Learning Assistant in Cognitive Psychology at NTNU.

Studying a Bachelor degree in Psychology & Member of Effective Altruism NTNU.

Non-EA related interests: Chess, rap and reading.


Objectives of longtermist policy making

The part of the article that you are referring to is in part inspired by John and MacAskills paper “longtermist institutional reform”, where they propose reforms that are built to tackle political short-termism. The case for this relies on two assumptions:

1.    Long term consequences have an outsized moral importance, despite the uncertainty of long-term effects.
2.    Because of this, political decision making should be designed to optimize for longterm outcomes. 

Greaves and MacAskill have written a paper arguing for assumption 1: "Because of the vast number of expected people in the future, it is quite plausible that for options that are appropriately chosen from a sufficiently large choice set, effects on the very long future dominate ex ante evaluations, even after taking into account the fact that further-future effects tend to be the most uncertain…“. We seem to agree on this assumption, but disagree on assumption 2. If I understand your argument against assumption 2, it assumes that there are no tradeoffs between optimizing for short-run outcomes and long-run outcomes. This assumption seems clearly false to us, and is implied to be false in “Longtermist institutional reform”. Consider fiscal policies for example: In the short run it could be beneficial to take all the savings in pension funds and spend them to boost the economy, but in the long run this is predictably harmful because many people will not afford to retire.

Objectives of longtermist policy making

Thank you for your feedback, Flodorner! 

First, we certainly agree that a more detailed description could be productive for some of the topics in this piece, including your example on scenario planning and other decision making methods. At more than 6000 words this is already a long piece, so we were aiming to limit the level of detail to what we felt was necessary to explain the proposed framework, without necessarily justifying all nuances. Depending on what the community believes is most useful, we are happy to write follow-up pieces with either a higher level of detail for a selected few topics of particular interest (for a more technical discussion on e.g. decision making methods), or a summary piece covering all topics with a lower level of detail (to explain the same framework to non-experts). 

As for your second issue you are completely correct, it has been corrected. 

Regarding your last point, we also agree that the repugnant conclusion is not an example of cluelessness in itself. However, the lack of consensus about how to solve the repugnant conclusion is one example of how we still have things to figure out in terms of population ethics (i. e. are morally clueless in this area).

Objectives of longtermist policy making

Thank you for your feedback kbog.

First, we certainly agree that there are other options that have a limited influence on the future, however, for this article we wanted to only cover areas with a potential for outsized impact on the future. That is the reason we have confined ourselves to so few categories. 

Second, there may be categories of interventions that are not addressed in our framework that are as important for improving the future as the interventions we list. If so, we welcome discussion on this topic, and hope that the framework can encourage productive discussion to identify such “intervention X”’s. 

Third, I'm a bit confused about how we would focus on “processes that produce good outcomes” without first defining what we mean with good outcomes, and how to measure them?

Fourth, your point on taking the “individual more in focus” by emphasizing rationality and altruism improvement is a great suggestion. Admittedly, this may indeed be a potential lever to improve the future that we haven't sufficiently covered in our post as we were mostly concerned with improving institutions. 

Lastly, as for improving political institutions more broadly, see our part on progress.