If they spent 100x longer deciding where to donate, then most effective altruists would choose targets with much higher expected impact.


by Ryan Carey Dec 23 2016 updated Dec 23 2016

Does analysis help?

This time could be spent on reading existing analyses, interviewing plausible donation targets, or performing new analysis. The question does not factor in the time cost of doing this research.

If it is helpful to spend a long time on analysis, then we may want to use donor lotteries.


Adele Lopez

This seems to be highly sensitive to the amount of time EAs currently spend on deciding. I think that most people are likely to end up not donating at all if they feel pressure to spend more than 2 hours making a decision - I'm not sure if EAs are selected enough to mitigate that factor.

I also moderately believe that most EAs will not use the extra time very well (e.g. just pouring the extra time into more detailed analyses of two similar causes).

Patrick LaVictoire

A donor lottery could come with an agreement (which can only be enforced by honor) to actually spend at least 100 hours considering the decision. We may also want there to be a norm against the decider explaining their reasoning, so that the 100 hours get spent on trying to optimize the decision rather than defend it.

If I won such a lottery, I'd in fact spend my first hour coming up with as many candidates as possible for better targets than my current favorite, do some winnowing and triage, and try to actually look for cruxes between the resulting choices.

G Gordon Worley

It seems unlikely that spending two orders of magnitude more time to make a decision would result in a better decision. This goes against the general consensus I've seen in business and public policy literature around for the value of extra decision time. If anything, more time results in worse, not better, decisions beyond the first hour (and often beyond the first minute for simple decisions!).