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        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
	detached god.
Brooks sees this as a disdvantage, but I do not. Frankly, given the levels of irrational thought and behavior we see in the world today, we should be doing everything we can to increase the amount of rationality and far-oriented thinking in the world. I would posit that a world in which people were more like Jason Trigg would be a far better world, on every measurable metric, than the present that David Brooks endeavors to defend. I mean, Trigg, at least, has a goal and a plan to achieve it. The goal is the old utilitarian one of achieving the greatest good for the greatest number. The means is to earn lots of money and spend it on that goal.

        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.
And what's wrong with that? The problem with fiscal policy is not the goal of fiscal policy. It is the coercive means used to achieve it. There is no coercion here. No one is forcing Jason Trigg to give away his wealth. He is doing it of his own volition. Were he older and richer, he'd be lauded as another Carnegie, or another Gates.

        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.
That's not true at all. Sure, if you have skills that are needed in Africa or Bangladesh, it's best to go there. But not everyone has such skills. If we all pitched in like Jason Trigg and managed to get a cheap malaria vaccine crafted, say, 3 years from now, we'll have done far more good than if we'd all gone to Bangladesh or Africa volunteering to hand out bed nets. It comes down to the old question: are you worried about doing good or feeling good? If you're worried about doing good, you coldly analyze all the alternatives, and pick the one with the highest impact, even if it has zero visibility whatsoever. If you're worried about feeling good, you do what David Brooks advocates. You go down to Africa, Asia, or where-ever and get warm fuzzies by hoisting the white man's burden.

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.




You make some good points but I think you missed a point of the section containing the middle quote. Jason Trigg is, like all of us, subject to the biases and irrational behaviour that occurs in our brains. The best way to erode the drive to help other people in the way that Jason Trigg has set out to do is to spend all your time around people who feel differently and in a system that rewards the opposite. We are social animals, you can't insulate yourself from the social norms you immerse yourself in.

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.


> 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

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.


What harm are you seeing here? When I look HFT I see a zero sum dog eat dog competition between market makers for the money accruing to the sector. That's sort of a sad waste of human talent, but that's different from actual harm. It's not like someone at his level would be involved in the over-leveraging or regulatory arbitrage that contributed to the global financial crisis - though if he does get into a position of that much power I think I'd trust him more than most.


Nevermind the fact that this whole pseudo-utilitarian premise is just a nice way to ignore the harm

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?


>> 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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle

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.


Doesn't using the Precautionary Principle obviously fail the Precautionary Principle? I mean, if we had followed the Precautionary Principle in the past I can think of a number of important medical advances that would never have occurred, so clearly the Precautionary Principle has great potential to cause harm and I certainly don't think anyone has proven it won't cause harm in this case.

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 known (great) benefit of donations towards preventing malaria. a ~$2,500 donation prevents about one death.

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


If 'great' in the first case isn't equal to 'great' in the second, then isn't this an appeal to ignorance?


Help people if you are in a position to help them and they ask. Pretending that going "off the grid" and not being successful empowers anyone is foolishness, you can only affect change if you have power and consequently the powerless suffer. If you cede power to men with lesser ethics on principal your principals are wrong.


I had so much trouble reading this article just trying to interpret if every sentence was serious or some kind of dry Swiftian satire.


None of it was satire, all genuine.


>Sure, if you have skills that are needed in Africa or Bangladesh, it's best to go there. But not everyone has such skills.

That's the key. It sounds like Trigg has found a way to combine his skills with his values in a unique way.


This:

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.




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