I'm one of the Philly group organizers, with a BA in Sociology from Haverford College. Currently building career capital while doing EA projects on the side. I have a background in social movement theory and structural functionalism.

Current Projects:

  • Running the Local Career Advice Network
  • Effective Environmentalism community building

vaidehi_agarwalla's Comments

vaidehi_agarwalla's Shortform

Collection of Constraints in EA

Systemic change, global poverty eradication, and a career plan rethink: am I right?

Thanks for this write-up, it's nice to have an opportunity to discuss Hickel's book. I haven't yet finished the book (I've yet to read the recommendations section) but here are a few thoughts I had so far:

1) The number of people around the world in absolute poverty is increasing, not decreasing

Overall, what I learnt from this section (my charitable takeaway) is:

  • 1a) and 1b) are a reminder that organisations like the World Bank and IMF have strong incentives to make themselves look good by changing the goalposts. We should be consistent about dates & metrics when discussing longitudinal changes in poverty
  • 1c) is a reminder that the IPL is not the bar for a decent quality of life, and that we should be more demanding of poverty eradication efforts.
  • We should probably look at poverty rates over time by region, or at the very least exclude China. OurWorldInData's history of poverty charts on this it contains data on multiple poverty lines. Here is my summary of the extreme poverty line ($1.90 per day):
    • Subsaharan Africa (1 billion in 2015): A drop in relative poverty from ~60% to ~40% from 1990s to 2015. An increase in absolute extreme poverty from ~280 to ~412 million people.
    • South Asia (1.7 billion in 2013): Absolute improvements in extreme poverty from 513 to 274 million people from 1981 to 2013, and relative improvements of 55% to 16%.
    • East Asia & Pacific (2 billion in 2015): An extreme drop in relative poverty from ~80% to ~2%, and a drop in absolute poverty from 1.1 billion to 47 million people.
    • Latin America & the Caribbean (620 million in 2015): An drop in relative poverty from ~13% to ~4%, and 49 to 24 million people.
    • Proxy for South East Asia - Philippines and Indonesia (101 million in 2015, 263 million in 2017): A drop in relative poverty in Indonesia from ~70% to ~6%, and 115 to 15 million people. A drop in relative poverty in the Philippines from ~28% to ~8%, and 15 to 8 million people.

With the exception of Subsaharan Africa, all other regions have seen decreases in absolute poverty, and all regions have seen drops in relative poverty. Even if you look at higher poverty lines that are there in the chart, there is a similar (but less extreme) positive growth trajectory.

And this is my major issue with his choice to use absolute poverty rather than relative poverty, which he justifies using because this was the original goalpost, and the way he presents the situation, which I think is a bit misleading. I don't think this is a very strong reason to use that numbers, I think that consider. The decrease in extreme poverty in Asia (specifically South Asia, if we are to exclude China) has been a real improvement, even if many are still living in poverty.

There is this chart which shows the world decrease in extreme poverty split up by regions and a projection of stagnation in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa if those economies stagnate.

What are the implications of this?

  • It makes me wary of Hickel's overall argument, and makes me concerned his narrative doesn't fully make sense (although individual parts of his arguments may be true). I don't think that the second part of his argument is actually invalidated by the above if we just change the argument to be more accurate:
    • Hickel's claim: Neocolonialisms has prevented the absolute decrease in extreme poverty for countries that experienced it.
    • (in my opinion) The more defensible claim: Neocolonialism has slowed down the rate of relative decrease in extreme poverty for countries that experienced it.
  • Thus, in both cases neocolonialism is the cause for a counterfactual where the world is much better, my claim is less extreme than Hickel's. I haven't spent too much time on the claims he makes in the neocolonialism section yet, although I also was shocked by the number of coups, and agree with your comment that he may have overlooked the negative aspects of some of the regimes.

I'd be curious to know what you find out from your research!

vaidehi_agarwalla's Shortform

This quote from Kelsey Piper:

Maybe pretty early on, it just became obvious that there wasn’t a lot of value in preaching to people on a topic that they weren’t necessarily there for, and that I had a lot of thoughts on the conversations people were already having.
Then I think one thing you can do to share any reasoning system, but it works particularly well for effective altruism is just to apply it consistently, in a principled way, to problems that people care about. Then, they’ll see whether your tools look like useful tools. If they do, then they’ll be interested in learning more about that.
My ideal effective altruist movement had insightful nuanced, productive, takes on lots and lots of other things so that people could be like, "Oh, I see how effective altruists have tools for answering questions. I want the people who have tools for answering questions to teach me about those tools. I want to know what they think the most important questions are. I want to sort of learn about their approach."
The 80,000 Hours podcast should host debates

I would love to see events or podcasts for good-faith debates on important topics (even those that fall outside of the top EA causes) from any EA-aligned people or organisations.

I think it could help us engage productively with audiences we don't usually engage with, and is a great demonstrating our values/methods to a broader audience and engaging with people we don't usually engage with.

As an example, EA Philadelphia hosted an animal welfare debate on Abolitionism vs Welfarism a few months ago (which you can view here), which went really well and was one of our highest attended events.

vaidehi_agarwalla's Shortform

Mini Collection - Non-typical EA Movement Building

Basically, these are ways of spreading EA ideas, philosophies or furthering concrete EA goals in ways that are different from the typical community building models that local groups use.

Suggestions welcome!

Five Ways To Prioritize Better

Thanks for posting this, I found the concrete examples really helpful. I've been trying to communicate similar concepts but haven't done a very good job of it - now I can just send them this post instead of trying to explain them myself!

Geographic diversity in EA

Agreed with much of Brian's comment, and I've also PMed you to discuss more. (If others are interested, please reach out!)

Geographic diversity in EA

Agreed with a lot of the points you've made here. I really liked the point about different geographic regions where there may be extremely high poverty. Some of the poorest Indian states have population sizes and poverty levels comparable or worse than that of some of the poorest African countries. Of course, there are many EA organisations in India, but there may be similar regions in other countries where EA is less active.

One of the potential challenges of doing projects in different countries is a lack of EA resources and networks in those regions, so initial costs may be high. Also, entering policy roles could be challenging if you're the only one promoting an EA-type mindset, and it could lead to burnout or frustration if you're unable to make change

One concrete idea to try to reduce some of these uncertainties could be to research opportunities in a country, which could both help you determine the best opportunities in your country, but also help others in a similar spot.

  • Doing high-level cause prioritisation on how your country may have a comparative advantage making traction on a particular cause area. Some thoughts on an MVP for cause area research.
  • Conducting expert interviews on those promising cause areas to understand the ways you could contribute to this cause area. These could include people working in industry, policy, or NGOs. Questions you could ask experts.
  • Reading up existing research on your country, if any exists. Organisations like JPAL and CGD have done research on the Global Health & Development/IIDM side for a number of countries.

The biggest challenge with this type of reserach is evaluating the impact such roles have, but this is broadly true for many EA roles.

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