Scott Alexander has a pretty good summary  of the event if you don't want to listen to the audio.
I wish he wouldn't try to figure out what hidden motive prevents people from following his strategy before it's even been established as the best strategy.
Furthermore, if this is really the best way to do charity... well, charities could just invest the donations they receive and cash out when the time is "right". But since organizations don't die, when would that ever be?
Lastly, the idea that you should invest in a single "best" charity entails the idea that your donation is too small to make much difference in which charity is best. But some problems have already been solved! More problems will surely be solved in the future. It seems that charities could face diminishing returns -- like most other investments -- so your most effective strategy should sometimes be to split among more than one. Especially if you have followed the advice to invest for your entire life, and you do have a huge sum to donate.
The USA has so many structural problems that sometimes I find it ironic that people are so obsessed with solving third world problems. In a way, due to the massive global influence of the US, solving a big problem here (e.g. militant foreign policy) can lead to incredible improvements in the lives of hundreds of millions across the world. Conversely, if US foreign policy is dictated by warmongers, hundreds of millions suffer war and famine for decades.
As Aaron did , please read Noam Chomsky then decide in which order to address first and third world problems.
Spending money on achieving their goals in the present is not only what they are for but will also reduce future costs. Prevention is better than cure.
Also there are problems that need solving now. If the current generation of philanthropists all wait until they die then there will not be enough money to solve problems that exist in the present.
Why would you think that you know how to use money to achieve a goal better than an organization built around that goal?
There are actually a lot of legal constraints on charities that make "invest the money for decades and then spend it" not work well for them. If you think this is what makes the most sense at this point you pretty much need to do it yourself, potentially with a donor-advised fund.
"Prevention is better than cure."
Sometimes. There are tradeoffs, and depending on what you're working on either can be more efficient.
(I agree with your bottom line, that giving money now is important, but for different reasons.)
That said, I also believe most charity events are very economically inefficient. Rather than get a dozen musicians together for a discounted concert at a small concert hall, wouldn't it be more efficient to ask them all to donate one days worth of sales from performing at arenas?
Rather than get a hundred bankers together for a $250/head dinner, wouldn't it be more efficient to ask them to donate what they'd make in 2 hours? (Although the dinner does have social purposes)
You can like Warren Buffett or hate him, but the best thing he can do for society is earn money and then efficiently give it away to solve big problems. That would be much better than him working full time for the peace corps, or a non-profit.
Sure, money helps charities. But a brilliant leader, like what Gates has been to the Gates Foundation, is a force multiplier to that money.
Answer 2 questions:
1) Could somebody else have figured out how to apply that level of thinking on these topics, and been able to convince other to donate?
2) Could he have made another ten or twenty billion by staying at Microsoft?
If the answers are "Yes" and "Yes" then he should have stayed at Microsoft.
The answers might be "No" and "No" in which case you are spot on.
My dogma says the former, but I think you're right. I'll accept him as the exception that proves the rule. :-)
It may be his logic, but it's not mine. And it doesn't have to be yours, either.
I believe "doing good" is something to be done all the time.
If you wait until the time is right or the conditions are right or you have enough money or time or something else, you will probably never get around to doing good. And even if you do, how much good will not get done while you're on your journey to being able to do good.
You do good by the way you treat other people and in the hard work and good deeds that you do. And it can be just about anything. You don't have to do charity work or walkathons or open source or make giant donations for all to see in order to do good. If your work provides value to someone else, then you're doing good.
It's up to you to decide how good your doing good is. And the best time to start doing good is now. Every little bit matters.
Unfortunately, I think most people in this thread are unwilling to pass up an opportunity to bash Wall Street. Which is a shame, because they are rallying against a viable form of altruism.
Some times this choice is obvious, under feeding myself to feed other would probably reduce the amount of long term good I could do for the world.
Saving my money now so that I can be in a good finical position to take advantage of economic opportunities is not as obvious, but can lead to considerably more good being done.
I don't really understand this criticism of him. He isn't trying to save up millions of dollars before doing good, he's working for money and giving it away as fast as it comes in. Sure, making more money isn't the only way to do more good, but if he has chosen charities that use money to do good then his logic can't be refuted: "The more he makes, the more good he can do."
I think you've really missed the mark on this...
The two view points can easily reconcile. You can make more and donate more while still always doing good.
There is nothing wrong with doing both and I'm sure the people mentioned in the article are.
I'm not sure what you have against his idea that the more he makes the more good he can do.
Every litle bit may matter but ten lives saved is ten times better than one.
Though it is dangerous to ignore this arena completely.
Besides, the article sounds like some expensive Public Relation action from wallstreet companies. I guess they have hard time to find decent employees...
Furthermore, as pointed out by @mathattack, some charities are very inefficient operations--sometimes bordering on unethically so. My friend worked as a webmaster for a charity whose operations overhead was ~70% (mostly due to the annual general meeting held at a 5* resort in Banff, attended by all the volunteers working in the charity (most of them spouses of the donors)).
OK, I am going to calm down now. It is just words. Just propaganda. Perhaps this article was commissioned by Wall Street as an attempt to influence perceptions and to assuage the existential threat to their existence. If the analytically-minded youth of the next generation makes the really moral choice and STOPS going to work for wall street (and big corp in general), then the system stands no chance.
If the charity your webmaster friend worked at saved a life for $1,800 donated it would be a good place to donate money.
Jason Trigg probably saved 20 lives last year. Are you saying that what he did is bad?
Let's assume for the moment that donating 50k/y led to some tangible benefits for humanity. Were there any human costs as well? Were people actively harmed for him to obtain the 100k/y salary?
The chain of implications between actual harm being done on the ground (say in a 3rd world country) and Jason's day to day job is very long and whitewashed by buzzwords, but it is still there:
Company X1 deals with gov. of country Y to rob people of a water resource (buzzword: privatization)
Company X2 owns X1 stock (buzzword: market)
Company X3 trades in X2 stock
Company X4 makes high-freq deals for X3 (buzzword: fluidity)
Meanwhile a new charity forms: let's give money so that the people of Y can have drinking water.
Now, government or political activism may be the best way for some people to do the most good. This is actually an active subject of research and discussion in the effective altruism movement.
If you want to discuss this topic with people who know and care more about than me this guy's posts are mostly about effective altruism/efficient philanthrophy.
Most of the background assumptions the people involved in this movement agree upon are in these two posts.
I am more worried about talented quants building/inventing new financial products which lead to further instability and //cause// risk.
From what I hear from friends who work in the field, they don't have much control over company policy and direction. At the risk of sounding provocative, I will say that quants are glorified code monkeys. The fact that they are really smart will not allow them to influence decisions. If it is not clearly illegal and it makes profits, it will be done halt or no halt.
The way I see it, the less "advances" in the financial sector there are, the better.
Wall Street banks aren't the only ones doing HFT. The technology to develop and deploy algorithms has become much more accessible in recent years. It's still not cheap - collocated servers, real time data streams, and Bloomberg terminals can rack up tens thousands per month - but you don't need a Wall St. budget to get started.
There are lots of small proprietary trading shops (prop shops) scattered throughout the major financial hubs (NYC, London, Chicago, etc.). These shops typically have 20 employees or less. In my case we had two traders, one programmer (me), and one IT guy. These shops are more likely to care about your skills as a programmer than where you went to school.
That said if you want to make 100k there's plenty of tech roles outside of HFT where you can make that amount.
This is a pattern that all these guys do. Even Warren Buffet just gave his money to Gates.
You'd think a guy who spends his life picking out successful businesses would be able to recognize this in non-profit / social ventures, but he's so removed from real problems he can't.
If you want to save the world, save the world first.
Stop. Fucking. Waiting.
I don't understand what you're suggesting. Is Trigg (the programmer who joined Wall Street) "waiting"? What does "not waiting" look like?
Getting to small version of the change you want to see is vastly preferable than trying to be Buffet and then starting a foundation. By then, you've lost all connection to the problems you wished to solve and the mentality of even trying to make this change.
Again: Stop waiting guys! You can actually do this now and grow your little org into a great force for change.
It's just that it's sub-optimal if he can actually run an org to solve the problems. Especially the risk of not increasing donation size with increased conspicuous consumption.
You can get soft quickly if you're not thinking lean...
If you want to do ROI calculations on problems spaces - there's a group that publishes strategies for these:
Copenhagen Consensus [PDF]:
How many times do they go into it thinking this and just end up with a bunch of cars and naming rights to a building at Harvard at best... We see it the vast majority of the time.
Startup orgs (for- or non-profit) allow you to actually start serving people now, not later, and that gives you better insight into solving problems and picking them.
The main problems of that much money is that you get into investment mode which is more conservative, top-heavy, etc. This means it's slower, less likely to find the best innovations, and lower social-ROI.
However, some problems require such capital - like what Elon Musk is working on at SpaceX, but again that's focused capital.
Warren Buffet realized that a new charitable foundation wasn't needed and that by donating money through the Gates foundation he could accomplish more.
Giving money away is an effective way of actually accomplishing very little, unless you're doing it like Bill Gates and can have very tight control over what your money is actually doing.
This kind of impact is actually accessible even to people who are giving smaller amounts: http://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities
Most of those harmless activities do not include trading stocks, bonds, derivatives and commodities.
Wall-Street is like a very powerful diesel engine, it generates enormous amounts of power and it generates enormous amounts of pollution. Hard to get the one without the other.
Seriously, can you please stop with the snippy responses? This is a place for discussion not credentialing. When you make condescending comments like this it just makes this place personally confrontational, it does not progress a discussion. Please try your hardest in refraining from making such comments in the future.
In fairness: I think you accurately identified the subtext of my question! I like Jacques and presume that he has more knowledge than me about a lot of things, but my intuition on this thread was that he was going to quote that "How Goldman Sachs Created The Food Crisis" article, or something derived from it, and conveniently ignore the central role commodities trading has in locking in prices for perishable products in the face of uncertain supply/demand.
But just because I'm honest about the subtext of that comment doesn't make the comment itself rude; I worded it to create the opportunity for Jacques to come back with something like "I worked for years in trading markets and am very familiar with ag futures markets", which, for all we know, he still might.
One teacher-focused engineer doing a decent job at influencing and educating others to do more with their money is... priceless?
It's good that Mr. Trigg is doing what he can, but discounting the ability of an education role to impact even more people is slightly silly.
The article and the sentiment behind it is more about this negative stereotype changing and hopeful disappearing rather then devaluing what is already valuable.
I applaud people that live frugally and donate what they have to worthy causes, but maybe a bit more introspection is also required to figure out why the career path has really been chosen.
(What is clear is that he's doing a lot of good, and if more people followed his example that would be great.)
Henry David Thoreau