abiolvera

187Joined Apr 2017

Comments
8

  • For people who are struggling to switch over to policy from non-policy careers, the Foreign Service seems more accessible and provides a wider-range of exposure to EA issues than other entry or mid level policy options. For people already with established policy careers and a clear Theory of Impact, the Foreign Service might be a bit too open-ended (since you don't get to select for your first two assignments). For people considering alternatives that are not directly related to government work (like ops for EA orgs, GPR, field-building), I'd still recommend at least applying if they're in the minority of people for whom bureaucracy and constant moves isn't a strong downside. Even having 1-2 more people excited about effective altruism in the Foreign Service would effectively double how many there are. 
    • For example, if someone were an established expert in GPR research, the non-research work in the Foreign Service might not be a good career fit. If this GPR research expert really wanted to get into policy, I'd recommend more specialized strategic/subject-matter-expert roles in other parts of government unless they were very excited to join the Foreign Service specifically and are fine with waiting 10+ years to lobby for GPR within the government from a more senior position.
  • You asked about post-Foreign Service job options. Some go work at top tech companies as their strategic leads on different issues, join prestigious think tanks, start important think tanks from their US government knowledge (like Dan), become professors, etc. I have known of two who successfully ran for political office after. In other words, the Foreign Service is highly flexible. 80,000 Hours' post on career capital sums the value of this up: "If you focus on building valuable, flexible career capital, then you’ll be able to have a more impactful, satisfying career too." 
  • You asked about important policies that can be passed or influenced and how this converts to QALYs. The State Department covers a huge array of important issues like setting/negotiating multilateral/international law, Biological Weapons Convention, building crisis communication channels, building norms regarding biosecurity, great power conflict, public health, etc. The QALYs are difficult to quantify but could be massive in the same way that economists' work is competitive with RCT-backed interventions (EA Forum post: Growth and the Case against Randomista Development) Quote from their article: "China’s growth acceleration from 1977 onwards produced $14 trillion NPV in cumulative economic output. Thus, if the only thing the economics profession achieved in 50 years was to increase by 4 percentage points the probability that the Chinese government shifted to this new economic strategy, then it would have had greater economic benefits than the Graduation approach." Diplomats are quite similar to economists and political advisors in their work, so could influence better norms for the long term future as well as better more equitable sustainable economic growth and stronger public health interventions.
     

There are definitely institutional pressures to focus on short-term considerations, especially for those offices that play bigger roles in quickly-evolving bilateral and multilateral issues. The more technical offices (also called functional bureaus) that have subject matter experts working on longer term strategic issues, and being called on to review the quicker/shorter-term considerations. These tend to have a higher number of Civil Service employees who are in the office for decades (unlike Foreign Service who are in a specific position for 1-3 years), making longterm considerations easier. Overall, I don't think State suffers as much from an emphasis on short-term considerations as other Departments might since the bulk of State's work isn't focused on partisan issues or dependent on election cycles.

This is a great note. Science and tech diplomacy is finally getting a lot more funding and strategic priority. State just created a bureau entirely devoted to Cyber. The opportunities for science diplomacy are probably the highest they've been in a long time.

This is a great point - diplomats are often reminded (even as early as onboarding) that we must be willing to implement policies we don’t agree with. This point perhaps didn’t come to mind when drafting because this scenario can be avoided by selecting diplomatic assignments where you agree with the mission. This is also probably easier for diplomats (like me) who are in the Economic career track. The offices/countries where I’ve worked, we’ve pursued long-term sustainable economic growth, energy resilience, earthquake preparedness, science/tech/health cooperation, and better/expanded social safety nets. The risk for being assigned somewhere you do not agree with is highest in the first four years when you have limited control of where you go.

To use your example of aid cuts for illustrating how nuanced this can be: diplomats are likely to fight tooth-and-nail against aid cuts in countries that need it. While the diplomat might have the bad luck of delivering the news, they’ll have been in a position to fight the cuts for months (within the government, not publicly). The diplomats might then be able to pursue other types of financial support, citing lack of aid as a major reason.

Thanks for the feedback. I actually would like the article to be considered by non-US citizens to consider joining their own Foreign Service. I was deciding between making the article more generalizable vs U.S. centric. I made the title more U.S. centric for efficiency/sorting purposes but have added a paragraph of my estimate for other countries' diplomacy careers at the very top. Overall, I think the scale of staffing size makes smaller countries' diplomatic careers competitive, despite the varying geopolitical influence of other countries.

Super glad you wrote this up! The over-representation of young people in EA might in some ways be due to more university outreach and early career resources. Overall, reaching out to mid-career professionals would require different methods - more articles like what you've written here.

The EA strategy of private donation would sell well to Republicans: both to minimize suffering due to poverty as well as mitigate poverty's destabilizing effects in regions critical to US interests. Some of the Republicans I've debated about poverty pointed to the role of the private citizen, churches, and NGOs to do that, not the government.

EA also lends itself to a Republican emphasis on national security, particularly nuclear strategy and short term artificial intelligence cyber warfare strategies.

The humanist/atheist, tech world, and Cali overrepresentation is probably the biggest reason EA is low on Republicans.

I agree that this has the potential to be highly impactful and it's definitely neglected. The fact that it can piggy-back on increasing exposure to non-EAs about EA topics makes this more persuasive, even if it the number of people helped might be small.

My only question would be whether that spare volunteer capacity could/would be used to persuade/train/target people within the DMV - since they are in a position to greatly increase the number of people who sign up by spending only an extra 2-3 seconds nudging people toward a yes, since it's a standard question for the driver's license application. I've read a study somewhere about how this was surprisingly effective - but I do realize this is a significant change in trajectory, but good to point out nonetheless.

I also see a potential upside of having more people wonder what other neglected topics can have outsized effects, thus a great lead-in to EA topics. If this were to become another cause area, it could garner some momentum, possibly enough to pressure some officials to contemplate an opt-out system, rather than the current opt-in system which would theoretically rid us of this shortage with only a nudge.