I wish Mr. Trigg luck, but we've already lived his story. He might get a few good years in, but his life is unlikely to work out like he plans.
I'd love to talk to you about how you and your friends got interested in this idea and what successes and failures you saw. I imagine there's a lot we can learn from your experience. juliawise07 at gmail
If the most effective way that you can donate to the needy is to earn big bucks and give them away, then this feels like the essence of charity to me.
Why would you feel special if you didn't already view generosity as something desirable?
The cynicism and moralizing is laid on thick - what a sad, messed up world exists inside Mr. Brooks' head. I hope HN'ers are more optimistic than listening to this claptrap and believing any of it.
Brooks is well known for spouting things that seem almost like satire of conservative viewpoints; it's more likely he dresses up his points in "progressive" sounding terms in an attempt to get people to agree with him.
The unfortunate truth is that most money that goes into charities that operate in 3rd world countries gets spent on logistics, bureaucracy, and gets siphoned off by corrupt governments or stolen by thieves. He'll save someone from malaria one day, and they'll die from another cause later.
A much bigger impact would be to invest in those 3rd world countries (conscientiously), and provide jobs and livelihoods for those people. Build infrastructure, enable access to capital, machinery and technology, security, etc... That will make a much larger difference than any amount of money poured into charities and feel-good causes.
Self-serving selfish unsupported claptrap.
I especially like the line "He'll save someone from malaria one day, and they'll die from another cause later." Hard to argue with that point since we'll all die from some cause later.
As if, for example, funding the inexpensive operations to relieve the suffering of women with untreated obstetric fistulas (http://www.fistulafoundation.org/whatisfistula/faqs.html) is just a waste of time and money. Sheesh.
They were a recipient of the one laptop per child initiative - most of the laptops were stolen and placed on the black market. Corruption runs so deep that most foreign aid has been withdrawn, and foreign corporations refuse to use local labour in local construction initiatives.
Giving away mosquito nets is a great initiative. Producing the sort of infrastructure that allows people to buy them with their own money is better.
The Chinese have done more for the 3rd world (any my wife's country) than every Western charity and government combined. You go to my wife's country - all the local infrastructure is built by Chinese corporations, and most of the cost is donated by the Chinese government. What little debt remains to China is forgiven periodically (China just wrote-off 355 million in debt to this country). If you eliminated corruption, it would be even more effective, these Chinese corporations would be more willing to use local labour...
By the way, even the link you provided cites poverty and malnutrition as the main cause of fistula. Do you want to treat diseases or prevent them as well as raise the economic status of those in need?
A quick perusal of the link below and some of the associated material shows how what you're saying here regarding the wonderfulness and light coming from China is ridiculous:
> What little debt remains to China is forgiven periodically (China just wrote-off 355 million in debt to this country).
Ah, yes, debt forgiveness. Always a sign that benevolent and highly effective foreign intervention is in progress.
I take the opposite view of this statistician, because it reminds us that NO data are free of some level of collection bias. Keep in mind I'm an experimentalist, and not a data analyst.
My understanding is that he was using givewell.org to help make his discussions along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation founded research into the effectiveness of mosquito nets. Both of which provide some solid evidence of the effectiveness and long term impact.
> A much bigger impact would be to invest in those 3rd world countries (conscientiously), and provide jobs and livelihoods for those people.
This has to be weighed against the compounding returns that can be received from the money being used sooner. For example the mosquito nets save some lives help stabilize a village and allow them to invest more time in improving another aspect of their life. Usually to have this type of impact their is a critical amount of money that has to be invested at once. I do not know where that critical level is, it could as low as tens of thousands of dollars going through the right charity something that the discussed individual does yearly.
I don't think it's obvious that $2500 invested in a business does more to reduce human suffering than $2500 in mosquito nets. After all, business, which is always an investment, is more attractive when there is less fear of an early death by malaria.
And believe me, I'm not against foreign aid - but stimulating local economies, empowering farmers and local merchants, and even just travelling and spending money is more effective most of the time.
This issue is complicated and many person-years have been spent analyzing it. See GiveWell. Reasonable people can disagree, but not based on 10 seconds of thought.
"Each net costs about $3 [prices dropped recentl], lasts for 3-4 years, and protects, on average, two people."
The statistics are well known given the scale of the problem. Every 50-250 nets we put over heads and beds, one child doesn't die.
> So either mosquito nets prevent malaria for only 1 in 250 people, or a majority of that $2500 is going to waste.
Malaria is not always fatal, malaria is not the only threat to life, and malaria is a persistent threat -- to life a life free of malaria requires about 15 nets, each with a lifespan of about 3-5 years.
> The market mechanism — In the for-profit world, maximizing wealth is often correlated with maximizing positive social impact, and so can be used as a proxy goal for maximizing positive social impact.
An interesting article about Chinese foreign aid to Africa: http://thestar.blogs.com/worlddaily/2013/05/new-report-detai...
In my wife's country, you can see the effect of Chinese investment and aid every single day, it's tangible, and affects people's lives. People are employed because of Chinese investments, goods are transported on roads and ferries built/donated by the Chinese, and promising students are given scholarships to study in China.
Now this is not to say that we are bad and the Chinese are great, but rather to compare the impact of charity vs. investment.
Investment leads to self-sufficiency, charity leads to dependence. Investment leads to a permanent influx of wealth, charity is temporary. Allowing people to earn a living, be self-sufficient, properly nourished and healthy is the end goal - this can only be achieved through investment and economic means, charity cannot accomplish this.
Anyhow, I do think the young man described is doing a great thing, however there's a reason the hedge fund pays him so much. His algorithms and know-how will make them alot of money. Alot more than they pay him. Which in turn is more than he'll give away.
If you're worried about that, you might be better off being concerned about the increasing fragmentation of culture. As I recall, studies show that my generation knows dramatically less about those in their immediate neighbourhoods and are more likely to rate themselves as happy with those neighbourhoods. Or, to put it another way: We don't know those around us, and we don't care to know them or be known by them.
> You might end up enlarging the faculties we use to perceive the far — rationality — and eclipsing the faculties we use to interact with those closest around — affection, the capacity for vulnerability and dependence.
Well, doing something that saps the energy out of you may not leave you with much capacity to get along with others. But the anti-rationality bend to the article seems rather unwarranted. It's not like the idea that smart people are less capable of love is well supported.
> But a human life is not just a means to produce outcomes, it is an end in itself. When we evaluate our friends, we don’t just measure the consequences of their lives. We measure who they intrinsically are. We don’t merely want to know if they have done good. We want to know if they are good.
The two are tried together. You can't see someone's soul. Do we care about what someone is inside because we consider them an ends in themselves, or do we care about what someone is because that's strongly indicative of outcomes? I would tend to suspect that if our guesses of what someone is didn't correlate with outcomes the relevant happy feelings of being around good people wouldn't last very long.
If you choose a profession that doesn't arouse your everyday passion for
the sake of serving instead some abstract faraway good, you might end up as a
person who values the far over the near. You might become one of those people
who loves humanity in general but not the particular humans immediately
around. You might end up enlarging the faculties we use to perceive the far
-- rationality -- and eclipsing the faculties we use to interact with
those closest around -- affection, the capacity for vulnerability and
dependence. Instead of seeing yourself as one person deeply embedded in a
particular community, you may end up coolly looking across humanity as a
Third, and most important, I would worry about turning yourself into a means
rather than an end. If you go to Wall Street mostly to make money for charity,
you may turn yourself into a machine for the redistribution of wealth. You may
turn yourself into a fiscal policy.
Making yourself is different than producing a product or an external outcome,
requiring different logic and different means. I'd think you would be more
likely to cultivate a deep soul if you put yourself in the middle of the
things that engaged you most seriously. If your profoundest interest is dying
children in Africa or Bangladesh, it's probably best to go to Africa or
Bangladesh, not to Wall Street.
Rationality is not a sin. Calculation is not a sin. Money is not inherently sinful. All of these things are means, and have the capability to do both great good or great harm, depending on the end to which they're applied. Jason Trigg understands this. David Brooks does not. And that's why I, personally, respect Jason Trigg a lot more than David Brooks.
Nevermind the fact that this whole pseudo-utilitarian premise is just a nice way to ignore the harm your day to day activities may have on those you are donating your money to because any harm is spread out among the entire industry and has so many levels of abstraction that a utilitarian analysis is impossible. The whole premise rests on the assumption that the benefit of his donations outweigh his share of any (likely indirect) harm done by his firm or the industry as a whole to those same areas.
I find the general premise of "work like a sociopath to make so much money you can do good with the money", whatever their forms, to be a textbook example of feeling good rather than doing good. You couldn't design a better system if you tried, all harm is abstracted away and very diffuse while the good feelings are attributable directly to yourself.
i'll give it a shot. jason is 1 guy works on a high frequency strategy. the net effect of this is probably something like: 10 low frequency market makers lose their jobs. meanwhile, dozens if not hundreds of malaria deaths are prevented.
i don't know, it seems net beneficial to me.
I'm curious why you claim that. It seems to me the goal is to redress the harm, not ignore it. You can't claim to know Jason Trigg's true internal motives, can you?
The whole premise rests on the assumption that the benefit of his donations outweigh his share of any (likely indirect) harm done by his firm or the industry as a whole to those same areas.
Nor can you claim that this assumption is false, given that you suggest a utilitarian analysis is impossible.
I find the general premise of "work like a sociopath to make so much money you can do good with the money", whatever their forms, to be a textbook example of feeling good rather than doing good.
By what logic? Do you claim that good isn't being done? You're of course right that harm is being indirectly done, but you have stated that there's no way to show whether more good or more harm is being done. So what exactly is the source of your cynicism?
> Nor can you claim that this assumption is false, given that you suggest a utilitarian analysis is impossible.
If the net harm of participating in a certain system for the sake of philanthropy is unknown but potentially significant, I think we ought to be a little careful about it.
Beyond that, even if one cannot prove that working at a hedge fund helps to propagate a system that may be resulting in the very same poverty that one's charitable contributions are meant to mitigate (and I'm not saying this is necessarily the case), we should try to be aware of the potential indirect outcomes of our actions, rather than assuming there is no downside whatsoever.
Which is to say, the only way to actually use the Precautionary Principle is to selectively apply it against thing you otherwise don't like. Or you could say that there are certain classes of things like scientific or medical advances that are the only places it should be applied, but this situation clearly isn't one of them.
there is a unknown (probably small, maybe great) harm in being a small part of the high frequency industry.
seems like a no brainer to me
That's the key. It sounds like Trigg has found a way to combine his skills with his values in a unique way.
Taking a job just to make money, on the other hand, is probably going to be corrosive, even if you use the money for charity rather than sports cars.
"Be the change you wish to see in the world."
The author's argument is that doing so might damage or worsen you, but surely it is still a net positive? Furthermore, the "rubbing off on those around you" might work in the other direction too.
There are a lot of people out there who are looking for a more meaningful purpose in life. The problem with traditional charities is that the giver feels the downside, through a lighter checkbook, but can't really see the specific upside their donations perform, even in the case of a charity that allocates its resources efficiently.
One way to mitigate this is through transparency in giving. We're more likely to give to a specific disaster relief fund than a general "humanity in Africa" fund, even when both may do just as much good, because we see where the money is going. Watsi expands on this model by bringing transparency in giving down to the level of the individual.
Without internet penetration in the developing world, Watsi's approach wouldn't be logistically possible. As that penetration expands, it will be easier to connect to people in need on a personal rather than an abstract level. I hope that makes us, on average, more charitable givers. :)
EDIT: This was in response to, and as a partial refutation of, the following quote from the article: "If your profoundest interest is dying children in Africa or Bangladesh, it’s probably best to go to Africa or Bangladesh, not to Wall Street." There are many, many people with an interest in global humanity who can't realistically drop everything and change continents.
"But a human life is not just a means to produce outcomes, it is an end in itself. When we evaluate our friends, we don’t just measure the consequences of their lives. We measure who they intrinsically are. We don’t merely want to know if they have done good. We want to know if they are good."
We each have our own most efficient skill for volunteer work. If Jason Trigg had gone to nursing school instead of MIT, he might choose to spend most of his time at a local free clinic - or he might get flown overseas for years on donor money. In the absence of any special training, his most efficient skill might be the ability to walk from village to village and physically deliver bed nets, and he might make this a long-term occupation.
I'm confident Trigg would do any of these things. But right now, his most efficient skill happens to be his aptitude at writing high frequency trading algorithms. He uses that skill to bankroll efforts to fight preventable illnesses around the world. He has chosen to spend the majority of his hours doing so, and relatively few on satisfying his own needs. It's an advanced level of volunteerism, and anyone else who follows in his footsteps has my admiration.
The way I see it, Brooks is an op-ed writer, and it's his job to come op with something to write. Criticizing something that most people would view as inherently good is a sure way to gain a lot of attention for your op-ed piece. Maybe he truly feels that way (negatively) about Trigg's actions; but IMHO it doesn't matter; he's a writer looking for an audience, and either way, he got it.
The brain is a malleable organ. Every time you do an activity, or have a thought, you are changing a piece of yourself into something slightly different than it was before. Every hour you spend with others, you become more like the people around you. Gradually, you become a different person... You will become more hedge fund, less malaria.
I've read studies that show the more you expose yourself to a song or a person, the more you'll like it/him, even if you started off hating it/him. But that doesn't mean you become more like the person.
For the justification to hold up, you probably need to believe some mixture of the following:
- high frequency trading adds value to society comparable to the amount of money you make
- more money should be transferred from the first world to the third world than people are currently voluntarily willing to give
One thing that I hear from foreign aid groups is requests for money. And some hardworking person is giving most of his money to them. Well and good. I hope he can choose groups that are corruption-resistant.
And this cad from the NYT claims its better to go be another aid worker and beg money than to execute what you know and leverage the power of money gained from that?
I would say, however, that a company which damaged other people's livelihoods, but on their own time worked to ensure that the displaced people had other ways to live was acting reasonable right.
Many things we do fall in a moral grey area. Suppose my genetic computation software that I've released as open source is used to optimize logistics for (say), a concentration camp in North Korea. Boy, that makes me feel a bit ill. On the other hand, I did not exercise the choice to choose to specifically give away my software to that particular group. But it could, theoretically, be used for that: it's a github download away. Here's another one; suppose the company I work for sells devices (let's say these devices are internet routers) to Foxconn, who uses it in a plant where they work people for excruciatingly long hours. Well.... Is selling routers harmful? No. But is supporting the exploiting of the working people harmful? Yes. Can I personally refuse to work on the router? Sure. But that's a generic tech. Can I personally refuse to work on the sale? I think that's within reason, but as an engineer, I doubt I'll have that luxury.
In other words, for a lot of mundane businesses, I think it's very grey.
> A human life is not just a means to produce outcomes, it is an end in itself.
If a human life is an end in itself, then euthanasia is the worst crime. Killing in self-defense, something to be condemned. Contraception becomes immoral. Sex for pleasure, and homosexuality, sinful. Bear in mind that those are not moral dictates I just pulled out of my ass, for maximum effect. That's what Kant believed in.
Well, to be fair, the Chinaman (I prefer the term Confucianist) of Königsberg also believed in the death penalty. So much for human life as the end of morality.
Some people believe that in order to change the world they need to be a genius... to find peace they need to become a Buddhist monk... to save a starving African child they should live in to Africa to do it.
I think that we can do all those things as we are now. We can affect positive change when we "lift where we stand." That's what that kid is doing.
A huge portion of the US would agree, which seems extremely confusing to me given that this is tends to be the same segment that is highly Christian. Their Bible must have been different from the one I had growing up.