4 Years Later: President Trump and Global Catastrophic Risk

I like that you went back and reviewed your predictions. However, this piece could have been better if you had also reviewed the ways in which Trump has been better than you expected. 

For example, under 'Authoritarianism' you list the election of some authoritarian and anti-globalist leaders. But equally there are positive cases - in France Macron, a highly globalist and neoliberal candidate, won the election. Similarly in the UK, the relatively authoritarian May was replaced with the much more libertarian Johnson. This is a far cry from your worries about France exiting the EU and breaking up NATO:

Le Pen wants France to leave the EU, the euro and NATO. Were that to happen I doubt whether the euro or EU would survive in anything like its current form, and NATO would be put further at risk.

Similarly, you listed worries about social progress:

Third, social progress is important. One of the reasons to prevent global catastrophes, aside from saving lives, is to ensure that the future is better than the past. Under the liberal global order the world has had unusually positive scientific, technological, and social progress since WWII. Improvements include the spread of democracy; the rise of tolerance for religious, ideological, and philosophical diversity; the civil rights movement; the rise of women’s equality and feminism; the increase in per capita incomes; and the lowest levels of per capita violence in human history. We should want these trends to continue. We should want the world to move in an anti-authoritarian direction not just because it is safer, but because that is a better future.

Many of these things have improved under Trump. For example, a Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justice wrote a decision extending anti-discrimination rights to transsexuals. The US murder rate fell from 5.4 under Obama in 2016 to 5.0 in 2019 (source). The Trump administration is (trying to) promote religious freedom. Per capita income has risen (at least pre-covid).

You spend a lot of time text worrying that Trump might use nuclear weapons:

There are three risks associated with nuclear weapons.

First is simply that Trump uses nuclear weapons – either in a Cuban Missile Crisis situation or in a ‘limited’ way.


But he has not done so. In fact, he has generally been quite pacifistic: the Wikipedia list of US Wars does not list a single one starting during his administration, unlike most (all?) previous presidents.

Despite this and your worries about the decline of Pax Americana, in some ways the situation seems better than before. For example, Russia invaded Ukraine during the Obama Administration, despite a US commitment to protect Ukraine. Under Trump I do not think Russia has invaded anywhere.

Similarly, you worried that he might cause other countries might try to get nukes:

Trump has made statements that have been interpreted as encouraging Saudi Arabia to do so. ... Trump has made statements that have been interpreted as encouraging Japan and South Korea to do so.

Again I am not aware of any of these countries acquiring any nuclear weapons, or even making significant progress.

You worried that he might start a public bioweapon program that could undermine the international stigma against their use:

I also think Trump would be less hesitant to use or develop biological weapons. Were he to start developing them – let alone use them – it would strongly undermine norms against them.

To my knowledge he has not done this.

In some cases Trump has been bad, but for the opposite reason than you were worried about! For example you criticized him for supporting travel bans during Ebola:

He reacted poorly to the Ebola outbreak – exaggerating fears and proposing populist solutions.

Given that covid has turned out to be much more dangerous than the WHO initially said, if he had exaggerated fears this time it would have been much more accurate. Similarly travel bans have been extremely effective with regard covid: they have kept New Zealand and Taiwan basically safe, and the lockdowns that have been employed by virtually all governments are basically internal travel bans. To the extent that Trump responded poorly to covid, it was largely by making the same mistakes he criticized obama for.

What is the increase in expected value of effective altruist Wayne Hsiung being mayor of Berkeley instead of its current incumbent?
Answer by DaleOct 08, 202021

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

How much does it cost to save a life in the mediterranean sea?

Thanks for the hyperlink! I'm a bit surprised at the argument that these countries are not safe. Obviously all places have some risk, but both Tunisia and Libya have much lower murder rates than the US does, and I wouldn't accept 'it is too dangerous here' as a reason for why the US shouldn't take refugees.

How much does it cost to save a life in the mediterranean sea?

Interesting idea. Are you trying to evaluate how cost-effective they have been historically, or how cost-effective they might be in the future with additional funding? Presumably they latter will be lower, due to mean reversion. Additionally, the easiest to save people will probably already have been saved, leaving people who are more difficult to access.

I thought the two other comments about downsides were interesting (incentivising a larger number and more risky crossings, and negative reactions from people in Europe), but it seems that there is an easy solution - they could return the rescued people to Africa, instead of taking them to Europe. This would mean the incentives to attempt the journey were not increased, and European voters should also be happier.

Some thoughts on the EA Munich // Robin Hanson incident

I didn't downvote it, though probably I should have. But it seems a stretch to say 'one guy who works for a weird organization that is supposedly EA' implies 'congregation'. I think that would have to imply a large number of people. I would be very disappointed if I had a congregation of less than ten people.

JoshYou also ignores important hedging in the linked comment:

Bennett denies this connection; he says he was trying to make friends with these white nationalists in order to get information on them and white nationalism. I think it's plausible that this is somewhat true.

So instead of saying

We've already seen white nationalists congregate in some EA-adjacent spaces.

It would be more fair to say

We've already seen one guy with some evidence he is a white nationalist (though he somewhat plausibly denies it) work for a weird organization that has some EA links.

Which is clearly much less worrying. There are lots of weird ideologies and a lot of weird people in California, who believe a lot of very incorrect things. I would be surprised if 'white nationalists' were really high up on the list of threats to EA, especially given how extremely left wing EA is and how low status they are. We probably have a lot more communists! Rather, I think the highlighting of 'White Nationalists' is being done for ideological reasons - i.e. to cast shade on more moderate right wing people by using a term that is practically a slur. I think the grandparent would not have made such a sloppy comment had it not been about the hated outgroup.

How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year?
I've seen a few cases where EAs online say things that are pretty racist or sexist. They'll be defended with comments like "we need to be free to break be intellectual ground and find the truth", but I don't understand how telling me I'm less likely to be a genius because I'm a woman at a social event makes anyone any better at improving the world. It certainly doesn't make me better at improving the world.

I realize this is probably not what you were looking for, but I think I can think of what they might have been thinking of, or at least times when it would be relevant (though obviously the actual conversation you were is was probably different!). Specifically I can imagine a conversation going something like this:

  • Alice: Economic growth is very important because it is exponential and helps people all over the world and in the future.
  • Bob: That's true. We should discuss ways to help speed up economic growth.
  • Carol: One thing that might help is promoting free trade with the developing world.
  • David: Economic growth is strongly driven by a small number of geniuses, who do things like invent electricity or semiconductors. We should try to help identify more geniuses and give them the right opportunities.
  • Eve: Interesting idea. Maybe we could look at the list of science nobel prize winners to get some ideas.
  • Frank: It seems that women are very under-represented on this list, probably because of the patriarchy. We could focus specifically on things like Women in STEM to help address this and find the 'missing' geniuses. That could almost double the total number.
  • Grace: I don't think that's true. The male variability hypothesis states that men tend to be more extreme than women - both more dysfunctional criminals and more super geniuses. This is a pretty well established theory, and it predicts we'd see more male geniuses even if there was no discrimination. We should focus on other ideas, like looking for potential in very poor parts of India and China.

You're right that telling you personally about your probabilities of being a genius isn't super helpful, because you already have a lot of other pieces of evidence (like your SAT scores) that mean the base rate isn't very useful. And I can certainly imagine people introducing this subject in an awkward way! But when we are considering a potential policy to improve the world, it's important to consider all the evidence. I don't know if you'd consider the male variability hypothesis to be sexist - I think it's best to taboo the term personally - but whether or not it is sexist it is probably true, and relevant to this EA discussion about improving the world.

Some thoughts on the EA Munich // Robin Hanson incident
Surely there exists a line at which we agree on principle. Imagine that, for example, our EA spaces were littered with people making cogent arguments that steel manned holocaust denial, and we were approached by a group of Jewish people saying “We want to become effective altruists because we believe in the stated ideals, but we don’t feel safe participating in a space where so many people commonly and openly argue that the holocaust did not happen.”
In this scenario, I hope that we’d both agree that it would be appropriate for us to tell our fellow EAs to cut it out.

I agree with your conclusion about this instance, but for very different reasons, and I don't think it supports your wider point of view. It would be bad if EAs spent all the time discussing the holocaust, because the holocaust happened in the past, and so there is nothing we can possible do to prevent it. As such the discussion is likely to be a purely academic exercise that does not help improve the world.

It would be very different to discuss a currently occurring genocide. If EAs were considering investing resources in fighting the Uighur genocide, for example, it would be very valuable to hear contrary evidence. If, for example, we learnt that far fewer people were being killed than we thought, or that the CCP's explanations about terrorism were correct, this would be useful information that would help us prioritize our work. Equally, it would be valuable to hear if we had actually under-estimated the death toll, for exactly the same reasons.

Similarly, Animal Rights EAs consider our use of factory farming to be a modern holocaust, far larger than any prior. But debate about this is a perfectly acceptable EA topic - even on debate around subjects like 'but do the victims (animals) have moral value?'

Or again, pro-life activists consider our use of abortion to be a modern holocaust, far larger than any prior. But debate about this is a perfectly acceptable EA topic - even on debate around subjects like 'but do the victims (fetuses) have moral value?'

It might be the case that people make a dedicated 'Effective Liberation for Xinjiang' group, and intend to discuss only methods there, not the fundamental premise. But if they started posting about the Uighurs in other EA groups, criticism of their project, including its fundamental premises, would be entirely legitimate.

I think this is true even if it made some hypothetical Uighur diaspora members of the group feel 'unsafe'. People have a right to actual safety - clearly no-one should be beating each other up at EA events. But an unlimited right to 'feel safe', even when this can only be achieved by imposing strict (and contrary to EA) restrictions on others is clearly tyrannical. If you feel literally unsafe when someone makes an argument on the internet you have a serious problem and it is not our responsibility (or even within our power) to accommodate this. You should feel unsafe while near cliff edges, or around strange men in dark allys - not in a debate. Indeed, if feeling 'unsafe' is a trump card then I will simply claim that I feel unsafe when people discuss BLM positively, due to the (from my perspective) implied threat of riots.

The analogy here I think is clear. I think it is legitimate to say we will not discuss the Uighur genocide (or animal rights, or racism) in a given group because they are off-topic. What is not at all legitimate is to say that one side, but not the other, is forbidden.

Finally, I also think your strategy is potentially a bit dishonest. We should not hide the true nature of EA, whatever that is, from newcomers in an attempt to seduce them into the movement.

EricHerboso's Shortform
I have friends who I have watched first hand having to read through a racist Facebook thread who were subsequently unable to focus for hours afterward.

Wow, that's a shocking thread. This will definitely put off newcomers! I can understand why you might want to ban discussion of woke topics from introductory spaces if that sort of thing will be the result!

To be honest I'm surprised the moderators didn't block Blasian Diezo for being such a bully. It seems like he is clearly violating the group rules:

1) Be civil (e.g. don't insult other advocates, especially other group members)

for responding to perfectly reasonable advocacy for a colorblind society from Joachim with this sort of nasty vitriol:

you're a part of the problem if this is your mentality
you love white supremacy like that?
that's a white supremacist goal
if the only black person you know about who worked for anti-racism movements is mlk, you're worthless. ... if what you gathered from a snippet of his quotes is that he was trying to achieve a "color blind" society, you're worthless.
if you don't like being called a white supremacist, stop saying/doing white supremacist shit.
so fuck you and stop trying to police how oppressed ppl address the shit we have to deal with from you

However, while I understand your view, I don't think I agree with it. I think it is best to tolerate Blasian-style opinions and let them be discussed rationally; we should just make sure that people are civil and reasonable, without unnecessarily insulting other people. Just because he is behaving badly doesn't mean the same conversation couldn't be beneficial otherwise.

Some thoughts on the EA Munich // Robin Hanson incident
That said, my impression is that, over time, the EA movement has become more attentive to various kinds of diversity, and more cautious about avoiding public discussion of ideas likely to cause offense. This involves trade-offs with other values.

I am skeptical of this. The EA survey shows that one of the most under-represented group in EA is conservatives, and I have seen little sign that EAs in general, and CEA in particular, have become more cautious about public discussion that will offend conservatives.

Similarly, I don't think there is much evidence of people suppressing ideas offensive to older people, or religious people, even though these are also dramatically under-represented groups.

I think a more accurate summary would be that as EA has grown, it has become subject to Conquest's Second Law, and this has made it less tolerant of various views and people currently judged to be unacceptable by SJWs. Specifically, I would be surprised if there was much evidence of EAs/CEA being more cautious about publicly discussing 'woke' views out of fear of offending liberals or conservatives.

Should we think more about EA dating?
you implicitly assume that the average effective altruist is a heterosexual man

Over 70% of EAs are men (according to the 2019 survey), and probably most of those are heterosexual (though I don't have the statistics to hand), so that would be an accurate assumption.

More importantly, I think the meaning would likely be altered by changing the sex. The gender imbalance probably means that men have a much harder time finding a girlfriend at EAG than women would finding a boyfriend. Also, my impression is that male EAs have, on average, worse social skills than female EAs.

Rather than sacrificing accuracy, I think a better approach would be to include an explicit note about the different issues facing women. But as this is a casual, spitballing type of post, I think that even this suggestion might be over the top.

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