Halstead's Comments

Democracy Promotion as an EA Cause Area

I think the democracy-growth connection is more nuanced than suggested here. Most of the biggest growth accelerations have occurred in autocracies. In terms of total welfare produced, most of the gains in human welfare have been driven by huge growth episodes in autocracies after 1950.

"democracies do not necessarily outperform autocracies in a growth acceleration episode, though
they are likely to prevent large growth collapses. We also highlight the importance of
the type of autocracy in understanding the effects of regime type on growth. When
we disaggregate the type of autocracy, we find that party-based autocracies
outperform democracies in growth acceleration episodes, though they do not limit the
fall in the magnitude in growth deceleration episodes in comparison to democracies.

Our findings have implications for both for the previous literature on the relationship
between democracy and growth as well as the literature on democratic transitions.
They suggest that, while democracy may indeed lead to higher per capita incomes in
the long run (as has been found by Acemoglu et al. 2014) or reduce the volatility of
growth in the short run (as has been found by Mobarak, 2005), developing countries
with democratic regimes are less likely to observe the rapid growth acceleration
episodes that have been observed for certain types of autocracies, though they are
less likely to suffer from the growth collapses that are prevalent in many autocracies.
Further, our findings indicate that the transitions to democracy that we observe with increasing frequency in many parts of the developing world may not necessarily lead to rapid economic development, if the transition is from party-based autocracies to democracies. For the international development policy community, this suggests that it matters what type of autocracy is in place in a given country when pushing for democratic transition in that country."


John Halstead: Is impact investing impactful?

Hi, Thanks for this. There seems to be agreement that demand curves are perfectly elastic on the 6 month timeframe. I looked at the paper you sent and it doesn' present any of its own evidence but cites some other papers, which I don't have time to look at. Our report on impact investing goes into this in more detail.

Investing to Give Beginner Advice?

I'm very sceptical of pound-cost averaging.

1. Empirical research. I did look into this and a quick google scholar search reveals lots of sceptical papers.

2. The theory doesn't make sense. On the efficient markets view, at any time that you put money into the stock market, you would expect the market to rise, just because the stock market increases over time in expectation. If you have £1m, then you would always be better off in expectation putting that into the stock market as a lump sum. If you spaced it out as 100 £10k investments over 100 months, then, in expectation you would miss out on the investment returns you could have got in those 100 months.

What is a good donor advised fund for small UK donors?

Credit to you for getting in touch with them! It still looks like it's not worth it to use either CAF account.

The charity account - the tax benefits won't be worth the lost investment returns.

The CAF charitable trust - The annual fees will make it not worth it vs normal investing. Again, the tax benefits won't be large enough

The case for delaying solar geoengineering research

Thanks for this - have some quick replies below

1. If solar geoengineering is not going to be used until we get to 4 degrees, then there is no point in researching it even if 4 degrees is catastrophic.

2. I agree that the constraints on state action are not perfect. As you say, the saudis fund terrorism and major powers flex their muscles at each other in more or less overt ways. The deployment of solar geoengineering would be on a different order - a huge and bold move. Do I think India would deploy solar geoengineering without the consent of China, risking the almost guaranteed ire of China? No.

The bet offer was not rhetorical and still stands if you would like it. We can pick an arbiter to make sure it happens. If you are worried about decaying attention, we could have a shorter timeframe? What do you think is the chance in the next 10 years that someone deploys it?

3. The debate about AI safety seems like a distraction to me - if you showed me that the case was analogous to solar geoengineering research, then I would argue that we should also delay AGI safety research for the same reasons. But it is disanalogous in numerous ways, so I don't see the point in exploring the analogy. Nevertheless... one rationale for AGI safety research is that some people think there is a non-negligible chance of AI in the next 20 years. Indeed, Toby Ord's median estimate is that we will get it in the next 20 years. If you believe that, then the case for AI safety research now is very clear. That is one disanalogy.

Secondly, the downsides of AGI research seem minimal. There is some dim possibility that AGI research could lead us to irrationally downplay the risks of AGI, but I have literally never seen this concern brought up before as a reason not to do AGI safety research. As far as I am aware, no-one is not doing AGI safety research because of that consideration. In contrast, in climate there is a pretty much cross-field taboo against against talking about solar geoengineering in a vaguely positive way. This is basically for the reasons I outline.

5. Our anthropogenic emissions between 2020 and 2080 have a huge effect on how hot it will get. e.g. We can still (technically) follow RCP2.6 and RCP8.5 On RCP2.6, median warming is less than 2 degrees, on RCP8.5, it is 4 degrees and beyond.

7. That seems right but the debate we're having is about whether to research it not deploy it.

Investing to Give Beginner Advice?

I have some basic tips for UK investors which are a good baseline to work off.

1. Put your money into an Independent Savings Account (ISA). You can put in £20k per year tax-free. If you have more than £20k now, you can move another £20k at the start of the next tax year.

2. For a new investor, I think a simple and good method is getting a Vanguard Lifestrategy ISA with 100% equities - this buys you stocks across lots of different markets. As far as I know, Vanguard has the lowest fees at about 0.15% - even these small percentages are important as they eat up bigger investment gains. If you're doing patient philanthropy, you want equities not bonds for higher returns.

3. See this post for discussion of donor advised funds, which might have more tax advantages, though advice seems inconclusive at the moment.

4. For god's sake don't buy a house.

Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths?

Is the R0 lower in Europe? The 3 day average deaths per million is similar in the US, UK, Sweden, and (eg) Italy. Fatal shootings by police officers of citizens per capita are about 170x lower in the UK than the US. Imprisonment as % of the population is about 20x higher in US than US. Prison conditions seem far worse in the US than UK

Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths?

I don't think this is a counterpoint to my claim which was that the problem of state mistreatment of black people is considerably lower in the UK vs the US. I didn't claim that there wasn't unfair mistreatment of black people in the UK.

Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths?

I think this argument conflates the fact that p, and people's belief that p. Consider these two principles

1. If people correctly believe that going on the protests produces more good than harm, then they should go on the protests.

2. If people believe that going on the protests produces more good than harm, then they should go on the protests.

Principle 1 seems to me clearly correct from a utilitarian point of view. Principle 2 is absurd - people can have mad and false beliefs. If someone believes that going on a neo-nazi rally is going to produce greater marginal benefits than staying at home, that doesn't mean that they should in fact break the lockdown. The proposition "The BLM protests will produce more good than harm" doesn't entail principle 2.

(I'm not saying that the protests do in fact produce more good than harm, I'm just criticising Larks' counter-argument in the above comment)

Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths?

These points don't apply to the UK and elsewhere to anywhere near the same extent, so the post does at least seem like a good argument against the protests in the UK and elsewhere.

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