Donate vs. Invest

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DanielLC
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Donate vs. Invest

Postby DanielLC » Fri Nov 13, 2009 5:47 am

We can donate money now, invest it to donate later, or donate it now to something that will pay off later e.g. climate change stuff.

We have discussed the doomsday argument in an earlier thread. I showed it to be at least slightly optimistic. I will assume the probability of the population reaching a certain amount is inversely proportional to the square of the amount. It should be sufficiently pessimistic.

Given that, assuming there's a total of 50 billion people, that means that there's a one-in-four chance of there being another 50 billion people, one-in-nine of being another 100 billion, and so on. If the population stabilizes at 10 billion, with a life expectancy of 80 years, that's increments of 400 years. There would be a 1% chance of humanity surviving another 3600 years. Assuming the interest rate stabilizes at 1% above the general economic growth, that would increase your donation by a factor of a little over a quadrillion.

We also have to factor in that the same charities won't be around, of course. For example, microcredit is self-perpetuating. After a certain amount of time, they will have enough donations, and anything more people do for them will be useless. Even so, it seems unlikely that there won't be a charity where all the money in the world won't make a bigger difference than what you can make now.

It looks to me like the best option is to invest until the market saturates (i.e. you have so much money you're loaning out that you can't get anything beyond a 1% return on investment per year), and then donate. It will do far more than 100 times as much good, canceling out the 1% chance of success. And that's ignoring the amount of good that whole investment saturation will do.
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DanielLC
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby DanielLC » Fri Nov 27, 2009 2:14 am

Come to think of it, there's no natural disaster remotely capable of wiping out humanity in that time period. If humanity does die, it will most likely be the result of technological progress. This idea would hasten technological progress, so it probably wouldn't be such a good idea.
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Arepo
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby Arepo » Fri Nov 27, 2009 5:13 pm

I don't want you to think I'm ignoring this thread Daniel, but my view on the DA haven't changed.
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"You ought to have put on an old pair, if you wished to go a-diving," said Professor Graham, who had not studied moral philosophy in vain.

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RyanCarey
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby RyanCarey » Sat Nov 28, 2009 5:26 am

Well DanielLC seems to have made a good point. For any donation intended only to benefit our childrens' children, we have to ask ourselves whether we would be better served just investing our money in order to pass it on.
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DanielLC
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby DanielLC » Sat Nov 28, 2009 6:22 am

People who are around now don't matter any more than people who will be later. This shouldn't just be compared against long-term charities.

My main point is that it makes more sense to invest money and donate it when there's no more money to be made on investment than to donate it now, even with large amounts of pessimism on both the interest rate and the probability of people making it that long.

But as I said, investment could cause the world to end earlier, which is something else altogether.
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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby Brian Tomasik » Sat Jan 02, 2010 8:12 am

The original Felicifia had a post with the same name in which Gaverick pointed out the huge rates of return from fundraising and spreading memetic influence, which are often far greater than rates of return in the capital markets. These may not apply for economic-development charities (where development can be achieved either by donating now or by investing directly), but they certainly apply for, say, Vegan Outreach -- charities whose influence snowballs over time due to increasing numbers of supporters.

At the same time, there's a strong argument to be made for donating later due to the potentially vast growth in your wisdom over time, to which Gaverick refers in the original "Donate vs. Invest" post. Certain types of fundraising may indeed have a 400% return, but changes in wisdom can have returns of a million percent, a billion percent, or more, if the cause to which you donate changes from one that prevents a life-year of suffering at a cost of $1,000 each to one that prevents it at a cost of $0.000 001 each.

In summary, I think the three most significant factors to consider are
  1. a charity's internal rates of return (potentially, say, 3% or 30% or maybe higher per year, depending on how the money is spent and what kind of charity it is)
  2. your own personal changes in wisdom
  3. your risks of becoming selfish or disillusioned with altruism over time.

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Arepo
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby Arepo » Sun Nov 13, 2011 11:36 am

Can someone remind me where (if?) the original Felicifia is archived now? I'd quite like to get at Gaverick's post.
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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby Brian Tomasik » Fri Nov 18, 2011 8:00 am

Arepo wrote:Can someone remind me where (if?) the original Felicifia is archived now? I'd quite like to get at Gaverick's post.

Last I knew, Seth Baum had the archives on his computer. We'd love to upload them somewhere, but no one has gotten around to it, AFAIK.

Some of those discussions were pretty solid -- we had regular contributions from Seth, Carl, and Gaverick back then -- so it would be great to have them resurrected.

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby Brian Tomasik » Sun Mar 04, 2012 2:35 pm

Holden discusses "Give Now or Give Later?" in a blog post.

He cites what I think is one of the most important factors: "In general, I would guess that the conceptual 'interest rate on empowering people' is higher than the interest rate you earn when you save." In the case of donating to veg outreach, this return takes the form of creating more vegetarians, encouraging more people to spread the info, and (importantly) producing more supporters for the cause who can donate their own money to it. :mrgreen:

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby Brian Tomasik » Tue Aug 14, 2012 5:34 am

Rob Wiblin has a blog post, "Invest now, give later?," which reiterates much of what we've discussed. In the comments, I said:
I think you hit all the relevant points, Rob. Supporting the “donate now” option are (1) often very high rates of return for the charities — whether through fundraising or other feedback loops that grow the movement and (2) risks of disaster (economic collapse, selfishness, etc.). Supporting “donate later” are (1) (probably smaller) rates of return on investment in capital markets and (2) (possibly enormous) “returns on wisdom.”

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peterhurford
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby peterhurford » Tue Aug 14, 2012 5:45 am

I never understood why donation vs. investment was an actual issue. To me, it seems clear that one should donate now. Even if it somehow wasn't the case that the donation wasn't immediately actionable, the non-profit could always invest the money. And given that they often take in a fair amount in donations, they typically have more money than you to invest...
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RyanCarey
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby RyanCarey » Tue Aug 14, 2012 9:28 am

Peter, that isn't a utilitarian argument for donating at all because it's impractical.
Non-profits don't usually invest their money. They don't regard it as one of their strengths or core activities. Rather, they focus on spending donated money. If they were to invest money, they would outsource this non-core 'investing' activity to some finance company. And even then, they would hardly carry it out their donors demanded this from them, which they do not...

And even if it was somehow 'better' for investing to be done by the charities themselves, it would still not answer the question of whether the charities should donate or invest...
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peterhurford
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby peterhurford » Tue Aug 14, 2012 7:47 pm

I expect the non-profit to which I donate to know much more about how to relevantly spend the money than me, otherwise I wouldn't donate to them. Thus, by giving unrestricted funding, I invite them to invest it if they think that's worthwhile or spend it immediately if they think that would better help their programs. I don't think I'm qualified to make this decision for them.

Many bigger non-profits have endowments anyway, so they are continually investing and drawing from that investment.

~

RyanCarey wrote:And even if it was somehow 'better' for investing to be done by the charities themselves, it would still not answer the question of whether the charities should donate or invest...


Right. This involves looking at the value from doing something now compared to the compounding value of money and the expected worth it will have then. I imagine this answer varies from non-profit to non-profit depending on their ability to act upon a donation in a cost-effective way (GiveWell's room for more funding).
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Nap
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby Nap » Wed Aug 15, 2012 1:11 am

Don't have the interest to reply well to this, I'm still going to be busy for a few days, but I will write this.

I always look for a long term plan over a shortsighted one.

You want to give 100$ to feed starving people? That's great. But now you might need to spend another 100 for STD protection because now there are more people that need protecting from that.

Fixing the problems that cause starvation and the spread of STD's seems much more important, but I rarely see people address those issues. It might have a large part to do with that the reasons was poor decision making and pointing that out will alienate people.
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby Bruno Coelho » Wed Aug 15, 2012 10:34 pm

Like PG I assume that we have unlimited power to create wealthy, and for that reason, people who are bothered about donating, are who don't have much money. If you already have some, donate, and do calculations in the mean time. The deliberate transference of money cause could be defended in non-moral terms, like economic grown, but I doubt very seriously this could be done.

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Pablo Stafforini
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby Pablo Stafforini » Sun Aug 19, 2012 3:28 pm

Arepo wrote:Can someone remind me where (if?) the original Felicifia is archived now? I'd quite like to get at Gaverick's post.


The original Felicifia can be accessed using the Wayback Machine, though not all of it is archived. Gaverick's post on donating vs. investig is here. Other posts by Gaverick can be found here.

I'm collaborating with Seth Baum and James Evans to resurrect the entire old site, but there are a few complications. If you think you have the technical knowledge to help us, please contact me (pablo@stafforini.com).

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peterhurford
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby peterhurford » Wed Aug 22, 2012 6:44 am

I suspect that using PHP CURL, it could be easy to resurrect the old site in a matter of hours. I have the technological knowledge to do this and would be willing to do so for free. Count me in on the resurrection team? ...Though perhaps I'm overconfident.
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rehoot
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby rehoot » Thu Aug 23, 2012 11:20 pm

Two comments: resurrecting the old site, and donating vs investing.

If the old site could be uploaded, that would be good. The ideal case would be to find a way to import them to the current server so that people can respond to them. If the import fails, you might be able to post them as plain HTML files and users will get an error if they try to edit or respond to them.


As for the original post on donating vs investing, there is another thing to consider. If you stockpile all your money over a period of 50 years, that means you are giving yourself 50 years to find some excuse to spend the money on yourself, plus 50 years for your boyfriend/girlfriend to take your money and spend on a drinking and gambling binge, plus the possibility that you will make a bad investment and loose a large part of your money, plus the possibility that you will die without a proper will and somebody will spend the money on stupid shit.

In addition to the above, if your goals and values include the ecological condition of the planet, then perhaps the best investment is to either donate it now or put your cash into bags and put them in a safe so that the banks don't use the money to generate 4-5 times as many loans to other people who spend it on things that degrade the condition of the planet (see fractional reserve banking example). The multiplication rate might be much higher in the US due to low reserve requirements. I think few people would take that route, but it is something to consider.

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Pablo Stafforini
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby Pablo Stafforini » Sun Sep 09, 2012 9:02 pm

Archives of the old Felicifia are now online. See here.

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Donate vs. Invest

Postby Brian Tomasik » Sun Dec 16, 2012 3:29 am

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