What is the increase in expected value of effective altruist Wayne Hsiung being mayor of Berkeley instead of its current incumbent?

post by DonyChristie · 2020-08-07T01:50:34.172Z · EA · GW · 8 comments

This is a question post.

Contents

  Answers
    Gregory_Lewis
    Elizabeth
    Dale
    Dicentra
    deluks917
    deluks917
None
8 comments

Please offer me a quantitative estimate and supporting reasoning what you think the additional value is of having an EA like Wayne as mayor of Berkeley. In dollars, QALYs-- whatever makes sense to you.

Wayne is the leader of Direct Action Everywhere. He is now running for mayor of Berkeley.

Wayne has told me he wants to use evidence-based reasoning for deciding city policy and has identified as EA for years. I am reasonably confident he would take actions in favor of cause areas like animal welfare, poverty, and climate change.

Consider immediate impact and tail impact / n-order effects, the latter which may predominate. e.g. What are the chances this will unlock additional political wins for us that would otherwise be unavailable?

This is very important for deciding whether people in the EA movement (particularly in Berkeley) should coordinatedly help him get elected, or not (and whether I should spearhead that happening, or not).

His campaign site: https://www.wayneformayor.com/.

Answers

answer by Gregory_Lewis · 2020-08-07T14:02:26.822Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I recall Hsiung being in favour of conducting disruptive protests against EAG 2015:

I honestly think this is an opportunity. "EAs get into fight with Elon Musk over eating animals" is a great story line that would travel well on both social and possibly mainstream media.
...

Organize a group. Come forward with an initially private demand (and threaten to escalate, maybe even with a press release). Then start a big fight if they don't comply.

Even if you lose, you still win because you'll generate massive dialogue!

It is unclear whether the motivation was more 'blackmail threats to stop them serving meat' or 'as Elon Musk will be there we can co-opt this to raise our profile'. Whether Hsiung calls himself an EA or not, he evidently missed the memo on 'eschew narrow minded obnoxious defection against others in the EA community'.

For similar reasons, it seems generally wiser for a community not to help people who previously wanted to throw it under the bus.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-08-08T08:16:27.068Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Where does this quote come from?

comment by Habryka · 2020-08-08T09:11:20.702Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This was posted to a relatively large (> 100 people) but private FB groups where various people who were active in EA and animal activism were talking to each other. I can confirm that it is accurate (since I am still part of the group).

comment by Buck · 2020-10-11T04:44:24.666Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think he wouldn't have thought of this as "throwing the community under the bus". I'm also pretty skeptical that this consideration is strong enough to be the main consideration here (as opposed to eg the consideration that Wayne seems way more interested in making the world better from a cosmopolitan perspective than other candidates for mayor).

answer by Elizabeth · 2020-08-07T18:30:05.048Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I find "Wayne has told me he wants to use evidence-based reasoning for deciding city policy and has identified as EA for years" to be extraordinarily weak evidence. Anyone can say either of those things.

comment by jackmalde · 2020-08-07T18:59:14.093Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Well I guess someone who hasn't heard of EA couldn't say that.

So I don't think that statement is quite as useless as you do. It shows that he:

A) Knows about EA

B) Has at least implied that he wants to use EA thinking in the role

EAs generally tend to think that the cause areas they focus on and the prioritisation they do within those cause areas allow them to be many magnitudes more effective than a typical non-EA. So I might expect him, in expectation, to be more effective than a typical mayor.

I do take your point that that alone isn't much and we will want to examine his track record and specific proposals in more detail.

comment by Elizabeth · 2020-10-08T17:06:56.965Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
B) Has at least implied that he wants to use EA thinking in the role

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. Do you disagree with that, in general or for Hsuing in particular?

comment by jackmalde · 2020-10-08T20:24:23.920Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It’s certainly not strong evidence, but it is evidence. All other things equal I would vote for someone who claims they are an effective altruist over someone who doesn’t.

Politicians do have at least some incentive to deliver on promises. If they don’t it should reduce the probability of them getting elected / tarnish their reputation. I accept this is certainly not a perfect rule by any means but it’s still got a grain of truth.

Overall I don’t take much from him saying he’s an EA, but that doesn’t mean I take nothing at all.

comment by Timothy_Liptrot · 2020-10-08T22:04:31.524Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

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 read, and no efficiency campaigns switched to security after election.

That means the voter choice is simple. Even if you belief a politician might switch off B, the politician who is campaigning on B is always more likely to do B than the politician campaigning on A. This applies to head to head elections only ofc.

So the optimal decision theoretic choice is to support the politician who advocates for your policy in the election.

comment by Elizabeth · 2020-10-09T04:20:13.848Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

But "I will use evidence based thinking" isn't a policy, and is completely unverifiable.

comment by Timothy_Liptrot · 2020-10-09T14:33:33.728Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by Ozzie Gooen (oagr) · 2020-10-09T03:51:48.100Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

From a few conversations with him, I think he semi-identifies as an EA. He's definitely known about EA for a while, there is evidence for that (just search his name in the EA Forum search). 

I think he would admit that he doesn't fully agree with EAs on many issues.  I think that most EAs I know wouldn't exactly classify him as an EA if they were to know him, but as EA-adjacent.

He definitely knows far more about it than most politicians.

I would trust that he would use "evidence-based reasoning". I'm sure he has for DXE. However, "evidence-based reasoning" by itself is a pretty basic claim at this point. It's almost meaningless at this stage, I think all politicians can claim this.

comment by MichaelStJules · 2020-10-16T22:50:23.562Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

He has in the past used evidence-based reasoning in other EA-related issues, particularly for the animal space which is his focus. Well, only one example comes to mind specifically, surrounding the debate on cage-free campaigns with Open Phil. See here, here and here.

I'm personally skeptical of the disruption tactics DxE has used (under his lead). There was another debate on that, starting here , which suggested their disruption tactics might do more harm than good (DxE's official response was taken down , but you can find it here. Wayne didn't write it.). I'm more supportive of their open rescue work, but I think evidence there is also lacking.

EDIT: I would also see the other comments here about DxE being cult-like under his leadership, though, and other criticism in the piece Dale shared.

comment by Buck · 2020-10-11T04:42:08.887Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Wayne at least sort-of identified as an EA in 2015, eg hosting EA meetups at his house. And he's been claiming to be interested in evidence-based approaches to making the world better since at least then.

answer by Dale · 2020-10-08T01:28:34.816Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Here is a recent newspaper article describing Wayne as using cult-like techniques and abuse with DxE, and also here.

answer by Dicentra · 2020-10-09T17:57:18.570Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't have a quantitative estimate that isn't extremely made up, but right now, I'm in favor of Wayne winning the Berkeley election. I know there were accusations of DxE being culty and fucked up in various ways, and I believe most of them, though I'm not particularly in the know. I also agree that it would have been better if Wayne had handled CEA's reversal on serving meat at EAG more cooperatively. I don't think DxE's strategy is super compelling. I don't think Wayne is a perfect candidate, but I don't think his wrongdoings/level of uncooperativeness are out of distribution for a politician; they actually seem pretty middle-of-the-road in severity, though perhaps unusually lurid and interesting to discuss.

Those things just seem way way less important to me than his stance on farm animal welfare. It seems like one candidate is strongly against the mass torture and killing of sentient beings, and has worked hard to stop it, and as far as I can tell, the other doesn't particularly have a stance. It feels directionally analogous to me to choosing between a vaguely sketchy candidate who is actively anti-racist before the civil rights movement, or pro women's suffrage before women had the chance to vote, or in favor of letting in Jewish refugees during the Holocaust and one who isn't (and who may or may not be sketchy). (I don't expect this argument to resonate for people who don't put a lot of moral weight on animal lives). I don't know how he'd do good for animals as mayor (I know he wants to ban meat, don't know how likely that is to work), and I'd be interested in arguments that it's implausible he'd do much good, but by default it doesn't seem crazy.

I don't know much about the incumbent; I'd guess we know more about Wayne's shortcomings than his, because Wayne has been more adjacent to EA. I also think Wayne has shown great energy and had some meaningful successes, e.g. in community organizing, and getting fur banned in Berkeley, that are indicative of him being an agenty person. My current silly guess based on not much at all is that electing him in expectation saves tens of thousands of farm animals from torture.

My biggest worry is that Wayne's work will backfire and have a negative effect on efforts to help farmed animals, e.g. because he gets elected but handles things poorly.

[edited just to fix a typo]

comment by DonyChristie · 2020-10-10T17:55:26.049Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for this answer! I liked how reflectively balanced it was on the different considerations and how it tracked the object-level sentient beings at stake.

answer by deluks917 · 2020-10-17T03:53:15.022Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am a rather strong proponent of publishing credible accusations and calling out community leadership if they engage in abuse enabling behavior. I published a long post on Abuse in the Rationality/EA Community. I also publicly disclosed details of a smaller incident. People have a right to know what they are getting into. If community processes are not taking abuse seriously in the absence of public pressure then information has to be made public. Though anyone doing this should be careful.

Several people are discussing allegations of DXE being abusive and/or a cult. I joined in early 2020. I have not personally observed or heard any credible accusations of abusive or abuse enabling behavior by the leadership of DXE during the time I have been a member. It is hard for me to know what happened in 2016 or 2017.

Given my history in the rationality you should trust that if I had evidence I could post about systematic abuse within DXE I would post it. Even if I did not have the consent of victims to share evidence I will still publicly state I knew of abuse. I will note it is highly plausible DXE is acting badly behind closed doors. If this becomes clear to me I will certainly let people know.

(This is explicitly not a claim there is no evidence I find concerning. But I think you should be quite critical of most organizations and your eyes open for signs of abusive behavior.)

answer by deluks917 · 2020-08-07T03:36:00.463Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am a member of DXE and have interacted with Wayne. I think if you care about animals the amount of QALYs gained would be massive. In general Wayne has always seemed like a careful, if overly optimistic, thinker to me. He always tries to follow good leadership practices. Even if you are not concerned with animal welfare I think Wayne would be very effective at advancing good policies.

Wayne being mayor would result in huge improvements for climate change policy. Having a city with a genuine green policy is worth a lot of QALYs. My only real complaint about Wayne is that he is too optimistic but that isn't the most serious issue for a Mayor.

comment by Jonas Vollmer · 2020-08-21T07:53:57.924Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I haven't checked the claims myself, but "follow good leadership practices" seems to be a heavily disputed claim. Some people claim DxE is a cult, see e.g. here.

comment by Ozzie Gooen (oagr) · 2020-10-09T03:36:34.116Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think it's possible to use good leadership practices and bad leadership practices.  I think the success of DxE has shown that he can do some things quite well.  

I've met Wayne before. I get the impression is he quite intelligent and has definitely been familiar with EA for some time. At the same time, DXE has used much more intense / controversial practices in general than many EA orgs, many practices others would be very uncomfortable with. Very arguably this contributed to their successes and failures. 

Sometimes I'm the most scared of the people who are the most capable. 

I really don't know much about Wayne, all things considered. I could imagine a significant amount of investigation concluding that he'd either be really great or fairly bad.

comment by Jonas Vollmer · 2020-10-09T18:54:26.174Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

"really great or fairly bad" sounds like you're ruling out "really bad", but I think the worst outcomes are produced by combining very good with very bad leadership practices. If you're bad at everything, you're unlikely to have much of a negative impact because nobody will pay attention to you. So I would have said "really great or really bad". I agree with you otherwise.

comment by Thomas Kwa (tkwa) · 2020-10-08T18:22:49.809Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This answer would be strengthened by one or two examples of his careful thinking, or especially by a counterpoint to the claim that DxE uses psychological manipulation techniques on its members.

8 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-08-07T07:47:48.941Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Dony: Since we just posted our policy on political Forum content [EA · GW], I wanted to let you know that this post will be kept in the "Personal Blog" category (as it endorses a specific electoral candidate). However, I think it's an excellent question, and I would encourage you to promote this post on Facebook/Reddit/etc.

 

Personally, I doubt Wayne's victory would "unlock additional political wins" to any great extent; Berkeley is a small city, and I can't think of many (any?) other EA leaders who want to become elected leaders.

I do think it would be interesting to see how EA ideas could be implemented on the level of city policy, and Wayne could be the source of a lot of positive media coverage of EA ideas (journalists like Berkeley, and Wayne has solid media experience, e.g. his Ezra Klein interview).

However, there's also some risk that Berkeley's politics are such that a mayor whose ideas aren't in line with those of e.g. most City Council members might struggle a lot. Berkeley is one of the most progressive cities in the U.S.: if they haven't made strong progress in addressing poverty/climate change already, I'm not sure what Wayne's leadership would add.

On that topic, I'm curious about how Wayne's policies and approach differ from those of the current mayor. I can see what he wants to do on his site, but not what he thinks Jesse Arreguín is wrong about (or what he hasn't implemented well as mayor, even if he had the right ideas).

comment by MichaelStJules · 2020-08-22T03:21:05.355Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Some other EAs or people close to EA have run:

comment by Jonas Vollmer · 2020-10-09T18:58:53.508Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
  • Meret Schneider, who has been interested in EA and animal welfare, and works at EAF's spin-off Sentience Politics, is a Swiss MP.
comment by Linch · 2020-08-08T08:40:45.230Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I can't think of many (any?) other EA leaders who want to become elected leaders.

While this was before contemporary EA, Peter Singer has run for office before:

In 1992, he became a founding member of the Victorian Greens.[43] He has run for political office twice for the Greens: in 1994 he received 28% of the vote in the Kooyong by-election, and in 1996 he received 3% of the vote when running for the Senate (elected by proportional representation).[43] Before the 1996 election, he co-authored a book The Greens with Bob Brown.[44]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Singer#Political_views

Of course, some of our even earlier predecessors, like the old school English utilitarians, or the Chinese Mohists, were substantially more interested in direct politics (rather than precursors to think-tank style policy analysis) than we are.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley3) · 2020-08-07T18:08:47.601Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, I don't think this post actually endorses a specific candidate, and instead is asking if endorsing a specific candidate makes sense. Maybe that's too close for comfort, but I don't see this post as arguing for a particular candidate, but asking for arguments for or against a particular candidate. Thus as the policy is worded now this seems okay for frontpage or community to me.

comment by Dale · 2020-08-07T19:00:08.723Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Allowing such a post would totally neuter the rule. All one would have to do is take your draft "Trump is actually the best candidate from an EA perspective" and re-title it "Is Trump actually the best candidate from an EA perspective?" Scatter in a few question marks in the text and you are fully compliant.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley3) · 2020-08-08T19:38:44.992Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think I agree, but my point is maybe more that the policy as worded now should allow this, so the policy probably needs to be worded more clearly so that a post like this is more clearly excluded.

comment by DonyChristie · 2020-10-10T17:57:48.081Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

For all of the new commenters: it would have been more valuable to comment when I asked this question, as I was considering trying to coordinate EAs using an assurance contract to provide enough volunteers to help his campaign win. Given how the comments turned out, I decided it was not worth pursuing and therefore assume the Wayne campaign will lose with 50-80% probability, moreso because I didn't think EAs would buy-in (for better or worse) than due to having a sense of how good Wayne's mayorship would actually be for the world on the object-level.

(Since basically no one gave a good, quantitative answer to the question beyond their own social-emotional reasoning.)

So I've moved on. In general, dialogue about an election is worth much less in expectation a couple weeks out from the election than it is in advance.