All of John G. Halstead's Comments + Replies

Betting on the best case: higher end warming is underrepresented in research

Hello, thanks for your response. 

On the Sherwood et al thing, another issue is that I don't understand why you would use the Weitzman estimate of ECS when you have already mentioned the Sherwood et al (2020) estimate. The Sherwood et al (2020) estimate is superior, and that is clear from reading their paper. The IPCC also now accepts that it is superior. So, I don't understand why you would mention "the most recent estimate" and then use one from 6 years ago instead. 

"Overall, your criticism mainly seems to be the fact that current estimates of c... (read more)

Good news on climate change

The new models account for potential feedbacks from permafrost carbon. I'm also not especially worried about that feedback or the one from methane clathrates. The world was about 4 degrees warmer a few million years ago, and we didn't get a rapid carbon input from these sources. And the models and basic physics suggest that these would be slow acting multi-centennial scale feedbacks.

The Sherwood et al (2020) paper accounts for evidence from the paleoclimate which should in principle pick up some tipping points from the past, though what we are doing now is... (read more)

Good news on climate change

hi sasha, RCP is a 'representative concentration pathway'. The number refers to the radiative forcing from GHGs in 2100 measured in watts per square metre. So, on RCP8.5, the extra forcing would be 8.5 watts per square metre.

Good news on climate change

Hi Ben, 

CO2 concentrations on the different shared socioeconomic pathways are shown in Table 5 here. On the most likely scenario - RCP4.5 - CO2 concentrations would double relative to pre-industrial by around 2060. 

I think this comes down to the difference between the transient climate response to cumulative emissions and equilibrium climate sensitivity. On the assumption that CO2 concentrations stabilise, ECS tells you the warming you get eventually once the climate system has reached equilibrium (not including ice sheet feedbacks). If CO2 conce... (read more)

2Benjamin_Todd21dThat all makes sense, thank you!
How can we make Our World in Data more useful to the EA community?

Just want to say as an EA researcher your website is an absolute godsend.

2EdMathieu24dGlad to hear that :)
Betting on the best case: higher end warming is underrepresented in research

Thanks for sharing this paper. I disagree with most of the key claims you make here. 

Firstly,  you cite the recent updates on climate sensitivity, but without clarifying that this has narrowed uncertainty at both the left and right of the tail. "The most recent estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity show a similar distribution, narrowing the range of outcomes to exclude rises below 2 °C but not ruling out warming above 4.5 °C (Sherwood et al 2020)." The first thing to say is that equilibrium climate sensitivity measures the warming conditio... (read more)

1FJehn5dThank you for your feedback! It is true that our phrasing around Sherwood et al (2020) can sound a bit misleading. However, this was not in bad faith. We did not intentionally leave out the decreased tail risks. Overall, your criticism mainly seems to be the fact that current estimates of climate sensitivity have a smaller range that the one we used. This is true. It does not change the point of our paper though. While the range decreased, the mean basically stayed the same and if you look at our figures, this still means that there is likely to few research for the higher temperatures. To your last point, I wasn't aware that the impact literature mainly compares those two scenarios. However, as we look at all parts of the IPCC reports this seems to get drowned out by the other parts of the reports. We are currently doing some new analyses that try to look into this in a bit more depth.
Good news on climate change

agree on the first one - it is very good. I hadn't seen the second one thanks for sharing! 

Good news on climate change

Hi, thanks for this comment.  I agree with half of it. We definitely don't have momentum in decarbonising hard to decarbonise sectors like industry and aviation. But the solution there is to make cheap hydrogen, which we can do with super cheap renewables and nuclear hydrogen gigafactories.  Whether we will do this is the great unknown of climate policy. But the IEA estimates account for lack of progress in these sectors, so they don't affect the central point of our piece. Also, some parts of industry are easier to decarbonise. Davis et al (2018... (read more)

3jackva25d1. "But the IEA estimates account for lack of progress in these sectors, so they don't affect the central point of our piece. " This is important and possibly a bit confusing in the piece, the 2.5-3 degree world is now the default on fairly pessimistic assumptions about further progress. 2. Also, another thing that the estimates do not reflect are the effects of recent net-zero commitments + uptick in cleantech investment, both public and private. If the current surge in cleantech spending persists, we should expect effects in technologies beyond the usual suspects of wind/solar/electric cars/light bulbs. I think we can probably lock-in a low-carbon trajectory this decade if we are able to (a) maintain/increase momentum on clean energy innovation, (b) make sure resources for energy innovation are better spent, and (c) we manage to avoid massive emissions lock-in of new long-lived infrastructure. 3. I would also say it is not quite correct that we are not making progress on hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as industry, aviation, and agriculture. While these are the sectors to worry about most and those where a trajectory change isn't guaranteed (unlike, say, electrification of light duty transport), Bill Gates + Breakthrough Energy + the tech community more broadly have stepped up their game significantly, also on those technologies (e.g. alternative proteins are arguably booming as a field and Gates & Breakthrough Energy have succeeded in putting those techs a lot more on the mind of the public). (Sorry for lack of sourcing, this is quick, but I will outline all of those things more publicly and documented fairly soon)
Good news on climate change

Yes though I suppose it is still unclear whether they will get it through or not. China is going to spend a fortune on solar and nuclear over the next few decades, which is good. 

Good news on climate change

I think you are right that a lot of these points have been around in the scientific literature for a while. What has changed now is that they are definitely mainstream. The Sherwood et al paper has really helped to formalise the findings of the Annan and Hargreaves paper from years ago, and that has all now been recognised by the IPCC. James Annan told me that he did raise the point about priors with Weitzman a while ago but didn't get anywhere.  

One thing that has changed in recent years is that whereas the IEA and others used to estimate that RCP6 was the most likely emissions scenario, it looks like RCP4.5 is the most likely scenario, on current policy. And even that may be too pessimistic

Good news on climate change

For sources, I would recommend just reading the technical summary of the 2014 IPCC Impacts report. There is no indication there that civilisation will end at 4 degrees.

I think a lot of the economic models are very flawed yes. I think it is more useful to look at the impacts literature and try and make your own mind up from there. But I also think it is instructive that the most pessimistic models suggest that 4 degrees of climate change would leave us with something like a 400% increase in GDP compared to a counterfactual 900% increase without climate cha... (read more)

Good news on climate change

Speaking for me personally and not Johannes. I strongly disagree with the claim that 3,4, 5 or 6 degrees of warming would do anything even remotely close to ending human civilisation or causing civilisational collapse. However, I don't think this post is the best place to discuss the question of climate impacts. I am working on a large report on that question which will be out next year.

I see - that seems really valuable and also exactly the sort of work I was suggesting (I.e. addressing impact uncertainty as well as temperature uncertainty).

In the meantime, are there any sources you could point me to in support of this position, or which respond to objections to current economic climate models?

Also, is your view that the current Econ models are fundamentally flawed but that the economic damage is still nowhere near catastrophic, or that those models are actually reasonable?

Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

Equally, many future people will be worse-off than they would have been if we don't reduce extinction risks. The claim is about the net total impact on non-white people

5Davidmanheim2moYour definition of problematic injustice seems far too narrow, and I explicitly didn't refer to race in the previous post. The example I gave was that the most disadvantaged people are in the present, and are further injured - not that non-white people (which under current definitions will describe approximately all of humanity in another half dozen generations) will be worse off.
Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

Any time you take a stance on anything you are privileging your view over some other people. Your argument also applies to people working on animal welfare and on global poverty. In surveys, most people don't even seem to care about saving more lives than less.

If we are going to go down the route of saying that what EAs do should be decided by the majority opinion of the current global population, then that would be the end of EA of any kind. As I understand it, your claim is that the total view is false (or we don't have reason to act on it) because the v... (read more)

Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

This is question begging: it only counterfactually harms the poor on a person-affecting view of ethics, which longtermists reject

5Davidmanheim2moIs that true? Many current individuals will be worse off when resources don't go to them, for instance, because they are saving future lives, versus when they do, for instance, funds focused on near-term utilitarian goals like poverty reduction. And if, as most of us expect, the world's wealth will continue to grow, effectively all future people who are helped by existential risk reduction are not what we'd now consider poor. You can defend this via the utilitarian calculus across all people, but that doesn't change the distributive impact between groups.

person-affecting view of ethics, which longtermists reject

I'm a longtermist and I don't reject (asymmetric) person(-moment-)affecting views, at least not those that think necessary ≠ only present people. I would be very hard-pressed to give a clean formalization of necessary people though. I think it's bad if effective altruists think longtermism can only be justified with astronomical waste-style arguments and not at all if someone has person-affecting intuitions. (Staying in a broadly utilitarian framework. There are, of course, also obligation-to-ancest... (read more)

Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

The standards in the first para appear to be something like 'you can never say that something is implausible if some philosophers believe it'. That seems like a pretty weird standard. Another way of making saying it is implausible is just saying that "I think it is probably false". 

Near-termists are also a small group talking about how to fix everything. 

this is perhaps too meta, but on the second para, if that is what you meant, I don't understand how it is a response to the comment your response was to. 

1Davidmanheim2moI'm pointing out that you're privileging your views over those of others - not "some philosophers," but "most people." And unless you're assuming a fairly strong version of moral realism, this isn't a factual question, it's a values question - so it's strange to me to think that we should get to assume we're correct despite being a small minority, without at least a far stronger argument that most people would agree with longermism if properly presented - and I think Stefan Schubert's recent work [https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-50145-9]implies that is not at all clear.
Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

Yes but the counter-argument is that longtermists don't accept the antecedent - they don't value current people more than future people. And if you don't accept the antecedent then it could equally be said that near-termist people are inflicting harm on non-white people. So, the argument doesn't take us anywhere

Fair enough; it's unsurprising that a major critique of longtermism is "actually, present people matter more than future people". To me, a more productive framing of this criticism than racist/non-racist is about longtermist indifference to redistribution. I've seen various recent critiques quoting the following paragraph of Nick Beckstead's thesis:

Saving lives in poor countries may have significantly smaller ripple effects than saving and improving lives in rich countries. Why? Richer countries have substantially more innovation, and their workers are

... (read more)
Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

On your first para, I was responding to this claim: "It also seems strange to defend longtermists as only being harmful in theory, since the vast majority of longtermism is theory, and relatively few actions have been taken. That is, almost all longtermist ideas so far have implications which are currently only hypothetical." I said that most work on bio and AI was not just theory but was applied. I don't think the things you say in the first para present any evidence against that claim, but rather they seem to grant my initial point. 

2Davidmanheim2moI agree that there are some things in Bio and AI that are applied - though the vast majority of the work in both areas is still fairly far from application. But my point which granted your initial point was responding to "I don't think it counterfactually harms the global poor."
Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

Perhaps I have misunderstood, but I interpreted your post as saying we should take the two critiques of longtermism seriously. I think the quality of the critiques is extremely poor, and am trying to explain why. 

9Davidmanheim2moI might have been unclear. As I said initially, I claim it's good to publicly address concerns about "the (indisputable) fact that avoiding X-risks can be tied to racist or eugenic historical precedents", and this is what the LARB piece actually discussed. And I think that slightly more investigation into the issue should have convinced the author that any concerns about continued embrace of the eugenic ideas, or ignorance of the issues, were misplaced. I initially pointed out that specific claims about longtermism being similar to eugenics are "farcical." More generally, I tried to point out in this post that many the attacks are unserious or uniformed- as Scott pointed out in his essay, which this one quoted and applied to this situation, the criticisms aren't new. More serious attempts at dialog, like some of the criticisms in the LARB piece are not bad-faith or unreasonable claims, even if they fail to be original. And I agree that "we cannot claim to take existential risk seriously — and meaningfully confront the grave threats to the future of human and nonhuman life on this planet — if we do not also confront the fact that our ideas about human extinction, including how human extinction might be prevented, have a dark history." But I also think it's obvious that others working on longtermism agree, so the criticism seems to be at best a weak man argument. Unfortunately, I think we'll need to wait another year or so for Will's new book, which I understand has a far more complete discussion of this, much of which was written before either of these pieces were published.
Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

I don't really understand your response. Most of the people who argue for a longtermist ethical standpoint have spent many many years thinking about the possibility that they are wrong and arguing against person-affecting views, during their philosophy degrees. I could talk to you for several weeks about the merits and demerits of such views and the published literature on them. 

"Yes, being racist would be racist, and no, that's not the criticism." I don't really understand your point here. 

My point is that many people who disagree with the longtermist ethical viewpoint also spent years thinking about the issues, and dismissing the majority of philosophers, and the vast, vast majority of people's views as not plausible, is itself one of the problems I tried to highlight on the original post when I said that a small group talking about how to fix everything should raise flags.

And my point about racism is that criticism of choices and priorities which have a potential to perpetuate existing structural disadvantages  and inequity is not the same as calling someone racist.

Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

On the second point, yes I agree that there are some popular views on which we would discount or ignore future people. I just don't think that they are plausible. If someone held a view which said that they only count the interests of white future people, I think it would be quite clear that this was bad for the interests of non-white people in a very important way. Therefore, if I ignore all future people, then I ignore all future non-white people, which is bad for their interests in a very important way

As I said above in a different comment thread, it seems clear we're talking past one another.

Yes, being racist would be racist, and no, that's not the criticism. You said that "there are some popular views on which we would discount or ignore future people. I just don't think that they are plausible." And I think part of the issue is exactly this dismissiveness. As a close analogy, imagine someone said "there are some popular views where AI could be a risk to humans. I just don't think that these are plausible," and went on to spend money building ASI instead of engaging with the potential that they are wrong, or taking any action to investigate or hedge that possibility.

Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

Also, the demographic criticism also applies to EAs who are working on global development: people in that area also skew white and highly educated. 

People who work on farm animal welfare are not focused on the global poor either, but this seems to me an extremely flimsy basis on which to call them racist.

Note: I did not call anyone racist, other than to note that there are groups which embrace some views which themselves embrace that label - but on review, you keep saying that this is about calling someone racist, whereas I'm talking about unequal impacts and systemic impacts of choices - and I think this is a serious confusion which is hampering our conversation. 

Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

On the first para, that doesn't seem to me to be true of work on AI safety or biorisk, as I understand it. 

On the second para, the first thing to say is that longtermists shouldn't be the target of particular criticism on this score - almost no-one is wholly focused on improving the welfare of the global poor. If this decision by longtermists is racist then so is almost everyone else in the world. 

Secondly, no I don't think it counterfactually harms the global poor. That only works if you take a person-affecting view of people's interests. If you count future people, then the shift is counterfactually very beneficial for the global poor and for both white and non-white people. 

I don't think it's necessarily very good for the global poor as a changing group defined by their poverty, depending on how quickly global poverty declines. There's also a big drop in the strength of evidence in this shift, so it depends on how skeptical you are.

Plus, person-affecting views (including asymmetric ones) or at least somewhat asymmetric views (e.g. prioritarianism) are not uncommon, and I would guess especially among those concerned with the global poor and inequality. Part of the complaint made by some is about ethical views that say extincti... (read more)

2Davidmanheim2moI disagree about at least some Biorisk, as the allocation of scarce resources in public health has distributive effects, and some work on pandemic preparedness has reduced focus for near-term campaigns on vaccinations. I suspect the same is true, to a lesser extent, in pushing people who might otherwise work on near-term ML bias to work on longer term concerns. But as this relates to your second point, and the point itself, I agree completely, and don't think it's reasonable to say it's blameworthy or morally unacceptable, though as I argued, I think we should worry about the impacts. But the last point confuses me. Even ignoring person-affecting or not, shifting efforts to help John can (by omission, at the very least,) injure Sam. "The global poor" isn't a uniform pool, and helping those who are part of "the global poor" in a century by, say, taxing someone now is a counterfactual harm for the person now. If you aggregate the way you prefer, this problem goes away, but there are certainly ethical views, even within utilitarianism, where this isn't acceptable - for example, if the future benefit is discounted so heavily that it's outweighed by the present harm.
Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

It seems strange to criticise longtermists on the basis that hypothetical actions that they might take (but haven't taken)  disadvantage certain demographic groups. If I were going to show that they were racist (a very serious and reputation-destroying charge), I would show that some of the things that they have actually done were actually bad for certain demographic groups. I just can't think of any example of this. 

It also seems strange to defend longtermists as only being harmful in theory, since the vast majority of longtermism is theory, and relatively few actions have been taken. That is, almost all longtermist ideas so far have implications which are currently only hypothetical.

But there is at least one concrete thing that has happened - many people in effective altruism who previously worked on and donated to near-term causes in global health and third world poverty have shifted focus away from those issues. And I don't disagree with that choice, but if that isn't an impact of longtermism which counterfactually harms the global poor, what do you think would qualify?

Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

It seems odd to me to criticise a movement as racist without at least acknowledging that the thing we are working on seems more beneficial for non-white people than the things many other philanthropists work on. The examples you give are hypothetical, so they aren't a criticism of what longtermists do in the real world. Most longtermists are focused on AI, bio and to a lesser extent climate risk. I fail to see how any of that work has the disparate demographic impact described in the hypotheticals. 

Thanks Halstead. I'll try to respond later, but I'd quickly like to be clear re: my own position that I don't perceive longtermism as racist, and/or am not claiming people within it are racist (I consider this a serious claim not to be made lightly).

Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

I don't find the racism critique of longtermism compelling. Human extinction would be bad for lots of currently existing non-white people. Human extinction would also be bad for lots of possible future non-white people. If future people count equally, then not protecting them would be a great loss for future non-white people. So, working to reduce extinction risks is very good for non-white people.

First, I agree that racism isn't the most worrying criticism of longtermism - though is the one that has been highlighted recently. But it is a valid criticism of at least some longtermist ideas, and I think we should take this seriously. Sean's argument is one sketch of a real problem, though I think there is a broader point about racism in existential risk reduction, which I make below. But there is also more to longtermism than preventing extinction risks, which is what you defended. As the LARB article notes, transhumanism borders on some very worrying... (read more)

I agree the racism critique is overstated, but I think there's a more nuanced argument for a need for greater representation/inclusion for xrisk reduction to be very good for everyone.

Quick toy examples (hypothetical):
- If we avoid extinction by very rich, nearly all white people building enough sustainable bunkers, human species continues/rebuilds, but not good for non-white people. 
- If we do enough to avoid the xrisk scenarios  (say, getting stuck at the poles with minimal access to resources needed to progress civilisation or something) in cl... (read more)

Has Life Gotten Better?

Enjoying these posts! I'm also looking at the question of whether pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers were more violent than today. Would be happy to comment on your piece

Why I am probably not a longtermist

Thanks a lot for sharing this denise. Here are some thoughts on your points. 

  1. On your point about moral realism, I'm not sure how that can be doing much work in an argument against longtermism specifically, as opposed to all other possible moral views. Moral anti-realism implies that longtermism isn't true, but then it also implies that near-termism isn't true. The thought seems to be that there could only be an argument that would give you reason to change your mind if moral realism were true, but if that were true, there would be no point in discussi
... (read more)
Economic policy in poor countries

Yes, that seems like the main thing we disagree about. It also seems like we disagree about the likely impact of deworming. 

  1. I would also like to do that but I don't have time to do that properly unfortunately - my time is now focused on longterm relevant stuff. 
  2. I think the point here is that the growth decelerations don't seem like they would be big enough to make the back of the envelope calcs on the world bank, IMF and all economists in mine and Hauke's post lower than RCT stuff. 
  3. Thanks for clarifying. First, (this is not a criticism of yo
... (read more)
3rootpi3moAnother point of agreement: the economics profession currently focuses too much on empirical work. Meanwhile my own personal view is that people like Esther and Chris B are slightly 'too far' in the pro-RCT camp, and that people like Lant (and you) are 'too far' in the anti-RCT camp. But I don't see anyone in this discussion as being extreme (except possibly Lant...); healthy disagreement is to be expected and encouraged. Note that Esther and Abhijit's most recent book [https://smile.amazon.co.uk/Good-Economics-Hard-Times-Problems/dp/0241306892/] tackles macro issues like migration, trade, climate change, and yes growth - using RCTs when possible / relevant but also plenty of other results (including lots of theory! Abhijit started life as a theorist, like I did). Meanwhile Chris has a forthcoming book on war and peace [https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/636263/why-we-fight-by-christopher-blattman/] (macro level! no easy RCTs) for which he uses other approaches like machine learning [https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/bkrn8/]. You can find all sorts of quotes, but the proof is in the pudding. Final point on this is that one can easily combine RCTs with admin data, ML, etc, and researchers (including me) are doing more and more of that, which imo is great - it's not always one or the other. As you say, the efficacy of deworming seems to be a point of disagreement between us. Again pulling back somewhat, you link to Eva's paper as supporting your claim that RCTs have minimal external validity, but her paper is about all forms of impact evaluation (and she notes in the conclusion that the subset of RCTs aren't special). So this would be extremely damning for economics if true, but her results don't support your claim. For instance she notes that bednets and conditional cash transfers seem to do very well on this front. More relevantly, her point (as I read it) is to see how much of the nominal variation in effect sizes can be explained by other contextual varia
Economic policy in poor countries
  1. You seem here to be eliding the claim that we didn't find any leads with the claim that we didn't recommend anything. We found many  leads. FP found 7 different organisations that we thought it might be worth investigating if we had control of money. In Hauke's appendices to our post,  he lists several organisations and interventions that would be worth investigating. So, there are many plausible examples of things that are worthy of further study. If I put 3 months into a climate change report, I wouldn't argue that the failure to recommend a cl
... (read more)
1rootpi3moI'm going to try to step back first and speculate where we actually disagree, in hopes of getting at what you actually think should be happening differently, if anything. You seem to be arguing to some extent against things that do not exist, and in particular that neither I nor others are saying. I think we agree that (i) 1-5% of work in economics should be RCTs; (ii) RCTs are not the right approach for many, indeed most, questions in social science; (iii) there exists lots of policy-relevant and actionable information from non-RCT sources; (iv) intuitions can be a useful input, as long as one is transparent that that's what they are; (v) the EA community should be spending resources studying policy interventions, including around growth but also imo health (e.g. lead paint, tobacco); and (vi) economists do more good than harm in the world. Where I think we disagree is that your intuition is that with another three person-years of effort, the EA community will find growth policy funding opportunities (not based on RCTs...) that are far more effective than the current top GW charities, and my intuition is that we won't (but that I still think we should look, as I've said many times, because the uncertainty is high and we might find them!). Neither of us knows for sure, as this hasn't been done yet. Is it more than that? 1. You're right that finding leads but not making recommendations could cause one to update upward, downward, or not at all (depending on one's prior) so I shouldn't have suggested that it was necessarily a bad signal. However I didn't see anything quantitative (I did look at the appendices, but I believe the only quantitatively worked-out example was the incorrect and retrospective ICRIER one in the main text). This makes it very hard to meaningfully compare against current top interventions. I would love if you would be willing to go on the record, with as many caveats as you want, and pick one or two of the ones
Economic policy in poor countries

Hello,

  1. My view is that I  think it is very likely (>95% chance) that one would find something better than  GiveWell's top charities if one were to put in 4 person-years of time into the project, which was the claim in my original post. My team put in about 6 months of person time on the project. Hauke and I put in a few months writing up our post, which wasn't about trying to find donation opportunities but just to make the case that there is reason to think we would find something if we tried. I don't know how much time Lant has put in to actu
... (read more)
  1. Fair enough that not all of that time (much less all of Lant's career) was spent trying to come up with a good example here. I still think that if after a nontrivial amount of cognitive resource spent on this by very smart people (e.g. Lant is in an excellent position to have run across something and at least mentioned it), no one has even come up with a single plausible example that's worthy of further study, that's discouraging in a bayesian sense. I fully agree it's worth more research; I simply doubt that anything fantastic will appear after four years
... (read more)
This Can't Go On

Another point is - how much economic value can you extract from an atom? I have no idea how you would go about answering that question without making some other substantive arguments about the limits to growth. This suggests that the atoms argument is a weak steer on limits to growth. 

Economic policy in poor countries

Hello, yes this was in part a response to the arguments there where he suggested that policy is in the same ballpark as GiveWell top charities, which I don't think can be true given other things he says. 

"Yeah, I think that’s totally right. And I think, again, if you had more of a dominance argument, where it’s like, look, the returns to the policy are just always going to outweigh the returns to evidence-based aid, then I think you would end up with more back and forth and debate between them. But when you see the arguments for cost effectiveness act... (read more)

Economic policy in poor countries

Hello, thanks for this and thanks for assisting with our report on that!

To clarify, it's not the case that the FP report didn't have any recommendations because we didn't find anything good. We stopped because we couldn't guarantee that we could move enough money to the area to make it worth our own time and that of the organisations we evaluated. We didn't discover anything that made me think we wouldn't find something better than deworming if we were to put a couple of person-years into it. 

On your tldr - the point of my post is that I don't see how... (read more)

1rootpi3moAnd thanks for your reply! I hope that you are now satisfied, since the issue is being discussed :) More seriously I really am glad you brought it to the fore again, because it deserves it, and I'm being [sincerely] critical only because I take it seriously and respect it. Re the FP report: so did it find anything promising or not? My reading (could be wrong, obviously, so let me know) was that they/you didn't in fact find anything to point to; that they/you believe such a thing does exist; but that it would take a lot of time and effort to find it. This is not especially encouraging, given that between them and the experts and you and Lant, at least one person-year has been spent on this already. If all you want is more discussion / research, as I said upfront I agree 100%. If you want to convince me that it is likely to succeed, you need to point to something more than intuition (in part because even the numbers you have thrown around are somewhat suspect). There still seems to be an apples-to-oranges comparison here. You can criticize specific RCTs, sometimes validly and sometimes not (I'm happy to share the 10+ page report I wrote for GiveWell which on the whole validated the deworming results, and David Roodman's extensive research [https://blog.givewell.org/2016/12/06/why-i-mostly-believe-in-worms/] came to a similar conclusion). But it's not helpful to compare a single intervention (note that GiveWell has multiple charities with similarly high estimated ROIs) to "whatever it is that caused [those countries] to grow" which neither you nor the best macroeconomists seem to uncontroversially agree on even in retrospect. My claim is that if deworming had been added to their policy mix (and other aspects had adjusted however they adjusted), that would have been a good thing. Sure you can run an RCT on allowing foreign investment: subsidize it in some regions and not others. Same for immigration: encourage it in some places (or times) and not others. Same for roa
AMA: Jason Brennan, author of "Against Democracy" and creator of a Georgetown course on EA

Is it sufficient for it to be good to vote for EAs to be better than the median voter? (which I think is probably true.)

AMA: Jason Brennan, author of "Against Democracy" and creator of a Georgetown course on EA

I think there is a typo in the bit about Weyl?

The interesting thing about the Weyl proposal is that it is an alternative to private property that could potentially produce better social outcomes from a consequentialist/utilitarian/social welfare point of view. The reason for this is that it overcomes the tragedy of the anti-commons, such that holdouts can extract rents, sometimes at huge expense to society. If Weyl's proposal would produce better outcomes, would you be in favour of it

AMA: Jason Brennan, author of "Against Democracy" and creator of a Georgetown course on EA

Given the non-identity problem, doesn't the requirement that future people benefit more than they lose allow us to leave future generations with quite a bad situation? eg emitting fossil fuels changes the identities of people in the future, and we could feasibly make the world >10C hotter which would leave lots of tropical countries in a bad state but it would not harm them since they would not have existed had we not emitted

AMA: Jason Brennan, author of "Against Democracy" and creator of a Georgetown course on EA

The point he is making is about worker cooperatives, rather than firms in general. A widely recognised problem with worker cooperatives is that there are disincentives to scale because adding more workers is a cost to the existing coop owners. So, the point doesn't apply to privately owned companies because adding workers do not get a share of the business

2Linch3moAs presented, the efficiency claims seem to be agnostic about firm structure, while the worker coop-specific parts are about credit/profit allocation. (As usual, I could of course be misreading)
AMA: Jason Brennan, author of "Against Democracy" and creator of a Georgetown course on EA

I think almost all critiques of capitalism rest on a failure to understand what capitalism actually is. Capitalism is private ownership of the means of production. Socialism is public or common ownership of the means of production. Capitalism is not greed. Socialism is not benevolence and love. They are systems of ownership. Once you see this, a lot of criticisms of capitalism melt away. 

This is one important contribution that Jason Brennan has made to philosophy - http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/06/socialism-%E2%89%A0-love-and-kindness-capi... (read more)

Insomnia: a promising cure

I tried that book and didn't find it helpful. Last time I checked there wasn't much evidence that the method he proposes works

1newptcai3moIt probably depends on each person's situation. When I read it, I was very worried about sleep. I had a very elaborate ritual to help me to fall asleep, which did not work that well. I think reading the book helped to me to adapt a more accepting attitude to insomnia. Now I actually do not think about insomnia much, but only follows some common sleep hygiene measures, like avoiding screen, sleeping on time and getting up on time, etc. It works reasonably well.
AMA: Jason Brennan, author of "Against Democracy" and creator of a Georgetown course on EA

What do you make of Glen Weyl's argument for a common-ownership self-assessed tax? In general, do you think people have strong rights of self-ownership? Do you think that people have strong ownership rights over the natural world, or do you think there are strong egalitarian restrictions on that? where do you stand on left-libertarianism vs right-libertarianism?

6Jason Brennan3moI don't find arguments for common world ownership very persuasive. It'd take too long to go through all the arguments to explain why here, so I'll just leave my general worry: Common world ownership means we all have a say on everyone else, and it tends to make the world somewhat zero sum. Every new person is an incursion on my ownership rights and dilutes my claims. I prefer institutional mechanisms that create positive sum games. I really Weyl agrees and thinks his proposal gets around this. As for self-ownership, I think of course we own ourselves, but this doesn't do much work philosophically. Here's an excerpt from a paper I wrote with Bas van der Vossen: Self-Ownership: Almost Uncontroversial We own different things in different ways. The bundle of rights that constitutes ownership varies from thing owned to thing owned. The strength of these rights also varies. We can own a cat and a car, but our ownership of the cat—which is real ownership—doesn’t allow us to do as much with it as with our ownership of a car. The way we own cats is different from how we own cars, which is different from how we own a guitar, which is different from how we own a plot of land, and so on. Morally-speaking, not just legally speaking, the kinds of rights we have over these various things varies. But we really can own each of them. If you prefer to say that ownership is “more extensive” when we have the full bundle of rights with no moral constraints on use, that’s fine. But even if there is more or less extensive ownership, it’s still ownership. Your cat is your cat. You are not allowed to torture it, neglect it, or have sex with it, but that’s not because the cat is partially society’s or anyone else’s. Nor is it because you don’t really own it. Different kinds of moral arguments—such as Kantian deontological principles, or claims about what it takes to realize certain moral powers, or arguments from a privileged “original position”, or reflections on Strawsonian reactive a
AMA: Jason Brennan, author of "Against Democracy" and creator of a Georgetown course on EA

Do you think making the moral case for capitalism could be a very important thing to do? My impression is that the case for it seems to have been lost among the young, which could have important effects down the line

9Jason Brennan3moI am a bit split on the data from polling younger people. Quite a bit of that data shows that they prefer the word/label "socialism" to "capitalism". If you ask them whether socialism is better than capitalism, they say yes. But if you give them more specific things, such as asking whether the government should own all productive property or whether we should have markets, they tend to reject socialism in favor of capitalism, though not by a huge amount. Also, you see the memes going around where people use "socialism" to refer not to socialism, but to government-funded public goods and welfare policies. Still, if people are confused, then demagogues can take advantage of them or they might end up voting for the wrong things. I think the case for capitalism must be made not merely because some form of it works better than the alternatives, but because the empirics on immigration show that open borders with global market economies is the best and most effective solution to world poverty. Immigration beats both intra- and international redistribution in terms of its distributional and welfare effects. However, socialism and open borders don't mix well, because once you turn a society into a giant workers' co-op, adding new members always comes at the expense of the current members.
-26ruth_schlenker3mo
AMA: Jason Brennan, author of "Against Democracy" and creator of a Georgetown course on EA

You have written about the importance of economic growth - what do you make of Lant Pritchett's arguments on that topic?

8Jason Brennan3moEconomic growth is vital. Here's why: PPP-adjusted GDP/capita is about $16,000 right now. Imagine I waved a magic wand that magically redistributed all of this in the form of consumable income, with equal shares for all. That'd mean everyone on earth lives on $16,000 a year. Better than what we currently have for most people, but, still, a lot worse than what we see in, say, Appalachian USA. But this is misleading because this isn't even possible. Lots of that GDP is in the form of government or capital expenditures. We need some money not to be consumed but to be invested in public goods, capital, etc., so we can produce next year. Empirically, maybe only about half of that at most could in principle be consumed as income. So, perfect egalitarianism gets us to maybe $8000 per person right now. Still better than what many experience, but not real security or comfort. Growth > equality when it comes to welfare for this reason. We need to make more pie so that everyone has enough; right now there is not enough pie for everyone to have a good slice, even if we gave everyone an equal slice.

People tomorrow matter. We cannot simply imposes costs upon them. As Feinberg argued long ago, if I left a time bomb underground that would explode in 200 years, when it kills people, I am a murderer.

Still, we have good reason to think overall that people in the future will be much better off than we are. That doesn't license us to hurt them for our benefit, but we can take steps that impose costs upon them IFF doing so is part of a reasonable risk-sharing scheme from which they benefit more than they lose. 

AMA: Jason Brennan, author of "Against Democracy" and creator of a Georgetown course on EA

What do you make of Rob Wiblin's post on the value of voting - https://80000hours.org/articles/is-voting-important/

1Jason Brennan3moI answered this before and it didn't post. I'll try again. If voting matters, we have to treat it like matters. EAs warn people, "Don't just donate $500! Be careful. Learn what works and what doesn't. Make sure you give to an effective charity rather than an ineffective or harmful one. Be aware that you are biased to make bad choices!" But all that applies to voting. If voting can be like donating $50,000, it can also be like robbing a charity of $50,000. But oddly I see EAs telling everyone to vote and telling them to guesstimate, even though our evidence is that people are much worse at judging politics than charities, and even though guestimating a presidential candidate is orders of magnitude more difficult than judging a charity.
7Jason Brennan3moIf voting is serious business, we need to treat it as such. Right before the US 2020 election, Gelman argues that PA voters have a 1 in 8.8 million chance of breaking a tie. TX was 1 in 100 million. DC 1 in 240 trillion. Showing some votes have high expected utility means showing those same votes can have high expected disutility. It's weird that Wilbin and MacAskill will be like, "Hey, careful! Before you donate $50, make sure you are doing good rather than wasting the money or worse, harming people. We are beset by biases that make us donate badly and we need to be careful." But then when it comes to voting, they often advise people to just vote, or to guesstimate effects, when in fact the empirical work shows that are much more biased and terrible at judging politics than almost anything else. Most people do not know enough to vote well, and voting well is hard. Believing it is easy is itself evidence of bias--that's what the political psych shows. (Partisans downplay difficulty and think they are obviously right.) So if some people's votes matter, rather than advising them to vote, period, we should advise them to be good EAs and be very careful about their votes.
AMA: Jason Brennan, author of "Against Democracy" and creator of a Georgetown course on EA

Do you think that any political or institutional reform projects could be highly impactful? What would you recommend - would it be Garret Jones 10% less democracy-type stuff or something more radical?

6Jason Brennan3moI work on stuff I think would be high impact if leaders acted on it: immigration liberalization, criminal justice reform, kidney and organ markets. Jones is probably right but he's not calling for much reform. He's trying to get readers to not go more radically democratic than they already are.
Economic policy in poor countries

Thanks for engaging with me so deeply on this. To avoid misunderstandings, the comments about my desire for a debate were not meant as a criticism of you. I suppose I am a bit disappointed that no-one from GiveWell or Open Philanthropy has responded to Lant's arguments. When I mentioned the upvotes mine and Hauke's post got, I wasn't trying to blow my own horn (much as I like doing that), I was just trying to say that there is at least a case to answer. But two years on, no-one has engaged with the post. A lot is at stake here - I think we're leaving an aw... (read more)

Economic policy in poor countries

Hi there

On your first question - what am I proposing? 

The main thing I am proposing is quite weak - I am proposing that there be some public discussion of the arguments. Hauke and I published our piece summarising Pritchett's argument two years ago. It is the second most upvoted post in EA Forum history, which suggests that lots of people in the community found the post persuasive. On the face of it, Lant is worth taking seriously: he has a PhD in economics from MIT, has been a professor of development at Harvard and Oxford, and worked at the World Ba... (read more)

3GMcGowan4moOff topic, but I didn't realise you'd left Founders Pledge. May I ask what you're up to now?

Thanks for the reply. I'll have to answer it... it was supposed to be short, I really didn't have the time, but then I started enjoying it. But I have a TL;DR.
TL;DR: I guess we’re not understanding each other very well, as you seem to be responding to other people (unfortunately, because I’m a big fan). I don’t see why you categorize me as a skeptic. I think we actually agree (i) RCT shouldn’t be the main path for dev-eco researchers, and (ii) there should be more research focused on developing countries. But: (iii) development economics is more complex th... (read more)

Towards a Weaker Longtermism

I do think it is important to distinguish these moral uncertainty reasons from moral trade and cooperation and strategic considerations for hedging. My argument for putting some focus on near-termist causes would be of this latter kind; the putative moral uncertainty/worldview diversification arguments for hedging carry little weight with me. 

As an example, Greaves and Ord argue that under the expected choiceworthiness approach, our metanormative ought is practically the same as the total utilitarian ought.

It's tricky because the paper on strong longt... (read more)

Towards a Weaker Longtermism

I agree that it would be good to have a name for a less contentious form of longtermism similar to the one you propose, which says something like: the longterm deserves a seat at the top table with other commonly accept near-term priorities. 

I suspect one common response might be that due to normative uncertainty, we don't put all of our weight on longtermism but instead hedge across different plausible views. I haven't yet seen a defence of that view that I would view as compelling, so I think it would be valuable to have a less contentious version that we would be willing to stand behind in public

5Davidmanheim4moNewberry and Ord's paper on moral parliamentarianism [https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Parliamentary-Approach-to-Moral-Uncertainty.pdf] , originally proposed by Bostrom, seems like a reasonable way to arrive there. (Which seems almost ironic, given that they are key proponents of strong longtermism.)
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