Co-Founder of Lets-Fund.org

HaukeHillebrandt's Comments

Racial Demographics at Longtermist Organizations

I assumed diversity of any kind was meant - as used in common parlance (i.e. gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, etc. excluding political diversity which is a more recent Jonathan Haidt thing).

If in the context of this thread, only ethnic diversity was meant, then this implies that we ought to improve gender diversity in EA orgs, but not ethnic diversity. Which would make this highly upvoted statement even more absurd.

Racial Demographics at Longtermist Organizations
given the enormous stakes I think it would be a mistake for even donors and organisations who do value diversity as a terminal value to dedicate resources to this instead of focusing on their core mission. Nor do I think there are likely to be significant instrumental benefits.

I very strongly disagree.

At the very least, consider the instrumental benefits from avoiding the PR-risk of the community adopting your far-out view that we ought not value diversity at all. This seems like a legitimate risk for EA, as evidenced by your comment having more upvotes than the author of this thread.

However, my sense is that, despite problems with diversity in EA, this has been recognized, and the majority view is actually that diversity is important and needs to be improved (see for instance CEA's stance on diversity).

Modular empirical science

I'm not working with him on this, but Let's Fund is just funding him to do advocacy on Registered Reports.

Modular empirical science

This is very similar to the Registered Reports format - check out my report and crowdfunding campaign to improve science:


How to promote widespread usage of high quality, reusable masks

I see your point, yet still think the central argument and the other points I made still stand. I also think there are more than superficial similarities between what you suggest and what Greg criticizes, but not because both proposals are about masks, but rather because both proposals are hobbyists ideas for an intervention of dubious effectiveness.

How to promote widespread usage of high quality, reusable masks

I appreciate you coming up with innovative ideas to stop C19, but I strongly downvoted this for the following reasons:

1. See Greg Lewis interview on the 80k podcast (https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/greg-lewis-covid-19-global-catastrophic-biological-risks/) especially the last 25 mins on EA community mistakes on the c19 response (he mentions that facemasks in particular can actually be net negative - I realize this is slightly different, yet still applies to this post).

2. especially here you have a direct call to action to spread this aggressively on social media.

3. There does seem to be a cost-effectiveness analysis and so we don't know whether this is worth anyone's time.

But I think it's important for people to come up with innovative ideas. I think what would be better is to send this directly to junior people in this field (say junior authors of this paper: https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/study-identifies-275-ways-to-reduce-spread-of-coronavirus-following-lockdown and ask them whether this might be something interesting - the ideas being that they're in a better position to judge whether it's really effective policy and worth more senior people's currently very precious time and pass it on to them.

HaukeHillebrandt's Shortform

[Years of life lost due to C19]

A recent meta-analysis looks at C-19-related mortality by age groups in Europe and finds the following age distribution:

< 40: 0.1%

40-69: 12.8%

≥ 70: 84.8%

In this spreadsheet model I combine this data with Metaculus predictions to get at the years of life lost (YLLs) due to C19.

I find C19 might cause 6m - 87m YYLs (highly dependending on # of deaths). For comparison, substance abuse causes 13m, diarrhea causes 85m YYLs.

Countries often spend 1-3x GDP per capita to avert a DALY, and so the world might want to spend $2-8trn to avert C19 YYLs (could also be a rough proxy for the cost of C19).

One of the many simplifying assumptions of this model is that excludes disability caused by C19 - which might be severe.

Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs)

Thanks for the comments... I think you're generally raising a bunch of valid points.

A few more thoughts on this:

First, perverse incentives are already present within the current system. Indeed, they're likely ubiquitous and inherent in any optimization process - it's just a matter of how powerful they are and the scale.

There is already a lot of regulatory capture and "revolving doors" between regulators and industry (c.f. 2008). In theory, nuclear regulators should want the nuclear industry to flourish, because their job and job prospects depend on it. In practice, it seems hard for me to see how implementing this would increase perverse incentives. Again, if you do this on an industry wide basis (the department of nuclear security is funded by an ETF of nuclear companies), it seems hard to see how regulators can substantially affect the stock movements of a whole industry.

It seems like a related but slightly separate problem.

Also note that this strategy is neutral wrt the absolute level of funding of the regulators. Rather it helps with prioritization within regulation (i.e. the government can buy $10bn or $100bn in stocks and disburse them to fund regulators).

And then it can't do all the prioritization without human input: perhaps we do not need to regulate the $4 trillion global restaurant industry as much as the $4 trillion dollar global chemical industry. But I think there's currently not much quantitative prioritization going on wrt how much regulation capacity should be assigned to different companies within an industry. So this is just to finesse current funding levels.

Second, generally, I slightly disagree that limited resources for regulators is not one of the major problem (again see 2008 - where regulators are always way behind industry in terms of staff, resources, analytic capacity, etc. - the same seems to be true for the tech industry, where there aren't sufficient funds to hire top talent with deep understanding of the sector). Again, this strategy doesn't really speak to the absolute amount we should spend on regulation - just that it's a better way to cut the pie.

Hm... but I actually just had another idea of how to fund regulators perhaps reducing perverse incentives and also optimizing more for negative externalities.

Consider that the EU has fined Google $10bn. I think currently this is disbursed to go into the general budget.

But maybe one could buy Google stocks (or a technology ETF) with that money and use the dividends to fund digital regulation.

This way regulators would be incentivized to reduce negative externalities (through fining companies and the industry), but then also they'd be held back to completely wreck industries or companies, because they're financed by the overall health of the industry after the fine.

A generalized strategy of ‘mission hedging’: investing in 'evil' to do more good

I think I might not really understand Paul’s argument completely, but I really value his opinion generally, so I think more people should look into this more (but he also said he meant to write a new version soon).

Having said that, I still think divestment is not worth it for EAs and I still believe mission hedging is a better strategy, for four reasons:

  1. I don’t think divestment changes the stock price substantially as I argue in my Impact Investing report with John Halstead. Peter Gerdes makes very similar points in the comments of Paul’s blog.
  2. Even if share prices did not return to equilibrium, the impact on the level of production is likely to be low. Public equity is generally traded in secondary markets, meaning that changes in stock price affect shareholders, rather than the usable capital the company has at hand. From the impact investing report: “Movements in the share price do not always affect the capital available to companies. In industries that generate a lot of cash and so do not need to raise capital, changes in share prices will not have much impact. In addition, public equity is generally traded in secondary markets, meaning that changes in stock price affect shareholders, rather than the usable capital the company has at hand.[38].” Also see Modigliani–Miller theorem.
  3. The post is too focused on marginal cost-effectiveness/benefit cost ratios but we should look at the cost-effectiveness at scale and also the total benefit minus cost. Paul highlights that the first unit of divestment is free and I agree with this. Thus, the first unit of divestment has theoretically an infinite marginal cost-effectiveness (infinite benefit cost ratio). But after the first dollar of divestment the costs increase. And then beyond the individual investor, the cost increases further. He also acknowledges that “It’s hard to implement” and “Deciding how to divest is quite challenging.” and “These funds would only be appealing to an unusual audience” Thus, even if Paul is right, and even if the marginal cost-effectiveness is high, the overall benefit will likely be small as this doesn’t seem to scale and have substantial associated set-up costs.
  4. Even if one could scale at a benefit cost ratio - I don’t think it would be particularly effective. Consider, that Paul argues that one can ““sacrifice <$1 to reduce EvilCo’s output by >$5”. I have an intuition that this is unrealistically high on the face of it, because it would allow all kinds of uncompetitive practices like shorting competitors to dominate the market, but, for simplicity, let’s go with it and say it’s 10:1. Global fossil fuel industry revenue is ~$10trn. To reduce output to zero with divestment, you'd need to spend ~$1trn. Fossil fuel industry emits ~35gT/y. To reduce their output by 1 ton, their revenue needs to be reduced by ~$285 ($10trn / 35bn). So it's $285/tCO2e averted. Even with 10:1 leverage, this would be quite expensive (but am not 100% confident in this calculation). As you say Jonas: “Any thoughts on whether divestment is generally worth the opportunity cost if the returns had been donated to the most effective charities? (E.g., reductions in carbon emissions from divestment vs. donations to clean energy R&D.)” I think there are more effective ways to solve climate change with $1 trillion (e.g. through clean energy R&D). I don’t think trying to reduce corporations' costs of capital is an effective way to reduce their externalities. Generally, multi-objective optimization is harder than single-objective optimization. Divestment tries to optimize for both social impact and financial impact. However, I think it’s easier to optimize for financial impact (which is relatively straightforward), and then use the profits to optimize for social impact through donations (which we also have a relatively good grasp on). With mission hedging you still have the option to donate and it can also be combined with using leverage (for instance, this 3x leveraged AI FAANG+ ETF for people wanting to hedge against long-term risks from AI- this is of course not financial advice).
Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs)

In theory, yes you're right there might be a perverse incentive.

But in practice I don't think it'll be very pronounced, because regulators do not have that much influence on a corporation.

Also the individuals regulator's salaries are not directly tied to stock dividends of the corporations they regulate, but rather the absolute amount of staff in a team tasked with regulating a particular corporation or sector within a larger government agency.

On the individual level promotions, pay rises, bonuses, and other incentives should still be based on what we're ultimately want regulators to do: reducing negative externalities and increasing positive externalities (i.e. performance reviews, doing good work).

Adding more checks and balances (e.g. journalism, watchdogs, critical think tanks, red teaming within government) might be better than what we have now.

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