kbog

2638Joined Jul 2015

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We truly do live in interesting times

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911

Here is the report (at first I'd been unable to find it)

If they are indeed net positive it does seem useful to establish consensus that that is so!

At this section of my policy platform I have compiled sources with all the major arguments I could find regarding nuclear power. Specifically, under the heading "Fission power should be supported although it is expensive and not necessary"

https://happinesspolitics.org/platform.html#cleanenergy

I think with this compilation of pros/cons, and a background understanding that fossil fuel use is harmful, it is easy to see that nuclear is at least better than using fossil fuels.

Some comments on "the road to hell is paved with good intentions"

This podcast is kind of relevant: Tom Moynihan on why prior generations missed some of the biggest priorities of all - 80,000 Hours (80000hours.org)

So people in the Middle Ages believed that the best thing was to save more souls, but I don't think that exactly failed. That is, if a man's goal was to have more people believe in Christianity, and he went with sincerity in the Crusades or colonial missionary expeditions, he probably did help achieve that goal.

Likewise, for people in the 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s, when the dominant paradigm shifted to one of human progress, I think people could reliably find ways to improve long-term progress. New science and technology, liberal politics, etc all would have been straightforward and effective methods to get humanity further on the track of rising population, improved quality of life, and scientific advancement.

Point is, I think people have always tended to be significantly more right than wrong about how to change the world. It's not too too hard to understand how one person's actions might contribute to an overriding global goal. The problem is in the choice of such an overriding paradigm. The first paradigm was that the world was stagnant/repetitive/decaying and just a prelude to the afterlife. The second paradigm was that the world is progressing and things will only get steadily better via science and reason. Today we largely reject both these paradigms, and instead we have a view of precarity - that an incredibly good future is in sight but only if we proceed with caution, wisdom, good institutions and luck. And I think the deepest risk is not that we are unable to understand how to make our civilization more cautious and wise, but that this whole paradigm ends up being wrong.

I don't mean to particularly agree or disagree with your original post, I just think this is a helpful clarification of the point.

I recall the Founder's Pledge report on climate change some years ago discussed nuclear proliferation from nuclear energy and it seemed like nuclear power plants could equally promote proliferation or work against it (the latter by using up the supply of nuclear fuel). Considering how many lives have been taken by fossil fuels, I feel it's clear that nuclear energy has been net good. That said I have a hard time believing that a longtermist in the 1960s would oppose nuclear power plants.

Not that I disagree with the general idea that if you imagine longtermists in the past, they could have come up with a lot of neutral or even harmful ideas.

Yes, that's a good point. Since writing this post I've become a bit more negative about space colonization in general for humanity, but for the reason you bring up, I remain slightly positive about space colonization by certain countries including the USA.

I think we would agree that just because a reform won't fix everything doesn't count as a reason not to do it. I suppose you're simply saying that better voting methods will only cause a mild improvement in governance, not a major improvement. But I would argue that the characteristics of political institutions are a major explanation for why things like horrendous human rights violations sometimes do or don't happen.

Is the writing intuitive? Are any concepts difficult to grasp?

The presentation of your website looks basically alright, but it seems your format is to start with the problem, go through a bit of a story, explain concepts of voting methods, and then wind up with the solution at the end. That works for some contexts but in a more academic or technical flavored setting, and what I find easier to work with, is to start with the thesis upfront and then unpack it with details lower down. The blogging/rhetorical style is understandable for the front page of the website, but when I click the link to the chapter Persistent Democracy, there at least I expect to immediately jump into a snappy description of what you are proposing. Something like:

"In Persistent Democracy, scheduled elections will be replaced by ______ where voters can _____. This will solve the problems of ______, _______, and ______, by ______ and _____. " Hope you get the idea.

As it stands, I'm a little unsure what you're proposing because on one hand you say it will enable direct democracy but on the other hand you talk about how politicians such as mayors might be elected with your system.

Does the concept seem robust and useful enough that it's worth experimenting with? Are there any serious problems I haven't addressed? Does the book make a compelling and persuasive argument?

I've only looked at a few parts of your website so far, so don't take this as an attack, but a description of my current views so that you can know the challenge of what you'd have to do to overcome my skepticism. I support representative democracy over direct democracy. I think that in some cases, bureaucratic experts should have a bit more power. I think America currently has on average too much public scrutiny of government projects. I am wary of political systems which too heavily reward participatory effort, because it can give too much power to a vocal and well-resourced minority, as we see with NIMBY groups opposing upzoning. I think that people who are very informed and engaged in politics are not necessarily better voters because their knowledge and passion usually comes alongside heightened bias and radicalism. I think that Congress works better when the public doesn't pay close attention to it. I think that recall elections, such as those I observe in my state of California, are a bad system. And at least some EAs who are plugged into politics largely agree with these points (indeed, several of the above citations come from EAs). Putting it all together, this is a less populist point of view which makes me skeptical about your approach.

You also should probably address the question of whether your voting system would be secure when it seems to require electronic voting. I gather that many informed people are very skeptical about the security of electronic voting. I see that you say something about the need to make safe software, but that aspiration won't be enough to convince election experts that such software actually will exist. And by the way, if you can describe the way to make provably correct, hacker-proof voting software, that alone is very impressive and should be presented somewhere else as a big idea in its own right, not just included as a component of this voting reform project. But, cards on the table, I am by default very skeptical of any claim that someone can make such foolproof software. In general, if your idea requires simultaneous breakthroughs or reforms at the same time, it all gets that much harder. Maybe there's a 30% chance of persuading people that your voting idea is theoretically desirable, and a 30% chance of the right software being available, well then the chance of success is only 9%. If you can sketch out governance reforms which don't simultaneously require a breakthrough in software development, they will be more plausible.

For a while I considered a career path of being a Civil Affairs officer in the Army National Guard alongside graduate economics school and a career in developmental economics. It seemed like it would have fairly good synergy, so you might look into doing that. However, for a junior to try to join the military in the hopes of getting funding for grad school... that is an unusual path. As a junior you may be too late for ROTC or maybe not. You might want to talk directly and immediately to an ROTC department and an Officer Strength Manager.

Nice post. I largely agree (as someone who was in the US Army National Guard for a few years).

To push back a little, I didn't personally experience what you felt about internalizing a foreign ethic. And while military service does help one understand big national security issues, I think the advantage is generally rather slim and overrated - it's perhaps comparable to volunteering for the Peace Corps not necessarily providing good knowledge about developmental economics.

I certainly got more exposure to diversity (social, ethnic, income, age) through the military than through other venues (as someone who grew up in Glendale and went to a private university). And the military along with its typical demographics are kind of underrepresented within EA, so for diversity's sake we should look to be more connected with the military.

I don't think you fully described one of the best things people can take from the military, which is the spirit of service to a cause. I am confused when I see people shy away from EA commitments because it seems too sacrificial or because they don't feel socially harmony with most of the EA community, when from my perspective it is absolutely expected that an ordinary person can step up to the plate and tolerate such risks and costs when lives are on the line. To me, sticking with the EA community through thick and thin is just obviously the right thing to do. Of course, it's not clear if joining the military will causally improve one's mindset in this manner when it comes to EA.

Also: more EAs should be aware of the option of warrant officer careers. It's a closer cultural fit with more technical focus.

I don't quite understand what your view is in your section on macro advocacy and in particular what you think is the relevance of that Weyl quote.

To be clear, I think this episode really shouldn't be taken as a lesson against technocracy. The technocrats were on the right side of this one - sure the Fed was too loose in '21 but if it had been controlled by politicians it probably would have been even worse. The size of the stimulus was also a textbook expression of populism.

Of course you could also argue that Fed tightness prior to 2021 was a failure of the technocrats. Still, I was rather perplexed to see numerous EAs and adjacent folks at the time call to erode Fed independence just because of one (admittedly persistent) mistake that was already being corrected. There is a lot to say in defense of central bank independence and it shouldn't be jettisoned so lightly.

Regardless, Open Phil grantmaking is not technocracy because Open Phil is not a government. Open Phil is a component of civil society. It's important to uphold this distinction because a common tactic of bad faith critics like Weyl is to hyperbolize private actions and judge them by the standards of government actions. Technocracy is a form of government not the mere belief that one has the merits to try to lobby the government to act differently.

As Giving Green is still recommending donations to TSM in spite of what seems to be the majority opinion here, I'd like to highlight a recent letter to the White House cosigned by TSM (among dozens of other groups). The letter argues that the United States should be less "antagonistic" towards China in order to focus on cooperating on climate change.

In reality, the United States and China have already agreed to cooperate on climate change. So TSM et al are not proposing any obvious change in US-China climate policy. Apparently they want us to be more generally friendly toward China in other domains, so that the already-agreed-to climate cooperation can run more smoothly.

The first problem with this is that it's not clear that US-China cooperation on climate change can achieve much anyway. The idea that America should cooperate with China on climate change is a trite line that gets repeated constantly as a superficial aspiration but to me seems rather deficient in policy substance. Exactly how this cooperation on climate change is supposed to work is generally a mystery if you try to think beyond vague outlines. This letter states that the US and China can cooperate because they have 'complementary strengths', but this isn't even really true. The letter says "For example, the U.S. is the world leader in clean technology research and controls immense financial resources; China is the world leader in industrial capacity across a number of clean energy industries and is a major source of infrastructure financing across the Global South" but this is almost the same two strengths stated in slightly different ways. Clearly, both are financiers. China does have serious clean tech research and the US does have serious clean tech industry; maybe there is a comparative advantage in American research and Chinese manufacturing, but in practice you cannot separate green research and green manufacturing very easily (most of the recent green tech progress is innovations and scale arising from manufacturing), and there aren't severe trade barriers stopping American green technology ideas and Chinese manufacturing products from crossing the Pacific anyway.

No doubt there is room for some reforms of trade, travel and immigration to improve green technology transfer between the US and China. But in broad strokes, both the US and China can provide both financing and clean technology, this is classic economic competition. It is at least as likely that competition between the United States and China will lead both sides to put more effort into financing clean infrastructure and exporting clean technology. After all, China's motivation for infrastructure projects has been partly geopolitical, and there have been many calls in the US for financing similar infrastructure projects around the world in order to compete with China.

I am not alone in suggesting this. Numerous foreign policy experts have cut through the trite assumption echoed by that letter and shown how climate progress fits equally or better into a framework of competition with China.

Competition With China Can Save the Planet | Foreign Affairs

Why the United States should compete with China on global clean energy finance (brookings.edu)

Want to Compete with China? Deliver on Climate Security for the Indo-Pacific - Just Security

Productive Competition: A Framework for U.S.-China Engagement on Climate Change | Center for Strategic and International Studies (csis.org)

The second problem with TSM et al's idea that America should generally be more friendly with China is that it (obviously) has implications beyond climate policy. It is yet another example of TSM attempting to influence broader political issues besides environmental policy, an activity which can be either good or bad but definitely adds to the complexity and undermines the robustness of Giving Green's recommendation.

While TSM does not say so explicitly, the apparent subtext is that the United States should exercise little or no serious policy response to China's infliction of mass suffering through concentration camps in Xinjiang and its treaty-violating destruction of political rights in Hong Kong. Their only statement on human rights is that the United States should work together with China to support international best practices on human rights... this is a bizarre thing to say considering that China is one of the biggest current violators of international best practices on human rights. It can only suggest that either the letter signatories are ignorant of severe systematic human rights violations in China or they believe that we should turn a blind eye on them in order to focus on cooperating on other issues (almost certainly the latter).

The letter also has the subtext that the United States should exert less effort in deterring a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and should be more reluctant to defend Taiwan in the event that China does invade that island nation, that the United States should tolerate China's allegedly unfair trade practices (I admit that I agree that the US should be more tolerant here, but some climate donors may disagree), and that the United States should tolerate China's efforts to change international institutions and international law. (I delve into the complexity and probable harmfulness of China's international political aspirations in this essay.)

In my estimation this letter is probably net harmful, and I would like to see anyone affiliated with EA exercise extreme caution before recommending donations to an organization which seems to implicitly discourage reasonable efforts to curb ongoing massive human rights violations.

Edit: here's another notable story. TSM cancelled an event in which they were planning to study protest tactics from Hong Kong, because sympathizers with the Chinese Communist Party were offended by the implication of legitimizing Hong Kong protestors. The mere fact that TSM is not holding events to study Hong Kong protest tactics is of course not a problem in itself, but backtracking and capitulating like this suggests that TSM suffers from moral rot and/or excessive influence by unsavory authoritarians.

Edit2: see Matt Yglesias' recent article suggesting that TSM is probably doing more harm than good. For completeness, here is a reply, which seems completely unconvincing, except the link to this article is something noteworthy to think about.

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