MHR

Aerospace Engineer
Working (0-5 years experience)
480Silver Spring, MD, USAJoined Aug 2021

Bio

I've been a lightly-involved EA for several years now,  having taken the path of working as an aerospace engineer and donating a portion of my income. I'm interested in getting more deeply involved in the  EA community and in contributing to some of the big ongoing discussions in the movement. I'm fairly cause-agnostic, but I especially enjoy discussing farmed animal welfare and the nitty-gritty details of global health and development work. 

Comments
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Like Karthik, I thought this post was really fantastic and I learned quite a bit from it. I did have a couple of questions/comments after reading it: 

  1. How should we think about returns to schooling in light of these updated results? I'm not very familiar with the general literature in this area, so I don't have a good sense of whether we should think this close-to-null finding is likely representative of returns to school expansions, or whether we have strong evidence from elsewhere that would suggest this finding is more of a fluke.
  2. I had a lot of trouble interpreting the first table, probably because the colored box (which I interpreted as the column titles) wasn't describing the thing that was different between the columns. You might consider reorganizing that table to make it more clear. 

FYI, the folks at Invincible Wellbeing are working on essentially this question. Some of their draft research is available for viewing, but I don't think they have anything fully published yet.  

MHR5d2918

This is pretty astounding. It seems to me that it's a result that's consistent with all the other recent progress AI/ML systems have been making in playing competitive and cooperative strategy games, as well as in using language, but it's still a really impressive outcome. My sense is that this is the kind of result that you'd tend to see in a world with shorter rather than longer timelines. 

As for my personal feelings on the matter, I think they'd best be summed up by this image.

I agree with Jason's comment here. Not only would the market price for medication likely be much lower than you're assuming, but also aid organizations are often able to get drugs  donated or at below market prices from manufacturers. 

Wasn't this already posted here just a few days ago

Thanks for the response! If I'm understanding you right, then I'm not convinced I like your approach to this specific aspect of the model. But I do think any approach to handling the morbidity benefits is going to be very coarse without a lot of further research. 

To try and illustrate my concern, let me just give a quick example for the DRC, working in GiveWell's units of value rather than WELLBYs (because that's what I'm more familiar with). If we take GiveWell's estimate that the morbidity reduction is equal to a 9% of AMF's pre-adjustment benefits, that means that per $100000, morbidity reduction generates 0.09*8570 = 771 units of value. 

Based on how I think you're doing it, when you go to calculate the non-life-extension benefits of AMF, you compute the benefits of morbidity reduction as 9% of (development benefits + avoided bereavement). If we just work with GiveWell's numbers (which don't include the bereavement effects), that would be 0.09*2582 = 232 units of value/$100000. Then when you go to calculate the life-extension benefits, you add in a 9% adjustment for morbidity reduction, which is  0.09*5987 = 539 units of value/$100000. But that bookkeeping doesn't make any sense, as all the morbidity benefits should be accounted for in the non-life-extension category.  Doing it the way I think you are, where you're adding a factor of 0.09 to all benefits, ends up making AMF look worse in the Epicurean case, as well as in all cases with a higher neutral point for happiness. 

This is actually even more important because you're applying such a big downward adjustment to GiveWell's numbers. If we divide GiveWell's estimate of the development benefits by 4,  then the development benefits are about 709 units of value/$100000 and the total morbidity reduction benefits under GiveWell's assumptions are 9% of the new total, or 597 units of value/$100000. If you do the bookkeeping how I think you're doing, only 58 units of value/$100000 of morbidity reduction would get attributed to the non-life-extension benefit category. Correctly attributing all 597 units of value/$100000 from morbidity reduction nearly doubles the estimated non-life-extension benefits of AMF. 

I recognize that to some extent we're working with made-up numbers here. But I think the general point that the supplemental adjustments need to be handled with care when doing this kind of component analysis is an important one. However, I do apologize in advance if I'm misunderstanding how you're approaching this right now. 

Thanks so much for your answer. I generally think what you're saying here makes sense, but I wanted to dig into one specific point. You say: 

My hunch is that if you're a totalist, your view on saving lives will probably not be driven by crunching the numbers about fertility but about your speculation on how adding people affects the wellbeing of the population and existential security. 

What worries me here is that you don't need to be a totalist to have these concerns. Even under a TRIA framework, wouldn't you still care about the population-level wellbeing impacts of any intervention (at least on the portion of the population that exists in both the world where the intervention happens and does not happen)? It feels like a little bit of a selective demand for rigor to say that this makes the total utilitarian calculus  intractable, but not that it makes any of the other calculi intractable.

Still, I do recognize that total utilitarianism sometimes leads to galaxy-brained worries about higher-order effects. 

I guess I'm not quite sure what to make of your answer here.  To take a concrete example, when computing AMF's cost-effectiveness in an Epicurian framework, how many WELLBYs/$1k are you attributing to reduced morbidity? 

It looks like you're only accounting for increased incomes and avoided grief when estimating the effects of AMF other than on the people who would have died. Have you looked at all about trying to account for all the factors GiveWell lists under supplemental adjustments in their CEA? Just to take an example, GiveWell increases AMF's benefits 9% to account for the reduction in malaria morbidity (time spent ill). If you take out the benefits from averted deaths, the morbidity effect is still 9% of the original benefit, not 9% of the new lower benefit. I would think that (and the other supplemental adjustment effects) might moderately shift your conclusions if you aren't currently accounting for them. 

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