Tobias_Baumann's Comments

Effective Altruism and Free Riding

Interesting, thanks for writing this up!

In practice, and for the EA community in particular, I think there are some reasons why the collective action problem isn't quite as bad as it may seem. For instance, with diminishing marginal returns on causes, the most efficient allocation will be a portfolio of interventions with weights roughly proportional to how much people care on average. But something quite similar can also happen in the non-cooperative equilibrium for some diversity of actors who all support the cause they're most excited about. (Maybe this is similar to case D in your analysis.)

Can you point to examples of concrete EA causes that you think get too much or too little resources due to these collective action problems?

AMA: Leah Edgerton, Executive Director of Animal Charity Evaluators

How many resources do you think the EAA movement (and ACE in particular) should invest in animal causes that are less "mainstream", such as invertebrate welfare or wild animal suffering?

What would convince you that it should be more (or less) of a focus?

Harsanyi's simple “proof” of utilitarianism

You're right; I meant to refer to the violation of individual rationality. Thanks!

Harsanyi's simple “proof” of utilitarianism

Thanks for writing this up! I agree that this result is interesting, but I find it unpersuasive as a normative argument. Why should morality be based on group decision-making principles? Why should I care about VNM rationality of the group?

Also, you suggest that this result lends support to common EA beliefs. I'm not so sure about that. First, it leads to preference utilitarianism, not hedonic utilitarianism. Second, EAs tend to value animals and future people, but they would arguably not count as part of the "group" in this framework(?). Third, I'm not sure what this tells you about the creation or non-creation of possible beings (cf. the asymmetry in population ethics).

Finally, it's worth pointing out that you could also start with different assumptions and get very different results. For instance, rather than demanding that the group is VNM rational, one could consider rational individuals in a group who bargain over what to do, and then look at bargaining solutions. And it turns out that the utilitarian approach of adding up utilities is *not* a bargaining solution, because it violates Pareto-optimality in some cases. Does that "disprove" total utilitarianism?

(Using e.g. the Nash bargaining solution with many participants probably leads to some form of prioritarianism or egalitarianism, because you'd have to ensure that everyone benefits.)

Thoughts on electoral reform

I'm not entirely convinced that VSE is the right approach. It's theoretically appealing, but practical considerations, like perceptions of the voting process and public acceptance / "legitimacy" of the result, might be more important. Voters aren't utilitarian robots.

I was aware of the simulations you mentioned but I didn't check them in detail. I suspect that these results are very sensitive to model assumptions, such as tactical voting behaviour. But it would be interesting to see more work on VSE.

What EAs definitely shouldn't do, in my opinion, is to spend considerable resources discrediting those alternatives to one's own preferred system, as FairVote has repeatedly done with respect to approval voting. Much more is gained by displacing plurality than is lost by replacing it with a suboptimal alternative (for all reasonable alternatives to plurality).

Strongly agree with this!

Should Longtermists Mostly Think About Animals?

If you think animals on average have net-negative lives, the primary value in preventing x-risks might not be ensuring human existence for humans’ sake, but rather ensuring that humans exist into the long-term future to steward animal welfare, to reduce animal suffering, and to move all animals toward having net-positive lives.

This assumes that (future) humans will do more to help animals than to harm them. I think many would dispute that, considering how humans usually treat animals (in the past and now). It is surely possible that future humans would be much more compassionate and act to reduce animal suffering, but it's far from clear, and it's also quite possible that there will be something like factory farming on an even larger scale.

UK donor-advised funds

I looked into this a while ago and ended up with a similar conclusion. The main options (to my knowledge) are NPT-UK, Prism the Gift Fund, and CAF's giving account.

Their fees all seemed too high for me to actually open a DAF (although sometimes it's not transparent and you're just supposed to get in touch). In particular, yearly fees eat up a significant fraction of the money if you leave it in for decades, so it seems unsuitable for such plan. It's probably so expensive because there are relatively few people who are interested in such accounts, and there is a lot of administrative work done by the fund (Gift Aid etc.).

Next Steps in Invertebrate Welfare, Part 3: Understanding Attitudes and Possibilities

Thanks for writing this up!

In this regard, Michael Greger (of Nutrition Facts) argues forcefully that anti-honey advocacy hurts the vegan movement. Many people apparently have trouble ascribing morally valuable states to cows and pigs. The idea that bees might suffer (and that we should care about their suffering) strikes these people as crazy. If an average person thinks that a small part of vegan ‘ideology’ is crazy, motivated reasoning will easily allow this thought to infect their perception of the rest of the vegan worldview. Hence, the knowledge that vegans care about bees may lead many people to show less compassion toward cows and pigs than they otherwise would[5].

Is there evidence that this is a significant effect? There are many lines of motivated reasoning, and if you avoid this one, perhaps people will just find another. My impression is that people who reject an idea or ideology because of some association with something 'crazy' are actually often just opposed to the idea/ideology in general, and would still be opposed if the 'crazy' thing wasn't around.

Also, there is an effect in the opposite direction from moving the Overton window, or making others look more moderate. (Cf. )

In sum, even if invertebrate welfare is a worthwhile cause, several factors may prevent us from considering this issue properly. Additionally, there is the worry that rushing into a direct advocacy campaign may create hard-to-reverse lock-in effects. If the initial message is suboptimal, these lock-in effects can impose substantial costs. Hence, directly advocating for invertebrate welfare at this time might be actively counterproductive, both to the invertebrate welfare cause area and effective altruism more generally[11].

While I agree that we should be very careful about publicity at this point, I feel like there might still be opportunities for thoughtful advocacy. It seems not implausible that we could find angles that are mainstream-compatible and begin to normalise concern for invertebrates - e.g. extending welfare laws to lobsters.

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