Stephen Clare

3628 karmaJoined Aug 2021



I'm an independent researcher working on various projects in cause prioritization and global conflict research.

Previously I've been a Research Fellow at the Forethought Foundation, where I worked on What We Owe The Future with Will MacAskill; an Applied Researcher at Founders Pledge; and a Program Analyst for UNDP.


Hi Vasco, thank you for this! I agree with you that just extrapolating the power law likely overestimates the chance of an enormous or extinction-level war by quite a bit. I'd mentioned this in my 80,000 Hours article but just as an intuition, so it's useful to have a mathematical argument, too. I'd be very interested to see you run the numbers, especially to see how they compare to the estimates from other strands of evidence I talk about in the 80K article.

Interesting, thanks for checking that!

What I had in mind were the data from this Pritchett paper. He sets out a range of estimates depending on what exactly you measure. For example he shows that the US wage for construction work is 10x the median of the poorest 30 countries (p. 5). The income gains for a low skill worker moving to the US vary depending on where they're coming from, but range from 2.4x (Thailand) to 16x (Nigeria) (p. 4).

That's pretty different than the paper you cite. I'm not sure what accounts for that right now. Hopefully we see more work in this area!

As an example of how powerful these demographic shifts will be, this recent paper claims that ~all of Japan's poor economic performance relative to other developed nations since the '90s can be explained by its demographic shift (specifically the decline in the population share of working age adults). Think about how much consternation there has been about Japan's slow growth. We're all headed that way.

Interestingly, AFAIK Japan has not drastically liberalized its immigration much in response to its slow growth. The proportion of foreign-born residents has grown a bit, but not much. Maybe this is changing, but we'll see if anything actually happens, and Japan has been struggling to grow for decades.

  1. I think both of these trends can occur simultaneously
  2. I'm not sure it's very helpful to think of this as "jobs moving from one country to another". It makes it seem zero-sum, whereas it is actually a positive-sum efficiency gain
  3. Migrants to higher-income countries benefit from public goods like better services and public safety in addition to higher incomes
  4. As Lant has pointed out, the higher income someone gains from moving from a low- to high-income country is enormous. IIRC it can be something like a 10x increase in consumption even if they're working the same job. So even if we imagine some fixed pool of jobs, I'm not sure it is "far better" for jobs to move from high- to low-income countries. Given the choice of working the same job in a high-income or a low-income country, I think many people would choose to move to the high-income country.

Great post, Tom, thanks for writing!

One thought is that a GCR framing isn't the only alternative to longtermism. We could also talk about caring for future generations. 

This has fewer of the problems you point out (e.g. differentiates between recoverable global catastrophes and existential catastrophes). To me, it has warm, positive associations. And it's pluralistic, connected to indigenous worldviews and environmentalist rhetoric.

I loved Chris Miller's Chip War.

If you're looking for something less directly related to things like AI, I like Siddhartha Mukerjee's books (The Emperor of all Maladies, The Gene), Charles C. Mann's The Wizard and the Prophet, and Andrew Roberts' Napoleon the Great

What a sweet post 💙

Thank you also to you for setting up Vida Plena! By putting so much work into setting up a new organization you've helped a lot of people.

Ranil Dissanayake actually just published an article in Asterisk about the history of the poverty line concept. The dollar-a-day (now $1.25 a day or something) line was kind of arbitrary and kind of not:

rather than make their own judgment on what constituted sufficient living, they could instead rely on the judgment of poor countries themselves. They would simply take an average of the poorest countries in the world and declare this to be the global minimum of human sufficiency

noting further in a footnote that

Of course, things are never quite so pure: The bank was closely involved in the development of national poverty lines around the world, so there was some element of circularity to the development of the global line.

The whole article is very interesting, worth a read for people in this space.

Great comment, I appreciate this perspective and have definitely updated towards thinking the 10x gap is more explainable than I thought.

I do note that some of the examples you gave still leave me wondering if the families would rather just have the cash. Sure, perhaps it would be spent on high-priority and perhaps social signal-y things like weddings. But if they can't currently afford to send all their kids to school or other medical treatment, I wonder if they'd sensibly rather have the cash to spend on those things than a bednet.

(Also, my understanding from surveys of cash recipients is that most do spend their money on essentials or investments.)

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