Where have I seen this before?

From today's  New York Times Briefing : President Obama  visits the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution  near Oklahoma City today, where he will talk about the need for more  humane  conditions in prisons. As with the case of animal agriculture, it's easy to call for humane treatment, but we should really ask ourselves, "why are they locked up at all?"  According to the Sentencing Project , nearly half a million of those locked up - about a quarter of the total incarcerated population - are locked up for drug offenses.  Beyond incarceration,  half of all drug arrests  are for the possession of marijuana. Among its many consequences, one result of this policy is  a staggering number of missing black men . Humane is better, but what we most need is freedom for people wrongly behind bars. And it bears saying that drug offenses are the low-hanging fruit. The American incarceration problem goes well deeper than that. More broadly, we deal with violent

The Effective Altruist's Prisoners' Dilemma

A discussion recently erupted with several friends over a tweet about an extra credit question posed by a professor at the University of Maryland: WHAT KIND OF PROFESSOR DOES THIS — name (@shaunhin) July 1, 2015 One of my friends commented that the rational thing to do is to select 6% - unless you happen to be that marginal student whose choice brings everyone down, you can only expect to gain by selecting 6%. My immediate reaction was that, well no, that's the rational thing to do provided you are egoistic and only care about your own exam score. If you're a rational altruist, though, the rational thing to do may be to select 2%, since in the unlikely event that you are the marginal student, you threaten to lose points for everyone. Depending on the size of the class and the way you value each additional point on the exam, this could easily outweigh the slight chance of getting an extra 4% for yourself. As is often the case, things are mo

Join, or Die: A Comment

I had a comment raised (by Owen Cotton-Barratt) in response to my post on protests that was important enough I felt I should post it: ... the EPA's estimated net global benefits of climate regulations ($67 billion), this march would, on expectation, yield an expected $201 million in benefits - enough to save 60,000 lives. Careful. An important fact is that money goes differently far in different contexts, and the figure that you are using for "enough to save 60,000 lives" represents an extremely good use of money. The benefits under discussion will not be distributed so as to all go on such cases. In fact many of them are health benefits which have been converted into a dollar value (I couldn't find the conversion rate on a skim read, but I can guarantee that it will be a lot more expensive than $3,500 per life -- probably between 1 and 3 orders of magnitude more, depending on the country they benchmark from). My estimate of the impact of the global effect of

Join, or Die (Part 2)

In my last long post , I argued that if we can greatly help a promising collective action, we are obligated to do so. I did not argue that any particular protest has or will be effective, although I offered a few illustrative examples. I thank Carl Shulman and Ben Kuhn for their helpful responses to my original post. In this post, I would like to argue that the habit of supporting social movements is a good one to have and offer a few examples. To start, let's consider a few problems where protesting could likely make a difference. It seems to me protests rely on having a problem that is fairly concrete and direct, with an identifiable institution at fault. Poverty in developing countries strikes me as lacking in a clear target for a protest, and existential risk strikes me as too abstract and, again, lacking in a clear target. These are problems that severely affect large numbers of people and are at least somewhat tractable: -Mass incarceration -Climate change -Global insti

Join, or Die (Part 1)

In September 2014, 400,000 people took to the streets of New York City to protest inaction against climate change in what was the single biggest demonstration of the last decade in the United States. In the previous month, and in nearly every month since, protests against racism in the criminal justice system have roiled nearly every major U.S. city. This comes in a decade when the national conversation has already been shaped profoundly by the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. It's common to view participation in mass protests as a choice. I want to argue that, sometimes, participation in protests is not a choice: it is wrong not to participate. I don’t claim that community or solidarity or anything like that has inherent importance. Instead, I want to argue that it may be immoral to stay home from a protest because doing so causes harm. To start, I offer perhaps the most influential thought experiment of contemporary times – one that has led thous


Welcome to the Groff Spot! This will be a blog (for now) about effective altruism, economics, animal liberation and anything at the nexus of numbers and justice. If I feel like it, I might throw in a film review or two (for those of you who don't know, I'm a cinephile ). All views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or any organization with which I am associated. As for me, I'm a recent Yale College graduate working as a Research Analyst at Innovations for Poverty Action , which researches the most effective ways to help the world's poor. I will be applying to Ph.D. programs in economics in the fall. I am anti-speciesist (this includes leaving animals off my plate) and donate 10% of my salary (with an aim to contribute much more later) to highly effective charities. I'm also a Connecticut organizer for Direct Action Everywhere , a network of animal rights activists that take nonviolent direct action on behalf of farme