Julian Jamison is an economics professor at the University of Exeter and a Senior Research Affiliate at the Global Priorities Institute.


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Non-pharmaceutical interventions in pandemic preparedness and response

I liked the post (I have worked a lot on RCTs, and a little on NPIs, but not together alas!). Here's another paper that I didn't see mentioned (although maybe I missed it) which I think roughly falls into the category you're considering?

I feel like there are also some behavioral econ papers looking at e.g. social distancing in queues, but off the top of my head I'm not certain if there are actual randomized field experiments in that space...


What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

Thanks for this great post. I'm closer to left-libertarian or classical liberal myself, but I have many friends and family (mostly in the US) who are more traditional progressives and much more sympathetic to typical social justice concerns than to EA. I agree with many of the issues identified here (including in the comments); my own experience has been that it is largely that they want to be able to "walk and chew gum at the same time". As an economist, I'm imbued with notions like opportunity cost and only being able to optimize one goal at a time (potentially itself an aggregation of course), but this is very foreign and off-putting to them. Either they don't understand the size of the actual disparities between issues, or... well actually I'm not sure, it's hard for me to wrap my head around.

However I particularly wanted to mention an illuminating recent post by Matt Yglesias (who came up elsewhere in the comments) on his substack: 

The main topic is distinct, but from "The radicalism of effective altruism" onward it is very relevant and informative. On the one hand Yglesias is criticizing the journalist's progressive critique of EA, SSC, Silicon Valley, etc. On the other hand Yglesias (who is definitely on the left, and who likes evidence and reason a lot) doesn't end up very sympathetic to EA himself. He thinks of it as purely consequentialist, extreme, etc. Even if it's hard to attract some full-on progressives, someone like him should be exactly the type of person who  supports EA. Something has gone wrong with the messaging if that isn't the case, and we are missing out.

Why do EAs have children?

I agree with several of the previous responses, but just to add something I haven't seen mentioned: it is a new / different experience 'outside the convex hull' of anything else. I selfishly enjoy that, because I like to experience new things (travel, changing research focus, ultra-running, etc), but I also believe that all of this gives me a more flexible and broader view of the world and how it can work and what it can contain, in a way that improves my perspective and my thinking. Imagination only goes so far, even for the most creative amongst us.

Important Between-Cause Considerations: things every EA should know about

I consider myself 'EA-adjacent' for the past few years - very sympathetic and somewhat knowledgeable, although not fully invested for various reasons. However I think I was already broadly aware of all the IBCs you listed. So perhaps I am more invested than I thought!  But my preferred interpretation is that most people who are sufficiently interested in EA and also sufficiently open to considering various causes will have already found most of these or will do so relatively quickly on their own. Obviously I could be wrong, and if you do a survey we will find out at least the first half.

[Note that I fully agree with you that it is very beneficial for people to be aware of these!]

Hi - I'm an American (although dual citizen with Canada) who worked in US government for six years (at the Fed and the CFPB) and am now an academic in the UK so happy to give my thoughts briefly; feel free to reach out if you'd like to discuss further. 

I agree with the general premise, both because the US is so large and because (for better or worse, and despite everything) the US is still seen as a leader in many ways: whether or not they copy it (often not, often with good reason), almost everyone will at least consider doing anything the US does. The US system has more built-in checks & balances than the UK's parliamentarian system, which can limit scope for progress, but that's mostly at a high level (which is important, but not where most of us will have impact anyway). Similarly the federal system implies more decentralization in the US, which also limits the power of any one actor (federal or state or ...). However in terms of the bureaucracy there is a lot of scope for action in the US, e.g. one of the few complaints about the CFPB that was actually true was that it had a lot of power (again for better or worse, but it did and to a lesser extent still does).

In terms of research (and non-profits, which I know a bit but not as well), you're right that it doesn't matter as much -- except that the best research in many fields happens in the US, if only because it's a coordinating device and had increasing returns to scale (once the best start coming, they all want to be there). This is certainly true in my field of economics and behavioral science, and I suspect (happy to be corrected) true in many relevant technical fields (climate change, AI, animal cognition) although perhaps less true in something like philosophy. 

As others have noted fit and opportunity are probably more important than any of this, but on the margin yes I think there are good reasons to be in the US. [Why did I leave? Partly because my wife is European, and partly just because the senior academic job market is very thin and this was an offer at a good school in a nice location.]  And yes, unfortunately I suspect that the Selective Service tickbox may stupidly cause problems; they certainly checked mine when I joined in a standard role. I had somewhat randomly done it when I turned 18 many many years ago and then completely forgotten about.

COVID-19 in developing countries

This is great - thanks. My belief certainly wouldn't be that simply because of the age structure IFR is going to be lower in developing countries. I do think that will be protective, but I also think that poor health systems will (obviously) go the other way. Some risk factors (generally more stressed immune systems) may work against them; other risk factors (lower rates of hypertension & diabetes) may work in favor. Hopefully treatment regimens will improve over time in useful ways even for resource-poor settings, but it's hard to predict. So I completely agree with your point in the google doc that current estimates are in some sense biased toward high-capacity countries, but it's not clear (to me) whether that would make them too high or too low overall. As you say, places with good health info are also those with high life expectancies -- which means healthier but also older.

i suppose my current guess is 0.5-1% for the headline number, which is a pretty broad range but there you go. Your analysis shifted this upward a bit!

COVID-19 in developing countries

Sorry for the slow reply! I had been working on some rough estimates for total (i.e. including medium- and long-run downstream impacts) costs and benefits of e.g. lockdown vs targeted social distancing, but even in high-income countries this is hard! This paper from Layard et al (using well-being adjusted life years) is perhaps the closest I've seen:

See also this effort for LMICs from CGD:

Happy to consider collaborating on something for developing countries, if only to get a sense for which dimensions are likely to be first order and hence worthy of further study, but I'm hesitant to believe even that would be feasible with confidence. Perhaps important enough to try in any case? Also not sure I am best placed for it, as a micro economist focusing on individual behavior...

Curious to hear what you think is the best existing evidence for IFR. Indeed 0.1% seems too low overall, but for under-60s my sense was that it is probably 0.1-0.2%, as in these papers:

Of course the quality of health system resources will affect the IFR, but neither of the ones above (China, Italy) are from ideal situations either so I honestly don't know how much worse it will be globally.

COVID-19 in developing countries

Thanks! and good question. I wasn't being very precise, and partly that's because I suppose I see it on a continuum. The extent to which lockdowns make sense will depend on the context and will be correlated (I believe) with GDP/capita, % formal economy, etc. I actually think a decent case could be made against lockdowns even in high-income countries, although I'm not sure the numbers would come out that way (and I realize that's far more controversial). It's true that they are "practical" in middle- and high-income countries, in the sense that they can be (roughly) enforced and won't directly kill too many people, but they will still cause huge welfare losses (via stress, depression, financial insecurity, intimate partner violence, foregone education, foregone health care, etc, all of which can lead to premature mortality). They will also of course cause welfare gains (saving people from covid, including some indirect deaths, and from vehicle accidents, pollution, and so on). The trade-off isn't obvious to me for HICs, but it looks pretty clear for LMICs. I fairly strongly believe that primary & middle schools shouldn't be closed anywhere, except perhaps very temporarily in extreme hotspots.