Matt thinks...

I want to make the world a better place, and I want to do this in the most effective way possible. This way of thinking is known as effective altruism.

I write here about my thoughts about the most effective ways to improve the world - which to me means something like moving towards a flourishing future for all sentient beings.

Corona virus: data analysis of a pandemic

Preamble: I am not an expert in epidemiology. Take any predictions in this post with a large pinch of salt. There are many considerations missing from my analysis. If you are looking for more robust forecasts, a collection of predictions has been made available in the coronavirus tech handbook and crowd-sourced predictions can be found on Metaculus. One of the most useful resource for what individuals and governments should be doing at the time of writing is the 80,000 Hours podcast.

Lots of data about the current corona virus outbreak are freely available for anyone to analyse. Here's my attempt to give a snap-shot of what we are facing and what we might expect in the future, purely based on the data we have available.

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Giving with Humility (and where I donated to last year)

Humility is hard. Humility with money is especially hard. We like to hold our money close to our chest. So close that our financial decisions are rarely discussed. Allowing other people to choose what happens with our money is even more taboo. Over the last few years, I have been questioning this paradigm.

Sometimes, showing a bit of humility pays. Consider this: if you were to invest your money in stocks, you broadly have two options:

  1. Invest in individual stocks,
  2. Invest in an investment fund.

The general advice for all but the most expert investors is to choose option 2. The motivation for this is that it’s very unlikely that you will select the optimum choice of stocks unless you are an expert. Rather, you are very likely to lose money investing in this way. Instead of choosing stocks yourself, get an expert to do it for you. Acknowledging that experts can make better decisions than you, then deferring investment decisions to them, will get you a higher return. This is financial humility. And it pays.

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The Reducetarian Solution: a review

Following on from my last post, a natural question is this: what have I changed my mind about? My two biggest mind-changes occurred within the last 3 years. The first led me to change what I wear, what I eat, and the value I place on non-human animals. The second led me to change how much money and time I donate, where I donate them to, and what I want to spend my career doing. It is the former that motivates this post.

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What can a student do to reduce global suffering? Part I

As a student, it is easy to get caught up in your local bubble and forget the most important issues. And even then, it’s easy to feel powerless to do anything about them because we are poor, busy, and underqualified.

During my first few years at university, I felt like this too. But taking a pragmatic approach to doing good has showed me just how much of an impact you can have as a student.

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Giving what I can

On 15th May 2017, I decided to make a change in my life that will have a small impact on me but a large impact on some people I have never met. I am really excited about this opportunity and want to share it with you.

The ongoing struggle of the poorest people in the world rarely gets a mention on the news or in national political decisions, even though it outweighs the suffering in many of the more publicised stories. Yet there is no moral difference between the value of a child in Burundi and a stranger you meet in the UK.

If you could save a stranger's life in the street but it meant you had to ruin your new shoes or break your phone, you would still do it, because we put moral value on strangers' lives. So if we would sacrifice a small amount to save someone whose life was in jeopardy before our very eyes, shouldn't we save someone's life 10,000 miles away if we could at a similar cost? Of course we should. The reality is that we have the opportunity to do this everyday! We have a wonderful opportunity to make a huge difference to the lives of hundreds of people who are most in need.

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The good, the bad, and the ugly of altruism

Charities are certainly not all equal. We've seen what makes a charity effective or not - if you missed this, check it out here. But is there really a big difference between them? Is it worth the money/time/effort required to determine the more effective charities, when we could just give that to any old charity? The answer to both of these is, without doubt, YES!

We find that the difference between the most effective charities and typical charities is around a factor of 1000.[1] That is, donating £1 to the most effective charities is equivalent to donating £1000 to a typical one. Therefore it is of utmost importance that we take into account the effectiveness of the charities we donate to, something that very few people do. I certainly want the impact of my donations to be the largest it can be, especially now I know that the most effective charities can have such a large impact with each donation. To understand what types of charities are the most and least effective, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of altruism. Or, rather, the ugly, the bad, and the good - everyone loves a happy ending!

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