Given the plausibility of longtermism, many effective altruists are interested in identifying tractable ways to shape the very long-term future for the better. One neglected and potentially tractable way to vastly improve the value of the long-term future is by identifying future-beneficial political and economic institutions and policies and acting to increase the probability of their implementation at various levels of political organization. Will MacAskill recently advocated age-weighted voting as one such strategy for better-aligning the interests of governments with the interests of future generations to improve the value of the future. We can in principle imagine many more, and potentially more promising design and policy proposals for aligning institutional incentives with the interests of future generations so that States will be more likely to use their massive resources and influence to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic risks and put the world on a more positive long-term trajectory.
To that end, I've recently undertaken the project—funded by the Forethought Foundation—of identifying and taxonomizing as many future-beneficial political and economic institutions and policies as possible and evaluating them along at least the following dimensions:
- How effectively could this design promote value in the very long-run?
- How politically feasible is this proposal?
- How likely is it to be co-opted by other (esp. shorttermist) interests?
- How well could it function as a symbol for a wider longtermist movement?
To date, I've identified 33 distinct institutions and policies, ranging from the very incremental/realist to the relatively utopian. I'm writing to solicit your help identifying more potentially future-beneficial institutions and policies. Anything that comes to mind off the top of your head would probably be useful, as this topic is very under-theorized and if I don't list the idea here it's relatively likely that it hasn't been considered at any length anywhere else. I'd also be interested in general feedback on anything relevant to the project, especially suggested amendments to the evaluation criteria and any useful empirical research that would be relevant to making these evaluations.
I list all 33 designs below along with a brief and general description. Once the project is finished, it'll be publicly available as a report and I will be happy to share it back here.
Note that very few of these ideas originate with me; some of them are in existing literature, and others come from people who I've spoken to, who I acknowledge at the bottom of this post. Note also that not all of these proposals are expected to be good proposals. In the final report, less promising proposals will receive a more shallow review and more promising proposals will receive a more thorough review. Many might turn out to be quite unpromising.
Thanks in advance for your feedback!
Voting by Guardianship
Future people are granted suffrage which is exercised through ballots cast by a formal body of existing people selected to represent future people and who vote with the express purpose and function of voting on behalf of future people.
Some (possibly all) voters are given an additional vote which they are told to cast on behalf of future generations.
Special Voting Rules
Specific voting rules for matters concerning future generations, especially in the legislature. One model is a sub-majority rule model: if a pre-determined numerical sub-majority of the legislature determines that a bill is in contempt of future generations, the bill can be stalled or vetoed (subject to overturn by the Courts).
Ombudsperson for Future Generations
Receives and investigates public complaints which can culminate in legal cases taken on behalf of future people. Lacks formal sanctioning power, and relies on capacities to suggest, persuade, and initiate (and take) legal cases. Connected to and formed by the legislature.
Body in one or multiple parliamentary/legislative house(s), typically constituted by parliamentarians, which performs analysing research regarding future people and is able to give opinions on and introduce legislation. May have independent powers including veto.
Ministries for Future Generations
Departments in the executive branch which are immediate subdivisions of the cabinet and led by the head of government and of state. (AKA “executive department,” “office,” “state secretariat.”)
Independent Executive Agencies for Future Generations
Independent agencies created by the executive branch which are not located in the cabinet but which may be given cabinet-level authority.
In-government Think Tank
Advisory research group located within government set up to perform analytical research on the welfare of future generations but which may perform other functions such as coordinating government, facilitating conversation, and running workshops.
Non-binding Impact Assessments
Requires proposed policies to contain an assessment of their welfare impacts on future generations. The impact assessment serves only to quantify impacts, raise their salience, and embarrass proposals with excessive negative impact while praising proposals with positive impact.
Financial Institutions for Intergenerational Borrowing
World institutions which can issue debt to investors and invest the resources gained in future-beneficial interventions.
Intergenerational Sin Taxes
Tax companies proportionally to expected damages to future generations. Invest the resources gained in future-beneficial interventions.
Common Heritage Fund for Future Generations
International fund allocated for the benefit of future generations; in the tradition of previous heritage funds such as the Maltese Proposal regarding Common Heritage of Mankind, the UNESCO World Heritage Fund, and so forth.
World Tax for Future Generations
International tax to be invested in future-beneficial interventions. Marcel Szabó recommends a 1% import tax on world trade.
Contingency Trust Funds
When governmental officials fail to protect the political interests of future generations (whether through negligence or necessity), the trustee institutions would require the government to provide compensation for the damage done to future generations.
Pensions Proportionate to Economic Growth
Pay political leaders’ pensions in proportion to how the country’s economy is doing at their time of retirement (or similar) as an incentive mechanism.
Longer Election Cycles
Reduces extent of short-term incentives by extending time in government office.
Legislative Youth Quotas
Requires a specified proportion of legislators to be below a specified age.
Age Limits on Electorate
Inverse of youth quotas, setting an upper limit on the age of members of the legislature or in other branches of government.
Votes are a weighted function of age, most plausibly functioning to increase the formal political power of younger voters relative to older voters.
Enfranchisement of the Young
Lowering the voting age to bring in more young voters with a greater interest in the future going well.
Guardianship Voting for the Very Young
Lowering the voting age to 0, providing votes to those who cannot cast a ballot through trustee relationships with parents or other assigned guardians.
Intergenerational Deliberation Day
A designated day on which issues of future generations are discussed in government, schools, or in other deliberative contexts.
Additional Legislative House
Legislative house which is tasked directly with the concerns of future generations. Could be an "upper" house with more limited powers (e.g., can't introduce legislation and can only vote on matters of long-term importance) or might have special powers such as the ability to authorize certain executive decisions and appointments. Might be randomly appointed group of citizens.
The Court of Generations
An amendment to the US Constitution to create the Court of Generations. The Court, which will reside in the judicial branch of government, will judge whether present society is ‘in contempt of intolerably threatening the security of the blessings of liberty to our Posterity’. The Court will consist of a grand jury, made up of one citizen from each state, and the members of the Supreme Court. It will meet at least once every five years. The Court will have no authority to force the implementation of any social programmes or agenda. Rather, the Court will provide a focus for national discussion and prioritization of long-term issues. (Bruce Tonn)
Human Rights Law
Internationally-recognized legal rights for future generations, of subsistence, existence, etc. Need bits of government to carry out mandate, and there may be a body that ensures it is being carried out.
Launched by the crown (in monarchies) to look into matters of extreme importance and investigate and advise on a very specific issue.
Office established to ensure follow-through on internally-described goals and targets by reviewing progress on these goals and giving recommendations.
Institutions for Protecting Future Democracy
Institutions designed to ensure intragenerational democratic control for future generations.
Codify the State’s interest in the welfare of future generations in fundamental governing documents for the nation. Must meet three conditions (Gonzalez-Ricoy): 1) inclusion in a legal document with normative superiority over ordinary statutes, 2) can only be amended by means that are more stringent than those of ordinary law-making procedures, 3) enforceable by an independent body with the ability to review statutes that may not comply with them.
Alter Formal Duties and Responsibilities of Political Leadership
Pass reform to change the stated duties and responsibilities of political leadership such as the duties of parliamentary offices. Depending on the jurisdiction, this can come with teeth, e.g., the power of judicial review in English law.
Quotas based on Group Membership
Require that certain governmental bodies (esp. legislatures) have a minimum number of members of certain groups (commonly: members of the environmental lobby).
UN High Commissioner for Future Generations
A sub-organ of the UN General Assembly which is tasked with international coordination and recommendation on issues of future generations.
Four-branch Model of Government
Supplement the traditional three-branch model of government (executive, legislative, judicial) with a fourth branch focused on future generations.
William MacAskill, Aron Vallinder, Alex Guerrero, Adam Gibbons, Ben Grodeck, Zach Freitas-Groff, Sam Hilton, Kian Mintz-Woo, Dominic Roser, Max Stauffer, Christoph Winter, Brown University Effective Altruists, this great book!
Here's another proposal:
We give every contemporary citizen shares in a newly created security. This security settles in, say, 100 years (in 2119), and its settlement value will be based on the degree to which 2119 people approve of the actions of people in the 2019-2119 timespan, as determined by a standardised survey - say, on a scale from 0 to 10.
This gives contemporary people a direct financial incentive to do what future people would approve of, and uses market mechanisms to generate accurate judgments.
(One might think that this doesn't work because people will go "I'll be dead before this settles", but I think this isn't really a problem - there is also an Austrian bond that settles in 100 years, and that doesn't seem to be a problem.)
A potential risk is that people might not be very good at assessing whether the last century's actions/policies have, on average, been good for them or not. To study that risk one could run such surveys today, testing whether people in different countries approve of the actions of people (in their country) in the 1919-2019 time span. Then one could match those survey results against expert judgements of how well different countries have been run during that period. (The experts aren't necessarily right, but agreement or disagreement with the experts should still give some evidence.)
That's a survey I'd like to see a top longtermist EA aligned psy-scholar perform ;)
It's worth noting that one important assumption here is that experts are pretty good at determining the counterfactual value of past policy decisions. I think this is right, but if we gave it up then no system like this one would be effective, since the feedback from future generations would be near-random. On the other hand, if the assumption is correct then there should be some feasible system that provides useful intergenerational feedback of the kind described here, though it may need to include a mechanism for increasing the influence of experts in the decision process.
Excellent. This is a much better idea than the "allow the 2119 people to decide whether to sentence the grandchildren of the 2019 political leaders to the tribunal of death" feedback mechanism that, disturbingly, came to me more readily.
It would be interesting to think about whether there are other feasible ways to see to it that the decisions of future people provide an incentive for the actions for present people.
Two concerns I have with this general kind of scheme is that it requires citizens to have lots of faith that the relevant institutions and the policy will persevere 100 years into the future (the 100 year bond stuff is relevant to this) and that they might not play well with high rates of immigration (since fluidity in polity membership could undermine the efficacy of long-term feedback mechanisms for members of that polity). But these might just be details to be ironed out rather than insolvable problems with the design.
Every financial security requires a matching liability. Who or what owes the money at maturity? If it's funded out of general taxation it's a vote on whether non-holders should pay money to the holders. Holders are incentivized to give high numbers, non-holders are incentivized to give low numbers, and accurate retrospective judgements don't seem to be relevant at all.
My guess is that the price falls rapidly to zero, like failed crypto schemes, though the game theory is not totally clear.
Can I sell my security? Why not just sell right before doing whatever it is I want to do that is going to screw the future over?
Do we have any evidence that younger people are more longtermism eg in their voting than older people?
There is also some direct evidence on voting. I think the best evidence is the paper that Will cites in his age weighted voting post. Ahfeldt et al. found that across 82 studied referenda, the elderly voted largely in their generational self-interest.
There are some complications. For example, there is some evidence that referenda are easier to manipulate via advertising campaigns than other polls, which might lead people to vote more in self-interest here than elsewhere.
I think this remains an open question, but it's one I'm looking into more carefully over the next month.
Wouldn't this trend be better explained by the hypothesis that older people are usually more conservative? (e.g., I just confirmed that, in Brazil, opinions about the government among young and old people are symmetrically opposite)
More on the question of what best explains these trends:
Ahlfeldt et al. analyze 305 Swiss referenda and argue that aging effects swing free from cohort effects and status quo habituation effects. "The evidence, instead, suggests that voters make deliberate choices that maximize their expected utility conditional on their stage in the lifecycle."
I think these trends are not better-explained by the hypothesis that older people are more conservative.
1. In the study, older voters were more likely to support health spending on risks to elderly health and less likely to support health care cost cuts, and less likely to support education spending, public transportation and infrastructure spending, and job creation. They were also neutral on the creation of sports facilities.
While I unfortunately haven't been able to look at the 82 referenda to examine their specific content, on its face this looks less like a division on party lines and more like a division on lines of generational self-interest.
2. The authors report that "[W]e find that controlling for party affiliation (conservatives and greens) and region (Baden vs. Württemberg) reduces the age effect by about one-third (Table 5, columns 3 and 4)."
3. The fact that older people are more conservative itself requires explanation. Part of the explanation is plausibly that conservative ideology and political parties cater to the self-interest of older people. How much can be explained this way I cannot say.
Not on voting directly but relatedly, asking a nationally representative sample about explicit future or present attitudes did not find evidence to support the claim that younger people consider future people as equally deserving of help, though we did find that older people prioritise present people more than younger people do.
Also, see Larks' quick literature review on psychology research, which suggested "that older people discount the future less than younger people, which might suggest giving their votes more weight." https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/b7BrGrswgANP3eRzd/age-weighted-voting#vqeyQAhSheoLZsTDY
Maybe time preference is not quite the issue here. Older people have a peculiar scheme of long/short term individual/impartial preferences: since they won't live much longer, it's reasonable for them to discount their own future welfare at a higher rate - i.e., no sense in saving for old age anymore; but precisely because of their shorter life span, their self-interest may not weight so much when confronted with preferences for the welfare of others.
I have a lot of thoughts.
1. Timescales. You do not define what you mean by long-term policy and I think this context is useful for people. I have come to define it (for the UK) as any policy that looks beyond the length of time that the policy maker expects to be in a role or the current government expects to be in power. For the UK this means policy that looks beyond the next 3-5 years. I think we should recognise that this is very different from timescale used normally when people in the EA community talk about long-termism. (As an analogy note that in animal rights policy the aim is generally to suggest policy that improves welfare (eg banning small cages) with the long run goal of ending factory farming).
2. Other ideas for you. I thought I had already shared my list with you (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qf2bMs_Bcz6mBUFOLqu-Elc3_QAYatMO/edit?dls=true) but maybe I had not. Here are 25+ ideas I have that are not on your list, I am sure I can come up with more if needed:
3. Evaluation criteria. I am not convinced by your evaluation criteria. Firstly I think there needs to be a decision if you are evaluating policies globally or for a specific country. I have not given this much though but assuming globally i would evaluate as such:
4. Action. I think there is enough research out there for people to be cautiously trying to create change as we are looking to do in the UK. Eg 266 Parliamentary candidates have signed up to the Big Issues Future Generations Pledge: https://www.bigissue.com/latest/heres-how-you-can-get-your-mp-to-back-the-future-generations-pledge/
5. Collaboration. Given I am basically doing exactly the same work as you (but focused solely on the UK) and you were unaware of the work Haydn shared, perhaps we should be collaborating more. Will drop you an email.
I hope that helps,
This is helpful indeed. Thanks for the reply!
1. Good point on clarifying the timescale for the sake of the report. I think the timescale you define for the UK is about right for narrowing the scope of the institutions considered by the report. Then the "effectiveness" evaluation criterion can do the work of identifying which institutions are best by longtermist lights, ranking institutions cardinally as a function of, among other things, their temporal reach.
2. You did previously share your list with me and I'm glad you've reshared it here. Ideas you mention here did not end up on the list I shared to the EA Forum for one of a few reasons: either there exists a similar proposal in the document already or the suggested change is in my list of smaller, incremental changes or I excluded it because I wanted to prioritize concrete, particular proposals over abstract, general ideas. Some of them simply involve ideas that are still on my to-read list. All of your suggestions are included in a more complete list off-site.
3. Max Stauffer also recommended adding a criterion based on strength of evidence. I think this is a good idea. I also like your suggestion to broaden my "political feasibility" criterion to "overall implementability." As you imply, there are considerations beyond political feasibility that are relevant to a design's implementability. I'm incompletely convinced that symbolism should be ignored completely in the context of this report, but I have been convinced by your point that symbolic value depends on contextual interaction with a lot of things, and an otherwise uninspiring change can function as a symbol with the right packaging.
Thanks again for reaching out here and via email. I'll be in touch about collaboration in just a moment.
A lot of good ideas here!
In interested in how Demeny Voting is expected to work psychologically. I would expect just about everyone who is given a second vote (which they are told to submit on behalf of future generations) to use that second vote as a second vote for whatever their first vote was for. I imagine they would either think their first vote was for the best policy/person, in which case they could convince themselves that's best for future generations too, or they would realize their first vote is only good for the short term, but they would double vote for short-termism anyway because that's what matters to them. Either way, I wouldn't expect them to vote against their own preferences with the second vote for future generations. I wouldn't expect many people to vote in some way that they saw as directly good for themselves, and then to cast a second contradictory vote that they saw as possibly neutral or bad for themselves but good for future people.
The system could be set up so they cannot vote for the same thing twice, but then I would expect most people to not use their second vote, unless there were at least two options they happened to like. (To prevent this, it could be set up so everyone voting was required to vote twice, for two different options, but then people may be more likely to just stay home when there's not two options they like. Maybe then there could be fines for not voting, but fining people for not voting for a candidate they don't like might lead to resentment.) However, people being required to vote for more than one option could be interesting as a version of approval voting in which everyone has two totally separate votes for different candidates.
If double voting were allowed, I would expect most people to do exactly that, but framing the second vote as allegedly on behalf of future generations could at least get people thinking more about the longterm, which might change which candidate some people double vote for. Is this sort of indirect effect what you'd be going for with this?
Surprising (and confusing!) as it may be, there is some evidence that voters would vote differently with their Demeny vote than with their first vote.
I've asked Ben Grodeck (who clued me into Demeny voting) to weigh in with more data, but for now see this study from Japanese economist Reiko Aoki, who found (Table 8 and Figure 7) that the voting preferences of surveyed participants who are permitted to cast one vote on behalf of themselves and one vote for their child sometimes vote differently on their second vote. The effect isn't drastic, but it is certainly non-trivial.
The study authors further find that policy preferences on behalf of oneself and on behalf of one's children diverge to a greater degree, and the authors hypothesize that we would see more divergence between the multiple votes of Demeny voters if they had different political options that better reflected the divergence between these sets of preferences. Thus, they think that instituting Demeny voting would cause party platforms to change to try to cater to the policy preferences of parents voting on behalf of their children.
I had the same intuition as RhysSouthan that most people who acquire the second vote in a Demeny voting structure would use the two votes for the same party/candidate/policy . I think an important facet here is that the salience of the vote being for the 'future generation' may nudge people on the margin to use both votes for the policy/party that best benefits the future generation, whereas without receiving the second vote they may not have voted this way. The Kochi University of Technology Research Institute of Future Design have some papers that show making future generations salient increases pro-social behaviour towards future generations. Thus, I think this the above hypothesis is plausible. Also, as Tyler showed above, even marginal changes of the second vote (from the first) that benefits future generations would be a good thing. I do think motivated reasoning is a big concern here though ( people manipulating their beliefs to think that their vote is good for future generations, when in fact it is not), and it would be interesting to see if there is any evidence of this.
The same institute actually just published a paper using a lab experiment to investigate the psychological effects of Demeny Voting. (I need to re-read the paper, as it has changed from their working paper version, which I read recently). However, the paper investigates the voting behaviour of people who do not receive the second vote (single-ballot voters). They hypothesise that these single-ballot voters may be more likely to use their vote for the benefit of future generations in a Demony Voting structure due to either:
a) The cost of behaving ethically decreases as their vote has less impact on the overall outcome. However, they do not find any evidence of this in their data (NPV Treatment: Demony voting, but participants are not told why a second vote was allocated to some people). The authors argue that single ballot voters may perceive the voting structure to be unfair, inducing them to vote more egotistically in this treatment.
b) A bandwagon effect (conformity): These voters expect that more votes will be used on the policy that benefits future generations, as a result of others getting a second vote (and told to use it for the interest of future generations) "promoting the ethical voting of single ballot voters."
They find evidence supporting the bandwagon effect. When people are told why a second vote is given in a Demony Voting structure (PV treatment), single ballot voters are more likely to vote for the policy that benefits the future compared to the NPV treatment. (Note: I am not sure a bandwagon effect is the best model to explain this result).
The authors contend that "these results suggest that the success of the new voting scheme suggested by Demeny should depend on whether the rationale behind giving some voters a second ballot is explained and understood."
It is important to highlight that this is a single lab experiment, and external validity concerns are legitimate (to the authors credit they make sure to talk about this at the end of the paper). Field experiments, the use of observational data, and further lab experiments are all necessary to get a better understanding of how Demony Voting affects voter's behaviour, but it's exciting to see academics interested in what I believe is an important question.
One concern with that system that came to my mind is the possibility that explicitly assigning one vote for a person's own use and one for a person's use on behalf of future generations could make the idea of voting in a more self-interested/short-termist way more salient, as well as making it seem more acceptable, or even like it's the norm that they're being encouraged to follow. It seems like it might therefore make people more likely to use "their own" vote in a more self-interested/short-termist way (which could just cancel out the increased longtermism of people's "second votes", rather than making things worse overall).
But that's entirely speculative, and seems to me somewhat less likely than Demeny Voting causing people to (a) just vote twice for what they would've voted for anyway, (b) use "their own" vote like they would've anyway but their "second" vote in more longtermist way, or (c) use both votes in a more longtermist way. But it still seems like that's a concern worth investigating. (It's possible it's been investigated already - I haven't read any of the linked papers.)
This is such an exciting project! Really glad you're doing it.
I have two questions/tentative suggestions on the scope/framing of the project:
(1) Are you considering any existing institutions? It seems like it could be useful to identify any existing institutions that seem advantageous for future generations -- so that we can have a better sense of the value of preserving or expanding them, and in case they could be used as templates for new institutions.
(2) The evaluation criteria seem good. But should you add something along the lines of "How likely is this institution to gain support in the future from people with nonlongtermist interests in a way that doesn't undermine its value, such that we wouldn't need to provide it with as much ongoing support?" (Related to political feasibility but more forward looking -- maybe can be just rolled into that criterion.)
On (1), I'm not currently considering any existing institutions, other than existing variants of the proposals mentioned. You're right that it would be useful to know which institutions we should preserve, and there also might be other things to learn from analyzing these institutions, such as what has worked well about them and what has kept them from working better. I'll have to consider adding these sorts of institutions.
On (2), that's definitely of concern to me in light of the fact that so many recently-adopted future-focused institutions have not been able to survive even one election cycle. I've been including this (the permanence of the institution) under effectiveness, but maybe it's worth graining the categories a bit more finely.
You could also try reforming a legislative house to focus on future generations. The House of Lords (UK)/Senate (Canada) is already meant to take a more long-term 'sober second thought' on legislation, and there's widespread discontent about the current function of both. They could be ripe for reform.
That's true, thanks for your comment. I didn't say this exactly, but some of the policies proposed above are suggested in what I think is the same spirit. E.g., adding the submajority delay rule or age quotas to these upper houses would plausibly make them more longtermist. If you have other specific ideas about ways of reforming legislative houses that make them more longtermist I would be quite interested to hear them.
This post was awarded an EA Forum Prize; see the prize announcement for more details.
My notes on what I liked about the post, from the announcement:
Not my idea, but any fund that invests money to be dispersed by future generations, e.g. https://www.overcomingbias.com/2018/04/why-dont-we-help-future.html
Other prosals: I wonder if, besides institutions and norms explicitly aiming for longterm welfare, we shouldn't have institutions to avoid (more) abrupt changes and power centralization. Examples:
1. Instead of Supreme Courts to unify case law through binding precedents, we could use a voting system to aggregate decisions from individual judges and lower courts. Besides diluting power, this would also increase legal certainty.
2. More vague (and way less confident about its effectiveness and feasibility): one of the challenges for institutional reforms is that they affect current decision-makers status, who are biased towards their own short-term self-interests. So if you had a system where: a) some norms would have explicit expiration dates, and / or b) reforms would only come into effect many years later (how much? Well, that depends… I guess most people don’t plan too much for more than 16 years ahead, even politicians), c) would be designed by another body… would it be enough to make people more impartial about, e.g., electoral reform?
I was wondering... We have (private) pension funds for children. Could / should we make it more widespread (maybe even mandatory)? Could we have government-sponsored funds? Parents (with government's help) would save resources in a fund that could only be used by their offspring when they came of age; plus, unlike current pension funds I know, they could be able to use it as collateral, or to pay tuition, or open a business, or maybe even transfer it to another pension fund...
For a longtermist, the pros are: it would increase overall savings (does it? or people will just divert resources from other funds?), transfer wealth to new generations (inequality of wealth between generations concerns me almost as much as possible inequalities of political power), improve intergenerational cooperation... Of course, this can be said for sovereign funds, too, but I see there might be some advantage in having individual accounts (so sidestepping things like tragedy of commons). I'm not very confident, though.
I don’t like flattering, and I disliked most of the proposals, but this is the post of the month for me. Do you produce a kind of spreadsheet with those proposals? With a column for pros, cons, and maybe even something like “historical or fictional examples/analogies”
On the other hand, I look at the small savings rate in most countries – even OECD countries usually save less than 15% of GDP (exceptions: Korea, Norway, Chile)... It’s hard to think that, given such high individual discount rates, people could become more long-term concerned. I wonder how much of this is due to scarcity and uncertainty about one’s own welfare; so perhaps the first step forward would be to mitigate present day inequality? Besides encouraging people into long-term investment, but still within their life span – maybe Tobias’s proposal of longterm securities could work with a 50y term (if we could define a matching liability, as Larks notices).
Interesting point re: savings rate. It wouldn't surprise me if economists have done research into what factors cause an increase in the savings rate. (If no research has been done so far, it seems like such research would fill a valuable gap in the literature.) Anyway, it seems plausible to me that some things which cause an increase in the savings rate also increase longtermism more generally. (This is another topic which we could gather information about by checking to see if people who save a lot of money are more longtermist generally.) My personal guess would be that economic and political stability predicts savings rate better than equality. I suspect drastic efforts to mitigate present day inequality would probably decrease savings rate if anything. What's the point in saving money if the government might randomly take it at some point in the future? [Edit: If you replace "reducing inequality" with "ensuring more people have lower levels on Maslow's hierarchy met" then I'd be more convinced.]
More broadly, I'd be interested to see people tackling longtermism as a psychological rather than a political project--what are the correlates of longtermist outlook that could feasibly be affected through interventions?
I'd gladly replace "inequality" with "ensuring more people have lower levels on Maslow's hierarchy met" - I was thinking about inequality world-wide and the negative psychological effects of scarcity and risk-aversion. And I do agree that egalitarian reforms may often harm private investment.
I don't advocate equality as a good per se; however, I guess too much inequality may also increase a feeling, at least for some people, that some goods "are not for them" - that there's no point in saving, because the future will be (best case scenario) just like the present, for them and for their descedants. There's no point in long-term planning for these people, and I guess they don't care very much about future generations.
So fun. Would be interesting to see tractability assessments for all the ideas.
Have you looked at Catholic institutions at all? They've done a good job of maintaining a cohered worldview over a long timespan (and also of growing very rich).
I am extremely interested in the question of how religions transmit ideas and values across many generations, but at the current moment I have no idea how they do this so successfully. If anyone has ideas or empirical sources on this I'd be quite keen to get more info on this.
You might be interested in this (courtesy of Gwern):
Yeah, it's a great question.
For Catholic stuff, The Great Heresies looks interesting, though old. (I haven't read it.)
I have thoughts about Mahayana Buddhist value transmission. Probably best to DM about that.
I bet Leah Libresco would have good thoughts on Catholic value transmission. Message me if an intro would be helpful.
Also this Quora thread: https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-oldest-institution-organization-that-exists-today
Some people would say that the Church exemplifies how an elite opmized for their own welfare instead of christian values, though.
When discussing voter constraints, please be clear about what citizens are voting for. Direct democracies do not work at scale (not everyone has the time to engage with every legislative proposal, unless all work is performed by machines), so I presume all discussions here are about selecting the most beneficial representative in a representative democracy. In which case we become dependent on voters ability to determine the 'best' representative. At what age do children become good at differentiating the ability of others? Are drug users abilities compromised? At what stage does dementia cloud judgement? Does the branding of party politics obscure the nature of representatives? Does the governance system make it easy to assess the intent, morals, teamworking and communications ability, laziness, self-centred altruism and understanding of the present issues and future vision for us all?
Rather than spending effort altering the set of voters, there is more value in helping all of us make better decisions. For instance:
Gov could fund all candidates equally (no candidate can spend more on their campaign) - reduces funding bias and those buying political influence.
GOV could provide candidate Bios to same standards, and manage candidate comparison sessions so voters can better compare experience for the role (communications ability, issue knowledge, personal motives, teamworking ability, ideological or commercial bias etc) - improves voter decision making.
GOV could provide training scheme in the governance process for all candidates - improves representative abilities.
GOV could set up a new house for industry and ideology representatives where commercial and social improvements can be raised and discussed - replaces back room hidden lobbying and makes it visible.
Remove all parties - Representatives seem unable to serve 2 masters (party and electorate) - representatives become focussed on electorate, can pick and choose which issues to support. Reduces party culture polarisation. This also requires a new way to select leadership roles.
GOV could make legislative change process more visible to capture arguments (for and against), associated costs and planning timescales as they are discussed. Also allow citizens to input through their representatives.
There are many ways we can better organise ourselves
It would also help if there was a vision for the species that we can all agree on.
Balanced budget amendments and/or debt limits
I obviously am a fan of this post! A few thoughts.
I don't think sin taxes is the best phrase here. Sin taxes usually refer to internalities like cigarettes, but this is an externality more like a climate tax.
I like the soft institutions like research commissions and cabinet members but suspect the harder institutions like a veto or additional legislator or even a court will get captured and perverted. Almost all of these institutions rely on norms to actually care about future generations, and norms collapse every so often when there's a reason to subvert them. Maybe this is just me looking at the current political moment, bit since we are talking about long time horizons, moments like this will recur, and I think it takes longer to salvage norms than it does to erode them. For example, claims I could see being made to justify any particular political agenda:
"We need to preserve our religious values for the sake of future generations" "We need to do [insert radical policy] to address the present crisis so that our civilization survives for future generations" "We must completely halt resource usage to preserve the earth for future generations" "We must maximize resource usage so that we grow as much as possible for future generations"
That was fun to read and seems like a promising project. One thanks from me and one thanks on behalf of our descendants! Some ideas that came to my mind:
I was surprised not to see a reference to the main (only?) paper examining this question from an EA/'longtermist' perspective:
Natalie Jones, Mark O'Brien, Thomas Ryan. (2018). Representation of future generations in United Kingdom policy-making. Futures.
Which led directly to the creation of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for Future Generations (an effort led by Natalie Jones and Tildy Stokes). The APPG is exploring precisely the questions you've raised. If you haven't reached out yet, here's the email: email@example.com
Edit: Upon revisiting I realized that I had already read this paper. It's one of the more useful things I've read in this area, so good nod.
Thanks! I've spoken to the APPG and seen some of their policy statements but I had not seen this particular paper. Super helpful.
One distinction one might make is that between institutions that:
a) Generate knowledge about how to help future generations effectively.
b) Give more power to people who want to help future generations, or whose task is to help future generations.
Using a belief-preference framework, one might say that a) generates true beliefs (and corrects false beliefs), whereas b) effectively makes the government's preferences more future-oriented.
An In-government Think Tank would be an example of a), and age-weighted voting an example of b). Some of the other institutions may be mixes; have both components.
Impartiality with respect to time is often compared with impartiality with respect to gender, ethnicity, etc. However, it seems to me that there is an important policy disanalogy, namely that it's probably more difficult to know how to advance the interests of future generations, than to know how to advance the interests of an underprivileged gender or ethnic group (even though that isn't trivial either). There's a risk that many policies that people might advocate for the sake of future generations aren't especially effective. One upshot of that is that when it comes to helping future generations, institutions that generate more knowledge may be unusually important.
Thanks, I agree that pinpointing whether these institutions target the epistemic vs motivational (vs other) determinants of short-termism will be important. One more reason to do this is that the best solutions will combine a multiplicity of institutions and policies to address all of the different sources of short-termism without reduplicating effort.
Also note that most institutions will do at least a little bit of both. The government think tank will also address some motivational failings by providing more government officials focused on the long-term and by creating coordination points for government action, while generally we might expect that making a body more motivated to improve the future (such as with AWV) will make it more likely to seek good information about the future.
I agree that some institutions will do both. I'm not sure that age-weighted voting will change voters' tendency, weighted by voting power, to seek good information about the future much, though.
I agree it will probably not change voter epistemic behavior. The thought was that it would change the epistemic behavior of the parties catering to voters and the representatives acting on behalf of the voters, since the voting rule will select for parties and representatives which are less short-termist. This of course can't be guaranteed—if parties are not motivationally longtermist but are merely trying to appease voters to hold power, for example, it won't change their epistemic incentives very much unless competing actors (parties, media) can demonstrate to young people that their plans are bad. But even in this case this is plausible.
I think there's some overlap with this and the existing literature on sustainability so it might be useful to look there too.
One concrete example that I like is using something like inclusive wealth as a supplement to GDP. By taking account of stocks, rather than simple flows, it accounts for the impact of current economic activity on future generations.
(Institutionalization of such a metric could look something like requiring e.g. the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to report inclusive wealth in addition to GDP.)
Thanks, I've looked at some of the inclusive wealth and natural capital accounting stuff a little bit and will continue to do so. Do you currently have any sense how useful this sort of accounting will be for general future generations issues (incl. catastrophic risks, positive moral & economic trajectories) beyond concerns related to environmental degradation?
I like inclusive wealth quite a bit more than some of the other attempts I've seen because it seems like there's an appealing, coherent theory behind it. Given that, I think it extends fairly straightforwardly to other kinds of issues (the paper itself talks about human capital, manufactured capital, natural capital, and social capital) on a conceptual level. The only real requirement is that you be able to phrase things in terms of stocks and flows and assign values to these.
I think the key difficulty for most additional things we'd like to add to inclusive wealth is settling on workable definitions and getting reliable measurements/data.
The idea is that any group can experiment in making policies, beginning small-scale, to experimentally see how well it goes. If it fails, it fails small - and hints what doesn't work. And if it succeeds, it can be emulated and/or expanded.
Similar to economic free zones, in that you have a small area with different laws from the rest of society, but these cities have an enormously bigger variety of policies that can be tested.
Some variants are charter cities, startup cities, free private cities.
The Golden Rule savings rate is "the rate of savings which maximizes steady state level or growth of consumption" and explicitly named after an inter-generational golden rule.
It's not in itself an institution but one could, in principle, implement policies which target the recommended savings rate.
Institutions for improving scientific knowledge production & synthesis.
Some leads here, under the "meta-science" header: https://jasminew.me/post/progress/
Hey, thanks for writing this. There are some age/time-related reforms that you have mentioned: Longer Election Cycles, Legislative Youth Quotas, Age Limits on Electorate, Age-weighted Voting, Enfranchisement of the Young, and Guardianship Voting for the Very Young.
These reforms would only promote "short longtermism" (i.e. next 50-100 years) while what we actually care about is "cosmic longtermism" (i.e. next ~1 billion years). What are your thoughts on this?
Increasing the power of hereditary rulers (Monarchs, House of Lords) and introducing them in other places (e.g. making Senates hereditary and replacing Presidents with Monarchs) to reduce short-term incentives by extending time in government office, and taking advantage of the high level of parent-child altruism to extend this beyond an individual ruler's lifespan.