[ Question ]

What is the increase in expected value of effective altruist Wayne Hsiung being mayor of Berkeley instead of its current incumbent?

by DonyChristie1 min read7th Aug 202033 comments


Policy Change
Personal Blog

Please offer me a quantitative estimate and supporting reasoning what you think the additional value is of having an EA like Wayne as mayor of Berkeley. In dollars, QALYs-- whatever makes sense to you.

Wayne is the leader of Direct Action Everywhere. He is now running for mayor of Berkeley.

Wayne has told me he wants to use evidence-based reasoning for deciding city policy and has identified as EA for years. I am reasonably confident he would take actions in favor of cause areas like animal welfare, poverty, and climate change.

Consider immediate impact and tail impact / n-order effects, the latter which may predominate. e.g. What are the chances this will unlock additional political wins for us that would otherwise be unavailable?

This is very important for deciding whether people in the EA movement (particularly in Berkeley) should coordinatedly help him get elected, or not (and whether I should spearhead that happening, or not).

His campaign site: https://www.wayneformayor.com/.

New Answer
Ask Related Question
New Comment

6 Answers

I recall Hsiung being in favour of conducting disruptive protests against EAG 2015:

I honestly think this is an opportunity. "EAs get into fight with Elon Musk over eating animals" is a great story line that would travel well on both social and possibly mainstream media.

Organize a group. Come forward with an initially private demand (and threaten to escalate, maybe even with a press release). Then start a big fight if they don't comply.

Even if you lose, you still win because you'll generate massive dialogue!

It is unclear whether the motivation was more 'blackmail threats to stop them serving meat' or 'as Elon Musk will be there we can co-opt this to raise our profile'. Whether Hsiung calls himself an EA or not, he evidently missed the memo on 'eschew narrow minded obnoxious defection against others in the EA community'.

For similar reasons, it seems generally wiser for a community not to help people who previously wanted to throw it under the bus.

I find "Wayne has told me he wants to use evidence-based reasoning for deciding city policy and has identified as EA for years" to be extraordinarily weak evidence. Anyone can say either of those things.

Here is a recent newspaper article describing Wayne as using cult-like techniques and abuse with DxE, and also here.

I don't have a quantitative estimate that isn't extremely made up, but right now, I'm in favor of Wayne winning the Berkeley election. I know there were accusations of DxE being culty and fucked up in various ways, and I believe most of them, though I'm not particularly in the know. I also agree that it would have been better if Wayne had handled CEA's reversal on serving meat at EAG more cooperatively. I don't think DxE's strategy is super compelling. I don't think Wayne is a perfect candidate, but I don't think his wrongdoings/level of uncooperativeness are out of distribution for a politician; they actually seem pretty middle-of-the-road in severity, though perhaps unusually lurid and interesting to discuss.

Those things just seem way way less important to me than his stance on farm animal welfare. It seems like one candidate is strongly against the mass torture and killing of sentient beings, and has worked hard to stop it, and as far as I can tell, the other doesn't particularly have a stance. It feels directionally analogous to me to choosing between a vaguely sketchy candidate who is actively anti-racist before the civil rights movement, or pro women's suffrage before women had the chance to vote, or in favor of letting in Jewish refugees during the Holocaust and one who isn't (and who may or may not be sketchy). (I don't expect this argument to resonate for people who don't put a lot of moral weight on animal lives). I don't know how he'd do good for animals as mayor (I know he wants to ban meat, don't know how likely that is to work), and I'd be interested in arguments that it's implausible he'd do much good, but by default it doesn't seem crazy.

I don't know much about the incumbent; I'd guess we know more about Wayne's shortcomings than his, because Wayne has been more adjacent to EA. I also think Wayne has shown great energy and had some meaningful successes, e.g. in community organizing, and getting fur banned in Berkeley, that are indicative of him being an agenty person. My current silly guess based on not much at all is that electing him in expectation saves tens of thousands of farm animals from torture.

My biggest worry is that Wayne's work will backfire and have a negative effect on efforts to help farmed animals, e.g. because he gets elected but handles things poorly.

[edited just to fix a typo]

I am a rather strong proponent of publishing credible accusations and calling out community leadership if they engage in abuse enabling behavior. I published a long post on Abuse in the Rationality/EA Community. I also publicly disclosed details of a smaller incident. People have a right to know what they are getting into. If community processes are not taking abuse seriously in the absence of public pressure then information has to be made public. Though anyone doing this should be careful.

Several people are discussing allegations of DXE being abusive and/or a cult. I joined in early 2020. I have not personally observed or heard any credible accusations of abusive or abuse enabling behavior by the leadership of DXE during the time I have been a member. It is hard for me to know what happened in 2016 or 2017.

Given my history in the rationality you should trust that if I had evidence I could post about systematic abuse within DXE I would post it. Even if I did not have the consent of victims to share evidence I will still publicly state I knew of abuse. I will note it is highly plausible DXE is acting badly behind closed doors. If this becomes clear to me I will certainly let people know.

(This is explicitly not a claim there is no evidence I find concerning. But I think you should be quite critical of most organizations and your eyes open for signs of abusive behavior.)

I am a member of DXE and have interacted with Wayne. I think if you care about animals the amount of QALYs gained would be massive. In general Wayne has always seemed like a careful, if overly optimistic, thinker to me. He always tries to follow good leadership practices. Even if you are not concerned with animal welfare I think Wayne would be very effective at advancing good policies.

Wayne being mayor would result in huge improvements for climate change policy. Having a city with a genuine green policy is worth a lot of QALYs. My only real complaint about Wayne is that he is too optimistic but that isn't the most serious issue for a Mayor.