ddavies's Shortform

A common critique of universal cash transfers is that it goes to people who don't need the money. In Israel, this backlash led to people donating the money they received (see https://t.co/tu0XWua1Kv?amp=1. This arguably increases the precision and reduces waste.

The upcoming 1,400 USD checks* seem like a good opportunity for EA-aligned orgs to raise a fair amount of donations - particularly GiveDirectly given how easy it is for people to make the connection between the money they receive and GiveDirectly's model.  Are they gearing up for this?

*Apparently this round of checks will be targeted, and therefore not universal. Nonetheless, there could still be people who receive it and feel like they don't need it. 

Do research organisations make theory of change diagrams? Should they?

Really interesting thoughts! Thanks for writing them up.

Disclaimer: The below is descriptive, not normative, and chiefly focuses on people and organisations outside of EA

This may be overly cynical, but I think some of the reasons you list in favour of ToCs also account for why they often either don't exist or aren't publicly available, i.e. there's a misalignment between what's good for society (what you're getting at with "whether they should exist") and what the organisation and/or researchers consider to be their self-interest. For example,

maybe you’d realise that a line of research that seems fascinating to your researchers actually doesn’t have any clear path to influencing your intended outcomes. This would likely push in favour of deprioritising that line of research

As you suggest, it's very possible that sometimes what's most interesting and what's most impactful aren't perfectly aligned. Sometimes, one's skills and one's interests don't align with what's needed in the field in which one wants to work. This can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially for people who have already invested heavily in their education and problem area and can't just pivot to a more impactful project. Highlighting the discrepancy privately could jeopardise one's role or standing within an organisation - including if one's coworkers feel that you're questioning their effectiveness/utility; highlighting it publicly could jeopardise funding and jobs. Most people aren't EAs, but even EAs are human too.

Help potential donors, potential employees, etc. understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, and thus make informed decisions about whether to donate to you, work for you, etc.

At risk of repeating myself, sometimes people/orgs would rather not help potential donors, potential employees, etc. make fully informed decisions about whether to fund or work for you. This is particularly the case with grifts. That said, it also applies to organisations that want to do something, act with the best of intentions, secure funding, hire a team, and then fear looking down lest they realise that, like a cartoon character, they aren't on solid footing. Sometimes it's easier to just keep going.

Again, I'm not saying this is right, just positing it as another explanation for why we don't see more ToCs.

Could next-gen combines use a version of facial recognition to reduce excessive chemical usage?

Thanks, was uncertain how to phrase that and evidently should've phrased it more clearly. Having lots of independently operating farms that aren't automated is more resilient (but perhaps less efficient) than relying upon a few large, highly productive, automated farms, because the failure of one has less of an impact on the whole.

Could next-gen combines use a version of facial recognition to reduce excessive chemical usage?

Sure, sorry for not having spelled it out in the initial post. It's related to doing the most good in that overuse of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizer have serious impacts on the health of soil, water, people, insects, birds, amphibians, and mammals. Further, by reducing soil degradation and increasing the efficiency of farming, one could also reduce the pressure to clear forests for new farming zones while simultaneously increasing the earth's carrying capacity. Additionally, reducing fertilizer overuse could mean cutting back on the production of fertilizer, which is energy intensive and thus contributes to climate change.

Borlaug's Green Revolution is lauded as having saved millions of lives ("Norman Borlaug conducted research into disease-resistant wheat, helping to bring about the ‘Green Revolution’; he has been credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives" Introduction to Effective Altruism); this technology, if feasible, could be a big step in addressing many of the negative side effects of the Green Revolution, including overuse of fertilizer, water-clogged soil, damaged ecosystems, and polluted waterways. This therefore seems like an exciting possibility for people who care about the long-term future.

At the same time, it holds some of the risks that the Green Revolution held: such technology is likely to favor large, industrial farms. From what I understand, the Green Revolution led to further concentration of land in fewer hands, having negative effects on smallholder farmers who either found themselves unable to compete with farmers using industrial tech or were dispossessed as their farmland now became more valuable. Further, greater automation of agriculture could increase a country's fragility if the systems were to be hacked and sabotaged. Famine is already used as a weapon of war, so this doesn't seem so outlandish - though admittedly I think a lot of US agriculture is already controlled remotely. Further automation of agriculture could reduce the points of failure compared to an offline system.

Finally, I posted my question here because the EA community seemed a good bet for finding an intersection between people who care about environmental systems, carrying capacity, AI, and possible effects on smallholder farmers. I hope this explanation helps!

Which countries are most receptive to more immigration?

Interesting question! Before identifying countries in which to advocate, I think we'd need to

1. More precisely define what the goals are -> I'd infer from your post that you see poverty reduction as the main goal; other considerations could be to reduce suffering caused by family separation, exploitation of irregular migrants, or inequality, for example;

2. Identify the factors that we'd use to determine which countries would be the best places to advocate for more permissive immigration policy -> the importance, tractability, neglectedness framework is a useful starting point but would need to be fleshed out;

3. Use the above factors to assess which countries would be the best places in which to advocate for more permissive immigration policy;

4. Assess whether the impact of dedicating time and money to this cause outweighs the impact of putting the time and money into something else.

I don't have time right now to flesh out the analysis but would be very interested in hearing others' thoughts!

Food Crisis - Cascading Events from COVID-19 & Locusts

I agree that it could be helpful to provide more estimates of the likelihoods of the various scenarios. I'm not sure what to make of a statement like "It is expected that the number of people on the brink of starvation will double from 135 million to 260 million within the next few months", especially when the WFP quote was "the World Food Programme analysis shows that, due to the Coronavirus, an additional 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020." When I see "x could happen", I don't understand that to mean "we expect x to happen. Thanks!