Should Global Poverty Donors Give Now or Later? An In-Depth Analysis

Disclaimer: I am not an investment advisor and nothing in this essay serves as investment advice.

Introduction

Robin Hanson: If More Now, Less Later

The rate of return on investment historically has been higher than the growth rate–or, as they say, r > g. If you save your money to donate later, you can earn enough interest on it that you eventually have the funds to donate a greater amount. Because r > g, you should invest your money for as long as you can before donating1–or so the argument goes.

Traditionally, we’d apply a discount rate of g to future donations, because that’s the rate at which people get richer and therefore the rate at which money becomes less valuable for them. But this ignores some important factors that affect how much we should discount future donations, and we can create a much more detailed estimate. This essay will explore that in detail. Exactly what factors determine the investment rate of return and the discount rate on poverty alleviation? Can we gain any information about which is likely greater?

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Why Do Small Donors Give Now, But Large Donors Give Later?

Some people have observed that small and large donors follow different giving patterns. Small donors who give out of their salary—that is, most people—tend to donate money more or less as soon as they earn it (usually within a year). Large donors—e.g., extremely wealthy people and foundations—tend to slowly distribute their money and hold on to most of it1. For example, large foundations typically donate little more than the legally required 5% of assets each year. Why do they behave differently?

I don’t believe this difference is surprising, and actually it’s not really even a difference.

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Where Some People Donated in 2017

This is a collection of writings on where people are donating. It only includes writings that I am aware exist (obviously) and that are written by effectiveness-minded people.

My descriptions are paraphrased from the linked writings as much as possible. The writing in this post includes combinations of my own and the linked writers’ words. My summaries often do not do the original writers justice, so I recommend reading all of the linked articles if you are interested.

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Newcomb's Problem and Efficient Markets

Summary: The stock market can be modeled as Omega in Newcomb’s problem. On average, an asset will only outperform if the market predicts that you won’t buy it. So you cannot say “if I had bought that, I would have made a lot of money”, just as in Newcomb’s problem you can’t say “if I had taken both boxes, I would have gotten more money than if I only took one”.

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New Comment System

I have removed Disqus and replaced it with built-in static comments. Disqus comments are disabled, but still visible on any old posts1. New posts going forward will only use the new static comment system.

I had been wanting to switch off Disqus for a while. It has a few disadvantages:

  1. I have no control over comments except for the moderation tools Disqus provides.
  2. I have no control over how comments are displayed.
  3. I don’t know what Disqus is doing or might do with commenters’ personal information.

The new comment system does exactly what I want it to do and nothing more.

Edited to add: If anyone’s interested, I’m using the Jekyll Static Comments plugin by Matt Palmer, with a few personal modifications.

Notes

  1. A lot of old posts don’t have any comments as of this writing, so I removed Disqus from those posts. I left the Disqus comment section only on posts that actually had comments.

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Do Investors Put Too Much Stock in the U.S.?

Summary: Investment advisors typically recommend that you put somewhere between 50% and 75% of your stock investments into US stocks and the rest into international markets. Most individual investors have 70% or more of their stock money in the US or their home country, a phenomenon that’s aptly called home country bias. But there are reasons to believe that even 50% is too much, and most people should really have more like 0-30% of their stock investments in the United States12.

Disclaimer: I am not an investment advisor and this should not be taken as investment advice. Please do your own research or seek professional advice and otherwise take reasonable precautions before making any significant investment decisions.

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Ideas Too Short for Essays

Ever since I’ve been writing essays, I have always accumulated many more essay ideas than I end up actually writing. I frequently have an idea, write a paragraph or two, and then realize I have nothing left to say. Rather than leaving these unpublished, I am trying an experiment. This post contains a compilation of some of these ideas that were too short for essays.

In this issue, we discuss:

  • putting your money where your mouth is
  • the linguistics of swear words
  • cause prioritization
  • religion
  • more cause prioritization, because that’s obviously been my favorite topic recently
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Good Ventures/Open Phil Should Make Riskier Grants

Summary: The Open Philanthropy Project (Open Phil) aims to follow what it calls hits-based giving, which means it makes risky bets and many of its grants may end up failing. I agree with this idea and I believe that donors should generally be less risk averse. Good Ventures, the foundation that financially backs Open Phil, behaves more conservatively than a “hits-based” approach would predict, and it probably ought to take greater risks in the interest of doing more good.

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