SamuelKnoche's Comments

Democracy Promotion as an EA Cause Area

Thanks for the post. I agree that the promotion of democratic institutions as an EA cause area is worth a closer look. I think you might find this EA Forum post by Ben Kuhn interesting: “"Why Nations Fail" and the long-termist view of global poverty.”

Though I'm skeptical. A lot of the benefits from democracy require liberal democracy. For example, both Iran and Russia are technically democracies, yet neither seems like a force for domestic welfare or international peace. In The Great Delusion, John Mearscheimer also casts some doubt on the democratic peace theory, pointing out that the US has toppled a number of democratically elected governments: “Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964, and Chile in 1973.” He also references a 1994 paper, “Kant or Cant: The Myth of the Democratic Peace”:

Perhaps the most damning evidence against the case for liberal democratic norms is found in Christopher Layne’s careful examination of four cases where a pair of liberal democracies marched to the brink of war, but one side pulled back and ended the crisis. He carefully examines the decision-making process in both Britain and the United States during the 1861 Trent Affair and the Venezuelan Crisis of 1895–96, the Fashoda Crisis between Britain and France in 1898, and the 1923 Ruhr Crisis involving France and Germany, and convincingly argues that liberal norms had little to do with settling these crises. There was substantial nationalist fervor on each side, and all four outcomes were primarily determined by strategic calculations involving the balance of power.

I don’t know how strong these objections really are, but I would take the democratic peace theory with a grain of salt.

Then there is China. Acemoglu and Robinson argue that China’s model is unsustainable in the long run, that it will end up having to liberalize in order to maintain economic growth, but this is disputed. China seems to be quite unique in terms of competence among authoritarian countries. Human rights would definitely improve if China were to become a liberal democracy, but the effects on long-term growth seem less obvious.

One issue is that the evidence in this area is fairly weak. See Kuhn’s post for more details on that.

With respect to neglectedness and tractability, I think it is best to do an analysis on a country by country basis. Promoting democracy in China for example seems not to be very tractable, and also carries some downside risk (making China hostile to EA). The question of whether promoting democracy might be an EA cause probably depends on whether it is possible to find a single country where there exists any examples of neglected and tractable interventions.

I think it is possible to find such interventions. Kuhn speculates that sponsoring independent investigative media in Senegal might be effective. Maybe there are some specific effective interventions in pro-democracy aid or election monitoring. I would love to see more research into similar interventions.

Patrick Collison on Effective Altruism

Yeah, it does sound like he might be open to fund EA causes at some point in the future.

I do think though that it is still a good criticism. There is a risk that people who would otherwise pursue some weird idiosyncratic, yet impactful, projects might be discouraged by the fact that it might be hard to justify it from a simple EA framework. I think that one potential downside risk of 80k's work for example is that some people might end up being less impactful because they choose the "safe" EA path rather than a more unusual, risky, and, from the EA community's perspective, low status path.

In praise of unhistoric heroism


"But EA orgs can't be inclusive, so we should have a separate social space for EA's that is inclusive. Working at an EA org shouldn't be the only option for one's sanity."

Seeking Advice: Arab EA

On a meta level, it would be nice if there was some more general advice on this. Even though EA outreach to authoritarian countries is generally viewed as a bad idea (see here), we cannot help that at least some people in these countries will learn about EA and will want to communicate and contribute in some way.

Seeking Advice: Arab EA

Far from me the idea that anyone do anything dangerous. But EA in itself doesn't seem really controversial or dangerous to talk about. In fact, EA Dubai has a public Facebook group and UAE laws aren't that different from Saudi laws.

And here is a EA Middle East group:

Seeking Advice: Arab EA

I imagine that there should be ways to minimize the risks by remaining anonymous, using a VPN and avoiding any "controversial" topics, though I agree that one should be extremely careful with this.

Seeking Advice: Arab EA

Maybe try to create an EA Saudi Arabia social media group and see if you can find people that way. That would allow you to find others who are already interested in EA while staying anonymous.

One potential high impact activity might be to research how best to spread EA ideas in the Muslim world, and how EA should interact with the faith.

The EA Hotel is now the Centre for Enabling EA Learning & Research (CEEALAR)

Though the hotel isn't trying to have a big public presence so a boring name like CEEALAR might be just right.

Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

It's difficult. You'd probably need a model of every country since state capacity, health care, information access... can vary widely.

Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

If the death rate is really that high, then we should significantly update P(it goes world scale pandemic) and P(a particular person gets it | it goes world scale pandemic) downwards as it would cause governments and individuals to put a lot of resources towards prevention.

One can also imagine that P(a particular person dies from it | a particular person gets it) will go down with time as resources are spent on finding better treatment and a cure.

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