Thank you both for your thoughtful answers.
To clarify, I don't have a strong opinion on this comparison myself, and would love to hear more points of view on this. Sadly I'm not aware of any reading materials on this topic, but have heard the following arguments made in one on one conversations:
Finally, the fact that I listed arguments in favor of nonprofit entrepreneurship over for-profit entrepreneurship may give the impression that this is my opinion, so I want to clarify again that it is not and I am highly uncertain about this topic.lincolnq on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!
Yeah, that seems right to me, and is a good model that predicts the existing nonprofit startup ideas! My point is that it seems like a very narrow slice of all value-producing ideas.fjehn on The end of the Bronze Age as an example of a sudden collapse of civilization
Thank you. Yeah when I wrote this down I was a bit shocked myself on how many bad things can happen at the same time.
You're are right that the argument about the comparison with the other eruption is a bit flaky. The problem is that this is so long ago and most written sources were destroyed. So, we have to rely on climatic reconstructions and those are hard. Therefore, I found accounts that both eruptions were of similar strength, but also some which argued that one of them was stronger than the other. However, the earlier eruption happened smack in the middle of the Bronze Age empires, while the one during the collapse happened in Iceland. So, I would also be very interested in the opinion of someone about this who spend a career on it.
To your second argument: I agree that we have vastly more ressources and knowledge now. The problem is that it seems to me that our power to destroy ourselves increased as well and the society seems much more unlikely to recover when a really bad disaster would strike. So, my feeling is that stabilizing and destabilizing factors increased in a similar magnitude.
Thank you for the article from Cowen. I see this danger as well. Such topics always remind of this article. It is mainly a rant about programmers, but it also touches on the problem that much of our infrastructure will be very difficult to restart once its stopped, because so much of it are just improvised stopgap solutions.meerpirat on The end of the Bronze Age as an example of a sudden collapse of civilization
Wow, vulcano erupting, a famine, an earthquake, a pandemic, civil wars and rioting sea people, that's quite a task. Really interesting read, thanks for writing it! And the graph ended up really nicely.
But this climatic approach does not explain everything. The civilizations in this part of earth already survived similar events in the past. For example the destruction of the Minoan civilization on Crete (which is in the middle of the eastern Mediterranean) was caused by another major volcanic eruption (Marinatos, 1939). However, all other civilizations survived mostly unharmed. This indicates that also the societal structure comes into play.
This argument didn't seem super watertight to me. There seems to be a lot of randomness involved, and causal factors at play that are unrelated to societal structure, no? For example maybe the other eruption was a little bit weaker, or the year before yielded enough food to store? Or maybe the wind was stronger in that year or something? Would be interesting to hear why the mono- and/or some of the duo-causal historians disagree with societal structure mattering.
However, we also have more resources and more knowledge than the people in the Bronze Age.
I wondered how much this is an understatement. I have no idea of how people thought back then, only the vague idea that the people that spend the most time trying to make sense of things like this were religious leaders and highly confused about bascially everything?
Lastly, your warnings of tipping points and the problems around the breakdown of trade reminded me of these arguments from Tyler Cowen, warning that the current trade war between China and the US and the strains from the current pandemic could lead to a sudden breakdown of international trade, too.ben_kuhn on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!
Hmm. This argument seems like it only works if there are no market failures (i.e. ideas where it's possible to capture a decent fraction of the value created), and it seems like most nonprofits address some sort of market failure? (e.g. "people do not understand the benefits of vitamin-fortified food," "vaccination has strong positive externalities"...)ben_kuhn on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!
I agree with most of what Lincoln said and would also plug Why and how to start a for-profit company serving emerging markets [EA · GW] as material on this, if you haven't read it yet :)
Can you elaborate on the "various reasons" that people argue for-profit entrepreneurship is less promising than nonprofit entrepreneurship or provide any pointers on reading material? I haven't run across these arguments.ben_kuhn on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!
What are common failure cases/traps to avoid
I don't know about "most common" as I think it varies by company, but the worst one for me was allowing myself to get distracted by problems that were more rewarding in the short term, but less important or leveraged. I wrote a bit about this in Attention is your scarcest resource.
How much should I be directly coding vs "architecting" vs process management
Related to the above, you should never be coding anything that's even remotely urgent (because it'll distract you too much from non-coding problems). For the first while, you should probably try not to code at all because learning how not to suck as a manager will be more than full-time. Later, it's reasonable to work in "important but not urgent" stuff in your slack time, as long as you have the discipline not to get distracted by it.
Architecting vs process management depends on what your problems are, what kind of leader you want to be and what you can delegate to other people.
How do I approach hiring?
If you are hiring, hiring is your #1 priority and you should spend as much time and attention on it as is practical. Hiring better people has a magical way of solving many of your other problems.
Hiring can also be really demoralizing (because you are constantly rejecting people and/or being rejected), so it's hard to have the conviction to put more effort into it until you've seen firsthand how much of a difference it makes.
For me, the biggest hiring improvement was getting our final interview to a point where I was quite confident that anyone who passed it would be a good engineer at Wave. This took many iterations, but lowering the risk of a bad hire meant that (a) I wasn't distracted by stressing out about tricky hire/no-hire decisions, (b) we could indiscriminately put people through our hiring funnel and trust that the process would come to a reasonable verdict. After this change, our 10th-percentile hire has been about as good as our 50th-percentile hire previously, and we went from 4 engineers to 25 in a bit over a year.
I expect the exact same thing goes for investing in people once you've hired them, but I'm not as good at that yet so don't have concrete advice.
Just generally, what would you have imparted on past-you?
Thanks for writing, I really enjoyed reading this and it makes me feel happy that you found the EA Student Summit so valuable! :)ofer on N-95 For All: A Covid-19 Policy Proposal
Other than governments' willingness to pay, I think another important factor here is the popular stance that it would be immoral for manufacturers to sell respirators at a price that is substantially above marginal cost (regardless of market price). Maybe if manufacturers were "allowed" to sell respirators for $3 (without a major PR/regulatory risk) their marginal profit would be x20 larger than normal, and would draw major investments and efforts into manufacturing respirators.
[EDIT: In support of this, consider the following (from 3M's website, dated 2020-03-31): "3M has not changed the prices we charge for 3M respirators as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak."]
It is now 7 months later, and you still generally cannot buy N-95 masks.
I'm not sure what you mean by "cannot buy". The question is at what price it is feasible to buy good respirators. (I think at ~8-11 USD per respirator it's probably possible to buy good respirators, at least in the US and Israel).halstead on N-95 For All: A Covid-19 Policy Proposal
Thanks for this - really interesting post! A quick point on the moral hazard worry. I think there is a confusion in many moral hazard arguments between (1) "this intervention would increase risky behaviour", and (2) "this intervention would increase risky behaviour, which would thereby make the net benefits of the intervention too low to be worthwhile or even negative". (2) is the one we should be worried about - in other places, I have tried to call this a 'pernicious moral hazard' to distinguish it from (1) as it is easy to move to quickly from showing that there is a moral hazard to showing that the intervention is a bad idea.
While it is possible that widespread use of N-95 masks would increase risky behaviour, it also seems very unlikely to make the net benefits of the intervention not worthwhile. I have looked at several real world examples of moral hazards and struggled to find a case where the moral hazard effects made the intervention not worthwhile. (One possible exception is improvements in the quality of american football helmets which enabled people to tackle other players with their head, which led to extra concussions.) It doesn't seem plausible that what you propose is a pernicious moral hazard