Policy and International Relations Primer

Topic Contributions


Choosing causes re Flynn for Oregon

"More generally, I think it's quite misleading to think in terms of buying votes. (In retrospect, Carrick wouldn't have won even if he had $100M.)"

I think people are confused about the difference between a PAC spending money, and Carrick's campaign having money. Because of rules about donations and coordination, money given To Carrick's campaign was far more helpful. Ad of the end of April, his campaign has raised just under $1m. That's a lot, but Salinas, who won, had raised $600k by then, and 2 other candidates who lost had raised even more, or lent their campaign the money, which is allowed - so it's not nearly the same outsized advantage as it seems when you talk about PAC spending.

Some potential lessons from Carrick’s Congressional bid

There are a variety of reasons that having people who are both aligned with our goals, and  ALSO willing to listen to pitches on specific policy suggestions, is far more impactful than having people who we are just aligned with in general - but if you look at the list of candidates that Guarding Against Pandemics is supporting, it's definitely inclusive of many people who are aligned with our goals and not aware or not particularly engaged with EA, but have more background in politics. And while we're focused on longtermist policy, rather than EA more generally, we are doing much of what you suggest in terms of finding and vetting candidates - and doing more to actually engage and develop relationships. 

I think that among the majority of EAs, we haven't been as clear as we should be that Carrick's campaign was part of a larger set of things that GAP is doing, and there are lots of  specific political campaigns we still encourage donations towards - in addition to being happy for people to donate directly to the "hard money" PAC, which is capped at $5,000 per donor.

  1. We're supportive of other EA policy ideas and goals, but we both have limited capacity, and are not currently supporting or opposing anyone on that basis.
Announcing the Nucleic Acid Observatory project for early detection of catastrophic biothreats

Yes - and since I did my dissertation partly to ask the question of how valuable it would be to reduce that delay, I feel compelled to note that the CDC's syndromic surveillance data is at T+2 weeks, which isn't actually based on diagnosis, but symptoms. The NREVSS lab test data used to be at T+4 weeks instead - but that seems to have changed to T+2 weeks now, as you note, evidently because (I will rashly conclude based on insufficient additional recent checking but lots of my research from 5 years ago,) the actually delays are almost all administrative, not technical! (Also, it's super hard to do value of information in systems like this, as my dissertation concluded.)

Organizational alignment

Yeah, I think a more basic look at this would be helpful, and would encourage someone to write an "intro to org theory" post. But in lieu of that, I'll point out that the issues here relate to incentives in organizations generally, and will point to a preprint paper I wrote that discusses some of the desiderata and strategic considerations in organizations in the context of using metrics, and money based on those metrics, to align people.

Some potential lessons from Carrick’s Congressional bid

While it's uncertain, I think it's more likely that the signal sent by the overwhelming funding of Carrick's campaign by both SBF and by a large network of private EA donors, and the ability to push the national party to support a primary candidate, was actually central to the success of so many other campaigns that GAP is funding and supporting, and that this will be useful in the future.

Some potential lessons from Carrick’s Congressional bid

I think that these are good lessons learned, but  regarding the last point, I want to highlight a comment by Oliver Habryka;

It seems obvious to me that anyone saying anything bad right now about Carrick would be pretty severely socially punished by various community leaders, and I expected the community leadership to avoid saying so many effusively positive things in a context where it's really hard for people to provide counterevidence, especially when it comes with an ask for substantial career shifts and funding. 

This seems really important, and while I'm not sure that politics is the mind-killer, I think that the forum and EA in general needs to be really, really careful about the community dynamics. I think that the principal problem pointed out by the recent "Bad Omens" post was peer pressure towards conformity in ways that lead to people acting like jerks, and I think that we're seeing that play out here as well, but involving central people in EA orgs pushing the dynamics, rather than local EA groups. And that seems far more worrying.

So yes, I think there are lots of important lessons learned about politics, but those matter narrowly. And I think that the biggest risk of failing to tread carefully here isn't about wasting money on political campaigns, it's undermining the ability to make trustworthy claims far more generally. We need to do our best to exhibit epistemic standards that are not just better than anyone else in politics - a bar too low to be worth noticing, much less aiming for - but ones that actually should engender trust among both EAs, and the rapidly growing set of people who are watching. And because politics operates at high simulacra levels, I'm concerned that in our rush to focus on various legitimate concerns and lessons while "doing politics" at the object level, we aren't learning those lessons.

Choosing causes re Flynn for Oregon

I definitely agree that we need reflection on the questions, but I frankly think that this post needed a bit more basic fact checking.

But when the community is donating on the scale of $100K or more, particularly in novel ways, and particularly when many donors are driven by prominent EAs' enthusiasm, we should really have reason to believe that the intervention is effective. Before donating and encourage others to donate, we should share reason to believe that the intervention has a reasonable probability of success, rather than just the promise of great outcomes if it does succeed. 

Sure, but I think the first bar - expectation of impact conditional on success - was correct, and don't think you are disagreeing. And the second claim, that we need "reasonable probability of success," is a different and contentious claim, given all the discussion of hits-based giving, and the idea of expected value.

I almost think it's irresponsible for community leaders to say things like "I donated $5800 and recommend this highly to people looking for impactful individual donations" without (1) pointing to at least a back-of-the-envelope reason to believe that marginal donations have a reasonable probability of improving the outcome and (2) checking to make sure at least a couple people with relevant subject knowledge agree.

But 1) they did the BOTEC, if you read the post you linked to, and 2) yes, GAP and the various other people who focus on public policy and supporting the campaign personally were both working with plenty of people with subject matter expertise.

All of that said, we should certainly update based on the information gained from this loss, and I definitely think that more reflection is critical - but the reflexive take that "Carrick lost, so this was a bad decision" is unhelpful, and I'd welcome more specific thoughts on how and why "the community's decision-making process wasn't very grounded in donations' probability of tipping the election" - which seems plausible, but unclear, and far from the only thing that matters.

Organizational alignment

If you're up for a long-winded take on what I called "underspecified goals," and how they make alignment fail, I wrote about this question on Ribbonfarm quite a while ago.

Organizational alignment

This is great - just wanted to comment about my older post bringing up the issues, and thanking Caroline for moving the discussion forward!

Load More