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583Joined Oct 2022

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Feel free to DM me anything you want to share but don't want to or can't under your own account(s), and I can share them on your behalf if I think it's adding value to the discourse/community.

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48

I would be curious to hear the pushbacks from people who disagree-voted this!

Yeah, how dare they not dedicate every waking hour to helping others-the audacity!

 

In all seriousness, pretty sure the problem here are things like people who don't respect others' boundaries/not recognizing power dynamics, the culture that normalizes this, and the institutions that don't adequately mitigate this risk, not the fact that people trying to do good in their life can also spend parts of their life socializing.

What is it about the Bay area that makes these issues more prevalent or severe, if they are? Seems worth finding out if we want to push for change in a positive direction.

In this hypothetical it sounds like you think the harm done will occur regardless, and so the tradeoff is between the additional benefits you can accrue from your ROI, VS the moral discomfort you will have in buying in? So there's both a moral uncertainty based on how strongly you personally think casinos should be illegal, how strongly you think the means justifies the ends (i.e. how important is it that you aren't the one responsible for the harm here, and an empirical Q of how much additional ROI you are actually getting compared to the next best option.

It also depends if this is something done in a personal capacity VS something that an EA organization is doing, because then there are other considerations that are harder to measure. E.g., even if you fully take the "ends justifies means" view, if CEA buys out a bunch of casinos, what negative effect does that have on movement building, and is that worth the marginal extra ROI compared to the next best investment?

Rob,
Thanks, I appreciated this response. I have a few thoughts but I don't want the focus on pushbacks to give the impression I think negatively of what you said-I think overall it was a positive update. It's also easier for me to sit and push back and say things that just sound like hindsight bias, but I'm erring on the side of sharing them because I'm taking you at face value RE: these being views you have already held for as long as you recall. 

As you allude to below, I think it's really hard in a podcast setting to cover all the nuances and be super precise with language, and I think that's understandable. OTOH, from the 2020 EA survey: "more than half (50.7%) of respondents cited 80,000 Hours as important for them getting involved in EA." 80,000 hours is one of the most public facing EA organizations, and what 80,000 hours publishes will often be seen as "what EA thinks", and I think one initial reaction when this happened was something like "Maybe 80,000 hours don't really take that seriously enough" or something (the pushback Ben received online when tweeting the climate change problem profile was another example of how these kinds of public facing concerns seemed to be underrated, especially because the tweet was later deleted) and I hope this will be considered more seriously when deciding what (if any) changes are appropriate going forward.

Another point: it seems a little weird to say the blog post gets away with less scrutiny because the interview provides more subtlety and then not actually provide more subtlety in the interview, which is I think what happened here? Like if you can't explore the nuance during the podcast because of the podcast format, that's understandable, but it doesn't seem reasonable to then also say that you don't cover it in the accompanying blog post because you intend for the subtlety to be covered in the podcast. It's also not like you're deciding about whether to include layer 5 and 6 of the nuance, but whether to include a disclaimer about a view that you personally find severely misguided.

I guess one possible suggestion might be to review the transcript/blog post and add relevant caveats and disclaimers after the podcast (especially since there's already a relevant article you've already published on it). I think a general disclaimer would be an even lower cost version, but less helpful in this specific case where you appear to be putting aside your disagreement with SBF's views and actively not pushing back on it for the express purpose of better communication with the viewers? 

The great majority of listeners (99.9%+) are not dealing with resources on the scale of billions of dollars, and so in my mind the priority was to get them to see the case for not being very risk averse, inasmuch as they're a small fraction of all the effort going into their problem and aren't at risk of causing massive harm to others.

I do think it's important to consider harm to themselves and possibly their dependents as a consideration here, even if they aren't operating in the scale of billions. Also while I agree with the point about tiny minority etc, you probably don't want to stake reputational risks to 80,000 hours or the EA movement more broadly on whether or not your listeners or guests are 'sensible'.

I agree it seems valuable to let guests talk about points of disagreement, but where you do this it seems important to be clear at some stage whether you are letting them talk about their views because you want to showcases a different viewpoint, or at least that you aren't endorsing their message, and especially if the message is a potentially harmful one. It also minimizes scenarios where you pretty reasonably justify yourself but people from the outside or those who are less charitable find it hard to tell the difference between how you've justified yourself in this comment VS a world where you were endorsing SBF's views followed by some combination of post-hoc rationalization/hindsight bias when things turned out poorly (in this case, I wouldn't consider it uncharitable if people thought you were in fact endorsing SBF's stated views, based just on the podcast and blog). I think this could be harmful not only for you, but also for 80,000 hours and the EA movement more broadly.

Again, thanks for all your work, and I'm aware it's easier for me to sit behind a pseudonym and throw critical comments over than actually do the work you have to do-but I'm doing this with the intention of hopefully contributing to something constructive.

I think you need to provide a lot more substance behind the claims you've made here.

If you think the problem is the quality of research, my suggestion is to give James some feedback, or to publish some substantive pushbacks of his work.

If you think his intentions are in question, then I'd appreciate documentation of this or at least some indication of the strength of evidence you have but can't share so third parties know this isn't just some vibe you're getting.

I didn't downvote, but if someone thought your claims were far too strong for the evidence provided and thought it represented a degradation of epistemic norms on the forum, or was unnecessarily unkind, it could be a good enough reason for a downvote. (At time of writing it has -4 karma over 4 votes, but +1 agreement vote over 3 votes)

1.
Fair, I haven't spent enough time reading the comments to push back on this. Not sure if you consider something like this as reasonable or a rationalization.

2.
I'm not making a case that FTX grantees should keep the money where possible, I'm just pointing out that if your principle is that people shouldn't spend money they know to have an unclean source, then it actually isn't as obvious as you are making it out to be. If your argument is around harm done, then clearly there are also considerations around what harms might occur as a result of returning this money (and I hope you would also want to push strongly for those who are involved with returning money to be prioritizing harm mitigation, as one consideration is there might a lot more money available to be redirected from that pool than the EA one). If your argument is about legal proceedings, then I'm hopeful that EAs will follow the law here, and I would condemn EAs who tried to keep the money if it was against the law to. If your argument is about something like - "doing right by retail investors", then I think you still have to make a case that the retail investors are now the strongest focus of moral obligation for all grantees for that pool of money (though I think that could easily be true for some or even most grantees). 

I'm also not casting around for rationalizations to keep the grant money because I've never received an FTX grant.

3.
I didn't claim that grant recipients are equal victims to FTX's depositors, I said there could be scenarios where a grantee takes the place of another victim, through no fault of their own. You can reasonably interpret that as "sometimes grant recipients are also victims". It sounds like you disagree because you say "Grant recipients are not victims at all." but I strongly disagree with this.

Suppose someone quits their job to do independent research funded by the FTX future fund. then they lose the "gift" of money that they made some major life changes around, but now have no job to return to, meaning they quit their job for nothing.

Say an organization with 10 researchers who was running in part on FTX money now lose funding. But they've also spent millions of FTX money last year. Should they fire everyone and go bankrupt trying to return this money?

I don't understand how you have so much (and rightly so!) empathy for the retail investors, but at the same time don't see how it's possible for grant recipients to also be victims.

4.
I think this is not a great analogy, because most of the time you don't expect people to throw you a wallet and run off, and grant recipients don't really receive money like that. A better analogy might be: you apply to a scholarship to college. you successfully get this scholarship, and then 2 weeks into college, you find out that Gaddafi funded your scholarship. Should you now decline your scholarship? Now you find out that half of all the college entrance scholarships in your country was funded by Gaddafi, but you're not actually required to pay it back legally - but a third party is starting a process that allows you to pay it back, should you choose to. Should all those people be morally obliged to return their scholarships, regardless of the situation? What if you can't go to college if you didn't have this scholarship? What if 75% of the money wasn't going to go back to the people harmed by Gaddafi if you declined the scholarship, but kept by the third party? What if you thought you could do better than 75% if you didn't voluntarily return the money? I mean this is also not a great analogy but I'm mainly trying to illustrate why you could have recipients of grants also be a victim, as well as why modelling grants as wallets that a stranger throws you while running away isn't great.

FWIW, I think if you're not going to face major financial issues, then I do think it's likely morally preferable to return the money than not, all else equal. And I think if you would be in a financially stable situation if you return the money and choose not to, then you should be very careful about the reasoning for your justification, because it would be very easy for there to be some degree of motivated reasoning. But again, I think you haven't made a case for why it is a moral requirement for all grant recipients to return the money regardless of circumstance, as opposed to something supererogatory.

I think this is a somewhat useful post to prompt discussion and reflection, and agree there is probably some motivated reasoning going on. That being said, some pushbacks:

The EA forum expresses almost zero empathy for the individuals who put money/crypto on the FTX exchange and then were criminally defrauded by FTX.

I think this is demonstrably false - from some of the most upvoted posts on this issue alone:

We must be very clear: fraud in the service of effective altruism is unacceptable
"It is clear that many people—customers and employees—have been deeply hurt by FTX's collapse. People's life savings and careers were very rapidly wiped out. I think that compassion and support for those people is very important."


A personal statement on FTX

First sentence:
"This is a thread of my thoughts and feelings about the actions that led to FTX’s bankruptcy, and the enormous harm that was caused as a result, involving the likely loss of many thousands of innocent people’s savings."

 

My reaction to FTX: appalled

"One or more leaders at FTX have betrayed the trust of everyone who was counting on them.

Most importantly FTX's depositors, who didn't stand to gain on the upside but were unwittingly exposed to a massive downside and may lose savings they and their families were relying on.

FTX leaders also betrayed investors, staff, collaborators, and the groups working to reduce suffering and the risk of future tragedies that they committed to help.

No plausible ethics permits one to lose money trading then take other people's money to make yet more risky bets in the hope that doing so will help you make it back."

(edit: see Pranay's comment for more examples)

 

It is dirty money, the proceeds of FTX’s criminal fraud. Real people have been victimized by FTX.

Keeping FTX grant money is ratifying the criminal fraud. 

Where do you draw the line for "clean money"? Is it due to the alleged criminal behavior? Or is it due to real people being victimized?

E.g. if your justification is due to "real people being victimized", then real people have been victimized by Facebook, should we not accept that money also? If your grandparents get their pension funds, they probably invest in and profit from companies that directly cause harm to real people, should you you tell them to decline that? Crypto assets globally use more electricity than entire countries like Argentina or Australia, does that count as real harm? Does spending that money count as ratifying those harmful actions? What about fossil fuels?

While I do think it's worth having a conversation about what the EA community or individual grantees' obligation are, and I think you're directionally correct about the motivated reasoning claims (though we might disagree about extent), I think I would be interested in a bit more nuance around what you are proposing, unless you literally mean: "all money received from FTX should be returned, no matter what", in which case I guess I'd be interested in stronger justification. FTX grantees aren't a monolith, the feasibility of returning the money will vary significantly, and while most of the retail investors were not at fault, nor were most of the FTX grantees. I think I'd consider a claim like "All FTX grantees should return money regardless of their personal situation" to be supererogatory, and not a moral requirement (you may have scenarios where a grantee is just taking the place of another victim, through no fault of their own, and it's unclear how this is actually net positive or fair, because neither victim is more 'blameworthy'). I'd be interested if you think otherwise. Again, I agree there was harm done, and I agree there's motivated reasoning going on, but the existence of motivated reasoning and harm done doesn't seem sufficient to suggest all FTX grantees should return all their money.

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