Halstead's Comments

Growth and the case against randomista development

Thanks for these comments Alex. I agree that it would be best to look at how growth translates into subjective wellbeing, and I am planning to do this or to get someone else to do it soon. However, I'm not sure that this defeats our main claim which is that research on and advocacy for growth are likely to be better than GW top charities. There are a few arguments for this.

(1) GW estimates that deworming is the best way to improve economic outcomes for the extreme poor, in expectation. This seems to me very unlikely to be true since deworming explains almost none of the variance in economic outcomes across the world today, and research on and advocacy for growth looks a much better bet unless you endorse extreme scepticism about growth economics, which no EA has yet argued for. On the welfare metrics endorsed by GiveWell's staff, deworming is roughly as good as their top charities. It is therefore very unlikely that GW's top charities are better than research and advocacy for growth.

(2) The cost-effectiveness argument. Many of the huge growth episodes analysed by Lant occurred in countries that were extremely poor before those growth episodes. Looking to the past, it seems unreasonable to deny that funding research on and advocacy for growth is better than the best that one could do with a randomista intervention. The Chinese experience alone seems to me to clearly make this case. Looking to the future, our conjecture is that a 4 person year research effort will show that research and advocacy targeted at LMICs is better than the best GW charities. This takes account of the diminishing marginal utility of money. The case for this claim is unproven, but I think our argument provides strong support for it being probably true.

  • On the 'risk-lovers would work on animals/long-termism' point, I don't think i agree. To me it seems that people work on these causes because of ethical assumptions about the weight of animals and future beings rather than because of attitudes to risk.
  • I agree that getting into the weeds is important for our predictive conjecture: the aim of our piece was precisely to motivate getting into these weeds. Moreover, someone needed to make these general arguments at some point as they had been around for many years without response.
Growth and the case against randomista development

Thanks for this, I think you make a lot of good points here that anyone carrying out this research would need to think about carefully.

Should Longtermists Mostly Think About Animals?

Cheers for this. A stylistic point - I think there are far too many acronyms here. I would limit yourself to one acronym per 30 pages of A4 - it just becomes really hard to keep track after a while

Growth and the case against randomista development

I agree that we should keep our focus on human welfare rather than on gdp per capita as such, and that proposed research agenda should consider a broad question such as "how can we ensure democratic, sustainable and equitably shared growth?" As we say, I do think this is best approached outside of RCTs.

Growth and the case against randomista development

Hello, thanks for these comments! On the antagonistic point, I personally don't think the post is antagonistic. I think calling something "the case against view x" is what you would expect of a post criticising a particular view. I also don't think there are any parts of the substantive post itself that involve any snark, sneering or things like that. Where we do put forward critical opinions, they seem to me to be stated neutrally and directly, without flourish, rather than in an antagonistic way.

This being said, it has been mentioned to me that stuff I write can come off as antagonistic when it isn't meant to be, and I come from philosophy where discussion norms are highly confrontational, so I am open to suggestions as to how this piece could be less confrontational.

Growth and the case against randomista development

I do think this is a concern that we need to consider carefully. On the standard FHI/Open Phil view of ex risk, AI and bio account for most of the ex risk we face this century. I find it difficult to see how increasing economic development LMICs could affect AI risk. China's massive growth is something of a special case on the AI risk front I think.

I think growth probably reduces biorisk by increasing the capacity of health systems in poor countries. It seems that leading edge bioscience research is most likely to happen in advanced economies.

On climate, it seems clear that it would exacerbate climate change, but it would also increase the capacity of very poor countries to deal with climate change. Most of the up to 2100 damages seem to me to stem from dryer dry places and wetter wet places, and I think economic development is a good way to deal with these problems for poor countries - they can do desalination, more efficient agriculture, and build flood defences. It would of course be better if they did this with clean energy, but it seems that working on that separately is the best way forward. It's not like stopping Africa growing is a top priority for environmentalists.

On nuclear, economic growth is a major risk factor for nuclear weapons status, much more important than other factors people often talk about such as pursuing a civilian nuclear power programme. But the ex risk of nuclear war is debatable and seems to stem from the unique features of US v Russia tensions - it seems v unlikely that today's LMICs would come to possess thousands of warheads.

On the alternative boring long-termist view, these risks seem a much weaker concern.

Generally, I disagree with Cowen that increasing growth is the best thing to do from a long-termist point of view. Though, as we argue, it does seem good from a person-affecting point of view

Growth and the case against randomista development

A few people have mentioned that they think the title is inflammatory - it wasn't intended as such. I had never thought that the term randomista is pejorative, e.g. you can find various examples of eg chris blattman owning it

Growth and the case against randomista development

thanks for all the comments! responding above

Growth and the case against randomista development

The Easterlin paradox notwithstanding, as we say in the post, economic growth does buy you a lot of subjective wellbeing improvement in a country. It would be interesting to explore how far increasing growth in a country would improve subjective wellbeing in LMICs. The path to impact in HICs seems much less clear imo

Load More