Appendix B — Inertia, systemic obstacles

B.1 Social norms

Some of the social norms around charitable giving could work against the ideas of effective altruism. Cialdini and Trost (1998) define social norms as follows:

Social norms are rules and standards that are understood by members of a group, and that guide and/or constrain social behavior without the force of laws. These norms may emerge out of interaction with others; they may or may not be stated explicitly, and any sanctions for deviating from them come from social networks, not from the legal system

Elster (1989) explains how the use of social norms could pose a problem for how rational individuals are, and how as a result social norms could contribute to inefficiencies:

One of the most persistent cleavages in the social sciences is the opposition between two lines of thought conveniently associated with Adam Smith and Emile Durkheim, between homo economicus and homo sociologicus. Of these, the former is supposed to be guided by instrumental rationality, while the behavior of the latter is dictated by social norms… The former adapts to changing circumstances, always on the lookout for improvements. The latter is insensitive to circumstances, sticking to the prescribed behavior even if new and apparently better options become available

If social norms can cause departures from efficiency, then this could be considered as one of the causes of ‘ineffective’ altruism. It should be noted that this comparison between homo economicus and homo sociologicus is similar to a distinction offered by Thaler and Sunstein (2008). They similarly argued that we should understand human behaviour by viewing people as ‘homo sapiens’ rather than ‘homo economicus’, as ‘Humans’ rather than ‘Econs’ (Thaler and Sunstein 2008). While discussion from Thaler and Sunstein (2008), Tversky and Kahneman (1973) and the others in Behavioural Economics has focused more on how the use of heuristics can cause departures from rationality, as we discussed here, this section looks at the impact of social norms on the efficiency of giving.1

Asks (Own category?)

Donation requests increase the propensity to give (Yörük 2009). There is a conventional wisdom that “most donations occur in response to an ask”. If there are systematic asks for non-EA causes this may crowd out EG.

B.1.1 Subjectivity in the charitable domain -

Evidence from Berman et al. (2018)

The idea that ‘charity is a subjective decision’ may constitute a social norm, a systemic factor inhibiting effective giving. We discuss this in more detail under evaluation aversion, particularly in subsection @ref(subjectivity).

B.2 Consider: inertia and obstacles to charities collecting, evaluating, and sharing impact information

  1. Social norms promote giving to traditional non-EA causes and fundraisers, and responding to peer requests. –> crowding out? Norms may also suggest giving to causes like AMF is “weird”.↩︎