The Electoral Consequences of Pandemic Failure Project

I agree that 1. is a problem. I think you want to keep things fairly simple for the sake of transparency, which would mean you end up being e.g. unfairly positive towards leaders of asian countries with conscientious populations and strong hygiene norms. One thing you could do would be to add "which is better than other similar countries like X, Y and Z" - but then there is still some subjectivity about which peer countries to include.

I'm less concerned about 2. Even if the majority of voters are impossible to persuade, the marginal voter theorem suggests that you only need to influence a few people. And even in a state where one party has basically no chance, there is often competition at other levels. For example, if Cuomo is the Democrat nominee for New York State Governor, he will almost definitely win - but this might help a rival Democrat challenge him for that nomination. 

Your project sounds like a good one... but I agree it would be very hard. Focusing on covid only seemed like a tractable smaller version. 

Guerrilla Foundation Response to EA Forum Discussion

Secondly, we would want them to more precisely calculate the negative externalities caused by their wealth accumulation and engage in direct reparations where possible, or at least commit to contribute a significant amount to prevent further harm in the specific sector where wealth was generated. 

I think you dramatically over-estimate how often it will be possible to identify and make amends to the victims. There are a few cases, e.g.

  • A burglar who keeps detailed records of which houses he broke into.
  • A lawyer who took fees from her client despite knowing their case was doomed.
  • A hacker who knows exactly which bitcoin wallets he hacked.

I agree it is plausible that in these cases people might have some specific duty to the victims that takes precedence over a generalized obligation of benevolence.

But far more commonly the victims are very diffuse and cannot be individually identified:

  • A manager at Norilsk, whose decisions caused pollution that has hurt many people... but he can't tell exactly who or how much.
  • A lobbyist whose work lead to the passing of a law that benefited her firm or union, but lead to slightly higher prices for millions of ordinary people... but has little idea who specifically, or how much for each person.
  • The head of a human trafficking organization, which doesn't keep records on his victims to reduce the risk of detection.
  • An saleswoman who is less than 100% honest about her products, but can't tell who would have purchased them anyway even if she had been perfectly truthful.

Or the victims might have died, either as a result of the immoral behavior or just due to the passage of time:

  • A mercenary who kills people in an immoral war.
  • An abortionist.
  • Someone who mis-sold financial products to the very elderly decades ago.
  • Someone whose ancestors sold members of rival tribes into slavery, giving their tribe and descendants wealth and power through to the present day.

In these cases it is impossible to make amends in the way you seem to want to. You could try to help people who are similar to those you helped, but I'm not sure why that is relevant. If I burgle a house on Washington Avenue, but then I lose track of the victims after they leave town, I don't see any reason why I owe other residents of Washington Avenue any specific debt - maybe some other street has poorer people who can be helped more efficiently. Helping merely similar people doesn't do anything for the actual victims! At this point I think I should just consider this a debt I can never repay, and focus on helping the world in general.

Taking Self-Determination Seriously

I think you are under-estimating the practical difficulties involved in self-determination. A good example is Brexit. On paper, it seems like it should be an ideal case:

  • The UK has experience being a successful independent country for hundreds of years.
  • The UK held a referendum on the subject where everyone could vote, rather than just a few secessionist leaders, proving widespread buy-in.
  • The UK gets relatively little benefit from the EU - it organizes defense, education, police, healthcare etc. all by itself, and is a net payer of funds towards the rest of the EU.
  • The UK speaks a different language from the rest of the EU.
  • There are essentially no territorial disputes between the UK and EU.
  • The UK is leaving in accordance with the EU rules, rather than via a civil war / war of independence.

... but despite this, Brexit has been very costly! The mere threat of (temporarily?) losing access to some EU markets has cost them several points of GDP, and it is not clear this will be regained.

I'm also not really sure why this would be an EA topic.

Please Take the 2020 EA Survey

I was curious about the formatting of some of your demographic questions. For example this question;

28. Your gender:

provides only a free text box, with no standard options. This is often considered poor survey technique, because it can lead to a very broad range of responses, which require a lot of manual work on the backend. You will need to manually determine whether 'woman', 'Female', 'Lady', 'f' etc. are the same thing, and what you want to do with someone who says 'Dude'. Not only is this time consuming but it adds subjectivity to your analysis. It also increases the amount of work required from your respondents - if they are on their iPhone they will have to manipulate the keypad, rather than just pressing once.

Since you are using SurveyMonkey, you have access to their SurveyMonkey Certified Questions:

This certified question was added from our Question Bank. It was written by our methodologists to minimize bias and get the most accurate responses. 

If you edit the wording of this question, it'll no longer be certified, which means it might be subject to bias and accuracy issues.

Most of their accredited gender questions avoid these problems by giving you simple options to click. This will likely be optimal for the vast majority of your respondents, and if you wanted to be politically correct you could always include an 'Other' box!

Strangely, it seems like for the race/ethnicity option you go in the opposite direction, by providing the full list of standard US options for people to select from. This includes 'Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander', even though I think less than 0.1% of the global population fall into this composite category. If you are concerned about space limitations I would have considered removing this category, as well as the Alaskan Native one, implicitly folding them into the 'other' box.

Please Take the 2020 EA Survey

I was disappointed to see this. I think there is a strong 'What gets measured gets done" effect, so the fact that some demographic questions (race, sexual preference) are recorded while others (politics, diet, religion) are not is significant. In particular, I think it tends to lead to efforts to reach out to groups which the data shows to be under-represented, while those without data are neglected.

Questions for Peter Singer's fireside chat in EAGxAPAC this weekend

Has he given any more thought to the argument Tyler gave here that eating wild-caught fish is ethically acceptable, because the alternative to our catching them is a similarly unpleasant natural death?


A brief look at reducing the efficiency of genocides

Sorry, I didn't mean to suggest the US shouldn't have intervened - I think quite possibly we should have! I just meant the costs would likely have been higher than you estimated, because it's not just the per-hour cost of the radio jamming plane. Political capital with neighbors is costly, and protecting the plane could have been quite expensive. Wikipedia suggests Rwanda had some (old) Russian fighter jets, so they might have needed to be shot down, and they may also have had SAMs which would require neutralization. 



Yeah, I was thinking about things like the role of civilian firearms as a defence against lynching in the US south, where they seem to have been somewhat effective:

We assess firearm access in the U.S. South by measuring the fraction of suicides committed with firearms. Black residents of the Jim Crow South were disarmed, before re-arming themselves during the Civil-Rights Era. We find that lynchings decrease with greater Black firearm access. During the Civil-Rights Movement, both the relative Black homicide and Black “accidental death by firearm” rates decrease with Black firearm access, indicating frequent misclassification of homicides as accidents. In the contemporary era, greater firearm access correlates with higher Black death rates. We find that firearms offered an effective means of Black self-defense in the Jim Crow South.

But it's not exactly the same case because lynching is quite different from genocide, and the total number killed was quite small - probably under 5,000 over many decades. 

Perhaps a more similar case was the decision by the Albanian government to arm the northern civilian population to help protect them from the south:

The Opening of the depots (Albanian: Hapja e depove) was the opening of weapons depots in the north, for protection against the violence of the south. The decision was taken by President Berisha. When southern Albanian bases were looted, it was estimated that, on average, every male from the age of ten upwards had at least one firearm and ample ammunition.[20] To protect the civilians in north and central Albania, the government allowed civilians to arm themselves from government arms depots. During the rebellion 656,000 weapons of various types, and 1.5 billion rounds of ammunition, 3.5 million hand grenades and one million land mines, were looted from army depots.

Again, this is not a perfect example, because we don't know what would have happened if they had not been armed. 

We do know that many historical genocides were preceded by the disarming of the victims. For example, prior to the Armenian Genocide:

As anti-Armenian mobs were being armed, the government attempted to convince Armenians to surrender their guns. [4] A 1903 law banned the manufacture or import of gunpowder without government permission. [5] In 1910, manufacturing or importing weapons without government permission, as well as carrying weapons or ammunition without permission was forbidden. [6] During World War I, in February 1915, local officials in each Armenian district were ordered to surrender quotas of firearms. When officials surrendered the required number, they were executed for conspiracy against the government. When officials could not surrender enough weapons from their community, the officials were executed for stockpiling weapons. Armenian homes were also searched, and firearms confiscated. Many of these mountain dwellers had kept arms despite prior government efforts to disarm them. [7] 

Similarly, prior to the Soviet genocides:

The December decree of the CPC of 1918, "On the surrender of weapons", ordered people to surrender any firearms, swords, bayonets and bombs, regardless of the degree of serviceability. The penalty for not doing so was ten years' imprisonment.

Similarly, Weimar Germany had relatively strict regulation of firearms, and the Nazis banned Jewish firearm ownership prior to the holocaust.

Of course, once a government has decided to disarm a population, presumably they would not be willing to allow outsiders to re-arm that population. So it might be more effective to educate at-risk groups about how to conceal firearms and avoid confiscation.


I think you raise a good point about governments arming groups that they later go on to fight - the US arming the mujahideen in Afghanistan is a classic example.  But my impression is that these cases generally involve the supply of anti-tank weapons, anti-air weapons, and other pieces of relatively heavy-duty equipment. If you aim is to simply make genocide more difficult, small arms are likely sufficient. The Rwandan genocide, for example, made widespread use of machetes to murder victims - ownership of even relatively small caliber weapons, common among ordinary civilians in the US, could have likely prevented much of this.

A brief look at reducing the efficiency of genocides

Interesting work on a very important topic, good job. I was especially surprised to see that it took two weeks for the US to learn about the genocide; surely the US ambassador should have noticed?

I think you are a little harsh on the US decision not to use the radio blocking technology. It sounds like money wasn't their only (main?) objection: it was also logistically difficult to use the radio blocking plane, and require a substantial escort. Perhaps keeping it safe might even have required destroying Rwandan SAMs:

It costs approximately $8500 per flight hour and requires a semi-secure area of operations due to its vulnerability and limited self-protection.

Then we had to get it from where it was already and be sure it could be moved. Then we would have needed flight clearance from all the countries nearby. And then we would need the political go-ahead. By the time we got all this, weeks would have passed.

Looking at your spreadsheet, it seems the Rwandan genocide in some ways represents a best case scenario for intervention, as it was implemented in a somewhat decentralized way with civilians in a third world country. Many of the other genocides occurred under the direct orders of more powerful states, which would prevent such interventions from working - even if the US could have blocked German radio in 1943, for example, the holocaust would have continued. 

Some other techniques that might be useful:

  • Try to prevent the causes of genocides.
  • Working on genocide forecasting, so that vulnerable populations can prepare.
  • Promote emigration rights (it doesn't matter how many countries will let you in if your current country won't let you out).
  • Promote firearm ownership in vulnerable populations.
What are some EA-aligned statements that almost everyone agrees with?

Yes, and I would also highlight this one:

People are of equal moral value (all people matter: everyone has an equal claim to be happy, healthy, fulfilled and free)

I think many people might disagree, perhaps thinking that actually:

  • Good people have more value than bad people
  • Children matter more than old people
  • Smokers have less of a claim to be healthy than non-smokers
  • Criminals have less of a claim on being free than law-abiding citizens
  • People who work hard have more right to be happy than those who are lazy
  • We have a right to the pursuit of happiness, but not a guarantee we will succeed.

Some possible new ones for you:

  • It is bad to put other people at risk of death
  • We should think about the future when making decisions
  • New technologies can cause big changes
  • Nuclear war would be bad
  • It is bad for children to die
  • Hurting animals unnecessarily is bad
  • If a charity is just wasting all its money you shouldn't donate

and perhaps the most unifying view of them all:

  • I hate Mosquitoes 
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.

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