I find the ethics of procreation to be incredibly complicated. While I am skeptical of some of the particular arguments of this post, I agree that there are reasons to suspect that procreation is either morally good or morally neutral. Although I have substantial uncertainty about the moral goodness of procreation, I do strongly believe that many talented and altruistic people will be driven away from the EA community if anti-natalism becomes a big part of the cultural attitude. Many if not most people react to anti-natalism extremely negatively. They take it as an affront to their most personal choices, an insult to the people they most care about, and sometimes even a dangerous ideology that they inexorably associate with horrific human rights abuses. If there were real reason to believe with confidence that one of the best ways we can do good is lower the birth rate of people who actively want children, then that would be one thing. However, that seems so so so far from the current reality, that focusing on anti-natalist efforts just makes EA (or whatever other cause/group) look bad.
Sounds good, I'll email you.
Hi Lauren, This sounds like important work. I was wondering if you have plans to expand your focus beyond explicitly EAA organizations. Mainly I have in mind government and policy roles but this may also include corporate roles involved in expanding plant based food options or organizations that deal with wildlife research and management but don't have an EEA mission. Thanks for your work on this and good luck!
Thanks, I'm glad to hear there have been some people looking into this. It's really unfortunate if in-fighting has stalled them.
Thanks for putting this together! It's really great to see attempts at quantitatively prioritizing animal suffering, and I wish people would do more of it.
I do think you are misusing the word elasticities. The table you cite in compassion by the pound used the price elasticities of supply and demand to come up with their estimates, but these numbers they report are not elasticities, since that term usually refers to the change in demand or supply in response to price or income.
This leaves me particularly confused as to your interpretation of what you call "cross-price elasticities"--a cross-price elasticity of demand refers to the percent increase in demand of commodity x in response to a percent increase in price of commodity y. You are using the term to refer to "the increase in other products which are purchased as substitutes by these other consumers." The reason this distinction is important is that traditional elasticities of demand account for individual consumers substituting one good for another due to price changes--they do not show the net change in equilibrium quantity of one good in response to a demand change of another good. Since you are basing this on your own assumptions rather than data, all I'm suggesting here is a rephrasing.
If you are truly looking for a cross-price elasticity of demand, these are well studied for most commodities and can be found here.
My final comment is that I am puzzled by your conclusion regarding milk given that the welfare metrics you use are just scales from better to worse and do not have an interpretation for their absolute value. It could be that your metrics are exactly spot on, but milk products still impose enormous suffering on cows per pound. I'm puzzled by your conclusions regarding the relative importance of climate change for the same reason.
Anyways, thanks again for working on this. I hope my comments don't come across as too critical, as I think that carefully reasoning through these issues is really important.
Thanks! It seems like the big question I missed in my list that is in the article is "a full accounting of the externalities associated with animal agriculture" which I agree may be useful.
The article seems to take for granted that thorough research on the cost of production of welfare increasing practices would be good because the public assumes they are very high whereas in some cases they are actually not. I certainly agree that there are many interventions that are quite low cost, but I wonder if some of this research may backfire if the costs for certain interventions are quite high. I guess the animal ag industry already has a very good sense of this, and there is value in making this information public, but I'd be interested in others' opinions on this.
Thanks for taking the time to look into this.
I think this highlights the issues with the nomenclature of effective altruism. I find the question "do you identify as an effective altruist" to be akin to "do you identify as a good person." No matter how much I donate to EA causes or how much good I do with my career, I would not answer yes because it comes off to me as a bit presumptuous and arrogant, and it insinuates that people outside this community are not as effective and altruistic. To be clear, I think the community as a whole does a ton of good and I'm grateful it exists--my concern (which I know others have raised as well) is only with the title.
I agree that looking at more concrete metrics of contribution (e.g. percentage of income donated) might be more informative.
I don't know off the top of my head--sorry. I heard this second hand from someone involved, so I will ask next time I see the person I heard it from.