"For reference, Lewis Bollard [estimates](http:/..."


by Eric Rogstad Jan 16 2017

For reference, Lewis Bollard estimates that recent corporate cage-free campaigns "will spare about 250 hens a year of cage confinement per dollar spent."


Benjamin Hoffman

Bollard's more conservative estimate is 38 hen-years per dollar, if you include other expenditures on farm animal welfare. I think we need to do include those because we didn't know in advance which efforts would be effective, and probably there will be some regression to the mean.

If you're thinking of this as an offset (instead of just directly comparing it to other charitable expenditures) then you need to credit other inputs - especially, the time of the people working at these places. Labor captures about 60% of national income. People working at a charity are often taking a substantial pay cut relative to what they could get on the market, so let's say they capture 30% of the value. That means that for every \$1 paid to employees of a leanly run nonprofit, the measured economic opportunity cost is a bit over \$3 worth of GDP.

Then there are the volunteers and people mobilized by CiWF. If we assume that each staff hour corresponds to about a similarly valuable commitment of volunteer hours (I genuinely have no idea if this is way too high or way too low) then each \$1 spent on salary has an opportunity cost of about \$6.

About half of CIWF-US's expenses are salaries. Let's assume that this is true for their overall organization. Then for each dollar, \$0.50 goes to salaries, with an economic opportunity cost of \$3. The other \$0.50 goes to other expenses, which we'll assume are rents, supplies, etc., all purchased at market rate from for-profit businesses capturing a normal return on capital and labor, so let's say the true opportunity cost is \$0.50. Thus, donating \$1 to CiWF actually costs \$3.50 in economic value, so you should only get credited for about 38 / 3.5 = 11 hen-years per dollar.

That's still a pretty high number. But how does the suffering alleviated here compare with the suffering inflicted by a year of eating factory farmed animal products? Let's say that about a third of the net suffering laying hens do comes from the cages themselves.

It seems like the vast majority of farmed animal suffering measured in animal-days (not adjusting for brain size) comes from poultry and eggs, since chickens are so small - and most slaughters will be attributable to such animals too, for similar reasons. But maybe broiler chickens suffer more than ordinary chickens. I can imagine being indifferent to spending ten days as a caged laying hen and a day as a broiler chicken (though I suspect the true ratio is smaller). So, on that model, a dollar alleviates suffering equivalent to about a third of a year of a broiler chicken's life.

If you're eating about a kg per day of meat, and about half of it is chicken, you're responsible for about 13 days' worth of broiler chicken suffering per day (assuming away elasticity considerations in the long run), i.e. 13 years' worth of broiler chicken suffering per year, so you'd need to give 13 * \$3 = \$39 per year to offset that diet. If you're not eating much chicken, it would take much less.

Benjamin Hoffman

On the other hand, I think we should be skeptical of these estimates. ACE has a history of biasing its public info towards creating the impression that animal charities are more cost- effective than they likely are. If this leads to people reallocating their money towards net-worse things, your dollars given to ACE could easily cause net harm relative to setting the dollars on fire. This isn't obviously the case for an animal charity like CiWF, and perhaps most of ACE's research is better, or ACE will do better in the future. But, I don't have strong reason to think they're unusually trustworthy relative to other organizations marketing to my demographic.

As far as I know, ACE's recommended orgs are actually fairly good, so perhaps ACE is net positive just by raising their profile - but, given that a fair amount of my positive impression comes from ACE and people strongly influenced by ACE, it's unclear to me how reliable that impression is.

Bollard works for an organization that has repeatedly cautioned us not to take its expected value estimates literally. I'm not sure how we are supposed to take them, but it seems like a mistake to go ahead and take them literally anyway despite the ample disclaimers against exactly this use.

Benjamin Hoffman

On the pro side: The whole "farmed animal welfare" field in the US gets less than $100MM per year, and makes material changes to how Americans eat.

If all ~200M adult Americans gave \$1/day to animal welfare charities instead of changing their diets further, that would fund about \$7 billion of annual activism on this. That's huge. That's more than 100X what it is now. That's all US federal election expenditures during a presidential election year (but including house and senate races). That's more than twice MIT's entire budget.

In present value terms, at a 5% annual discount rate, that's equivalent to a one-time expenditure of \$140 billion. That's way more than the Manhattan Project cost, adjusted for inflation.

Seems plausible that if you could scale up current efforts to that size at current levels of cost-effectiveness, it would be equivalent in welfare impact to getting Americans off factory-farmed meat and eggs altogether. This isn't a room for more funding argument - you'd hit diminishing returns way before that point - but it does suggest that the \$1/day offset argument is not crazy on current margins, so long as you're willing to switch strategies if and when these orgs stop seeming cash-constrained (or, if you're willing to give a larger lump sum now, while such opportunities are still available.)

Eric Rogstad

Benjamin Hoffman Given your analysis, I'm surprised by your vote of 50%. You took what was given as a conservative estimate, added in additional moderating factors, and still got a 10x margin of safety. Is this just because of a strong prior towards discounting cost effectiveness estimates?

How much would one have to donate for you to be 90% sure that it would offset the cost of eating meat?

Benjamin Hoffman

You named two charities, and I ended up deciding that the case for one of them was plausible (CiWF), so for any given dollar there's a 50-50 chance ;)

More seriously, I do have what you might summarize as a strong prior against cost-effectiveness estimates. In particular, I didn't address these issues:

Bollard's picking post-hoc an animal charity and intervention with especially clear positive track records. This has the following problems:

(Of course some programs could be secretly better than the cage-free egg campaigns, too.)

Here are some other costs I didn't account for:

If OPP or someone else claiming this impact had a relevant track record of publicly registered predictions of impact, and had actually gone back and checked and found that they were well-calibrated, then that would go a long way towards getting me to update.

I'm not sure what amount I'd put at 90% - my thinking on this is pretty bimodal, most of the 50% probability that the number's off comes from it being way off, not from it being a little off. For way off, I basically shouldn't anchor on public cost-effectiveness estimates at all.