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robertogreco : dylanmatthews   6

I spent a weekend at Google talking with nerds about charity. I came away … worried. - Vox
"To be fair, the AI folks weren't the only game in town. Another group emphasized "meta-charity," or giving to and working for effective altruist groups. The idea is that more good can be done if effective altruists try to expand the movement and get more people on board than if they focus on first-order projects like fighting poverty.

This is obviously true to an extent. There's a reason that charities buy ads. But ultimately you have to stop being meta. As Jeff Kaufman — a developer in Cambridge who's famous among effective altruists for, along with his wife Julia Wise, donating half their household's income to effective charities — argued in a talk about why global poverty should be a major focus, if you take meta-charity too far, you get a movement that's really good at expanding itself but not necessarily good at actually helping people.

And you have to do meta-charity well — and the more EA grows obsessed with AI, the harder it is to do that. The movement has a very real demographic problem, which contributes to very real intellectual blinders of the kind that give rise to the AI obsession. And it's hard to imagine that yoking EA to one of the whitest and most male fields (tech) and academic subjects (computer science) will do much to bring more people from diverse backgrounds into the fold.

The self-congratulatory tone of the event didn't help matters either. I physically recoiled during the introductory session when Kerry Vaughan, one of the event's organizers, declared, "I really do believe that effective altruism could be the last social movement we ever need." In the annals of sentences that could only be said with a straight face by white men, that one might take the cake.

Effective altruism is a useful framework for thinking through how to do good through one's career, or through political advocacy, or through charitable giving. It is not a replacement for movements through which marginalized peoples seek their own liberation. If EA is to have any hope of getting more buy-in from women and people of color, it has to at least acknowledge that."
charity  philanthropy  ethics  2015  altruism  dylanmatthews  google  siliconvalley  ai  artificialintelligence 
november 2015 by robertogreco
David Geffen's $100 million gift to UCLA is philanthropy at its absolute worst - Vox
"Music mogul David Geffen is very, very bad at being a philanthropist. His past donations have mostly taken the form of massive gifts to prominent universities and cultural institutions, rather than to poor people or important research or even less famous, more financially desperate universities and arts centers. And his charitable giving usually comes with a major branding component. This past March, he committed $100 million to renovate a concert hall at Lincoln Center — but only after the center paid $15 million to the family of Avery Fisher, the hall's former namesake, so that Geffen could have his name plastered on it. It's like renaming a sports stadium, except that Geffen gets a massive tax write-off for it.

But his latest gift really takes the cake. Geffen is giving $100 million to UCLA to set up a private middle and high school on its campus. You see, the UCLA Lab School only serves students — many of them faculty brats — up to the sixth grade, and poor old UCLA has "not been able to attract certain talent because of the costs of educating their children." In particular, Geffen worries that UCLA's medical school — excuse me, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA — isn't able to compete with Harvard and Johns Hopkins because of the lack of a nearby private high school.

The LA Times's Larry Gordon adds that Geffen "declined to discuss his views on public education in Los Angeles." You don't say.

Geffen might as well have just set $100 million on fire

It's hard to know where to start in explaining why this gift is such a grotesque waste. For one thing, it genuinely doesn't matter to anyone without a sentimental attachment to UCLA whether its medical school is competitive with Harvard and Johns Hopkins. The faculty members that Geffen is trying to recruit away are certainly doing important research that will save lives — but they're doing it wherever they teach. Why should anyone care whether that happens at UCLA or at Johns Hopkins? Unless one genuinely believes that the climate of southern California can effect a meaningful boost in the productivity of biomedical researchers, relative to Baltimore or Cambridge, improved recruitment for UCLA accomplishes precisely nothing for the world at large.

But at least the faculty brats will get a free education, right? Other than the existing free education they could get by enrolling their children in the LA public school system? Nope! The education won't be free. "Many details about the school remain to be decided, including tuition and admissions criteria," Gordon reports, but half of the school's 600 students will be children of UCLA employees, and about 40 percent of students will get financial aid. So even if nobody gets tuition assistance except UCLA faculty, a fifth of the faculty kids who get educated at the school will pay full freight. Their parents will benefit not in financial terms but through improved convenience. The problem being solved isn't that other private schools are too expensive; it's that they make it too hard to pick up and drop off kids.

It's worse than that, though. Gordon writes that UCLA employees already have a convenient, free option: "A special agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District allows children of UCLA professors and other employees to attend several well-regarded public schools in and near Westwood, no matter where they live." The city government has gone out of its way to give UCLA faculty access to good, conveniently located public schools. But that's not enough for David Geffen, for some reason.

The only rationale for the school that has even the patina of plausibility is the claim by UCLA chancellor Gene Block to Gordon that it will provide a place for UCLA's education school to test different learning and teaching methods. That indeed sounds admirable. But you know where else UCLA education researchers can do that? The UCLA Community School, a public school that, unlike the Lab School or the new Geffen Academy, is able to test learning methods on children of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. And while the Lab School can only test on students up to sixth grade, the Community School is K-12.

If David Geffen had a sincere interest in improving the quality of research on K-12 pedagogy, he would've given to the Community School, or perhaps paid for the establishment of a new school like that for UCLA or another school with top-tier education researchers. But Geffen does not, obviously, have any kind of sincere interest in improving research. He just wants to help a school with his name on it win a pissing match with Harvard and Johns Hopkins.

This is worse than not giving at all

That said, it doesn't seem particularly likely that investing in pedagogical research is the most cost-effective donation Geffen could make. Instead, he could give $100 million to distribute bednets in sub-Saharan Africa, a highly cost-effective way to save lives. He could give $100 million directly to poor people in Kenya and Uganda through GiveDirectly. He could give $100 million to deworming efforts that spare children ailments that can cause immense pain and poverty. He could give $100 million to the Open Philanthropy Project or the Gates Foundation or another group doing careful, rigorous work to determine the best ways to use charitable resources to make the world a better place. He could, in fact, do all of the above, because he's crazy stupid rich.

Instead he decided that what LA really needed was a new private school. "Yes, charity is better than no charity," Gawker's Hamilton Nolan writes in an excellent post on the Geffen gift. "But no, all charitable giving is not created equal." I'd go further than Nolan. This gift is actually worse than no charity. No charity at least doesn't actively undermine the LA public school system by encouraging affluent parents to defect from it — in particular affluent parents who are already being specially induced to put their kids in public school. Geffen is actively making education in Los Angeles worse because he wants the medical school named after him to rise in the US News rankings. It's indefensible.

VIDEO: Helping poverty is a better use of $100 million"
philanthropy  nonprofits  charitableindustrialcomplex  2015  davidgeffen  dylanmatthews  losangeles  schools  education  gatesfoundation  charity  us  money  ucla  uclalabschool  larrygordon  provateschools  independentschools  inequality  uclacommunityschool  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  nonprofit  capitalism  power  control 
november 2015 by robertogreco
For the love of God, rich people, stop giving Ivy League colleges money - Vox
"But it's hard to imagine a worse way to use the money that still entitles Schwarzman to a charitable tax deduction. Yale is not a charity. It is a finishing school that overwhelmingly serves children of wealth and privilege. Supporting its scientific and particularly biomedical research is worthwhile, but the school is already far richer than all but one of its peer institutions and has access to considerable federal funds in that area, as well. And, of course, Schwarzman isn't supporting Yale's biomedical research. He's giving its dancers a nicer stage upon which to pirouette.

Literally any other charity, save maybe Harvard, is a better choice. Schwarzman could give $150 million to distribute bednets in sub-Saharan Africa, a highly cost-effective way to save lives. He could give $150 million directly to poor people in Kenya and Uganda through GiveDirectly. He could give $150 million to deworming efforts that spare children ailments that can cause immense pain and poverty. He could give $150 million to the Open Philanthropy Project or the Gates Foundation or another group doing careful, rigorous work to determine the best ways to use charitable resources to make the world a better place. He could, in fact, do all of the above because he's crazy stupid rich.

Of course, even the most generous among the rich spend heavily on themselves. Bill Gates may hope to spend down his fortune by fighting HIV and malaria in the developing world, but he also found the money to buy his daughter a 228-acre horse farm with 121 stalls, a race track, and staff lodging for up to 32 people. And maybe that's how Schwarzman's profligacy is best interpreted. He's a Yale alum, and this donation clearly provides some kind of emotional benefit to him.

But it's not philanthropy. It's not helping people who need help, and it's obscene that Schwarzman is getting a massive tax write-off for it. Giving to Yale is not an act of altruism. It's a gigantic, immoral waste of money, and it's long past time we started treating it as such."
plutocracy  blackstone  highereducation  2015  highered  ivyleague  stephenschwarzman  dylanmatthews  billgates  taxcode  charities  charitableindustrialcomplex  money  us  economics  priorities  philanthropy  donations  yale  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  charity  capitalism  power  control 
may 2015 by robertogreco
This is how the American system of government will die - Vox
"The United States' system of government is a nightmare. The Constitution requires levels of consensus between branches of government that are not realistic in a modern country with ideologically polarized parties. The result is near-total policy stasis and gridlock that in some cases, like the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, risks stopping measures from taking effect that are necessary to prevent total calamity. As the saying goes, things that can't last forever don't, and it's reasonable to predict, as Matthew Yglesias does, that America's untenable system of government will fall apart, probably in our lifetimes.

But Yglesias is vague as to how that will happen. While he's careful to say that past democratic collapses — such as the Honduran constitutional crisis of 2009 — aren't necessarily models for what will happen here, he does seem to presume some kind of crisis. At some point, an impasse between the executive and legislature will create a state of exception, a point at which disaster cannot be averted through normal legal channels.

But it's hard for me to imagine a crisis whose resolution would involve an all-out coup or dissolution of democratic institutions. What's much likelier is a continuation of the executive's gradual consolidation of power until the presidency is something like an elective dictatorship. It won't happen in a big bang, and no individual step in the process will feel like a massive leap into tyranny. But compared to today, the president's powers will be almost unrecognizable."

[See also “American democracy is doomed” (Matthew Yglesias):
http://www.vox.com/2015/3/2/8120063/american-democracy-doomed ]
2015  us  government  dylanmatthews  matthewyglesias  politics  democracy  constitution  thegreatreset  juanlinz  checkandbalances  parliamentarydemocracy  presidentialgovernment  polarization  gridlock 
march 2015 by robertogreco
American democracy is doomed - Vox
"To understand the looming crisis in American politics, it's useful to think about Germany, Japan, Italy, and Austria. These are countries that were defeated by American military forces during the Second World War and given constitutions written by local leaders operating in close collaboration with occupation authorities. It's striking that even though the US Constitution is treated as a sacred text in America's political culture, we did not push any of these countries to adopt our basic framework of government.

This wasn't an oversight.

In a 1990 essay, the late Yale political scientist Juan Linz observed that "aside from the United States, only Chile has managed a century and a half of relatively undisturbed constitutional continuity under presidential government — but Chilean democracy broke down in the 1970s."

The exact reasons for why are disputed among scholars — in part because you can't just randomly assign different governments to people. One issue here is that American-style systems are much more common in the Western Hemisphere and parliamentary ones are more common elsewhere. Latin-American countries have experienced many episodes of democratic breakdown, so distinguishing Latin-American cultural attributes from institutional characteristics is difficult.

Still, Linz offered several reasons why presidential systems are so prone to crisis. One particularly important one is the nature of the checks and balances system. Since both the president and the Congress are directly elected by the people, they can both claim to speak for the people. When they have a serious disagreement, according to Linz, "there is no democratic principle on the basis of which it can be resolved." The constitution offers no help in these cases, he wrote: "the mechanisms the constitution might provide are likely to prove too complicated and aridly legalistic to be of much force in the eyes of the electorate."

In a parliamentary system, deadlocks get resolved. A prime minister who lacks the backing of a parliamentary majority is replaced by a new one who has it. If no such majority can be found, a new election is held and the new parliament picks a leader. It can get a little messy for a period of weeks, but there's simply no possibility of a years-long spell in which the legislative and executive branches glare at each other unproductively.

But within a presidential system, gridlock leads to a constitutional trainwreck with no resolution. The United States's recent government shutdowns and executive action on immigration are small examples of the kind of dynamic that's led to coups and putsches abroad."



"The idea that America's constitutional system might be fundamentally flawed cuts deeply against the grain of our political culture. But the reality is that despite its durability, it has rarely functioned well by the standards of a modern democracy. The party system of the Gilded Age operated through systematic corruption. The less polarized era that followed was built on the systematic disenfranchisement of African-Americans. The newer system of more ideological politics has solved those problems and seems in many ways more attractive. But over the past 25 years, it's set America on a course of paralysis and crisis — government shutdowns, impeachment, debt ceiling crises, and constitutional hardball. Voters, understandably, are increasingly dissatisfied with the results and confidence in American institutions has been generally low and falling. But rather than leading to change, the dissatisfaction has tended to yield wild electoral swings that exacerbate the sense of permanent crisis.

As dysfunctional as American government may seem today, we've actually been lucky. No other presidential system has gone as long as ours without a major breakdown of the constitutional order. But the factors underlying that stability — first non-ideological parties and then non-disciplined ones — are gone. And it's worth considering the possibility that with them, so too has gone the American exception to the rule of presidential breakdown. If we seem to be unsustainably lurching from crisis to crisis, it's because we are unsustainably lurching from crisis to crisis. The breakdown may not be next year or even in the next five years, but over the next 20 or 30 years, will we really be able to resolve every one of these high-stakes showdowns without making any major mistakes? Do you really trust Congress that much?

The best we can hope for is that when the crisis does come, Americans will have the wisdom to do for ourselves what we did in the past for Germany and Japan and put a better system in place."

[See also: “This is how the American system of government will die” (Dylan Matthews )
http://www.vox.com/2015/3/3/8120965/american-government-problems ]
2015  us  government  politics  constitution  thegreatreset  democracy  juanlinz  checkandbalances  parliamentarydemocracy  presidentialgovernment  polarization  gridlock  dylanmatthews  matthewyglesias 
march 2015 by robertogreco

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