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Former software entrepreneur, I now advise businesses, play the stock market, and attempt non-fiction writing


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Thanks for this. There's been quite a bit more research since that paper, including by Easterlin, so not sure how relevant it is now. The latest I know FWIW is from last year's book by Richard Layard, Can We Be Happier?, which says it's unclear but maybe economic growth often increases happiness but not always.

(Belatedly) Re trusting that people will do the work they say they will: in particular this illustrates that developers are notoriously unreliable & hard to manage (due to typical personality type). And unless they are very experienced, they underestimate how long development will take, by a factor of at least 2; because they fail to take into account the time required for specification, testing, bug-fixing, rewriting, documentation, management, admin, and unforeseen problems. Development is mostly not writing code, but doing these other things.

Additionally, R&D involves research as well as development to varying degrees, and this project required a fair bit of research (e.g. trial & error), as you weren't sure what you were developing and what might work.

These are well-known, almost universal problems with software startups. In an established business they can be solved by management: hiring an experienced CTO and often also a project manager. With a startup it's harder, unless a founder or lead developer has sufficient relevant experience. (An experienced advisor can help somewhat.)

Looks good from a quick read-through.

To make an obvious point, as relevant information (including about new charities/causes) will presumably improve a lot over the next 5 years, there seems a case for updating your recommendation annually rather than the donors committing upfront to donating 5 years' worth to particular charities (if that was the idea).

Depending to some extent on whether a 5-year commitment is essential for the programmes being donated to. If it is, a middle way might be to commit upfront to donating for 5 years subject to the programmes achieving XYZ goals, to be independently assessed each year.

Another obvious point (which you mention of course): the extremely wide range of the TaRL and salt iodization cost-effectiveness figures, from far below 1 (Founders Pledge estimate) to far above, would give me concerns as a donor that these are poorly understood interventions.

There's also the complication that by deciding to protest, individuals incur a non-negligible personal cost (in time and risk), but only make a tiny difference to the size & hence effectiveness of the demonstration. Also any benefit arising mostly accrues to others. All that on top of the risk of you spreading the virus to others.

All told, it's far from clear it's worth people's while to demonstrate, even for major issues like this one. It depends on things like the size of the demonstration and your degree of altruism. I did a rough model of this a while back (excluding the virus spreading affect):


Indeed, I looked at Trump's approval rating over time and it's been about average for US presidents with little pandemic effect. Possibly the US is a bit of an outlier in this regard though, or it's a bit early for an assessment.

Because the ultimate Covid death toll will be a stark, objective measure of performance relative to other countries, I suspect later in the year it will be harder for voters anywhere to maintain illusions about how well or badly their country has handled the pandemic. (That said, much is not really down to the leaders, as no-one can really be expected to have known how best to handle it, given the limited information early on and the variety of strategies that have been tried. I have little doubt though that Trump's decision-making has been particularly poor.)

Indeed I think it will accelerate this issue, though maybe not resolve it.

In the UK, and no doubt elsewhere, universities have cancelled courses for the rest of the year, or are making them online-only, but refusing to refund students; which will make students acutely aware of what value for money they're getting, or not.

That said I did read somewhere the observation that as degrees are as much about status & signalling as actual learning, it may make little difference. People will still prefer the prestige of an Ivy League or Oxbridge education if they can get it. That said, that prestige is rather bound up with physical attendance in grand surroundings, surrounded by top-notch professors etc.

I've just been through it all. A great resource - with harms too. Glad to see I had thought of almost all the long-term benefits (!), but have added a few more from it here, and thought of several further points too.

Great, thanks, I'll check it out.

Thanks for the feedback here and on Facebook. I've just revised the post as a result - tightened up my arguments and added a few new points.

A significant further thought:

The above calculation is done on life expectancies, treated as expected utilities; but human psychology doesn't work like that:

Arguably in Chris's particular case she may lose somewhat less than half her quality of life by conforming with the lockdown. In which case her behaviour looks irrational in life expectancy terms.

But Chris's behaviour is rational if she is risk-seeking. She prefers gambling her life (and perhaps others') by going to the beach, to the alternative of suffering a sure loss of quality of life by staying at home. This is normal behaviour in prospect theory - the same as a 'desperado' who, faced with arrest and inevitable jailtime, prefers the higher risk, less certain, lower expected utility option of stealing a car, shooting at cops etc. in the hope of getting away.

I.e. Chris, a 75-year-old desperado, is risking death to avoid imprisonment (and for some people, solitary confinement).

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