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Implicitly, yes. Though don’t use that exact formulation. money vs daly comparison is based on reported preference not swb. Daly vs swb comparison implicitly writes off time spent asleep where I assumed 1 daly = difference between 40->100 on swb scale.

If didn’t exclude sleep in botec, would make alcohol look worse as happiness bump from alcohol would be for lower % of time. (Set row 21 to 24)

>Another thought - you measure the effects of alcohol on subjective wellbeing as a fraction of someone's waking hours. This seems right from a subjective wellbeing perspective. But is that also the way you think about the value lost by a death? By consistency, you would also need to implicitly downweight the disvalue a death by a third for the time people spend asleep. Or do you already do that in your moral weights?

Oh that's interesting. It's been a while now since I did this, but I think I was implicitly doing that with this calc

>I'm not sure I follow the claim that if you assume that alcohol taxation merely shifts the tax burden, there aren't strong reasons to think the deadweight loss will be greater from alcohol taxation vs other forms of taxation. The subjective wellbeing study found that drinking increases people's wellbeing by almost as much as spending time with friends. It seems unlikely to me that if the tax were instead eg on income that the benefits of the income would be as large as this. Intuitively, this seems off.


Interesting. That doesn't seem off to me. If I'm understanding correctly, the implication of your view is that people would generally be better off if they consumed more alcohol and less of other goods on the margin. Is that right?

To put it another way: increasing taxes on alcohol has two effects on consumer surplus: (i) deadweight loss (ii) a transfer from consumers to the government. I think (ii) is probably positive. Almost all taxes involve some amount of deadweight loss, but we do them anyway because we think public goods and redistribution are worth it.

TBC, I'm not claiming that higher excise taxes on alcohol relative to other goods merely shifts the tax burden. If we assume perfect rationality (which I believe would be mistaken), having unequal marginal taxes between goods does result in some additional deadweight loss. But it is a counterveiling factor.

>On your botec on the benefits of alcohol, a lot rides on you assuming that a death from alcohol accounts for 40 units of value

A unit of value (in GiveWell's terms) is equivalent to doubling consumption for a person for a year. A DALY is 2.3 units of value. So you want to be dividing your estimates by 2.3.

The Global Burden of Disease estimates ~30 YLLs and ~10 YLDs per death (I didn't include YLDs in the BOTEC and I underestimated YLLs which makes it conservative, though I also didn't discount the GBD estimates for imperfect evidence quality and black market consumption not addressable through policy which makes it optimistic. I'd guess these ~cancel).

Edit: didn't see your second comment when writing this where you saw this

>On the other hand, none of this considers hangovers. 

Yeah, although interestingly (IIRC) the Baumberg study didn't find any effect on SWB the day after drinking (though I'm skeptical -- maybe people didn't feel like inputting how sad they were on their phone when they were hungover!)

Hi Nick, thanks for your thoughts.

I agree air quality is meaningfully different from the other areas we highlight in terms of domestic salience (at least in India). But it’s not clear to me whether the existence of nascent government funding (and the consequent opportunity to improve the allocation of that funding) make philanthropic opportunities better or worse.

Efforts like the NCAP framework and 15th Finance Commission budget allocations in India are fairly new, and there aren’t well-developed playbooks for prioritizing and addressing sources of air pollution in this context. So we think there are large potential benefits to helping improve the effectiveness of those efforts. Among other things, we’re doing that by supporting organizations to help governments develop and implement specific action plans (e.g.), developing better models to enable cost-effectiveness analysis (e.g.), and providing independent assessment of progress against policy goals (e.g.). We think these are areas where philanthropic funding may be able to have an outsized impact. Santosh gives some more examples of grants he’s made in this part of his podcast. We’re also exploring working in other countries in South Asia with fewer government resources allocated to air quality than India. The program hasn’t been running long enough to make confident claims of impact yet.

Thanks Barry, 

At GiveWell (where I was working when we started the suicide prevention work), we discounted the impact to account for people who would otherwise die by suicide potentially living somewhat worse lives than a typical person in their context. Given the empirical and moral uncertainty, that estimate was based on a deliberative process and preference aggregation of different staff views rather than a single bottom-up model. Open Phil hasn't yet decided whether to incorporate a similar discount.

An overview of how GiveWell thought about it is available on this page and a selection of the evidence considered is in this Google Doc.

Speaking for myself, the evidence in that doc did update me towards valuing suicide prevention through means restriction highly. Interviews with survivors and psychological autopsies suggests that suicide (particularly pesticide suicide) is often impulsive and in response to short term life events. Under 5% of suicide attempt survivors go on to die by suicide in the next 5 years, which suggests that most survivors regret their first attempts and prefer to be alive.

I agree that, all else equal, addressing the social determinants of mental health would be preferable to preventing suicide by means restriction. But means restriction has empirically been very successful at reducing suicide rates.

Thanks for sharing the Lund paper!

Thanks for the thoughts Kartik!

(Speaking for myself; the 10% estimate comes from work I did at GiveWell but others at Open Phil and GiveWell may disagree with me)

I agree we shouldn’t dismiss consumer surplus entirely, and in retrospect would soften some of the wording in that doc – I think the irrationality point is important but not totalizing. The Nielsen idea is interesting and I’d like to think about it more. I think internalities are less bimodally distributed between people than your model, which muddies the waters, but I wonder if an analysis like that could still be informative.

Fwiw the program we funded is primarily focused on taxation, which is a nice mechanism to balance a recognition of externalities / internalities with a general prior towards personal choice. I'd estimate higher than 10% if that wasn’t the case. A focus on tax means the reduced consumption will be from the drinks for which people had the lowest willingness to pay, limiting lost consumer surplus.[1] It also results in increased tax revenue, so could be considered as trading off against alternative ways of raising tax revenue with their own deadweight loss in consumer surplus.

TBC, I recognize the inherent fragility / subjectivity of the 10% estimate and I suspect different people would come to quite different conclusions about what input to use, so I’d be excited to see more efforts to estimate this considering the broad sweep of evidence.

  1. ^

    Of the two studies I could find on consumer surplus, the one which attempted to estimate consumer surplus from a marginal increase in price (rather than for typical consumption) estimates a loss of €58 million in consumer surplus, compared to a  €700m improvement in “health, productivity, and non-financial welfare losses” (Anderson and Baumberg 2010, pg 34), implying an offsetting impact of ~8%. (Though I think there are a bunch of ways in which that study isn’t analogous to the models we use, including a higher estimate of non-health impacts, so difficult to know what to make of it).

    This also raises a separate worry about the extent to which taxation affects heavy drinkers, where the marginal harm is likely highest, which we tried to account for separately in the effect size estimate.

Thanks for pulling this together! It's great to see more funders in the space

Thanks for editing Michael. Fwiw I am broadly on board with swb being a useful framework to answer some questions. But I don’t think I’ve shifted my opinion on that much so “coming round to it” didn’t resonate

>Since then, all the major actors in effective altruism’s global health and wellbeing space seem to have come around to it (e.g., see these comments by GiveWell, Founders Pledge, Charity Entrepreneurship, GWWC, James Snowden).

I don't think this is an accurate representation of the post linked to under my name, which was largely critical.

Thanks Jason, mostly agree with paras 4-5, and think para 2 is a good point as well. 

Do you think the neutral point and basic philosophical perspective (e.g., deprivationism vs. epicureanism) are empirical questions, or are they matters on which the donor has to exercise their own moral and philosophical judgment (after considering what the somewhat limited survey data have to say on the topic)? 

I think the basic philosophical perspective is a moral/philosophical judgement. But the neutral point combines that moral judgement with empirical models of what peoples' lives are actually like, and empirical beliefs about how people respond to surveys.

I wonder if, insofar as we do have different perspectives on this (and I don't think we're particularly far apart, particularly on the object level question), the crux is around how much weight to put in individual donor judgement? Or even how much individual donors have those judgements?

My experience of even EA-minded (or at least GiveWell) donors is that ~none of them have a position on these kinds of questions, and they actively want to defer. My (less confident but based on quite a few conversations) model of EA-minded StrongMinds donors is they want to give to mental health and see an EA-approved charity so give there, rather than because of a quantitative belief on foundational questions like the neutral point. As an aside, I believe that was how StrongMinds first got on EA's radar - as a recommendation for Founders Pledge donors who specifically wanted to give to mental health in an evidence-based way.

It does seem plausible to me that donors who follow HLI recommendations (who I expect are particularly philosophically minded) would be more willing to change their decisions based on these kinds of questions than donors I've talked to.

I'd be interested if someone wanted to stick up for a neutral point of 3 as something they actually believe and a crux for where they give, rather than something someone could believe, or is plausible. I could be wrong, but I'm starting out skeptical that belief would survive contact with "But that implies the world would be better if everyone in Afghanistan died" and "a representative survey of people whose deaths you'd be preventing think their lives are more valuable than that"

What do you think?

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