Some preliminaries and a claim

The title of this post did not inform me about the claim "that EAs have collectively decided that they do not need to participate in tight feedback loops with reality in order to have a huge, positive impact -- [and] this is a deeply rooted mistake." 

I came  very close to not actually reading what is an interesting claim I'd like to see explored because it came close to the end and there was no hint of it in the title or the start of the post. Since it is still relatively early in the life of this post you may want to consider revising the title and layout of the post to communicate more effectively. 

Some EA Forum Posts I'd like to write

After the apocalypse

I think this is interesting in of itself but also related to something I haven't seen explored much in general: How important is it that EA ideas exist a long time? How important is it that they are widely held?  How would we package an idea to propagate through time? How could we learn from religions?  

More directly to the topic: is this a point in favor of EAs forming a hub in New Zealand? 

  • Comparative lit studies of whether ambitious science fiction (might not be well operationalized) is correlated with ambitious science fact.

I've seen some discussion around this topic but I feel like it hasn't been satisfyingly motivated. For personal reasons I'd like to hear more about this. 

Proving too much: A response to the EA forum

Nice post and useful discussion. I did think this post would be a meta-comment about the EA forum, not a (continued) discussion of arguments against strong longtermism. 

The transformative potential of cryptocurrencies

One thing I would note is that cryptocurrency as a cause area is independent of cryptocurrency having have a net benefit or a net harmful effect; potentially cryptocurrency could destabilize global financial systems, so if one has a less positive view on cryptocurrency, regulating cryptocurrency (whether by governments, or by self-regulation within the ecosystem) and making sure at least some cryptocurrencies have a positive impact (thus reducing the overall net harm) could still be a potential cause area.

Good point! I think I'd like to see more spelling out of how exactly it could transform things (for better or worse). With my lame understanding: once I see that cryptocurrency is a solid store of value, then I can see it potentially threatening central banks and the ability for states to generate revenue through taxes. However, I find it hard to believe governments would let cryptocurrencies get to that point -- if cryptocurrencies are in fact capable of getting to that point. 

Another thing that is worth pointing out with cryptocurrencies is how they interact with the digitization of the economy. In general greater digitzation may not be a bad thing. But it's possible that cryptocurrency led digitization may make corruption easier (I'm imagining it'd behave similarly to cash). 

The transformative potential of cryptocurrencies


The outlook for cryptocurrencies as a cause area seems rather mixed from my pretty uninformed viewpoint. I'd like to highlight some reasons outside of their speculative potential. I think the best argument can be made for cryptocurrencies adding value through poverty alleviation.

Epistemic disclosure: Any knowledge comes from reading the news not studying the topic.


  • May make it much much easier / far less costly to send remittances which make up larger and arguably more helpful inflows than aid in many LMICs. I think this is worth thinking about.
  • Similarly it can compete with incompetent central banks & provide a means of transaction in a country experiencing hyperinflation / economic collapse. This seems potentially valuable but I wonder if this could release pressure on bad governments in critical moments. I'm not too interested with how it competes with what I view as generally competent central banks (found in most HICs)
  • Experiment with with new governance strategies and voting techniques. Those techniques can obviously be experimented with in other places, but perhaps not to the same scale as quickly.


  • Massive energy consumption. I'm thinking of bitcoin, the mining of which reportedly sucks up ~0.3% of the world's energy consumption. If so, that's a lot. Supposedly miners mostly use renewables, but it wouldn't surprise me that bitcoin's impact on the world was net negative even if only 10% of the energy used to mine it came from coal. I'm not sure if that energy, counterfactually would be used.
  • This one is not strongly held: It may be a talent black hole. I don't know if this view is some vestige of at one time having more leftist sympathies, but I still worry that complex financial markets can siphon off scientists from having a much higher impact.
  • General reservation: For comms reasons I think EAs should be conservative / cautious on the margin around controversial topics or cause areas that'd distort our image in such a way that could damage our LR growth.

Mixed: Making drug / illegal markets more efficient.

  • Funds criminal organizations. This view may be a little old fashioned, but criminal organizations have large negative externalities. Particularly Latin American drug cartels which may benefit from cryptocurrencies.
  • Increases safety of consumers of illegal drugs.

One generic argument I see raised in this post is "here's a way that lots of money could be made so --> earn to give / save." Keeping the mostly-efficient market hypothesis as a prior, I'm skeptical of most propositions that include the first part of that quotation.

In summary: Cryptocurrencies probably aren't going anywhere. Supporting their use in failed states / their use for remittances seems potentially useful if a currency could be found that's not so volatile. Making them less energy hungry seems potentially useful if someone is well placed to do so.

Creepy Crawlies (an EA poem)

This is great. I was wondering whether EA art was posted on the forum. I'd like to see more of it.

The Center for Election Science Appeal for 2020

It's exciting to see the tangible success CES has made. And I think that repeatedly making the case for one big simple idea clearly, approval voting, is a powerful formula.

If "effective localism" existed, think approval voting would top the list for impactful reforms someone could take in their community, with zoning reform being a distant second for most communities.

My mistakes on the path to impact

At what point did you realize you regretted not continuing your political work? At that point what stopped you from re-engaging?

Book on Civilisational Collapse?

I have not explicitly searched out books to answer this question, but here is my understanding.

The best books have to be Asimov's Foundation trilogy.

The most relevant book to answer this question is Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. It focuses on relatively isolated societies whose downfall was auto-catalyzed, mostly in the form of ecocide where a society annihilates its potential by over exploiting its natural resources. Most of the criticisms of the book appear to originate about how one case or another of collapse was in fact contaminated by outside influence.

Acemoglu and Robinson's Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty and its sequel The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty are good but not as relevent. Although they don't focus on civilizational collapse, many of their ideas seem relevant to thinking about the trajectory of civilizations. The books are sprinkled with a lot of interesting historical anecdotes about institutions and simple models about how they change, when they are destined for failure and how even if leading to ruin can stay bad for a long, long time.

It seems like there aren't many books written that take a comparative approach to studying dramatic regional declines in population / cities (my guess as a good proxy for collapse). Hope I'm wrong. There are certainly many popular cases written about local dark ages. Europe as depicted by Barbara Tuchman in A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century is not strictly a collapsed civilization, but it's certainly tottering on the verge.

I would love to hear what other's think.