All of John_Myers's Comments + Replies

Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

Thank you for your comment. I agree we could have said ‘many efforts to improve policy in the last 50 years have succeeded’. However, given our substantive analysis of the Bill, I think we would have ended up with the same concerns about its potential outcomes. In view of the impression that some people who do not work in policy or government seem to have that attempts to improve policy generally or always move things in the intended direction, we thought it helpful to highlight the risk of unintended consequences. The alternative formulation would not have made that point as clearly.

Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

I can’t speak for the Twitter author you mention but I think our comment about quangos was primarily intended to add a minor element of humour to lighten a very long piece. I apologize if that was a poor choice on our part. Quangos were extensively joked about in the old UK television series and book Yes Minister.

My personal view about the quango (the Commission) suggested in the Bill is that without substantial revision it risks doing net damage. I certainly agree that some forms of quango may be useful, although I think it is often difficult to design th... (read more)

Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

I think it is likely that even if you and I can't come up with improvements (although I suspect we can), a broader number of people getting involved could improve on the core ideas – looking forward to working on it together!

Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

Thank you Nathan - this is extremely interesting. 

Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

I have an open mind on that. I think it’s an empirical question and it depends partly on how it is done. I could envisage many circumstances where a mechanism allowing someone purportedly to speak for future generations could in fact harm those future generations.

Keen to chat and see what we can come up with between us. At this point I think I have thought about it enough that I would be surprised if we could develop ideas better than the core ideas of the bill – but keen to try.
Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

Thank you, I think that’s very constructive.

Where I would slightly disagree is that I don’t agree that every mechanism to give future generations’ interests more of a voice need necessarily result in more costs or red tape for any change. It may be possible to construct mechanisms that give them more of a voice for positive change. (The analogy here would be street votes.) We could see the “three lines of defence” proposals as an example of that. I think it would be good to see if we can find more of those mechanisms.

Good point. To clarify I think when I say "give future generations a voice" I was thinking of empowerment – general mechanisms that would allow someone to speak for the future, some sort or representation or consideration across the board (not just specific polices). I think broad empowerment is valuable and we should not give up on any and all general approaches to empowering future generations (e.g. WoFGB) in order to only focus on sector specific policies. (I get the impression you think otherwise.)


(Also to clarify, given how ridiculously short term our politics is when is, when I say empower future generations I would include within that the future views of current generations.)

Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

Thank you Haydn. I agree about the base rate for PMBs. They can get attention from the Government –in particular as I think you know this one was designed by us to be acceptable to the Government, and the Secretary of State said that it was ‘cracking’ and that he was keen to ‘steal all of the ideas in it’.

So I recognize that general campaigning is also a valid use of PMBs in general.

As you know I’m very keen to work collaboratively on possible approaches to getting more longtermist perspectives in government.

Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

Thank you Haydn! These are very constructive comments.

To respond briefly:

3. I am not primarily focused on what the Bill's intentions are, but on the overall likely outcomes from its presentation and enactment. In our view there is a substantial chance that the Bill as currently drafted would overall damage welfare if passed in its current form. We agree the chance of that happening is almost zero, but there may be future Bills. I have a weaker view on the effect of the Bill as a campaigning tool but I still have substantial concerns given the presence of a... (read more)

Just briefly on (4) - Govts of all parties oppose all PMBs as a matter of course, especially ones from the Lords. Very few actually become law (see eg here). This pattern is less due to the specifics of any particular Bill, and more about govt control of the parliamentary timetable, and govts' ability to claim credit for legislation. One's options if one comes top of the PMB ballot is to 1) try and get the Govt to support it or 2) use it as a campaigning device (or I guess 3 try both).

I'm not so sure that the ideas in this Bill couldn't get picked up by Co... (read more)

Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

Many thanks for the thoughtful and constructive response. I agree with many of your comments.

(First, I note that our published text does not include the sentence you quoted:

We think the base rate is that most efforts to improve governance have ended in failure or worse

Instead it says this:

Ultimately, we think the base rate is that many efforts to improve policy in the last 50 years have ended in failure or worse. 

We agreed with your comments on that and amended accordingly before publishing. Thank you again for giving them.)

Responding to your two main... (read more)

Hi John, Thank you for the healthy debate. I am finding it very interesting.

I just want to pick up on one point that is perhaps an important crux where I think my views are quite different from yours. You say:


I think that getting the Government as currently formed to select and act on long term plans, unless the subjects of those long term plans are very carefully guided, could be highly damaging

You seem to be saying that the bill would encourage government to do more long-term decision making but government decision making about the future is just s... (read more)

Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

It's an excellent question. Yes, I think we agree. In general I think sunlight can be a great disinfectant. If external validators' views were published then it would be easier to create pressure to improve the organisation that is doing bad work. We could also look at creating incentives for the organisation and individuals within the organisation to achieve better results as measured against the views of external validators.

Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

Thank you very much for your response! I agree that there is a risk of capture and drift with any institution. I also agree with your point that the difference with institutions specifically mandated to deal with extreme risks is that those risks and metrics can be more precisely defined. As we say, I don't think those lines of defence proposals are complete. It may also be possible, for example, to have external prediction markets or other external validation such as paid forecasters or ‘red teams’ to monitor their performance.  I suspect we could pe... (read more)

Makes sense, precisely defining the risks does seem like it would help a lot. How would external validators help (if relevant officials, voters, and legislators aren't very concerned with these issues)? Is the idea that external validators would be useful after raising broader concerns?
Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

Sorry! Thank you very much for the explanation.

Concerns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

Thank you for the thoughtful response! I agree with you. It's certainly not my view that EAs should focus solely on researching how they could improve the Civil Service and politics. I agree that there are many other legislative, fiscal and other ideas that could be pursued to make government analysis more long term and better. We do point to the ‘three layers’ proposal against x-risk as potentially promising (and indeed the step in that direction is one of the best parts of the Bill in my view, although I think it needs to be improved). We agree that subs... (read more)

Then it seems to me that it would have been just as accurate to say: 'many efforts to improve policy in the last 50 years have succeeded' and conclude the opposite.
Vetocracy reduction and other coordination problems as potential cause areas

Thank you for your question! I’m mainly suggesting 2. Some of those changes should enable negotiation to allow majority votes to bring forward development that would be almost inconceivable under current zoning systems, because of veto players. There’s a detailed example of a policy we are working on in England here:

Cause Area: UK Housing Policy

Thanks John! We are still getting encouraging signals from the current regime that they would like to take this on, and I am not aware of significant political opposition within the Conservative party; on the contrary, street votes seem to be broadly supported. Their last attempt at planning reform was always going to be deeply controversial because, unlike street votes, it was not designed to be as politically palatable as possible. I cannot say I was surprised that it ran into difficulties.

Street votes are vastly less controversial, because they have gon... (read more)

Cause Area: UK Housing Policy

Thank you for posting this Peter. I agree that the uptake for street votes is likely to be low. (This may be like cryonics, where those who opt for cryonics assign a lower probability to cryonics being successful than those who do not.) I would highlight two things: (a) the fact that the Strong Suburbs report models enormous housing production from an uptake rate of only a few percent, and (b) the enormous, life-changingly large incentives to take up street votes - literally over a million pounds per household in some cases. I have spoken to over a hundred... (read more)

2John G. Halstead4mo
John - great that you are participating in this discussion! Could you say more about the prospects that the Tories will take this on? They got burned quite badly from their last attempt at planning reform. Will they try again? A lot of the impetus for planning reform came from Cummings, who has now left. Is there any chance that Labour could take this on?
2Peter McLaughlin4mo
Just to record that this has changed my mind substantially - I think I was being overreliant on anecdotal evidence which suffered from a selection bias I wasn't taking full account of. Thanks for pointing this out, I've now updated towards you.
Cause Area: UK Housing Policy

I agree with that Stephen. I might nuance it to say that there have not been such campaigns to promote policies that are optimised for political achievability.