Sunday Links #22

I promised to make the link roundups relate a little better, so here you go:


The Millenium Development Goals set priorities for governments and NGOs working to help the developing world. However, the current set only covers 2000-2015, so a new set is being developed for 2015-2030. What should be included? Toby Ord suggests including a metric of “healthy life expectancy”, or life expectancy weighted by quality of life, and “log income”, which correlates pretty highly with life satisfaction.

The implications of “log income” is that giving money to the poorest should more easily boost total world satisfaction than giving the money most other places. Luckily, there’s an organization, Give Directly, that does just that, who I’ve profiled earlier. They’re also profiled in Tina Rosenberg’s Fixes Column entry “The Benefits of Cash Without Conditions”.

Peter Singer argues that if you’d save the life of a small child near you, you should also be willing to donate to one of these charities. After all, the idea of distance mattering in ethics is quite weird indeed.

Also, in a related note, Carl Shulman works to try and turn log-income and log-consumption into better metrics of human welfare.


Google has eight simple rules for being a better manager: (1) be a good coach, (2) empower your team and don’t micromanage, (3) express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being, (4) be productive and results-oriented, (5) be a good communicator, (6) help employees with career development, (7) have a clear vision and strategy, and (8) have key technical skills so you can be an advisor.

In a related note, “Six Psych Tips for Creating the Ideal Workspace”: (1) avoid open-plan; (2) both messy and untidy desks have their place, depending on the type of outcome you are looking for; (3) prefer curvy environments over straight edges, (4) have a room with a view or a picture of a view, (5) include lots of plants, and (6) decorate.


“Ethics as What’s Worth Caring About”: “The utilitarian can simply say, ‘I care about people! I want everyone to be as well-off as possible.’ And that seems a pretty attractive goal! There seems no doubt that people’s welfare (and, more broadly, the welfare of sentient beings) is worth caring about. Is anything else comparably important, or worth caring about? Take promises. People sometimes criticize utilitarianism on the grounds that it affords no intrinsic significance to promise-keeping, so utilitarians may be expected to break promises (at least when it’s sufficiently clear that it really would be for the best). But does it really make sense to care about promises more than people? That sounds terribly perverse! Promises can be a useful tool for coordination, and hence serving our collective interests. But when promise-keeping and human welfare diverge, surely it’s the latter that really matters.”

A somewhat related triumph for utilitarianism comes from the The Trouble With “Good”: “One person can go on and on for months about all the reasons the Israelis are totally right and the Palestinians are completely in the wrong, and another person can go on just as long about how the Israelis are evil oppressors and the Palestinians just want freedom. And then if you ask them about an action, or a decision, or a state - they’ve never thought about it. They’ll both answer something like ‘I dunno, the two-state solution or something?’. And if they still disagree at this level, you can suddenly apply the full power of utilitarianism to the problem in a way that tugs sideways to all of their personal prejudices. In general, any debate about whether something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is sketchy, and can be changed to a more useful form by converting the thing to an action and applying utilitarianism.”


“God, Christianity, and Meat” – an interesting religious perspective on vegetarianism: “I was delighted to learn about this rich tradition of incorporating vegetarian diets into spiritual practice, but I admit that it first surprised me. It certainly is not something most Christians in America know about. If you do some searching like I did, though – even simply by searching “Christianity and vegetarianism” on the Internet – it’s easy to see just how important the idea of peace between all creatures has been in the Christian moral imagination.”


“What it Feels Like to Be Bad at Math” (also applicable to all other hard subjects and things): “As I procrastinated, spending more time at dinner complaining about topology than in the library doing topology, I realized that procrastination isn’t just about laziness. It’s about anxiety. To work on something you don’t understand means facing your doubts and confusions head-on. Procrastination pushes back that painful confrontation.”


Some notes from GiveWell on philanthropy in political advocacy.