

Actually 4) is more complicated than

  • give/receive above a treshold: g(x)=x-c

which implies that I should take if I have less than the treshold.

What other simple functions are there and what do they imply?

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-03T08:09:00.458Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I view proportional giving as a mechanism for compensating economic parasitism (the right-side variety).

I view 2 types of social parasitism:

  • right side is accumulation of capital and use of such capital in very wasteful self-serving ways.
  • left side is getting by with society support without producing value for society.

A society that addresses both types of parasitism through some kind of mechanism is a society in which money can quickly become meaningless. If you have adequate shelter, food, clothing and free access to education, entertainment and transportation what would you use the money for?

I think there are arguments to be made for a tougher protection against right side parasitism, arguments like studies that demonstrate a reduce in empathy and compassion in the wealthy. Unfortunately, this is such a great transgression against the god of capitalism that all its disciples quickly react. I've had discussions with friends where I proposed Gartner's 4 million cap on income per year and I was met with resistance from people making 100 times less. They wanted the freedom to go beyond that.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-03-03T09:17:51.494Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you have adequate shelter, food, clothing and free access to education, entertainment and transportation what would you use the money for?

Developing fusion power. Defeating disease. Defeating death. Colonising space. AGI. And so on.

And when we get to solving these, in the way that shelter etc. are already solved problems for the more prosperous parts of the world today, I expect there will be other things to occupy us, even if we don't know what they will be.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-03T09:42:30.787Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Developing fusion power. Defeating disease. Defeating death. Colonising space. AGI. And so on.

Oh... I meant what would a single individual spend the money on, what would be the incentive to get more money for oneself. In the society I was mentioning... the rest of the resources would have been redirected in activities related to the furthering of the human evolution.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-03-03T10:07:25.898Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In the society I was mentioning... the rest of the resources would have been redirected in activities related to the furthering of the human evolution.

Redirected? How, and by whom? This sounds like a society in which everything that someone has beyond the satisfaction of their basic needs, from shelter to transportation, is expropriated by the state. From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.

What happens in this society, if I want a bigger house than the state thinks I need?

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-03T13:08:04.854Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How? by rational discourse, I guess. By whom? I guess some sort of representative body.

What happens in this society, if I want a bigger house than the state thinks I need?

I don't know but I imagine that some kind of balanced utility function could be produced that could provide different resource allocation. e.g. bigger shelter (if requested).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-03T23:53:26.837Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

MIRI exists because Peter Thiel is a billionaire and has free money to spend on courses he finds worthwhile. No representative body funds the kind of work MIRI is doing.

The private money that goes into space exploration and mining asteroids seems to be much smarter than NASA money.

Plurality is an important concept. Decentralizing resources is useful.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-04T07:12:18.767Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with you. This is the world as we know it.

We are, however, exploring here. What would be the point of an exploration if we remain stuck in the old paradigms. Just because most of this world is a masked oligarchy where people with money control public policy does not mean that a more just and rational political representation can ever exist.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-04T09:47:18.156Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We are, however, exploring here.

As far as exploring goes, good exploring is about describing how alternatives could work.

I agree with you. [...] What would be the point of an exploration if we remain stuck in the old paradigms.

No, I don't think you understand me. I'm not the person to advocate staying in old paradigms. It's just that being a heretic is hard work.

The argument that you are making isn't a new paradigm it's not much different from what Marx said 150 years ago. It's old. A new argument about that we have measurement about rich people having less empathy but otherwise it's all old and boring.

As far as what I wrote lately about my political philosophy the posts I wrote in http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/jmt/some_tools_for_optimizing_our_media_use/ might be interesting for you.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-04T10:17:48.883Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's just that being a heretic is hard work.

I agree. I'm only at the beginning. One of the reasons I started to lurk around here is a need for clarity in my own thinking. I often am vague and expose half baked ideas. I hope that this will change in time.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-04T13:30:30.366Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree. I'm only at the beginning. One of the reasons I started to lurk around here is a need for clarity in my own thinking.

You need more than clarity in your own thinking. You also need to understand the positions of others.

I know how a German political party works from the inside. I have to extrapolate from that if I'm talking about US politics but I don't just say that something is bad because I don't understand what it's good for.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-03-03T14:00:33.393Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I guess...I guess...some sort...I don't know...I imagine...some kind...could be...could provide

In fewer words: you have no idea.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-03T14:20:27.059Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In fewer words, I don't have a blueprint, nor a crystal ball. ;)

If you require either in order to have a conversation about the future... oh well... sorry to disappoint. ;)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-03-03T14:32:29.820Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I do expect rather more justification of a proposal that the state shall direct all resources beyond the basic needs (as defined by that state) of individuals than merely "somehow". Especially given the record of the totalitarian states of the last century.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-03T15:58:36.482Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well... I did mentioned the fact that increase in wealth correlates with decrease compassion. There is also the flat-lining of experiential happiness above a certain income as described by Kahneman.

But maybe I'm misunderstanding what you are expecting. Could you give more information about what kind of information would you like to receive?

Also, I lived my entire childhood in such a totalitarian state. I am aware of how bad state involvement in these matters can be.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-03-03T20:50:21.138Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Also, I lived my entire childhood in such a totalitarian state. I am aware of how bad state involvement in these matters can be.

Which makes it all the stranger that you propose, without seeming to have given it any thought, a totalitarian state that will somehow just work. Can you imagine no other way the world could work than as a totalitarian state somewhere on a spectrum of bad to good?

Which one, by the way?

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-03T21:26:40.034Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't proposed a totalitarian state. This is something that you inferred from what I've wrote.

I was talking about a society with certain characteristics.

I was thinking more about a StarTrek kind of thing than an old soviet republic.

One practical, slow way in which I see this happening is by shifting the focus on cooperation in education and slowly limiting the massive accumulation of wealth together with strong regulations regarding ecological impact and labour compensation.

One very fine idea I found was in a Howard Gardner interview for BigThink (scroll down to " What is the US getting wrong?" )

Another interesting approach was an initiative called 1:12 proposed in Switzerland. Unfortunately, that initiative got hit massively with FUD from the competition which was able to outspend it in terms of advertising 40:1.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-03-04T12:13:26.814Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't proposed a totalitarian state.

You are talking about a state that takes everything from everyone beyond what they "need". When I asked how my desire for a bigger house than I "need" would be met, this was the exchange:

What happens in this society, if I want a bigger house than the state thinks I need?

I don't know but I imagine that some kind of balanced utility function could be produced that could provide different resource allocation. e.g. bigger shelter (if requested).

"Totalitarian" is exactly the right word for this. This is a vision of the state giving and the state taking away, where all belongs to the state and personal property is to be justified by a plea of need.

One very fine idea I found was in a Howard Gardner interview for BigThink (scroll down to " What is the US getting wrong?" )

I don't agree with caps on individual wealth, and were I Swiss, I'd have voted against 1:12 even without seeing any of the so-called FUD. (You don't think it possible that any of the opposition was from people who simply judged it to be a bad idea for the society?) But something Gardner says later on I find worth quoting:

I think one of the good features about the United States—since I've been bashing it—is that it's built into our DNA to take a chance, and if we fail, to try again. ... I said [to East Asians asking for a recipe for creativity] you've got to try something out, try to get some other people to support you, and if it doesn't work, what can you learn from it?

Compare this succinct statement of why capitalism works so well, from a recent comment here:

The only reason capitalism works is that the losing experiments run out of money.

That brake on failure is really important. When someone decides to Do Something and commits their resources to it, if it doesn't work out, they have to stop. A government's ability to carry on regardless is in comparison almost unlimited. The government of the day have their jobs at risk, but nothing more.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-03-04T19:55:00.546Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Totalitarian" is exactly the right word for this. This is a vision of the state giving and the state taking away, where all belongs to the state and personal property is to be justified by a plea of need.

There might be some terminological confusion here. To expand on what you've written, totalitarianism doesn't necessarily describe repressive or ultra-nationalist governments, though historically totalitarian governments have often been highly nationalist and have almost always been repressive. Instead, it describes governments which claim total identity of state with society; or, to put it another way, where citizens' behavior is accepted as legitimate by the government to the extent that it's directed toward state goals and ideology.

I can think of some (more or less stable or scalable) societies which don't include notions of private property as generally accepted in the modern First World, but which are not totalitarian. But if some state-defined utility function is governing resource allocations, that's pretty hard to square with any other alternative.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-04T20:11:07.666Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I can think of some (more or less stable or scalable) societies which don't include notions of private property as generally accepted in the modern First World, but which are not totalitarian.

What do you have in mind besides kibbutzim?

A highly relevant issue here is the freedom to exit. Many small communities (e.g. religious cults) can be quite totalitarian but as long as there is freedom to exit we don't consider them horribly repressive. On the other hand I can't imagine how a totalitarian society without the freedom to exit can be anything but repressive.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-03-04T20:20:09.237Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What do you have in mind besides kibbutzim?

Most of the best examples are historical, although kibbutzim and certain other religious or social communities do seem to qualify. Feudal systems of property rights for example often held all property to ultimately belong to the monarch, but didn't allow for enough centralized control to qualify as totalitarian.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-04T16:43:55.339Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You are talking about a state that takes everything from everyone beyond what they "need".

I never said anything about the state taking.

"Totalitarian" is exactly the right word for this. This is a vision of the state giving and the state taking away, where all belongs to the state and personal property is to be justified by a plea of need.

Again... you are projecting your vision of what I said but you did brought up an interesting idea... the idea of personal property. I don't think land should be owned by people. If people don't own the land, then it follows that houses should not be owned by people.

Do you see any way in which this could be implemented without totalitarianism?

I don't agree with caps on individual wealth, and were I Swiss, I'd have voted against 1:12 even without seeing any of the so-called FUD.

Why not?

The only reason capitalism works is that the losing experiments run out of money.

That brake on failure is really important. When someone decides to Do Something and commits their resources to it, if it doesn't work out, they have to stop. A government's ability to carry on regardless is in comparison almost unlimited.

Is the defence budget of USA for the past 60 years an experiment that ran out of money?

We were talking about a new society, one that runs on rationality. Experiments in this kind of society could have very clear parameters for a brake.

I look at capitalist societies and what I see is oligarchies masquerading as capitalism. The game is rigged and people are too afraid to even dream of changing it because, in most cases... this is the only game they know OR... the other games are just as bad.

Is really capitalism the best way to handle education? Healthcare? Public transportation infrastructure? Defence?

To me, the stories with happy people "finishing paying their college loans" are horror stories. Stories with people getting charged thousands of dollars for simple medical procedures are insane. People maximising PROFITS out of selling weapons and military technology/services... is not the mark of a sane and healthy society.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-04T18:34:45.858Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We were talking about a new society, one that runs on rationality.

And who will this society consist of? Humans are not rational and do not show signs of becoming considerably more rational in the near future.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-03-04T18:17:45.930Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If people don't own the land, then it follows that houses should not be owned by people.

This seems to make some questionable assumptions about the relationship of immovable property to land. I've heard of traditional systems of tenure where people don't own land per se, but have claim to it insofar as they modify it or build structures upon it: you couldn't own a square mile of wilderness, for example, but you could own a house or a cultivated field.

This tends to work better in a society that runs on small-scale agriculture, where a single mode of cultivation is about all land ever gets used for, and where the amount of land you can cultivate is limited by the livestock and tools you own and the number of workers you have access to (either hired or part of your family). It'd be difficult to extend to modern land use. But it is an internally consistent way of thinking about tenure.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-04T18:32:00.536Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This seems to make some questionable assumptions about the relationship of immovable property to land.

Actually, the issue is with the word "own", or, rather, with the concept of property.

Property isn't a binary yes/no thing. The usual way of describing property is as a "bundle of rights". In different times and places that bundle may and does contain different numbers of different rights.

For example, a basic property right is the right to exclude. You can (usually) prevent other people from using your property without your consent. Another property right is the right to destroy. Etc. etc.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-03-04T18:35:41.355Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's another issue, yes -- and models of land ownership and tenure have historically been pretty varied in terms of the rights they confer. (For a simple example, consider the concept of right of way.) But you don't need to start breaking property rights down here to get the cracks to show.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-03-04T17:40:37.620Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think land should be owned by people.

By whom should it be owned, then? Or to unpack the concept of ownership, who gets to farm, or mine, or build on a given piece of land, and how will it be decided? Is the answer going to again be "somehow"? You say I'm reading my vision into your words, but that's because I'm not seeing any vision in them.

We were talking about a new society, one that runs on rationality.

I am not seeing the rationality content here.

I'm leaving the rest unresponded to, because we're both of us well into politics-as-mindkiller territory here, and I don't think prolonging the discussion is going to be useful in this venue.

ETA: But it would be polite for me to respond to your direct question, why I don't agree with caps on individual wealth. Because every honestly earned dollar in someone's hands means that they created more than a dollar's worth of value in someone else's. That is what it is, to earn money. When people pay you for what you do, your financial worth is a measure of the value you have created for them. Why cap that?

Of course, there are dishonest people, but to take away everyone's supposed excess money as a remedy is to fine everyone for the deeds of a few. And there are the practical issues of people evading such regulations by emigrating or restructuring their affairs so as not to legally "own" the wealth that they actually have control over. The dishonest are at an advantage here.

I have heard (unsourced anecdote) that when you ask people what is the largest income anyone really needs, they generally name a figure about 10 times their own. Whatever their own income is.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-05T07:07:14.803Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

we're both of us well into politics-as-mindkiller territory here, and I don't think prolonging the discussion is going to be useful in this venue.

I agree. I also discovered that my comments are down voted into oblivion.

I have to assume that my contributions to this forum are not yet of high enough quality.

Anyways... I'm grateful for your comments. They have been uncomfortable and made me think.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-05T16:49:51.296Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I also discovered that my comments are down voted into oblivion. ... I have to assume that my contributions to this forum are not yet of high enough quality.

This forum is better than most but has not achieved enlightenment (yet :-D). Some up- or down-voting happens on the basis of the quality of comments, but a lot just signals the agreement or disagreement with the views of the poster.

You basically proposed communism which magically lacked all the icky bits. That will get you a bunch of downvotes :-)

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-05T17:51:43.829Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Some up- or down-voting happens on the basis of the quality of comments, but a lot just signals the agreement or disagreement with the views of the poster.

Oh well... I'm totally ok on being downvoted on accounts of low quality of my comments however, I wasn't really expecting people here to downvote comments just because they don't agree with them. I have adjusted that belief now and will act with a little bit more caution.

You basically proposed communism which magically lacked all the icky bits. That will get you a bunch of downvotes :-)

I guess I did that :) but it was a good lesson. It pointed to the fact that I should refrain from speaking without having at least a reasonable model about what I am speaking about. :)

comment by taelor · 2014-03-04T19:11:17.132Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To me, the stories with happy people "finishing paying their college loans" are horror stories. Stories with people getting charged thousands of dollars for simple medical procedures are insane. People maximising PROFITS out of selling weapons and military technology/services... is not the mark of a sane and healthy society.

Of note: most universities are either run by the government, or by non-profit organizations. Ditto for most hospitals.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-03T23:53:14.644Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't proposed a totalitarian state. This is something that you inferred from what I've wrote.

Marx didn't propose a totalitarian state either. His ideas still lead to a totalitarian state. Ideas have consequences. If you don't know how the alternative will work to the status quo you want to destroy, than it makes sense to assume a bad outcome.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-04T07:19:01.332Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Marx's ideas were perverted by Lenin and the totalitarian mess we saw last century derived from that.

Also, I'm not advocating the destruction of the status quo but its transformation, its transcendence. I'm non-violent and I don't believe in forced societies. My hope is that we will outgrow the old ways.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-04T09:38:06.041Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Marx's ideas were perverted by Lenin and the totalitarian mess we saw last century derived from that.

That doesn't change that Marx carries some responsibility for what happened.

Terry Pratchett wrote somewhere that one person writes an innocent book about political philosophy and then the people who read the book don't get the jokes and other people have to pay for it in blood.

People payed in blood for the revolution in Egypt and now the freedom of speech in Egypt is less than it was before the revolution.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-04T10:12:43.741Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't change that Marx carries some responsibility for what happened.

This is like accusing a blacksmith for a murder someone did with a knife he created.

Responsibility lies with the ones who act in a destructive way or the ones who coerce others to act destructively.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-04T18:05:18.162Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

or the ones who coerce others to act destructively.

Marx wasn't at all reticent about the necessity of dictatorship and terror.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-04T13:02:20.492Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Responsibility lies with the ones who act in a destructive way or the ones who coerce others to act destructively.

If that's the reigning philosophy I don't think humanity survives the next 200 years.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-04T15:58:15.435Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If that's the reigning philosophy I don't think humanity survives the next 200 years.

What do you think would happen?

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-04T23:27:24.543Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Basically technology provides too much power to do things. If people don't act responsibility with the increased amount of power that humans accidents will happen.

It might be an UFAI that destroys human civilization or it might be another thread which we understand even less. The important point is that the cost of mistakes and not acting fully responsible rise.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-03T23:40:11.499Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh... I meant what would a single individual spend the money on, what would be the incentive to get more money for oneself.

If you would give me a million I would spend a significant part of that money on the project of defeating death. I would however spend that money in a very different way than the NIH.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-04T10:05:06.539Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe NIH is not spending the money effectively. Maybe a rational discourse could make your way one of the official ways.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-04T12:59:23.310Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There were times when I was meditating 4 hours per day. I think about the human body very differently than the average academic. That doesn't mean that academics don't do anything useful but they won't spend money on certain projects because they lack certain experiences. Teaching new phonological primitives takes years.

I'm wise enough to know that giving people like myself the power to allocate all money isn't the solution either. There are many things I don't understand.

I believe that monocultures are generally bad. It's important to have various institutions with different philosophies, world views and interests.

Just having more rational discourse about how to allocate NIH money is not enough. Centralized power is bad in principle.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-04T16:06:10.189Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm wise enough to know that giving people like myself the power to allocate all money isn't the solution either. There are many things I don't understand.

It doesn't have to be black and white.... all to NIH OR all to projects like yours.

To me... investing money in exploration, in research is a defensible position and research... by its very nature is unknown territory. As long as you can make a rational argument for why you think the allocation of resources is warranted, you should have a chance of getting some. ;)

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-03T23:38:40.281Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A society that addresses both types of parasitism through some kind of mechanism is a society in which money can quickly become meaningless. If you have adequate shelter, food, clothing and free access to education, entertainment and transportation what would you use the money for?

What does free access to education mean? Having a personal tutor is often a very effective way of learning. On the other hand it requires another person to invest time and that person frequently wants to be payed.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-04T10:03:33.620Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are models of education where you become a partner once you understand the concepts. Something like Peer Instruction. You could have as a tutor a person from the same generation, a person who just happens to understand the concepts that you are trying to learn better. I did this for my friends with programming back in college.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-04T13:24:09.420Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are models of education where you become a partner once you understand the concepts.

So? You want to reduce the diversity of model of learning. I think diversity is good.

Last week I attended the Berlin Bachata Congress. Bachata is a dance. Organizing such a context means flying world class teachers from all over the world to Berlin and paying for a location in which to held the event. That costs money.

You just wouldn't get a comparable event by getting a bunch of people from Berlin who dance Bachata together and try to let them teach each other.

The event exist because on of the Bachata dancers in Berlin wanted to raise the level of Bachata in Berlin and organized it. He saw a need in the local community and filled it. Total budget of the event is probably something like 50000€. In total he made a profit but that's not why he organized the event.

It would be a lot more complicated if you would have to convince some centralized authority via a rational discourse that we should have a Berlin Bachata Congress.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-04T15:55:48.571Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So? You want to reduce the diversity of model of learning.

I have no idea how you derived this conclusion from what I've said.

Last week I attended the Berlin Bachata Congress. Bachata is a dance. Organizing such a context means flying world class teachers from all over the world to Berlin and paying for a location in which to held the event.

I can resonate with an example like this because I learn tango right now and yes... there are masters that could help one improve the technique BUT... I don't see how this constitutes a valid example since is mixing current model with what I was exploring. If plane tickets cost thousand of euros, if space renting is highly expensive... and if everyone involved has a high enough imperative to get a lot of money... you will get something like this expensive bachata festival. If transportation, food and lodging would be free.... masters could come only to build status. An you will not need any permission from a centralized authority. Local events authority involved might be involved for scheduling some event locations...

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-04T23:58:41.732Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If transportation, food and lodging would be free..

Sorry, I misunderstood what you meant with completely free transportation. Given global warming I'm not sure that we want to have completely free transportation. We probably do want some system that doesn't double the amount of plane travel by allowing anybody to jet around all the time.

Local events authority involved might be involved for scheduling some event locations...

That still gives the local event authority power. Markets are good ways to decide whether a given location will be used to hold event A or event B.

Not all problems are well solved via markets, but trying to solve every problem through discussion and no problem via markets is a bad idea.