Tobias_Baumann's Comments

How Much Leverage Should Altruists Use?

The drawdowns of major ETFs on this (e.g. EMB / JNK) during the corona crash or 2008 are roughly 2/3 to 3/4 of how much stocks (the S&P 500) went down. So I agree the diversification benefit is limited. The question, bracketing the point on leverage extra cost, is whether the positive EV of emerging markets bonds / high yield bonds is more or less than 2/3 to 3/4 of the positive EV of stocks. That's pretty hard to say - there's a lot of uncertainty on both sides. But if that is the case and one can borrow at very good rates (e.g. through futures or box spread financing) then the best portfolio should be a levered up combination of bonds & stocks rather than just stocks.

FWIW, I'm in a similar position regarding my personal portfolio; I've so far not invested in these asset classes but am actively considering it.

How Much Leverage Should Altruists Use?

What are your thoughts on high-yield corporate bonds or emerging markets bonds? This kind of bond offers non-zero interest rates but of course also entail higher risk. Also, these markets aren't (to my knowledge) distorted by the Fed buying huge amounts of bonds.

Theoretically, there should be some diversification benefit from adding this kind of bond, though it's all positively correlated. But unfortunately, ETFs on these kinds of bonds have much higher fees.

How should longtermists think about eating meat?

Peter's point is that it makes a lot of sense to have certain norms about not causing serious direct harm, and one should arguably follow such norms rather than expecting some complex longtermist cost-benefit analysis.

Put differently, I think it is very important, from a longtermist perspective, to advance the idea that animals matter and that we consequently should not harm them (particularly for reasons as frivolous as eating meat).

Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors

Thanks for commenting!

I agree that early detection in children is an interesting idea. If certain childhood behaviours can be shown to reliably predict malevolence, then this could be part of a manipulation-proof test. However, as you say, there are many pitfalls to be avoided.

I am not well versed in the literature but my impression is that things like torturing animals, bullying, general violence, or callous-unemotional personality traits (as assessed by others) are somewhat predictive of malevolence. But the problem is that you'll probably also get many false positives from those indicators.

Regarding environmental or developmental interventions, we write this in Appendix B:

Malevolent personality traits are plausibly exacerbated by adverse (childhood) environments—e.g. ones rife with abuse, bullying, violence or poverty (cf. Walsh & Wu, 2008). Thus, research to identify interventions to improve such environmental factors could be valuable. (However, the relevant areas appear to be very crowded. Also, the shared environment appears to have a rather small effect on personality, including personality disorders (Knopik et al., 2018, ch. 16; Johnson et al., 2008; Plomin, 2019; Torgersen, 2009).)

Perhaps improving parenting standards and childhood environments could actually be a fairly promising EA cause. For instance, early advocacy against hitting children may have been a pretty effective lever to make society more civilised and less violent in general.

Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors

Thanks for the comment!

I would guess that having better tests of malevolence, or even just a better understanding of it, may help with this problem. Perhaps a takeaway is that we should not just raise awareness (which can backfire via “witch hunts”), but instead try to improve our scientific understanding and communicate that to the public, which hopefully makes it harder to falsely accuse people.

In general, I don’t know what can be done about people using any means necessary to smear political opponents. It seems that the way to address this is to have good norms favoring “clean” political discourse, and good processes to find out whether allegations are true; but it’s not clear what can be done to establish such norms.

Adapting the ITN framework for political interventions & analysis of political polarisation

Great work, thanks for sharing! It's great to see this getting more attention in EA.

Just for those deciding whether to read the full thesis: it analyses four possible interventions to reduce polarisation: (1) switching from FPTP to proportional representation, (2) making voting compulsory, (3) increasing the presence of public service broadcasting, and (4) creating deliberative citizen's assemblies. Olaf's takeaway (as far as I understand it) is that those interventions seem compelling and fairly tractable but the evidence of possible impacts is often not very strong.

My thoughts on Toby Ord’s existential risk estimates

Well, historically, there have been quite a few pandemics that killed more than 10% of people, e.g. the Black Death or Plague of Justinian. There's been no pandemic that killed everyone.

Is your point that it's different for anthropogenic risks? Then I guess we could look at wars for historic examples. Indeed, there have been wars that killed something on the order of 10% of people, at least in the warring nations, and IMO that is a good argument to take the risk of a major war quite seriously.

But there have been far more wars that killed fewer people, and none that caused extinction. The literature usually models the number of casualties as a Pareto distribution, which means that the probability density is monotonically decreasing in the number of deaths. (For a broader reference class of atrocities, genocides, civil wars etc., I think the picture is similar.)

But we don't in fact see lots of unknown risks killing even 0.1% of the population.

Smoking, lack of exercise, and unhealthy diets each kill more than 0.1% of the population each year. Coronavirus may kill 0.1% in some countries. The advent of cars in the 20th century resulted in 60 million road deaths, which is maybe 0.5% of everyone alive over that time (I haven't checked this in detail). That can be seen as an unknown from the perspective of someone in 1900. Granted, some of those are more gradual than the sort of catastrophe people have in mind - but actually I'm not sure why that matters.

Looking at individual nations, I'm sure you can find many examples of civil wars, famines, etc. killing 0.1% of the population of a certain country, but far fewer examples killing 10% (though there are some). I'm not claiming the latter is 100x less likely but it is clearly much less likely.

You could have made the exact same argument in 1917, in 1944, etc. and you would have been wildly wrong.

I don't understand this. What do you think the exact same argument would have been, and why was that wildly wrong?

Coronavirus and non-humans: How is the pandemic affecting animals used for human consumption?

Interesting, thanks!

However, I disagree with the idea that coronavirus doesn't have anything to do with animal farming.

Yeah, I wrote this based on having read that the origins of coronavirus involved bats. After reading more, it seems not that simple because farmed animals may have enabled the virus to spread between species.

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