I think there's a big difference between caring about the welfare of future people and caring about bringing future people into existence in the first place. I.e. I think this post is conflating the "totalist" view of population ethics where the morally relevant goal is maximizing the sum of all welfare (number of entities times the average welfare of entities) with the averagist view of population ethics where the morally relevant goal is maximizing average welfare for the entities that exist.
Honestly, I find the idea of making hyper specific public pledges off-putting for the reasons you mention. I don't view it as my community's responsibility to hold me accountable for anything and I don't view it as my responsibility to hold others responsible for their verbal commitments. I would very harshly judge someone for neglecting certain legal commitments like parenthood, but that is why I am grateful we have a legal system. I would not judge them differently if they did or did not make a public commitment to be a good parent.
I also don't take other people's marriage vows seriously because I am not privy to their private conversations and I assume that they have discussed the scope and nature of their commitment to each other in far more detail than they publicly state in their vows. Further, when their marriage falls apart, I am not privy to whether or not there was abuse or concerns for safety or any other circumstance. Even when I am close with one of more people in the relationship, I usually only get one side of the story. Similarly, I admire when people actually give large portions of their money to specific charities but put almost no stock in their public pledges or commitments. I would not even be privy to most people's financial situation or how much they continue to give, and even if they were a good friend I would not think it appropriate to ask.
I certainly see the value of being able to make public commitments that you are held to but I just want to offer the alternative perspective that strong and credible public commitments are in tension with strong norms of respecting not only autonomy but also privacy.
One thing that I think is helpful is to do the best you can to separate "EA the set of ideas" from "EA the set of people." People involved with EA form something akin to a broad social group. Like any social group, they have certain norms and tendencies that are annoying and off-putting. Being snobbish about intelligence is one of these tendencies. My advice is to take the parts of "EA the set of ideas" that work for you and ignore the parts of the community that you find annoying. Maybe for you that means ignoring certain kinds of forum posts or maybe it means not going on the forum at all. Maybe it means giving 2 percent of your income to an effective charity and not worrying that you don't give more. Maybe it means being on the lookout for a job where you could have a higher impact but targeting organizations that are not EA-branded. The bottom line is that you do not need to be involved in EA the community to take EA the set of ideas seriously.
This is not at all to concede that you cannot do high-impact things while being engaged in the community. I am happy with the impact I have and I went to a state school with standardized test scores that were nothing to brag about. This is just to say that if you find the community annoying, you don't need it to "Do EA".
This is an interesting post and I do think there is an underappreciated analogy, even if the effect size of each behavior is quite different.
One minor point: I very strongly encourage you not to adopt any concept of an "EA in good standing" based on how much good a person does and how effectively.
EA is a set of ideas and a movement. If we make it about a set of people, only some of who are "true EAs," it becomes at best a clique and at worst a cult.
I think some of the ethics depends on the extent to which you believe we are at a "hinge of history". The effects of children on innovation are not just that your child specifically might invent something. It's also that younger societies tend to more innovative (culturally, politically, and technically). So if there are lots of young people at once the culture might be more dynamic, open to new ideas, and encouraging of risk taking. Ross Douthat lays out this argument in "the decadent society". Having kids now skews the demographic curve younger for a long but obviously finite time. So if you think it's more important that we have a lot of innovation this century rather than later on, I think that points in favor of having kids, but if you don't then maybe it matters less as far as innovation goes.
Of course I am not in the business of convincing people who don't want kids to have them or vice versa.
I definitely agree about implications re: children. Scott Alexander also wrote what I think is a very sensible piece on the topic:
The benefit is that half as many birds will be killed if some version of this technology is widely implemented because half as many will be born in the first place. Rather than the male chicks being born female, they just won't be born at all.
Definitely agree ag econ is worth looking into. I have an ag econ PhD and have never had a time where I felt that I would have gotten an opportunity or job if only my degree was in general econ. I don't think it is looked down upon by general econ people except that it pigeon holes you into agricultural/environmental/development/natural resource issues. If you are sure that you want to work in those areas, then I don't see the down side. The caveat is that top programs in ag econ are considered worse than top schools in econ, so if you get into to Chicago/Yale/Harvard/MIT econ, that's definitely a better degree than ag econ Berkeley/Davis/Purdue/Maryland/etc. It also happens to be the case that some of the top ag econ schools have higher ranked econ programs (e.g. Berkeley econ is ranked higher than Berkeley ag econ). But Berkeley ag econ is still considered to be more prestigious than a lot of general econ programs, so I would not say that ag econ as a field is looked down on. Fwiw in my program, we took a lot of the same classes as the general econ and there was a nontrivial amount of cross-program advising.
I have a PhD in ag econ. I came to my program with good but not exceptional math abilities. It was five incredibly grueling years of my life. I worked all the time and constantly felt stupid and inadequate in ways I have never felt before or after. I was frequently worried about failing out of my program. But then I got the PhD and it opened a lot of doors. I have what I consider a high-impact career in animal welfare doing what I love. I'm really glad I did it now that it's over with but it was no fun at the time.
This is definitely not the experience of everyone--I have friends who had a great experience in grad school. I also have friends who dropped or failed out.
I think it's very hard to predict what your experience will be like, but I think it's important to be aware of the range of common experiences.
Hey Saulius, Thanks for the thoughtful response! I definitely agree that we want to avoid making people feel pressured to engage with the forum, but I don't think that negates your initial impulse to think about what can be done to make it as accessible as possible to people who want to use it (with zero pressure towards those who don't). Personally, I enjoy using the forum. I don't know many people who are working on similar things as I am IRL and so it is nice to meet others online. I also enjoy giving feedback to others when I feel qualified/inspired but since posts aren't really directed at anyone in particular, I never feel pressured to when I'm busy/not knowledgeable about the subject/not inspired. When I think about improving the forum, I imagine doing it for those like me who would (after the improvement) find the forum actively helpful/fun.
I did post something on the Facebook group (and tried to make clear I was only interested in how the forum might be improved and not trying to persuade anyone to use it). I didn't get a whole lot of responses but Jamie Harris, who moderates the group, said that they had considered cross-posting relevant forum posts themselves, but would prefer if authors did it themselves (I think to make sure the authors were okay with posting it). Jamie also provided a link and email address for people who specifically did not want their content cross-posted. Not sure on what future plans for that are, but Jamie would be the one to talk to about it.