All of tdsyme's Comments + Replies

My new article on EA and the systemic change objection

And a much delayed response...

It is actually 'prima facie obvious' to some people that philanthropic do-gooders - those who 'aim at making the world better' through individualised charity are not actually having a positive impact. This kind of critique of charity and philanthropy is much older than EA.

So maybe everyone will agree with the thin claim that people who try to make the world better in some way will usually have more positive impact than those who don't try. But this has no implications for charity vs politics or anythin... (read more)

2kbog3yAnd those people are wrong and lacking in good reasons for their point of view. (They're also rare.) You think that just because something is a truism, it has no implications? It contradicts your point of view, and you think it's a truism with no implications? It tells us that we don't need to play your game of overconfident subjective interpretations of the world in order to justify our actions. But you gave a very narrow take where the "complexity of the issues" is actually reducing everything into a singular goal of implementing socialism. As I said already, you are picking one or two dimensions of the issue and ignoring others. You only talk about the kind of complexity that can further your point of view. That's not illustrating complexity, it's pretending that it doesn't exist. You are misquoting me. I did not provide this as a prior assumption. I don't grow the EA movement because of some prior assumption, I grow it because everywhere I look it is epistemically and morally superior to its alternatives, and each project it pursues is high-leverage and valuable. The prior assumption is that, when something is aimed at EA goals, it probably helps achieve EA goals. From your point of view, literally everyone is in the "same position" because you think that everyone's point of view follows from subjective and controversial assumptions about the world. So sure, critics might be in the Same Position as EA, but only in the same banal and irrelevant sense that antivaxxers are in the Same Position as mainstream scientists, that holocaust deniers are in the Same Position as mainstream historiography, and so on for any dispute between right people and wrong people. But of course we can make judgments about these people: we can say that they are not rigorous, and that they are wrong, and that they are biased, and that they must stop doing harm to the world. So clearly something is missing from your framework. And whenever you identify that missing piece, it's going t
My new article on EA and the systemic change objection

I'm back for some reason!

Here's my attempt at non-snide answer.

I think the issue is maybe not really about doing any particular reading or research, but about worldviews.

One does not usually get 'converted' to socialism or whatever simply by reading a couple of smart articles on the issue. Nor would one necessarily be persuaded of the relevance of social movement studies specifically or anything else if one was constitutionally disinclined to think it worthwhile.

A worldview is not just something we rationally choose based on evidence.... (read more)

4Ben_Kuhn3yThis is true as far as it goes, but I think that many EAs, including me, would endorse the idea that "social movements are the [or at least a] key drivers of change in human history." It seems perverse to assume otherwise on a forum whose entire point is to help the progress of a social movement that claims to e.g. help participants have 100x more positive impact in the world. More generally, it's true that your chance of convincing "constitutionally disinclined" people with two papers is low. But your chance is zero of convincing anyone with either (1) a bare assertion that there's some good stuff there somewhere, or (2) the claim that they will understand you after spending 20 hours reading some very long books. Also, I think your chance of convincing non-constitutionally-disinclined people with the right two papers is higher than you think. Although you're correct that two papers directly arguing "you should use paradigm x instead of paradigm y" may not be super helpful, two pointers to "here are some interesting conclusions that you'll come to if you apply paradigm x" can easily be enough to pique someone's interest.
My new article on EA and the systemic change objection

I do actually discuss this issue a little, although perhaps not quite in these terms. Critics do argue, in fact, that growing EA as it currently works would be bad because it perpetuates harmful attitudes to charity (see e.g. Gabriel's article).

I can assure you that it is not at all obvious that EA is the best movement precisely because of this focus on charity/individualism etc. and the more general epistemic gaps I discuss in the paper.

EA can certainly be defended as an effective movement, rather than just in terms of the effectiveness of its donat... (read more)

2kbog3yOnly a minority of EA's total impact comes from immediate poverty relief. Sure. Now that we are really talking about donations to movement building rather than bed nets. But it's not prima facie obvious that these things will point against EA rather than in favor of it. So we start with a basic presumption that people who aim at making the world better will on average make the world better overall, compared to those who don't. Then, if the historical and qualitative arguments tell us otherwise about EA, we can change our opinion. We may update to think EA is worse than we though before, or we may update to think that it's even better. However, critics only seem to care about dimensions by which it would be worse. Picking out the one or two particular dimensions where you can make a provocative enough point to get published in a humanities journal is not a reliable way to approach these questions. It is easy to come up with a long list of positive effects, but "EA charity creates long-run norms of more EA charity" is banal, and nobody is going to write a paper making a thesis out of it. A balanced overview of different effects along multiple dimensions and plausible worldviews is the valid way to approach it. You still don't get it. You think that if we stop at the first step - "our basic presumption that people who aim at making the world better will on average make the world better overall" - that it's some sort of big assumption or commitment. It's not. It's a prior. It is based on simple decision theory and thin social models which are well independent of whether you accept liberalism or capitalism or whatever. It doesn't mean they are telling you that you're wrong and have nothing to say, it means they are telling you that they haven't yet identified overall reason to favor what you're saying over some countervailing possibilities. You are welcome to talk about the importance of deeper investigation but the idea that EAs are making some thick assumption ab
My new article on EA and the systemic change objection

Hi thanks for your comment! Sorry for delayed response.

As it happens I think that radical social movements, broadly understood, do have the capacity to course-correct, learning from what has worked or failed before and are compatible with our understanding of human behavior. And certainly they are tolerant of uncertainty - there is little choice but to be!

I'm not sure what it means to be grounded in consequentialism - to invoke it explicitly? Not sure why this would be so important - everyone cares about consequences and radicals have often not been r... (read more)

My new article on EA and the systemic change objection

Thanks for your comment. Apologies for delayed reply.

Apologies is this sounds a bit snide but...invoking this 'two paper rule' is exactly the kind of faux-smart heuristic that EA's critics have a problem with. It tries to take short-cuts to working out what is the best thing to do and even to justify them as themselves effective. But I think this mis-understands the holistic and historically extended nature of worldviews/movements/anlayses.

Social movement studies happens to exist as a self-identified field. That EA's haven't heard... (read more)

3Ben_Kuhn3yDownvoted for not being at least two of true, necessary or kind. If you're going to be snide, I think you should do a much better job of defending your claims rather than merely gesturing at a vague appeal to "holistic and historically extended nature." You've left zero pointers to the justifications for your beliefs that could be followed by a good-faith interlocutor in under ~20h of reading. Nor have you made an actual case for why a 20-hour investment is required for someone to even be qualified to dismiss the field (an incredible claim given the number of scholars who are willing to engage with arguments based on far less than 20 hours of background reading). Your comment could be rewritten mutatis mutandis with "scientology" instead of "social movement studies," with practically no change the argument structure. I think an argument for why a field is worth looking into should strive for more rigor and fewer vaguely insulting pot-shots. (EDIT: ps, I'm not the downvoter on your other two responses. Wish they'd explained.)
My new article on EA and the systemic change objection

Hi - thanks for your comments! Apologies for the delay in getting back to this. Some responses.

1. Re: labelling. I'm not familiar with the Pritchett stuff - is it his 'four fold smell test', which asks whether the proposed development intervention involves something that actually is widespread in developed countries? It looks like a shorthand that is underpinned by a systemic analysis of the history and causes of development, plus some idea that it will happen the same way now as in the past.

My critique is intended to be primarily epistemic... (read more)

7Halstead3yHi, thanks for this sensible response. 1. I think parts of the argument that you made were only part of a socialist critique, especially the part about donations doing more harm than good because they perpetuate a capitalist system. If you're Pritchett, you want to perpetuate the capitalist system! So, he wouldn't accept your second main claim. So, I think it best to distinguish your critique from other forms of the systemic chaneg critique. 2. I agree that the terrain should be move on to these type of debates, and agree that this is a flaw in current EA practice. Note that GiveWell is moving in the direction of assessing policy. I often find that most people who criticise the prevailing "neoliberal order" can't accurately state the views in economics that they are criticising, let alone criticise them persuasively. I'm not saying this characterises you, but that is what I tend to find. (side note: The critique of capitalism in Radical Markets is different because it (a) knows the literature (b) has some compelling policy suggestions that fit in with the findings of economics.) I do think there is straightforward empirical data strongly supporting the benefits of capitalism viz. the big fact about human history that I mentioned in my first comment: progress since 1950 has been greater than all prior human history put together. It is true that true socialism might have done better than this, but it does seem unlikely. Why think it would be better than something this good, without any evidence? Socialist states - those with collective ownership of property - have had periods of growth but tend to have flared out, failed to allocate goods well, or had colossal humanitarian costs. While we can't test the counterfactual, this makes me think that it is very unlikely (<1% chance) that socialism would have done better. 3. I see your point that the numbers could come out in your favour, and thanks for the clarification re the quantiative model. I didn't really see