Greg S

Secretary @ Effective Altruism Australia
65 karmaJoined Sep 2022Working (6-15 years)Canberra ACT, Australia



I'm the Secretary of Effective Altruism Australia and founder of Effective Altruism Australia: Environment. 

After 15~ years in the Australian national security community, including in the Prime Minister's Department and as a senior adviser to the Home Affairs Minister, I now work full-time advocating for longtermist policies in Australia.  


How others can help me

I think meaningful responses to GCRs and other long-term priorities requires coordinated multilateral policy effort. If you're working in policy , I'd love you to reach out and talk about your priorities and traction points. 

I'm also keen to talk to everyone in Australia (and the region). Policy change shouldn't be just a few people on the hill. There are ways for everyone in the community to be empowered. You might be surprised at the impact a single person can have if armed with the right information, contact and timing. 

How I can help others

I have connections in the Australian public service. If you're after an impactful policy career I can put you in touch with the right people to get started, including for mid and late career opportunities.


Greg S

I agree with the bulk of this post, but disagree (or have misunderstood) in two specific ways:

First, I think it is essential that EA is a “practical project”, not merely (or primarily) an intellectual project. Peter Singer shared an intellectual insight linked to practical action, and the EA community used that insight to shape our thinking on impactful interventions and to make a practical difference in the world. It’s the link to practical action that, for me, is the most important part of what we do. I think EA is, and should be, fundamentally a practical project. Of course, we should do sufficient intellectual work to inform that practical project. But, if we lose sight of the practical project, I don’t think it’s “effective” or “altruism”. 

Second, I think the trend of “disassociating” is typically unhelpful. You note elsewhere in your post that brand damage risks negative feedback loops (and hence a reduction in tractability) and that there is a chance that the community tears itself apart in the face of setbacks. I think disassociating fuels those fires. Personally, I plan to keep associating the EA brand (appropriately) with the good work that I do, because I want everyone in this community to benefit from the positive externality of my work (as humble as that might be). It would be nice if others did the same. That’s how we rebuild and come out of this stronger. If everyone doing good work disassociates, that’s the definition of the community tearing itself apart. 

On the balance of things we agree on (and my own priors separate to recent events), I think EA becoming more centralised is right. I agree that we need to focus on good governance and integrity. Doing that effectively requires a sufficient centre-of-mass. The current situation with very many dozens (hundreds?) of small organisations and grant-funded individuals largely doing their own things is not well suited for good governance and high integrity. I think funders should strongly update to provide funding to established organisations (geographically based or subject matter based) to achieve particular outcomes, rather than providing grants to individuals. Empowering peak bodies on issues or in locations lets them have the weight and expertise necessary to drive integrity and enforce norms. But that’s verging on a different conversation. 

Greg S

I strongly agree that as we mature we should push towards a more centralised model. Two specific reasons which expand on your post:

  • First, the ability to influence policy is essential to many cause areas. Because our efforts are so decentralised, we aren’t building “brand capital” with policymakers as effectively as possible (or even commensurately with our value). In my experience, organisations like Save The Children can easily get meetings with senior public servants and Ministers because they are smart about managing their global brand. Because we don’t harness the positive externalities of one another’s good work, we don’t have anything like the heft that we could. (I appreciate that there’s risk here as well, but I think it’s easier to manage risk in a more mature organisation. I think a lot of recent errors could have been addressed by more mature organisational structures, rather than being caused by them.)
  • Second, you mention the importance of professional HR operations and health insurance. That shortcoming is directly connected to the DEI issues our community is facing. The decentralised model is fine if you’ve got a relatively privileged background and the right connections. But a more centralised model is essential to be more inclusive and offer people things like parental leave and a safety net. More centralised models could also have better recruitment practices including a greater ability to find diverse talent in their field and their community – something that solo grant applications are not well suited for. 

There’s a point for funders here.  If you’re minded to fund certain work in a certain cause area – you might do more good by approaching established organisations that already have a “back end” and offering to fund them to find more talent and expand in certain directions (rather than giving a new grant and spinning off yet another person or small organisation). 

Other comments joke about mergers and acquisitions. But in seriousness, my vote on boards of the EA-related organisations I’m on has been, and will continue to be, in favour of sensible centralisation.  

Greg S

TL;DR of the below post is that I agree with the brief remarks about 1.5 Track Dialogues made in the Founders Pledge document you cite at f/n 68.

I'd like to cheerlead briefly for a diversity of channels. That is, sometimes we'll see countries put a public freeze on one another where the most senior and high-profile figures (presidents, prime ministers, foreign affairs ministers etc) don't talk to each other for reasons of posturing over an issue. 

In countries where there isn't a diversity of channels (by which I mean, most interactions occur between those most senior officials and a formal diplomatic channel), this can create risky situations because there's no longer a way to clarify (that is, communications become indirect via the oblique public statements, and prone to cross-cultural and other confusion). "Hotlines" are less relevant in this situation because the point of the posturing is that the countries aren't talking to one another. Picking up the hotline would be off-message. 

What reduces risk in that situation is a diversity of channels. The post discussed diplomatic channels, and I won't repeat that. We also often think about a 'back channel' in the sense of a confidant of one leader talking to a confidant of another leader - a proxy conversation that allows the posturing to continue but some more direct communication to occur. And that can help (appreciating the clarity and timeliness points made in your post).

The key thing I'd add to that point (in support of the points raised about track 2) is at-level connections within a bureaucracy (and to a lesser extent people-to-people connections). That is, where lots of officials in a country know their counterpart in the other country, a formal diplomatic freeze is of much less practical concern because the bulk of all those at-level communications means each country remains pretty much in tune with what the other is doing (there isn't likely to be a spiral of miscommunication because, when the president says X in a public forum, mid-level officials will be saying to other mid-level officials "oh, when the President said X what s/he really meant was 1, 2, 3 not a, b,c "). Obviously that's helpful outside of the 'freeze' scenario as well.  

One of the reasons I think this perspective is relevant to EAs is because it is tractable. A philanthropist might struggle to get a "hotline" built between countries X and Y. However, it is explicitly open to an EA NGO to establish a 1.5 track dialogue (or similar concept) that seeks to get together sets of officials in a way that's focused on building relationships and interpersonal connections (I don't even think it needs to be issue-specific in the way this post suggests).  

For the benefit of readers, the PF document in the f/n says: 

[W]e recommend Track II and Track 1.5 diplomacy programs. This intervention stands out because it has (i) a strong theoretical case for effectiveness, (ii) some supportive empirical evidence and support from experts, (iii) seemingly high upside and minimal downside risk.

Greg S

Thanks for this post. I’ll make a short comment here (noting that there’s more comments in the other forum) from the perspective of someone who has spent 10+ years in middle management positions in large (1000+ person) organisations.

I’ve seen things like many of the above anecdotes play out, so I mostly agree that these things are all possible, a problem, and worth mitigating. But I’d make two defences of middle management:

  1. There’s also a failure mode where senior managers think they can do both senior management and middle management. In a large organisation, the CEO investing time in understanding the widget manufacturing processes is a poor investment of their time. Lots of senior managers are drawn into that trap. (Particularly if they started out as a widget maker and therefore have specific views. Often views that are now outdated for reasons they’ve missed since they were last widget-making.) So I wouldn’t want any current or prospective senior manager to read this post and imagine they can somehow lead a large organisation without middle managers. 
  2. Middle managers do necessary work. The example company that makes widget-1 in small quantities in a single location likely doesn’t need middle management. But once the company is making widgets 1 to 100, there are all kinds of failure modes that develop at that working level. The people making widget-1 will come up with what they see as an efficiency, but actually it’s a problem for the integration of widget-1 with widget-68 in a way that the widget-1 makers don’t understand.

    The people that make widget-5 want to make it blue because it’s easier to make. But the marketing people want widget-5 to be red because it will increase sales. And the logistics people think the key change to widget-5 would be making it smaller so it stacks better. Settling that dispute can’t be done by any of those working-level teams (the person running the widget machine shouldn’t be spending time synthesising logistics reports), and it’s below the pay grade of the CEO (their job is to say ‘balance those three factors in the best way’). So you need a process where teams of middle managers can sit down and compare those things. And the outcome of that process is very likely two working-level teams thinking ‘these middle managers have no clue what they’re talking about’. That’s just how the world goes. 

It’s no accident that there have been middle managers since the dawn of civilisation. It’s worth thinking about how the CEO can keep a good understanding of their organisation with sensible time investment. And it’s worth thinking about how to ensure widget makers can see the overall strategic vision with sensible time investment. It’s worth thinking about how to ensure middle managers resolve disputes with evidence and reason rather than internal game-playing. I don’t think it’s worth thinking about how to get rid of middle management. I think it would be harmful for a CEO to hold off on hiring managers when their organisation starts to need them. 


Greg S

Which part of 11 USC 548 do you think applies?

It doesn't seem to me the payments were made to hinder / defraud (I guess that's a stage-of-mind point I don't have information on) ; the payments weren't undervalued ; FTX was solvent when (at least some of) the payments were made.

Greg S

Thanks for the reply Sean. 

I guess if I was in your position I'd consider running a pilot of the service (using as-similar-a-method-as-possible)  in a demographic that is seen as desirable to the health industrial complex (New York or California or something). Perhaps I'd also talk to an intellectual property lawyer and see if there are any elements of your method that can be subject to protections (patents, copyright material or whatever). 

If it's so impactful and cost-effective it might be immediately profitable if offered to other demographics (including because market-provided mental health services seem hugely expensive in many western countries - it's possible that this model could undercut the market dramatically). 

Greg S

Thanks for this post.

Regarding your point that F/P doesn't have any potential defences, I would have thought that there's some chance F/P could argue:

1) Only a certain amount of money was received from FTX-proper within the 90 clawback window (impossible for us outsiders to know how much that would impact anything, if at all, but it could reduce the quantum from 'anything F/P has ever done' to 'the recent activity of F/P'), and

2) Notwithstanding the above, that the new value defense applies. That is, F/P was given money to do a particular thing (make grants) and that it discharged its obligation to do that thing (it made the grants).  

Any views on that?

(Usual caveat of not being a US bankruptcy lawyer) 

Greg S

I’m glad this is (currently) the top-voted comment. I’ve reviewed the evidence StrongMinds offers up and find it relatively persuasive. But every page yells “offer this in wealthy countries and you’ll do good and do well at the same time.” A quick google suggests that the global ‘market’ for mental health is in the order of $400b. And this intervention seems significantly better than anything else currently in the market. Shouldn’t this be a multi-billion-dollar company being snapped up by pharma giants? 

I guess that outcome seems so wild that it generates doubt about the original claim. I’d like to know the additional detail that contextualises that. 

Greg S

Thanks for this post, it’s helpful to step through the challenges and the state of the research. I’d make three observations:

1) Dwelling on what ‘lobbying success’ or ‘policy success’ means in detail might be relevant.

  • In my on-the-ground experience (including being lobbied and lobbying) people rarely ask for what they want. They’re making an opening bid, and there’s a range of (hidden) outcomes that are still success criteria. If a lobbyist overtly asks for X and gets 1/2X or Y – you’d need insight into their actual strategy and their assessment of best case / worst case and most-likely case outcomes. Did they only want 1/2X and asked for X anticipating giving ground over time?
  • Additionally, I’ve seen ‘policy success’ where a parliament passes a law that an interest group sought. The interest group then tends to move on to the next Bill. Meanwhile, executive government can ‘white-ant’ that law behind the scenes (never passing supporting regulations, not funding implementation, only doing the action for a year or two until people move on and then letting implementation fade into obscurity etc). That shouldn’t feel like success to EAs, but it might pass as success in a naïve study. 


2) The lens of ‘neglectedness’ might be particularly relevant to how EAs want to engage in lobbying. The observation in the post that many issues have many organisations lobbying at them from different directions accords with my experience. It might be interesting to try and study the intensity of lobbying around a range of issues. In my experience (in Australia) there is a huge lobbying storm and public focus on a small number of high-profile issues, many issues have ‘the usual suspects’ come out (like a peak industry group etc), and other issues are of no apparent interest to anyone. 

It might not be too difficult to research how lobbying effort is spread across the range of matters that could be lobbied for. I’m not a designer of research methodologies – but my bet would be that only 1-5% of legislation is ever mentioned in major media publications, and only a fraction of that would get sustained attention across multiple outlets. I’d guess in Australia that 50% of legislation is never mentioned anywhere in print media / internet outlets outside of government websites themselves. (These being accessible proxies for the conversations that are happening on the hill.) Perhaps if EAs target tail-end issues that align with EA priorities, we could find high-impact opportunities where we are the only voice and hence escape many of the challenges this post rightly highlights. 

3) I like the Woll 2019 observation that: “[a] business can also have substantial structural power due to the popularity of its products with consumers. When a product is perceived as important by consumers, the line between a business's commercial activity and political activity becomes blurred. In this case, deliberate activity like lobbying may not be a useful way to think about political influence.”

This might be another useful way for EAs to think about political influence. That is, if EA issues are seen as popular with a segment of the public, we can blur the line between “EAs being passionate about X” and “intentional lobbying for X”. That might be another way for us to slide past the usual battlelines of lobbying. 

Thanks again for the post. 

Greg S

Hello, at your suggestion the first thing I did after making an account was to post a bio. Thanks for the guidance! 

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