101Joined Jan 2023


I've been trying to downvote the kind of clickbaity content that attracts my attention and wastes my time- especially since reading this post

I'm sad that it's going to needlessly become a focal point of discussion and waste everyone's valuable time. 

I downvoted (when it was 50+karma) because I want to see less of this kind of thing in the forum. It feels a bit clickbaity/ gossipy, doesn't really provide any interesting information and drags more valuable posts away from the front-page.

-12 feels unfair, but +50 feels like it's getting more attention than it deserves.

Thanks for this, really valuable work! 

I'm curious what the qualitative description of child marriage usually looks like in these cases- I have two very rough mental images: 

  1. A 14 year-old girl learning very little at school/ barely attends school. She's very unlikely to continue studying past the age of 16. Her (very low-income) parents struggle to continue supporting her and would rather she married earlier to reduce their burden and make a bit of bridewealth money (maybe to concentrate resources on another child). She gets married, her husband takes on responsibility for her (he might be more responsible/ caring than her parents), and her life outcomes don't change much from if she were to get married at 17. 
  2. A 14 year-old girl is learning quite a lot at school. She dreams of going to college/ sixth-form/ university and could even afford to if she got a part-time job, but family/ cultural pressure leads her to get married early. She has a child at 15, is forced to stay in her village, and all of her plans go to waste.  

Could it be that people like to imagine something more like the second scenario when the first is more common? 

  • I would bracket all kinds of developing world health and social interventions into this cluster of "things that are vastly less important than improving developing world governance"

This is why we have the ITN model, right? Improving governance is super important, but it seems to fail the tractability test most of the time. Trying to improve institutions with government officials who profit from the existing, more extractive institutions is a massive, intractable, relatively thankless task. Also, outsiders are in a worse position to create institutional change, so you have to spend a lot of your time and resources just trying to get a place at the table. For the neglectedness part, loads of people are dedicated to trying to make poor nations rich- it's been the objective of development economists/ IMF/ World Bank people/ many of the smartest people in developing countries way before RCTs and micro-interventions came into fashion. If you can find neglected sub-areas, that's obviously great, but low-hanging fruit seems rare. 

  • "I don't remotely understand what the point is of mental health interventions like StrongMinds. I'd also be quite depressed if my government was as dreadful as most governments are in sub-Saharan Africa, and even the best mental health treatment surely can't last for long given the stark reality..."  

The fact that people have a valid external reason to be depressed doesn't mean that it's pointless treating their depression. People in poor countries can have decent mental health, as any life satisfaction survey should be able to demonstrate. From solely first-order effects, if you think their data is valid, it's probably a better way of improving lives than most Give Well interventions. There are also some second-order, or 'trickle-up' effects for most micro-interventions. The human capital theory of development argues that culture, education, health etc. lead to greater productivity, which leads to a more educated and mobile populace, which leads to better institutions and leads to growth. This piece explains this part of the debate- should also note that randomistas think that their interventions are robustly good, even if they cause comparatively little growth.   

  • " I'm not saying that EA should pivot into figuring institutional mechanisms for Amazon to buy out Zimbabwe, but it does seem a vastly more effective cause area than most other things you could spend your time on in this field." 

I agree that we should be considering ambitious institutional interventions (SEZs / charter cities, or at least something like growth diagnostics), but this one is surely a non-starter. It's hard enough getting a low-income country to marginally decrease agricultural tariffs, let alone selling your whole country to Amazon.

Hey everyone, I'm curious about the extent to which people in EA take (weak/strong) antinatalism/ negative utilitarianism seriously. I've read a bit around the topic and find some arguments more persuasive than others, but the idea that many lives are net-negative, and that even good lives might be worse than we think they are, has stuck with me. 

Based on my own mood diary, I'm leaning towards something around a 5.5/10 on a happiness scale being the neutral point, under which a life isn't worth living. 

This has made me a lot less enthusiastic about 'saving lives' for its own sake, especially those lives in countries/ regions with very poor quality of life. So I suspect that some 'life-saving' charities could be actively harmful and that we should focus way more on 'life-improving' charities/ cause areas. (There are probably very few charities that only save lives- preventing malaria/ reducing lead exposure both improves and saves lives- but we can imagine a 'pure-play life-saving charity'.)

I haven't come to any conclusions here, but the 'cost to save a life' framing, still common in EA, strikes me as probably morally invalid. I don't hear this argument mentioned much (you don't seem to get anyone actively arguing against 'saving lives'), so I'm just curious what the range of EA opinion is. 

Wonderful news!

I spent a few days with Dean on my internship- a few random recollections. We briefly discussed EA and he was enthusiastic about it- my sense was that he had a "that's a cool thing you kids are doing" vibe.

Unrelated, he also said he'd never spent more than $10 on a t-shirt (I was impressed), so if you're lucky enough to be able to work with him, you should probably have your "frugal EA" hats on- no invites to the Bahamas/ our latest castle.

Also unrelated, my colleague asked him why IPA didn't consider more systemic level changes to trade policy, aid policy, growth interventions etc. vs. the more micro economic randomisation IPA does. He said: "I believe in the division of labour" and explained that he thought we needed better systemic change in the aid sector, but that wasn't the IPA model. So perhaps he'll be quite ambitious at USAID, and not just all about better data/ micro stuff.

Thanks for this post. 

It seems that what you should signal you want to happen is very different from what you actually want to happen, so I'd be unsure about pushing too far against pro-retaking rhetoric (and thus devaluing Ukraine's bargaining chip) in more public media spaces. 

Hmmm, a few of these don't sound like common left-wing thought (I hope democracy isn't a left-wing value now), but I agree with the sentiment of your point.

I guess some of the co-writers lean towards identitarian left politics and they want EA to be more in line with this (edit: although this political leaning shouldn't invalidate the criticisms in the piece). One of the footnotes would seem to signal their politics clearly, by linking to pieces with what I'd call a left-wing 'hit piece' framing:

"We should remember that EA is sometimes worryingly close to racist, misogynistic, and even fascist ideas. For instance, Scott Alexander, a blogger that is very popular within EA, and Caroline Ellison, a close associate of Sam Bankman-Fried, speak favourably about “human biodiversity”, which is the latest euphemism for “scientific” racism. "

It is a more joyful sentence in the context, admittedly.

Simple language can be elegant, of course, and there are excellent writers with a range of different styles and levels of simplicity. I wouldn't dream of saying that everyone should be striving for 200-word sentences, nor that we should be imitating Victorian-era philosophy, but I do think that the trends of relentless simplifying and trimming that editors and style guides foist upon budding writers have diminished the English language.

Generally disagree with this. Overall, I think the EA forum norms are fairly good in terms of writing style and quality, but I might even be inclined to push in the other direction. 

 After being bombarded with modern American writing advice since University, I've recently become disillusioned with the simplifying, homogenising trend of internationalized English, in favour of a language that borrows from the best of our linguistic traditions. 

I find that the short-sentence, short-word, bullet point style of writing encourages you to skim, while more flowing and elegant language forces the reader to read aloud, and to follow the cadences of the speaker, which promotes a very different state of mind for reading and absorbing information. 

To quote from the opening passage Chapter 2 of Utilitarianism by JS Mill:

“A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering, and certainly accessible to it at more points, than one of an inferior type; but in spite of these liabilities, he can never really wish to sink into what he feels to be a lower grade of existence. We may give what explanation we please of this unwillingness; we may attribute it to pride, a name which is given indiscriminately to some of the most and to some of the least estimable feelings of which mankind are capable; we may refer it to the love of liberty and personal independence, as appeal to which was with the Stoics one of the most effective means for the inculcation of it; to the love of power or to the love of excitement, both of which do really enter into and contribute to it; but its most appropriate appellation is a sense of dignity, which all human beings possess in one form or other, and in some, though by no means in exact, proportion to their higher faculties, and which is so essential a part of the happiness of those in whom it is strong that nothing which conflicts with it could be otherwise than momentarily an object of desire to them.”

Utterly impossible to skim, and what a joy to read! 

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