All of Timothy_Liptrot's Comments + Replies

US Policy Careers Speaker Series

Does anyone have the zoom for todays event. Registered late and not sure I’ll get it.

An attempt to promote prediction markets

In the assassination's problem, people manipulate the market to win bets. No one is doing that in this case.

Also, knowing when wars will happen is socially beneficial because uncertainty increases the probability of war. If both sides think they are strong, they both take strong bargaining positions. When their offers are rejected they fight. More knowledge -> bargains are more likely to be accepted.

An attempt to promote prediction markets

Oh god the paragraph breaks didn't go through. Fixing!

Should we buy coal mines?

Bottom Of The Envelope Calculation

8ag40003mo
Back of the envelope calculation
-2Timothy_Liptrot3mo
Bottom Of The Envelope Calculation
Thoughts on Post-PhD Jobs

Ah, I see. I'm mixing up career capital and status actually.

Ukraine giving - short term high leverage

Multibillion dollar bureaucracies tent to be slow with stuff Ike this. You can call them to learn more, I don’t have all the details.

I have a full time job and can’t provide you a higher level of support/analysis without neglecting my responsibilities.

2Harrison Durland5mo
It's fine to not (be able to) provide more support/analysis, but if you can't then I wouldn't recommend having such a definitive/confident title. On the point of bureaucracies, they weren't particularly slow when it came to (Stinger/Javelin?) missiles, and they wanted to move somewhat fast (in fact, faster than probably would have actually been possible) to provide fighter jets, although they decided against that in the end.
Have there been any quality evaluations of the impacts of regime change?

We also know a lot about what types of regimes are more susceptible to democratization. A democratization effort in Vietnam is much more likely to succeed because Vietnam is a party state, has some elections, has a strongish economy, etc. I can say more about that too.

Have there been any quality evaluations of the impacts of regime change?

First off, remove democracy from your lexicon. It's too complicated and confusing word, it means different things to different people. Usually if you bring democracy into this debate you get a circular answer by accidentally assuming many institutions at once.

A good starting question here is to think about the service recipients. What is the theory of change for how they compel the state to provide services under each system? What assumptions are needed for it to work?

Citizens have to coordinate to punish a leader that does not provide services if they wan... (read more)

1stevieg5mo
These are all good points and I think there is substantial evidence to support the majority of them. Quick tangent: I'm not so sure about your dismissal of the link between voters selling votes and a lack of service provision as there are several places in which selling votes often occurs as an inadequate form of exchange and/or a way of reallocating finances to allow for the purchase of goods. Regardless of that minor detail, I'm more or less in agreement with this framework. It gets a bit more complicated when you introduce alternative systems of collective action and coordination in non-democracies, particularly as many contemporary autocracies have become more adept at using technology to both restrict voice through both repression and targeted goods provisions. As you note in your later comment on Vietnam below this reflects the wide array of non-democracies and the relative permanence of current regimes/systems. If you do write a blog post I'd be curious to know from an EA perspective (and your perspective) what countries/systems could see the largest gains in quality of life/life years added by inducing transitions to more inclusive forms of governance. Do these match with the countries/systems most susceptible to transitions?
Have there been any quality evaluations of the impacts of regime change?

Good question. Perhaps I should clarify this in the abstract.

Weakly constrained means elite supporters cannot limite the leader much.

Personalist means weakly constrained by elite supporters. The idea is that one person has lots of power, hence personalist.

Have there been any quality evaluations of the impacts of regime change?

Above is my recent article on property rights and sudden deaths of autocrats, which is not really your question. When I find time!

1geoffrey5mo
Quick clarifying questions about your abstract if you have time. I'm confused about the term "weakly constrained" Does "weakly constrained" mean (a) the leader is weak because elite supporters make the leader weak, (b) the elite supporters are weak and can't limit the leader much, (c) a jargon-loaded academic definition that I shouldn't worry too much about because it's too hard to explain, or (d) something else? Also, does personalist always mean anything about constrained-ness in theory? (Like I get in reality, it may correlate a certain way, but I'm wondering about the definition)
2Timothy_Liptrot5mo
Above is my recent article on property rights and sudden deaths of autocrats, which is not really your question. When I find time!
3NunoSempere5mo
Personally I'd be very interested in such a blog post
Funding request: Promoting EA in MENA

One solution would be to make grant funding conditional on publishing. That transfers the risk onto me, who knows more about viability.

Funding request: Promoting EA in MENA

On follow up: Yeah I have to return to the US to continue my PhD at the end of the Summer. That definitely limits my ability to start a movement.

On game-theory: I am quite optimistic. From what I see, professional political actors like ministers, soldiers and warlords understand the "game" perfectly without my explaining. Regular citizens usually do not understand the games, giving them a disadvantage.

Funding request: Promoting EA in MENA
  1. I was aware there are some restrictions, but did not think they were so severe. I will reach out to them to learn more. That's an interesting concern.

  2. Yes autocratists study autocracy.

Funding request: Promoting EA in MENA

| My main question is, how sure are you that you can get articles published in major newspapers?

Good question. I'm uncertain. I would like to write up one piece now and try to get it in, as a check on the viability of the plan.

1Timothy_Liptrot5mo
One solution would be to make grant funding conditional on publishing. That transfers the risk onto me, who knows more about viability.
Thoughts on Post-PhD Jobs

Thanks for the comment, I'm just talking through things and appreciate the feedback.

In EA speak, I think “career capital” should be your goal. As an early grad, your PhD and skills have low direct value. You should choose either a personally interesting or high status/opportunity position.

I actually disagree with this. Firstly, those are actually pretty good skills. But secondly, I don't think PhD's have low direct value. Obviously most people's PhD's have 0 direct value, but that's because people don't select their areas strategically at all.

There's a... (read more)

1Charles He10mo
I meant to say that new PhDs have low direct value, not that PhDs have low direct value. I think I may have used career capital wrong? I guess I just meant ability in "getting good", this usually comes from experience?
Thoughts on Post-PhD Jobs

I certainly could do that. It would drive me toward more crowded fields, particularly development. But competing with lots of other really smart people is playing life on hard mode.

I'm not sure I want to play life on hard mode in my 30's.

2Charles He10mo
I have been in your position and the job market for a new PhD can be scary and difficult. This is especially so when you are not at a school with a top placement record (as you know, HYPS and star candidates can have advisors making calls and setting up offers before the market even starts). It can feel like your life can be very uncertain. On the other hand, there are many people in a similar position as you and many of them have been very successful and happy in academics and industry. It is impressive you are thinking ahead and that you deliberately chose an important and relevant subject and are thinking of altruism. I think I have basic thoughts: * For non-star and non-high ranking people, especially if you end up having 3/3 teaching loads (and don’t love teaching), I think your situation favors non-academic positions. In addition to the teaching issue, my guess is that academic success in polisci is very connection and network based, making placement important. Whereas, in “industry”, you can progress in your career and achieve status similar very high candidates, especially if the work is not academic in nature. * In EA speak, I think “career capital” should be your goal. As an early grad, your PhD and skills have low direct value. You should choose either a personally interesting or high status/opportunity position. Also, you should generally favor large orgs where you can get exposed to politics, move around or can take management roles (maybe especially managing research). All this points to a non academic placement. I think because of “career capital” concerns, even if only development has value,, it’s possible that being successful in another position for 3-5 years will make you much more effective and you can circle back. Or maybe you will develop unique insight or connections or access to policy that lets you have influence or support development in some other way. Or maybe your skills will stop WW3. Overall, i
7Linch10mo
I'm confused by this framing. Ought implies can. If you think development (or other fields) is too hard a field for you to join (or alternatively, if it involves large enough costs or risks that you don't want to stomach), you shouldn't join it. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't prioritize impact or career capital within the choice set that you do have.
On Mike Berkowitz's 80k Podcast

Original median voter theorem paper, Duncan Black in 1948

Let us suppose that a decision is to be determined by vote of a committee. The members of the committee may meet in a single room, or they may be scattered over an area of the country as are the electors in a parliamentary constituency. Proposals are advanced, we assume, in the form of motions on a particular topic or in favor of one of a number of candidates. We do not inquire into the genesis of the motions but simply assume that given motions have been put forward. In the case of the select

... (read more)
On Mike Berkowitz's 80k Podcast
  1. The median voter theorem is just a mathematical conclusion from a set of simple assumptions, it can't be watered up or down. If some set of voters rank proposals on a single axis with single-peaked preferences then the only Condorcet winner will be the median voters ideal point. The key here is that the voters choose the axis on which to rank the proposals. The voters can rank the candidates on any axis, taxes or policies or height. Usually smarter actors rank proposals and candidates on an ideology axis by collapsing issues onto one axis, as a mental heu
... (read more)
1Harrison Durland1y
1, The “watering down” comment was really referring to the idea of expanding the “preference axis” assumption to include more than just policy, to the extent that MVT changes from “Politicians moderate their policies towards the center of policy axes” (which would be a perhaps unintuitive claim that doesn’t need explicit reference to “MVT”) to “Politicians appeal to the majority of the voting public” (which is almost “no-duh” except that it irons over potential wrinkles, like “someone who is very far right/left won’t even bother voting unless one of the candidates moves far enough towards them, rather than spending their time to go out and vote for the ‘less bad candidate’ in an election which they might deep down recognize they won’t actually have any impact on...”). Ultimately, I think the question of whether Berkowitz should have discussed MVT by name is less important that the question of MVT’s validity, but I’m not in an epistemic position to get deeper into the weeds on that. 😶 2. I still don’t see that as a true “silver bullet”; I imagine Berkowitz might consider it one of the potential positive reforms, though.
On Mike Berkowitz's 80k Podcast

That’s good pushback, thank you.

I'll need to edit the piece more deeply, but for now I've added an explanation at the top.

Here are some counter criticisms

  1. That is a great summary of the modern critique of the MVT, thanks for sharing. The problem is that it applies to policy outcomes, but the subject is candidate selection. Caplan’s criticism is that voters are irrational at connecting votes to policies and policies to outcomes, which is true. If voters have a simpler utility function like “I want to vote against any anti-Trump candidates”, the median vote
... (read more)
1Harrison Durland1y
Thanks for the responses. To go through the points you mention: 1. I’m just not that convinced that the MVT is akin to the gas price situation you described, in that I don’t see it as that explanatory/fundamental/crucial to mention (in combination with the following remarks). Importantly, as part of this I’ll say that it seems like you’re watering down the MVT to increasingly become “politicians try to appeal to the majority of people,” which is arguably far more intuitive and thus less necessary to cover in name/detail. As I understood it, the MVT is more meant to explain why politicians converge to more-moderate policy preferences in order to win over the “median” voter. So if you’re just going to say (e.g.) that “candidates were less inclined to be anti-Trump because a majority of people wanted to vote against the anti-trump candidates,” you don’t need to mention the phrase “Median voter theorem” any more than you actually have to mention “supply and demand ** curves/graphs ** “ (as opposed to just “supply and demand”). 2. I’m still not convinced there is a silver bullet, and my base rate for “situations where there is actually a silver bullet despite the dismissal by people who are more experienced than me, yet it’s just not getting used” is really low. Thus, I’m inclined to side with Berkowitz on this—including his observation that there are definitely multiple helpful reforms that could be taken. 3. If the situation is as you described it, I definitely think that’s a fair concern—and it’s something that I’ve seen too many pundits do.
Is Democracy a Fad?

Democracies did not exist in the premodern world for one main reason; they were bad at war. Revolutions and republics did form in the Medieval period, particularly in capital-intensive trade hubs like Northern Italy and Northern Germany. However, most were quickly crushed under a wave of poorly armed peasant-soldiers from the coercive states next door.

A major reason for democracies rise in the 17th-21st centuries because democracies suddenly became much better at warfare than all other systems, and have maintained this advantage ever since. The first state... (read more)

6MichaelA1y
Interesting comment! I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Are you saying that basically all countries that democracies might have strategic conflicts with will also become democracies, such that the warfighting advantage democracies have will become irrelevant (since there'll be a level playing field)? But if that's what you're saying, then it seems to me that the advantage would still be relevant in the important sense that any country which "backslid" from being a democracy would suddenly have a disadvantage in war?
Democracy and Development, a Simple Model

Hahaha I love hearing someone else say "cluster in polity-space". I use that phrase often but the other political scientists never do. It's an incredibly useful framework for describing correlated variations and side-stepping pointless debates about definition.

That's all spot on. Stable alternative models are rare and poor performing (Belgium, Lebanon, Bosnia, Libya).

The steel man for a democratic long run future: In the long run, the political system that survives longer should dominate. Once democracies pass a production threshold around 10,000 gdppc tr... (read more)

A brief explanation of the Myanmar coup

Selectorate: People who select the leader

Ejectorate: People who don't.

In the Soviet Union, the selectorate was the Politburo Standing Committee. In Egypt and Myanmar the selectorate is a group of generals. In the US the selectorate are voters in swing states.

Thanks for the feedback.

2Larks1y
I was under the impression that 'Ejectorate' refereed to people who had some ability to remove leaders, e.g. through coups?
Best Consequentialists in Poli Sci #1 : Are Parliaments Better?

My professor Hans Noel is featured in the article. Nice.

My mistakes on the path to impact

I have a friend who is making the first two mistakes. They are in a different field from EA but similar totalizing vibe. They rarely apply to jobs that are outside their field-role but which would provide valuable career capital. They are also quite depressed from the long unemployment.

What can I say to help them not make these mistakes?

My mistakes on the path to impact

I disagree Max. We can all recall anecdotes of overconfidence because they create well-publicized narratives. With hindsight bias, it seems obvious that overconfidence was the subject. So naturally we overestimate overconfidence risks, just like nuclear power.

The costs of under confidence are invisible and ubiquitous. A grad student fails to submit her paper. An applicant doesn't apply. A graduate doesn't write down her NGO idea. Because you can't see the costs of underconfidence, they could be hundreds or thousands of times the overconfidence costs.

To bre... (read more)

My mistakes on the path to impact

Thanks for making this. I experienced similar struggles in young adulthood and watched my friends go through them as well. It sucks that so many institutions leave young people with bad models of job-world and inflexible epistemology. It hits when we most need self-reliance and accuracy. IMO, the university professors are the worst offenders.

My disorganized thoughts

  1. Trusting your own models is invaluable. When I was 25 I had a major breakdown from career stress (read about it here). I realized my choices had been unimpeachable and bad. I always did "what
... (read more)
Best Consequentialists in Poli Sci #1 : Are Parliaments Better?

Great question! That is an incorrect interpretation, but this is the fault of the authors for their terrible reporting of the results not maintaining their reproduction data. I noticed the problems after writing.

Basically, those coefficients are the effect of one more year of parliamentarism in your history. So the .004 coefficient on corruption control means that 100 years of parliamentarism (1901-2001) is associated with a .4 increase.

I would also note that the dummy factors are stacked against parliamentarism. Think of it this way. In around 1880, Europ... (read more)

Best Consequentialists in Poli Sci #1 : Are Parliaments Better?

Good question. The key is that Gerring's paper ADJUSTED FOR DEMOCRACY. So it really means that "parliaments are better when they successfully become democracies", not "parliaments are better in general". This is a big stupid on Gerring's part. I just noticed it and am mad. Anyway-

South Sudan becoming a democracy was very hard due to the proto-state institutions before independence. Ethno-nationalist patrimonial warlord autocracies dominated pre-independence South Sudan and had effectively won their independence in a long and bloody civil war. And there we... (read more)

3Linch2y
Thanks again! I'm also still interested on whether you have thoughts on whether future constitutional designers are likely to take inspiration from this paper.
3Linch2y
Thanks a lot for this comment. This was detailed, informative and I learned a lot about the situation in South Sudan.
What is the increase in expected value of effective altruist Wayne Hsiung being mayor of Berkeley instead of its current incumbent?

Maybe. That's orthogonal to my comment. I was responding to

My default belief is that a politician implying something he knows the listener wants to hear is not evidence he's believes or will act on that implication.

As to the empirical content of "evidence-based policy", I'm not an expert on that question yet.

Best Consequentialists in Poli Sci #1 : Are Parliaments Better?

Good questions Thomas. The point of the blog series is to highlight papers that ask the right questions and use the right methods to have consequentialist value. I am not arguing that the Gerring paper is the last word. I'll answer a few of your questions, though.

  1. We know they aren't p-hacking in the selection of dependent variables because there are very few such variables that cover every country-year of interest. How many organizations measured the governance quality of Liberia, Columbia and Denmark in 1953. I'm working on introducing a new one using

... (read more)
2Thomas Kwa2y
Thanks for the elaboration! I'm just glad to hear that the researchers didn't make any obvious mistakes.
What is the increase in expected value of effective altruist Wayne Hsiung being mayor of Berkeley instead of its current incumbent?

No time to call up the paper, but the basic answer is that such statements are evidence.

A common pattern is that politicians can propose policy A or B before entering office, but have an incentive to implement A once elected. So some of the politicians who propose B will switch to A once elected. But none of the politicians who support A will switch to B. For example this happens with economic security vs. economic efficiency platforms in Latin America (politicians prefer efficiency policies more once elected). About half of them switched in the study I r... (read more)

4Elizabeth2y
But "I will use evidence based thinking" isn't a policy, and is completely unverifiable.
If you like a post, tell the author!

As an author, this is SO TRUE.

Honestly the "people only comment to criticize" pattern incentivizes authors to be edgy to get any feedback on their ideas at all.

How do political scientists do good?

Thanks for the comment. I've decided the most important thing is to learn to do my own expected value analysis for research programs.

Maybe econ is different from poli sci, but my experience is that grad students are extremely attuned to what the academic job market rewards, and if they don't start out that way, their advisors eventually push them in that direction."

I've been exploring this, and it appears to be a difference between the disciplines. Not sure why yet.

Since the academic market rewards difficult, technical work, the sort of work that doe

... (read more)
How do political scientists do good?

The question of how best to represent the interests of future persons is a good core question. My problem is more with their method of answering it. There's a great tradition of political philosophers thinking "what would be the ideal institution according to X moral philosophy" and then designing an institution backward from that. I consider this approach both crowded and low-leverage (John and McAskill are more in a middle position). The alternative is to look at how institutions work in practice then judge them against different ethical objectives, whic... (read more)

How do political scientists do good?

Just read the paper and you are correct, my questions do differ. I should just make a post of my own about this I guess.

Firstly, I am skeptical that the future is best represented by creating special institutions. If people lose trust that their government cares about their interests the risks to democracy and state capacity are large, and introducing a new interest group endangers that trust. The alternative to directly representing the future is to consider which institutional arrangements create policies most beneficial to future people. They acknowled... (read more)

2RyanCarey2y
I guess Tyler, Will, etc are approaching governance from a general, and highly idealised perspective, in discussing hypothetical institutions. In contrast, folks like GovAI are approaching things from a more targeted, and only moderately idealised perspective. I expect a bunch of their questions will relate to how to bring existing institutions to bear on mitigating AI risks. Do your questions also differ from theirs?
How do political scientists do good?

The electricity one is outside of our data range. States occasionally fail to provide electricity for weird price-politics reasons. But when that occurs, private sector electricity suppliers form fast (this can be a self-reinforcing policy as the new suppliers resist centralization). But that does suggest that as long as a community can pay for fuel, they will produce electricity. If our current institutions fail to provide electricity, people can form new ones fast.

I'll think about agricultural output for the moment. I would, anecdotally, assume poli... (read more)

2Denkenberger2y
This [https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjDrY6ykv_UAhVDaz4KHW70AmUQFgguMAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.stat.berkeley.edu%2F~aldous%2F157%2FPapers%2Fextreme_weather_resilience.pdf&usg=AFQjCNEy2MTX-5Q_hmiex9-xnNnFXbO_5w] says a trebling of grain prices is likely if there is an abrupt 10% food production shortfall. Rice price ~tripled [https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwiCsYLC8e7rAhVQgp4KHYoYDLwQFjAAegQIBRAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fao.org%2F3%2Fam172e%2Fam172e00.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0NkAxlYIOmdEwmlrO0h73o] in a year in 2007 - the shortfall was small but there were a lot of export restrictions. There has been some work on the correlation of food prices and riots and other political turmoil.
How do political scientists do good?

Hmmm. That is an interesting question.

I was thinking recently about how stable patronage networks are during currency collapses, which might bear on the question.

Very rapid state collapses have occurred when side lost access to arms, as in Afghanistan in 1992. Investigating state collapse instances to estimate how much economic or social damage causes state collapse should be possible.

The world wars probably contain the closest example of a middle-income country undergoing state-collapse. Come to think of it, you could make an argument that state collapse ... (read more)

2Denkenberger2y
Good questions-usually when EAs talk about loss of civilization, they mean a loss of electricity/industry globally, or a loss of cooperation outside the tribe globally (loss of cities, the anthropological definition of civilization). One recent 80,000 Hours podcast guest [https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/mark-lynas-climate-change-nuclear-energy/] estimated 10% chance of collapse of civilization with 2°C slow global warming. This [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/CcNY4MrT5QstNh4r7/cost-effectiveness-of-foods-for-global-catastrophes-even] has a survey with large variation in the percentage loss in value of the long-term future associated with full-scale nuclear war and with 10% agricultural shortfalls (e.g. regional nuclear war, such as India Pakistan). This [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/XA8QSCL7wZ973i6vr/agi-safety-and-losing-electricity-industry-resilience-cost] has a poll with large variation in the percentage loss in the value of long-term future associated with either 10% or global loss of electricity/industry. This [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/JQQAQrunyGGhzE23a/database-of-existential-risk-estimates] has a collection of existential risk estimates, and some relate to loss of civilization.
Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors

I have one criticism of the argument that coup-proofing prevalence is evidence for personality factors. Suppose that if people observe a game being played multiple times they are more likely to set aside their personal preferences and "play to win". So if I were the first dictator of Iraq I might say "no I'm not going to kill generals who come from different towns, that would be evil". And then get killed for it. And maybe the second dictator says the same thing. But by the time the third or fourth dictator rises to power he'l... (read more)

3MichaelA2y
To be clear, my argument was more like "coup-proofing prevalence doesn't seem like strong evidence against personality playing an important role". I.e., I don't think that it should reduce our belief that personality plays an important role. It is true that I think I'd see these behaviours as evidence for personality playing an important role. But I'm not sure, and I'm not seeing it as key evidence. I'd agree that a much larger number would as the 5th leader than as the 1st leader, in the scenario you describe. And I think this is a valuable point. But, in line with your final paragraph, I'd still bet that many people wouldn't; I think many people would simply step down, flee, or accept radical changes to the nature of their regime. And perhaps more importantly, I think personality influences whether someone tries to become a leader in the first place, and whether they succeed in that. So I expect a lot of people to not want to "do horrible things", recognise that pursuing this leadership position may require them to "do horrible things" along the way or to stay in power, and thus just not pursue those positions. (That said, I did say "I'd be willing to bet that a very large portion of people wouldn't engage in violent coup-proofing, even if they were in a situation where doing so would help them keep power." So there's a valid reason why you focused on how people would behave if they somehow landed in the leadership position, rather than how likely they are to enter those positions to begin with.)
Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors

Hmmm, that is a good question. Let me dig in more. Here are reasons to talk about others than Hitler Stalin and Mao

Coup Proofing is a common practice of dictators for political survival

Some behaviors of Hitler, Stalin and Mao have compelling institutional explanations that have become repeated behavior of long-ruling dictators. I'm thinking of coup proofing in particular. Coup proofing is a set of policies dictators enact to prevent a single small group from seizing power; rotatring or purging officers (Tukachevsky/Rommel) splitting the army into mul... (read more)

7MichaelA2y
Your comments about coup-proofing seem interesting and useful. I think the fact that more leaders engaged in violent coup-proofing (rather than it just being Hitler, Stalin, and Mao) should indeed provide weak evidence against the theory that the unusual (compared to the population as a whole) personalities of leaders plays a key role in whether violent coop-proofing occurs. This is because that theory would now need to claim that a larger number of leaders have personalities that are unusual in the relevant way, or that a lack of such unusual personalities was "made up for" by other factors in some cases. But I think that this fact would only serve as weak evidence, because it doesn't seem very implausible to claim that a fairly large number of dictators, or leaders of coup-threatened democracies, have personalities that are unusual in the relevant way. These are people in unusual positions which are arguably easier to get into if one is ruthlessly self-interested, so it wouldn't seem surprising (prima facie) if their average levels of ruthlessness-relevant traits was notably above population averages. Additionally, it seems worth distinguishing violent coup-proofing from coup-proofing as a whole. In terms of how well they might evidence malevolent traits, "rotating [...] officers" and "splitting the army into multiple factions/militias" seem quite different from the sorts of violent purges engaged in by e.g. Stalin. (It may well be that violent coup-proofing is very common as well; I'm just flagging that the distinction seems relevant for my purposes.) You also seem to imply that (a) these coup-proofing behaviours may have been rational things for a self-interested leader to do in those situations, and (b) this is reason to be careful in assuming that this is about personality. I think (a) is a good point. And I think there's some merit to (b), in the sense that this pushes against thinking something like "These leaders are just crazy and evil." But overall,
3MichaelA2y
Thanks for this comment. Your points (and counterpoints!) about changes in ideological motivation are very interesting. And I think it'd probably be good for me to spend some time engaging with evidence/arguments about how much ideology influenced Hitler, Stalin, and Mao's most "extreme" behaviours and whether/how much the influence of ideology has waned. And it does seem wise to think about that, and about more modern examples, if one is planning to communicate with the public, policymakers, or academics about this topic in a way that leans substantially on historical examples of dictators. (I'm not sure if anyone will actually do such communications, or emphasise those cases when doing so. It may, for example, make more sense to just focus on the psychological studies, or on examples from business.)
Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors

I'm compelled by this. That the difference is only 30% of 1 standard deviation means that lots of variation could be explained by other factors. Personality of the dictator could still explain lots of variation, even a majority. There could also be a relationship between dictator personality and allowances for dissent. Thanks for explaining that!

Aside, you would be more compelling if you talked about autocrats other than Hitler, Stalin and Mao.

3MichaelA2y
Do you mean talking about other autocrats as well, or instead of, talking about Hitler, Stalin, and Mao? If you mean "as well", I'd agree. I've already started looking at some others (as did David and Tobias, the authors of this post), and will hopefully do more of that. The reason for focusing mostly on those three so far is just that it takes time to learn about more, and those three were (I'd argue) huge factors in a large portion of all harms from political atrocities in the 20th century. If you mean "instead of", could you explain further why you say that?
Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors

Source: https://edisciplinas.usp.br/pluginfile.php/103226/mod_resource/content/1/James%20Vreeland%202008.PDF

Concerns with causation:

I worry about the underlying assumption that democracies don't encourage malevolent traits. So we observe less mass killings and rival killings in democracies than in dictatorships. One explanation is that democracies are selecting for anti-killing leaders. Another explanation is that malevolent leaders in democracies see little gain from killing while malevolent leaders in certain types of dictatorships see much gain ... (read more)

7MichaelA2y
Thanks for sharing that source. I tried to skim through to find the part most relevant to your claim, and found this: So I do think this source supports your claim. But I'd note that: * That data just covers 1985-1996. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao seem the most salient examples of potentially very malevolent individuals wielding great power and causing great harm, and each would be excluded from that data set. * I'm not saying that the study should've focused on an earlier period, or that there's some reason our predictions about the future would be better informed by an earlier 11 year period. * But I'd be more confident about extrapolations from the data set if it spanned a larger period of time. * And I think it would make sense for our predictions to draw on both that data and the observation of extreme harms under the one-party states of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. (The latter is just a sample of 3, but I believe it accounted for a large portion of all deaths in mass murders, famines, etc.) * The difference in averages doesn't look hugely substantial - ~30% of 1 standard deviation - even if it was statistically significant. * This seems like a further reason to also pay substantial attention to other observations, like harms under Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. (Again, this doesn't mean your claim was false, just that its evidence base and implications may be more limited than one might have thought.)
3MichaelA2y
I did recently think it might be interesting to look into Nixon as a case study in how, and how well, democratic institutions can mitigate the harm caused by leaders with high levels of dark tetrad traits. (I just think it might be such a case study, because I haven't yet really looked into evidence on Nixon's personality - this is just a guess so far.) Thanks for highlighting Lincoln too - I wouldn't have guessed he had high levels of dark traits, but I'll look into it. I'd definitely guess that the reasons there is less harm from malevolent leaders in democracies are both that democracies select for malevolence less, and that democracies don't allow/incentivise malevolent behaviours as much. In my head, I currently break intervention options in this cause area into: * Reducing how malevolent people are (via, e.g., very cautious and well thought-out and not-rushed genetic engineering) * Reducing the chances of malevolent people getting into positions where those traits create major risks (via, e.g., electoral reform, reducing instability and conflict) * Reducing the risks created when malevolent people get into those positions (via, e.g., checks and balances, maybe reducing centralisation of power) I had felt like this post implied all three of those categories, not just the first two. But now that I re-skim the Political interventions [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/LpkXtFXdsRd4rG8Kb/reducing-long-term-risks-from-malevolent-actors#Political_interventions] section, I see that that might not have been made very explicit. So that critique of yours may be valid. (And I definitely agree with your point, separate from how it relates to potential oversights of this post.) I definitely agree that: * it's important to consider multiple explanations of the various horrific or troubling behaviours * it can be easy to psychoanalyse/diagnose from a distance in a foolish way * the fundamental attribution error is worth keeping in mind here
Load More