Possible Moral Trade Implementation

Confidence: 7 | Importance: 4 | Novelty: 7
Post #: 29 | abandoned | Topics: economics, effective altruism

I’ve been thinking about Toby Ord’s Moral Trade paper, and think a new Repledge website, which helped facilitate moral trade, is a desirable thing, legal questions aside. Here’s the idea (edited with my own takes) for those unfamiliar:

Create a website where people can donate to a cause, but where if someone else donates to the opposite cause, both peoples’ money is instead diverted to a 3rd charity that both parties also support (e.g. GiveWell). To discourage GiveWell supporters from waiting and donating to whatever interest group is necessary to double their donations, the running balance is kept private. After a set time (say, once a week, Saturday at 1800), the tied money goes to GiveWell and the surplus money goes to the interest group it was intended for.

People interested in supporting interest groups should be interested in funding this way if:

  1. they believe their opponent’s interest group could advance their interest better with a dollar than their own
  2. they would rather give $2 to GiveWell than $.5001 to their own interest group
  3. some reconciliation of #1 and #2.

Trust problems can be resolved with smart open-source software and 3rd party (not GiveWell) auditing.

Given only the option of donating X dollars through the site or outside it, I think a rational agent should donate according to the following procedure so as to maximize utility:

  • A = utility/dollar of one’s interest group
  • B = -utility/dollar of the opposition’s interest group
  • G = utility/dollar of the neutral 3rd group (GiveWell)
  • If | B | > A {
    • Donate through site so as to get 2 * G }
  • If A > 2 * G {
    • Donate directly to A }
  • If A - B > 2 * G {
    • Donate directly to A }
  • Else {
    • Donate through site so as to get 2 * G }

If this is a good idea in theory, the next obstacle to tackle is the question of legality. I imagine that people should be able to consent to their money being used in this way, but laws, especially campaign finance laws, are not always intuitive.

The next question is whether the expected donations to GiveWell would be worth the effort to tackle this project. The effort, of course, could widely vary; we could hire a team of software engineers to build a secure system where humans are effectively out of the loop and this could be verified by 3rd party investigators. Or we could make two Venmo-like accounts (one for each side of a partisan issue that a poll shows people are interested in funding on both sides), and literally just live stream and post a video weekly of the site’s owner subtracting the difference between pairs of accounts, donating the money to the winning site (with the camera still rolling), and donating the matched money to GiveWell.

There is a very good chance that we will not find prospective donators on opposite sides of an issue that both buy into the math and trust the site enough, but it’s possible. The cost is low enough however that this simpler system could be implemented within hours by one trusted third party should a community find itself sharply divided on an issue and be willing or already spending money on organizations with opposing missions.