Matthew Yglesias

641Joined May 2022


That's coherent; I guess I just disagree with the calculus. 

After going through my first EAG this past weekend, I am left pretty confused about the rationale for the competitive application process.

I know of two main categories of people who seem to have applied and gotten rejected — people very personally invested in EA as a cause but deemed unworthy of networking opportunities, and semi-important DC types who are maybe EA-curious but were deemed insufficiently committed to EA. But I don’t know that I really understand why the event would have been worse if it had featured more people from both of those categories. To CEA’s enormous credit they have a really good system in place of one-on-one meetings, formal office hours, and informal hangouts and there was plenty of stuff happening both formally and informally on the fringes of the event. It all seemed really thoughtful and well-designed. So thoughtful and well-designed that it wouldn’t have in any way been undermined by having more merely curious or somehow low powered people around.

I sort of get the idea of doing a light basic screening before you let people in — make sure they’re not scammers or wreckers or what have you. But rejecting people who are totally sincere in their desire to attend an EA conference seems potentially very costly. Is it just a question of money? The food was maybe nicer and more plentiful than it needed to be. In the limit, people needing to buy their own lunch seems like a much less damaging possibility than making people feel rejected.

I just want to emphasize this point: "Non-EAs living in DC tend to be pretty impact-oriented and ambitious"

One of the main reasons that DC has a reputation as a bad place to live is that most people find this aspect of DC culture to be annoying and off-putting. And while I disagree with those people, I agree with their judgment that it is a distinctive feature of life here. DC people talk a lot about their jobs. They very sincerely believe their work is important. People who would never in a million years identify as EAs would still tell you (and genuinely believe) that they are dedicating their lives to doing good in the world. They network quite aggressively on behalf of those goals. Lots of people really hate this and spread anti-DC rhetoric around the country. But it's important to tune out the normative judgment and focus on the object-level take. DC is full of people who care a lot about the impact they are having on the world and who will not think you are crazy if this is something you want to talk about. If that sounds attractive to you, you will like it here.

Here's an argument for an EA billionaire advantage. 

Suppose you have a $500 million fortune and an opportunity presents itself for a gamble where you have a 1% chance of taking that to $60 billion but a 99% chance of ending up with nothing. Just in dollars this is positive expected value because $600 million > $500 million. But I think most people would  reject that bet due to risk aversion and the declining marginal utility of money. 

To a highly motivated EA, though, it looks like a better deal so you're more likely to go for it. 

A related issue: Nobody is going to make this an official criticism of longtermism, but I have heard a nonzero amount of backchannel grousing among people who've published books about how well-funded the WWOTF rollout is which I think may generate some resentment/backlash among jealous writers. 

This is also just an example of how growing and diversifying the EA funding base can be useful even if EA is not on the whole funding constrained ... a longtermist superpac that raised $1 million each from 12 different rich guys who got rich in different ways would arguably be more credible than one with a single donor. 

Similarly, I’d heard of Peter Singer as a result of campus controversies over his (alleged) views on disability long before I heard anything else about him. But it was actually learning about that controversy that prompted me to go see him speak some time in 2001 or so and I was surprised by what I heard.

Candidates for office, by law, get a more favorable rate on TV ads than superpacs do.

So up to the legal limit, a direct donation to a candidate is more valuable.

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