254 karmaJoined Apr 2023


Thanks for sharing. 

My conclusion from this is that there is still a massive opportunity, perhaps especially in Europe, to increase the funds going to effective charities by creating organisations like effectiv spenden - or by expanding your model. For example, there is no analogous charity in Belgium, and Belgians cannot donate tax-deductibly to effectiv spenden. 

Thanks for the comment!

I don't disagree with the point you're making at all. 

My problem with the current situation is that there are probably not a broad range of domain experts being involved and receiving weight proportionate to their expertise. Specifically, I see two problems:

1. It feels like the armed forces and the weapons manufacturers, who are two of, but not the only domains in which expertise is relevant, have an overwhelming voice in these decisions. It's not clear to me that other voices are sufficiently heard, for example EA groups doing research looking at how to minimise the risk of nuclear war. 

2. In addition to the limited range of expertise involved, there is a high risk of bias. Investing more money in nuclear weapons has different value for different people. Depending on your opinions, you may conclude that it is good or bad for a typical American citizen. However, there is a very small group of people for whom  the expected value is extremely positive - arms manufacturers and the armed forces. So when the decision is being taken by people who stand to benefit from one choice and to be hurt by the other choice, that's not ideal. 

Probably a much better use of people's time than reading my post would be to listen to today's talk by Carl Robichaud about nuclear weapons from the EA Virtual conference today:

A Turning Point in the Story of Nuclear Weapons? (swapcard.com)

Thanks Jason, 

Some really good ideas there. The last paragraph is particularly interesting. Because, indeed, my idea is that this should be absolutely a last-resort scenario, and so, while I too would struggle to find a justification for this, it is the kind of scheme that would fit well.

Your second paragraph is the key challenge. All i can say is that I haven't investigated this in depth, especially since I'm not only not a tax-expert, but also not US-based, and this point would be different in every country. But I believe that it's not an impossibly difficult calculation to figure out a way to ensure this, the challenge might be just in convincing anyone to add even more complexity to the tax-laws. 

Really appreciate your thoughtful input and ideas!



Thanks Daniel,

This is all good perspective. Mostly I don't disagree with what you wrote, just a few comments:

In terms of decisions, I'm not necessarily saying that the public should decide, but that the public at least should be aware and involved. 

Your comment about alternative uses for the money is correct - my original point was a bit simplistic!

My original post didn't talk enough about deterrence, but in a response to another comment I mentioned the key point I missed: the US will still have 900 submarine-based missiles as their deterrent. Much as I personally would love to be nuclear-weapon-free, I am not suggesting that the US could safely get rid of these, and I believe they provide an adequate deterrent. 

Your insight that some of the upgrades may increase safety is a good one - I hadn't considered that. 

Maybe I'm just idealistic, but I believe we need to see more efforts at more reduction of nuclear arsenals, and that this might be a time to try. I totally agree it won't be easy! 

Overall, thanks for this. It is always appreciated when someone takes the time and effort to critique a post in some depth. Cheers! 


This is a fair push-back. 

The article contains only the explanation of one immediate spend of $100 billion on a new Sentinel missile which was ordered in 2021. The precise details of the $1.5 trillion number are not outlined in the article itself, but are available at the following link, which reference this original source. The estimate is based on a 30 year time-frame, with a low-end estimate of $1.25 trillion. It is true that the original source comes from a group in favour of Arms Control. 

That said, my point in writing this post was not to focus on the precise quantity (even if it's "only" $1.0 trillion, that doesn't make it OK). Rather to highlight that the US is spending huge amounts of money upgrading their nuclear weapons in a world which would be far better off without more nuclear weapons, and there has been (to my knowledge) almost no public debate or even political debate over whether upgrading nuclear missiles is the right thing to do. It just goes on behind the scenes. 

To be clear, this is not about some utopian vision of a world without the need for nuclear deterrence. The US still has 900 submarine-based nuclear missiles. So there is no credible argument that the new and improved land-based missiles are needed for deterrence, since the submarine-based missiles would be impossible to destroy in a first-strike attack. 

Somebody is peddling the notion that, with the right missiles, the US could win a nuclear war. 

I would love to see more public debate about this, rather than these matters being decided in secret discussions between politicians (looking for campaign funds), armed forces personnel (looking for relevance and power) and arms producers (looking for profit). I'm not sure which of these actors actually represents the interests of the majority of citizens, of America or of the world. 

Really enjoyed and appreciated this wonderful piece of analysis. Thank you!

Considering this post was written 7 years ago, I'm wondering if some of the insights you made have not been fully exploited by the EA community. 

EAs do some of the vital things you identify extremely well. One of them is intellectual rigour, which fits with the academic angle that neoliberalism exploited. In an argument between an EA and a non-EA, you typically feel that the more intelligent and critical the audience, the better the chance that the EA will win, because we really test arguments to the nth degree. This is great. 

One where we do less well maybe the the Utopian aspect. I believe that this may be because we do not necessarily recognise the importance of making our message "visionary" in a way that resonates with the general public. EAs are sometimes perceived as a group of nerdy, elitist intellectuals, which is not the reality. But it may be true that we allow this image to exist by not proactively changing it. 

The tragedy of this is: EAs do have a very aspirational world-vision - a world without poverty or malaria or nuclear war or pandemics or animal suffering or existential AI risks ... maybe we just don't talk about it enough. Maybe in addition to all the critical, quantitative arguments and focus on the risks and the problems, we should have more "I have a dream" type communication, talking about the kind of world EA's would create, using positive language (not "no poverty" but "everyone has a good standard of life and access to good education and health-care"; not "no animal suffering in factory farms" but "we have access to as much nutritious, delicious food as we want, while animals roam the fields in freedom with no worries about being slaughtered for our food." ... well, we can find better words ...).

It could be that we do this already and I'm just not seeing it (I'm in Belgium!) - but when I see the press-coverage of EA during the SBF trial, it was so negative and so divorced from the reality that I actually see in the EA community. 

Thank you Jason for this really helpful comment! 

Part of the reason I posted here was to get feedback exactly like this, from people more knowledgeable than I am. So I really appreciate both the feedback and your ideas as to how it can still work.

Given the complexity you describe, I am tempted to suggest a two-pronged approach:


  • Your donation is NOT initially tax-deductible, but (in return for that), if/when you decide to make part or all of a donation permanent, that would then be tax-deductible. I'm not sure, but this would seem to be fair according to the way the tax-laws are supposed to work. 


  • If this becomes a common phenomenon, big enough to warrant the effort, it would be interesting to re-negotiate the way it works with the tax-authorities, so that at donation would initially be tax-deductible but the amount that would be recovered would be only the non-tax-deductible part (e.g. the $80 in the example you described) - and then (TBD) maybe the remaining $20 must be paid back to the tax-authorities, or maybe not. 

I really appreciate your perspective of looking at this from the tax-authorities point-of-view, which indeed would probably have to be very cynical. And let's face it, in most cases, I agree with them. It already bothers me that very rich people can give millions to a very rich church rather than pay taxes that would be used to help provide better services for the poor - even when nobody breaks any laws. 

But that's my top-of-mind reaction - I will give this some more thought!


Thank you Quentin!

Your criticism is valid. For me this is maybe the single biggest watchout. 

The reason I believe this can be managed comes from looking at the way companies who market consumer goods (everything from shampoo to cars to iphones) manage what they call "cannibalisation". 

Very simple example: Let's say Company A has a shampoo S and a conditioner C on the market, and these each have 10% share of their relative markets, each earning $10m in profit. Now an inventor in Company A says "Hey, I have a new product, SC, a shampoo with conditioner!" 

The company tests this product and discovers they could sell enough to make $12m in profit. So it seems like a no-brainer. But before they do, they will first check the cannibalisation - how much of that $12m is actually coming from the profit they already make on products S and C. 

in reality, the whole thing will be much more complex, but the gist of it is: company A will have a time-tested methodology to ensure that the combination S plus C plus SC is a better business model than just S plus C (the current model). 

In an analogous way, I don't think it's realistic to say that there will be no loss of pure donations, but there will be quantitative ways to make sure that the net total donations to charities will be better than before. I didn't go into this in detail, but obviously doing so would be a critical step in designing any real model. 

Depending on the calculations, you would then adjust the parameters of the model. For example, you might decide that only donations after a certain minimum "pure donation" would be eligible if the model showed that this would ensure that the net total would necessarily be increased. 

Happy to talk this in further detail if we get to the point of actually doing it. I'm sure there are econ majors and business majors who can cite papers and literature on the best way to do this, my experience is more on seeing the already completed analysis and how cannibalisation was factored into every potential new launch. 

As for your second point, I am definitely curious to learn more and will email you! thanks! 

Wow, that is cool. Thanks for this great connection!!

I didn't know about this. But it is indeed close to what I had in mind, albeit a more modest version. Great minds think alike and all that :) 

I will contact them and share my post and see if there's anything in there that might be useful to them - or alternatively, if they have some feedback on the idea based on their first year of operation. I would be especially interested to see if they have any data to confirm or refute my ideas about expected value, testing, optimisation, etc. 

When I first started thinking about this, a couple of years ago, I didn't find anyone doing anything similar, but it wasn't easy to search. And anyhow I wouldn't have found Basefund since they started since then. 

Thanks for sharing this info! 


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