Kevin Kuruc

Research Fellow and Managing Director @ Population Wellbeing Initiative, UT Austin
506 karmaJoined Apr 2021Working (0-5 years)Austin, TX, USAsites.google.com/view/kevinkuruc/home

Bio

I'm an academic economist doing global priorities research. I work full time at Univ. of Texas Austin and am an affiliate of the Global Priorities Institute at Oxford. I work on macro-, welfare, and population economics.

How I can help others

I'd be happy to talk with anyone planning on pursuing a research career, especially in economics! Just message me :) 

Comments
42

Great -- glad you wrote that post up on intergenerational dynamics (and remarkably quickly!). I haven't read through the details in a while, but I think the best paper I've seen trying to estimate heritability at the family-level is this one by Tom Vogl, which you might find interesting to dig into. I believe his headline finding is that in low fertility settings that this composition effect accounts for fertility rates being ~4% higher in this generation than it would otherwise be (but that's just a refresher from my quick skim just now).

My skepticism about evolution is skepticism about the existing variance in biological preferences for children. Obviously that's not something we can easily get at, since outcomes are the product of environment + constraints + culture + preferences, etc. But (1) this preference isn't currently common enough to push some economically developed countries above replacement rate and (2) once social/economic conditions that generate low-fertility stabilize, this sort of mental-model would always predict increasing fertility rates (since every generations composition becomes more favorable to high-fertility). I'm not sure there's even a single country with moderate to low fertility that's seen an increase over the last 10-20 years, even though the demographic transition occurred in some countries a few generations ago. (And we only have a few more, ~7-10, generations worth of time until we're at pretty low population levels). 

Though I'm happy to admit that this is hard to generate convincing evidence on, so maybe in a few more generations it could start to show up in aggregate numbers. But until there's a country or two with consistent increases in fertility, through policy or evolution or whatever, I will remain very concerned that the decline will not be self-correcting.

Don't have much to add on the other points you made :)   

[Disclaimer: I work at the Population Wellbeing Initiative with Mike and Dean].

As quick responses to those bullets based on my own views of this issue:

  • It's true that low fertility is recent, but so is wealth and the opportunities that come with that. The main crux I'm left with is that (1) [save for Israel] there is no economically developed country that has fertility high enough to replace itself and (2) there has never been sustained depopulation via low fertility. Something is going to have to give! My money is on a non-insignificant period of depopulation.
  • I disagree with this point about financial costs. The cross-section and time-series evidence that richer places and times have fewer children is too hard to square with that claim, in my opinion. I'd be interested to hear if you had a further thought about why that evidence is misleading. (The opportunity costs are high, but as long as we maintain a world with good work and life opportunities for parents, I don't see obvious reasons why this will fall). 
  • I'd guess what they say about 'Heritability' on pages 14-15 might be what you're interested in (i.e., selection pressure for sub-groups that have direct desires for children). I count myself as worried if that's the force we're relying on though given the universality of low fertility. (Evolution through new genetic mutations is almost certainly going to be too slow; I think Table 1 indicates births will fall to very low levels in ~300 years with European levels of fertility). 
  • Fair enough! I don't really know what technologies are in our future with respect to childbearing and parenting. For what it's worth though, even if there were a (costless) artificial womb so good that it was just a button that when pressed produced a baby, most people I know who don't have kids wouldn't press the button. Obviously, that's not the only tech that could change the parenting experience. But it is the most common one that's proposed and I'm just not convinced it would move the needle much on fertility. Robo-nannies or something that made a serious dent in the time parents felt they should spend with their kids seems like a more important margin to me.

I love this post. So much so that I got up to do a set of pull-ups between reading it and writing this comment! 

I'm currently 95% bivalve vegan (occasional eat some cheese and other trace dairy products when I'm out of my house). I'm the closest thing to fully plant based that most of my friends and family know. My jam has been long-distance running rather than getting strong, but some fraction of my motivation has similarly been 'be fitter than almost every meat eater they know.' 

Unfortunately a running physique perpetuates the frail stereotype, so this is a good reminder to do some curls every once in a while for the animals :)

[Oh, and as an N=2 on the substance of this post: I am much healthier and fitter now than I was before going veg, but that's largely confounded by also getting more into running over the last 3 years. The increase in fitness over this period has been significant enough that I'd be surprised if eating meat would have resulted in an even greater increase.] 

At what time horizon? For anything over a year, I'd default to the quantity theory of money: inflation should roughly equal the rate of money supply growth (i.e., a central bank choice) minus real rates of economic growth. Increasing the money supply at 30% per year is easy, so if the Fed wanted to avoid deflation it seems like it could. The short-run during such a dramatic regime change could become whacky.

+1. I found it to be an extremely  thought provoking, informative, and high-quality post. Really well done. [FWIW: I had very weak priors over AGI timelines (I'm too confused to form a coherent inside view) and this seems like a much more reliable outside view than I was defaulting to]. 

My first impression is that this is a really exciting strategy to explore! Thanks for doing this, and please post updates :)

FWIW, I don't expect it to be that hard to find common ground with a cattle rancher about chicken welfare standards even with disagreement over the end goal, for all the great reasons you laid out in this post. (Though, it makes me wonder why ranchers wouldn't have already started this sort of lobbying without the nudge you're hoping to provide -- given how straightforward your points were, someone in the beef industry must have thought of this?)

I don't know nearly enough about headhunting to say anything definitive. But if we think they're misleading -- rather than informing -- maybe the argument should be 'EA orgs shouldn't use headhunters' for the reasons you laid out in these comments. It feels counter productive from the orgs side to trick someone into a job they wouldn't have taken with full information (*especially* for a community trying to operate with integrity). 

That seems like a distinct point from 'EA orgs shouldn't poach from one another' (which is what it seemed like the post was about). In general, my prior is that norms should be the same for hiring the EA-employed and the non-EA-employed, whether that's using headhunting services or not.

Hi! I have absolutely no expertise in this, but it seems long-term good to maximize the quality of matches between employers and employees. So, formally, I suppose I disagree with the statement:

Clearly, if a headhunter eases a bottleneck at a high-impact organization while creating a bottleneck at another equally high-impact organization, they are not having a positive effect.

If an employee takes a job at another org, presumably they expect it to be a better match for them going forward. I'd count that as a positive effect, assuming (on average) it increases their effectiveness, decreases their chances of burnout, etc. Even if its just for money or location, its hard to know what intra-household bargains have been made to do EA-work, etc.

There might also be positive general equilibrium effects: An expectation of a robust EA job market (with job-to-job transitions) increased my willingness to leave a non-EA job (academia) and enter this ecosystem. I would have been more hesitant had I felt there was a norm against hiring from other orgs. Though I'll flag that I'm not confident I accurately understand the term 'head-hunting' here, as opposed to recruiting, as opposed to hiring. In any case, a strong 'no head-hunting/recruiting' norm seems like it would weakly pressure orgs not to hire from other orgs (since they wouldn't want to be seen as recruiting from other orgs). 

I get that there are costs associated with re-hiring, re-training, and re-integrating that would be avoided if the original org just directly hires from the non-EA-employed camp. Maybe I'm underestimating these! My uninformed guess is that they are small relative to the benefits of increasing match quality. 

Curious about others thoughts on this though! Thanks for writing it.

+1. I'm super impressed by people who do this.

Hi Alene!

  1.  I like this! In accordance with some of the past discussions on the name 'EA,' I always felt a bit awkward leaning into the group name for most of the reasons you note above. I was also struck by a recent episode of Bad Takes (Laura McGann and Matt Yglesias' new podcast) about SBF where she describes not wanting to like EA because of this 'we -- a bunch of nerds -- have figured it out' vibe. She was eventually positive after learning more, but it seems really bad to be screening out people like that. 
  2. Scale seems to be one of the most important drivers of things EAs care about (factory farming, malaria prevention, future generations). +1 for 'Mass' capturing that in an intuitive way. Though, to be fair, I haven't spent any time exploring other name ideas. 
  3. Minor point: 'Mass Good' struck me as having a religious undertone (maybe just because of the word 'mass'). I actually kind of liked it for that reason! As much as some want to avoid it, EA really does feel like a secular-religion to me -- it's a community with shared values, supporting one another in pursuit of living those values. What's not to like?

I'm not confident this is the right rebranding, but a community shake-up might be the right time to be thinking seriously about one. So I'm glad you wrote this!

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