A worry for professional philanthropy?

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Jesper Östman
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A worry for professional philanthropy?

Post by Jesper Östman » Thu Aug 11, 2011 10:26 pm

The idea of professional philanthropy is that one of the absolutely best ways of making the world a better place is to chose a career where you can earn as much money as possible, and then donate most of that money to the best possible causes (optimal philanthropy).

When I discuss this with ordinary people, a common worry they bring up is basically that power corrupts and that people will be unlikely to keep their promises of donating money for this reason.

Recently, the social psychologist Dacher Keltner has cited a series of studies showing that rich people are less empathic(described eg here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44084236/ns ... kPNuL_pgcM).

Most worrying is the claim that "studies have found that, as people rise in the classes, they become less empathetic" (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 152413.htm). It does seem to support the common objection to professional philanthropy.

Personally, I don't think this is a big objection. The effects might be small (the effect sizes aren't mentioned in the discussions of the studies) and I'm not sure that somewhat lower empathy will affect the intentions of the people who precommit to professional donating much.

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Gedusa
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Re: A worry for professional philanthropy?

Post by Gedusa » Fri Aug 12, 2011 9:26 am

An obvious way to prevent this is via pre-commitments.
Put the money into a donor advised fund and then be unable to withdraw it, protecting it from possible selfish future selves. You could also try to be part of a culture of giving (e.g. Giving What We Can) where: a) people will judge you if you don't give and b) everyone else is giving too. B) could help to reduce the social pressure on the rich to spend money on themselves. A) could be subverted by lying about how much you're giving, though, and I'm not sure how to deal with that.

Professional philanthropy seems like it would still pay off. Imagine you give 50% of income when you're earning £50,000 a year. Then you move up to £100,000 a year and only give 30%. The later case still wins (and I suspect that the effect may be more subtle than these numbers suggest, as you say).
World domination is such an ugly phrase. I prefer to call it world optimization

DanielLC
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Re: A worry for professional philanthropy?

Post by DanielLC » Fri Aug 12, 2011 7:07 pm

I don't think you'd be likely to lie. The problem isn't that powerful people become selfish. The problem is that they start to justify what they want to do. If you really think it's okay for you to keep your money, you'll also think other people will think it's okay.
Consequentialism: The belief that doing the right thing makes the world a better place.

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: A worry for professional philanthropy?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Aug 14, 2011 7:13 pm

Agree with Gedusa. The best ways to ward off inclinations toward selfishness are to create entanglements that are hard to get out of: Both legal (as with Donor Advised Funds) and social (e.g., public proclamations). That said, there will still be some fraction of people who apostisize, so as Jesper notes, the concern should be kept in mind.

Incidentally, the studies didn't tease out correlation vs. causation, did they?

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Gedusa
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Re: A worry for professional philanthropy?

Post by Gedusa » Sun Aug 14, 2011 8:27 pm

The problem isn't that powerful people become selfish. The problem is that they start to justify what they want to do. If you really think it's okay for you to keep your money, you'll also think other people will think it's okay.
Surely everyone is inclined to this sort of thing, why would being powerful make them "start" to do this? I guess they could lose some of the constraints that operate on ordinary people to force some degree of morality?

In your view then, people who start off hyper-altruistic will stay that way, no?

I second Alan's request for info on correlation v. causation. It seems likely to me that the effects of the studies could be easily explained by different personality types being more likely to be rich and less empathic, though that explains the second study less well I guess.
World domination is such an ugly phrase. I prefer to call it world optimization

Jesper Östman
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Re: A worry for professional philanthropy?

Post by Jesper Östman » Sun Aug 14, 2011 10:23 pm

Note that both articles refer to the same journal article, which I haven't checked (it in turn refers to a bunch of different studies I believe).

Alan and Gedusa: Well, I had the same worry (eg perhaps less empathic people would be more inclined to chose high-erning careers, or they might have an easier time getting rich). But if the second article is correct about that the claim that as people rise in social class they become more selfish is supported from the journal article then this would support causation.

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Re: A worry for professional philanthropy?

Post by DanielLC » Mon Aug 15, 2011 4:35 am

Surely everyone is inclined to this sort of thing, why would being powerful make them "start" to do this? I guess they could lose some of the constraints that operate on ordinary people to force some degree of morality?
It's easier to get in power if you're not already abusing what you have. As such, your best bet is to start with the best of intentions, then get power in hopes of helping everyone, and finally start doing anything you can to help yourself, preferably while convincing yourself that you still have good intentions (it's easier to convince others of what you yourself believe). People that are corrupted by power tend to have more kids who are better off, so we evolve to be corrupted by power.

Everyone is inclined, but I think power makes you more inclined.
In your view then, people who start off hyper-altruistic will stay that way, no?
I don't see why that would be the case. I'm mostly just not worried because I don't really care about anything that costs much money. Give me a computer with an internet connection and I'm happy.
Consequentialism: The belief that doing the right thing makes the world a better place.

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: A worry for professional philanthropy?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Mon Aug 15, 2011 4:41 pm

DanielLC wrote:Give me a computer with an internet connection and I'm happy.
Agree. :)

Jesper Östman
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Re: A worry for professional philanthropy?

Post by Jesper Östman » Tue Aug 16, 2011 11:03 pm

This (http://www.livescience.com/15575-nice-m ... eness.html) might give some support for an explanation in terms of that certain (less agreeable) personalities more easily become rich:

"Men with disagreeable personalities outearn men with agreeable personalities by about 18 percent, according to research to be published this fall in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Disagreeable women, on the other hand, earn only about 5 percent more than their sweet and gentle counterparts....earlier studies had found that, on the contrary, agreeableness is not associated with career success."

DanielLC
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Re: A worry for professional philanthropy?

Post by DanielLC » Tue Aug 16, 2011 11:25 pm

Did they check that it was agreeableness causing earnings, and not vice versa? If not, it's no more informative than the original study we mentioned.
Consequentialism: The belief that doing the right thing makes the world a better place.

Jesper Östman
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Re: A worry for professional philanthropy?

Post by Jesper Östman » Tue Aug 16, 2011 11:37 pm

Agreed. They didn't state it explicitly in the livescience article. However the studies used longitudinal data so it should have been easy to check (they mention explicitly checking for job complexity and education levels).

In any case, the follow-up study does provide support, where they let undergrads read profiles and then chose whether to recommend them for promotion:

"The study found that disagreeable men were more likely to be recommended for promotion than disagreeable women. Study participants indicated they saw disagreeable men as strong leaders, Judge said, an advantage they didn't find in disagreeable women."

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