Systemic change, global poverty eradication, and a career plan rethink: am I right?
post by NoteworthyTrain
This is a question post.
These are fresh thoughts, and I might change my view. If you're reading this, please don't assume it still reflects my views.
Hickel's 'The Divide'
Hickel argues that poverty is getting worse, not better, and this is as a result of multiple waves of (neo)colonialism that place poor countries in the global economic system on unfair terms - so much so that 'developing' countries continue to lose out in order to further develop 'developed' countries.
reforms (involving not Marxism, but a fairer and more moderated capitalism) are necessary to change this, and without these reforms the modern development agenda isn't going to work.
The number of people around the world in absolute poverty is increasing, not decreasing.
Neocolonialism causes huge economic devastation in poor countries, far outweighing international aid
Systemic policy change and (social) entrepreneurship
Some relevant stuff about me
would really appreciate ideas and advice based on the thoughts here.
Economics, mathematics, and academia
Bureaucracy, formality, and directness
Autonomy and feedback length
A 'personal pull'
Cause prioritisation & personal next steps
reasons I might be wrong, in a guessed order of likelihood/concern:
I would massively appreciate:
DISCLAIMER: These are fresh thoughts, and I might change my view. If you're reading this, please don't assume it still reflects my views.
(This is my first EA Forum post, so please guide me about what I can do better.)
TL;DR I wanted to be a social entrepreneur, but the social impact of systemic changes to the global economy through policy seems much greater than that of even the best entrepreneurship due to the global economy's current inequity. As a result, I think I should become some sort of economist / economic policy adviser instead. Am I correct?
I recently read Jason Hickel's 'The Divide', and it has significantly challenged my views on economic development and what I should do with my career. The book is a polemic against the dominant narrative in global development: that poverty is decreasing, thanks in significant part to the generous efforts of rich countries.
I am an undergrad student in PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Oxford. All going well, I will graduate next year.
This post has quite a lot of background. As such, I will split it into four parts:
- Hickel's 'The Divide': an overview of some of the claims in it that I find most compelling
- The relative impact of systemic policy change and (social) entrepreneurship
- A crude assessment of my interests, strengths, and weaknesses
- Cause prioritisation and personal next steps.
This is, of course, a huge amount. I will do my best to summarise, and I know that in doing so I will miss important considerations. It's also a scrappy first attempt. I would like to hear what you think of my reasoning and conclusions before diving deeper and researching in much more depth.
In particular, I invite you to disagree with me. In fact, I'd like you to play 'devil's advocate', since I think that the EA community generally holds policy work in very high esteem, making it harder to find good arguments against working in policy than might be justified.
Hickel's 'The Divide'
'The Divide' is a tour de force, discussing colonialism, neocolonialism, and ecological destruction. I don't agree with all of it, and I'm concerned that it has a very strong agenda and may cherry-pick cases. I might write a much more detailed post in a week or so, once I've read some more on the subject. (Let me know if this would interest you!)
Basically, Hickel argues that poverty is getting worse, not better, and this is as a result of multiple waves of (neo)colonialism that place poor countries in the global economic system on unfair terms - so much so that 'developing' countries continue to lose out in order to further develop 'developed' countries.
Certain reforms (involving not Marxism, but a fairer and more moderated capitalism) are necessary to change this, and without these reforms the modern development agenda isn't going to work.
Here, I will mention two claims made that I find particularly compelling and interesting:
1) The number of people around the world in absolute poverty is increasing, not decreasing.
Although I have found evidence that average incomes are rising, the number of people who are in absolute poverty seems to be increasing, not decreasing. This suggests that global development is not working, at least insofar as its role is to reduce poverty.
Why, then, do the data seem to show reducing global poverty? Here are some reasons:
(a) Moving the goalposts
The 1996 Rome Treaty on poverty reduction was in terms of absolute numbers in poverty, whereas the UN's Millennium Development Goal (MDG) was to halve the proportion of the population in poverty, which is easier to achieve given population growth.
(There's genuine debate as to which matters - I think of the question of total vs average utilitarianism in population ethics - but it's depressing that both aren't decreasing, given the recent efforts from rich countries in the name of development.)
Furthermore, the proportion declared relevant for the purposes of the MDG was taken as the proportion of absolute poverty in developing countries. Since developing countries have higher-than-average population growth, this made the target yet easier to achieve.
(b) Moving the goalposts, part 2
The reference year of analysis was moved back from 2000 to 1990, allowing the exceptional poverty reduction in China (before the campaign even started) to be taken into account.
(c) Use of one international poverty line, made weaker every so often
By using an International Poverty Line (IPL) based on a threshold for absolute poverty in the 15 poorest countries in the world, it was not only poverty just above the line in those countries that was ignored. In somewhat richer (but still poor) countries, the line was far too low.
Even (figures from) the World Bank (?) have criticised the poverty line as being far too low, and many economists have proposed that it be increased. The $5-per-day poverty line often recommended - some recommend higher - would put over 4 billion people in poverty. The IPL is revised upwards every so often, but (Hickel claims) it is actually being reduced in terms of real purchasing power parity value: what someone at the IPL can afford to buy.
Papers like this one, from a UN Special Rapporteur, confirm this view on poverty. I intend to research the truth of this claim and the sub-claims about measurement in more detail, but for now am assuming that they are true.
Hickel argues that similar processes of statistical 'doctoring' have led to misleading stories about reductions in world hunger. He claims that, although there have been some success stories (such as in East Asia), the 'good news story' about global development is false.
2) Neocolonialism causes huge economic devastation in poor countries, far outweighing international aid
I doubt it will be a fringe view on this forum that Western colonialism tended to cripple poor countries' economies, or that certain European and US interventions (like the Iraq War) led to huge devastation. It might not also be an unusual view here that the World Bank's Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) at least sometimes were detrimental to economies that took their loans.
However, the scale of neocolonialism suggested by Hickel was much greater than I had thought.
(a) Neocolonialism by coup
I was shocked by the sheer number of European and US invasions of sovereign nations from the 1950s onwards because they threatened Western interests. These were countries that aimed to develop by investing in things like education, healthcare, housing, and 'import substitution' (prioritising manufacture of finished products, so as not to be dependent on relatively expensive Western imports).
I think Hickel might be ignoring some of the problems of the regimes in question, but I would be very surprised if all the cases he mentions (listed below) had bad enough regimes to justify the violent intervention or support of dictators they received:
- Iran (Mossadegh)
- Guatemala (Arévalo)
- Brazil (Goulart)
- Cuba (Bay of Pigs)
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Nicaragua (Ortega)
- Indonesia (Sukarno)
- Ghana (Nkrumah)
- Congo (Lumumba)
- Uganda (Obote)
- Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (Cabral)
- Angola (Neto)
- South Africa (supporting apartheid out of fear of Mandela, according to Hickel)
- Côte d'Ivoire
- Congo Brazzaville
- Central African Republic
- Burkina Faso
(b) Neocolonialism by debt
After coups fell out of fashion (they tended not to be popular with electorates), debt was used as an instrument of control. Volcker's focus on reducing inflation at all costs massively increased the interest rates on variable-rate loans made by Wall Street banks to poor countries.
Instead of letting the banks lose out on risky loans they had made to poorer countries by allowing those countries to default, the World Bank imposed Structural Adjustment Policies that, Hickel argues, deprived poorer countries of the opportunity to develop in the way that rich countries had: by protecting their infant industries, building up social safety nets, etc.
Instead, countries had to sell off and privatise assets (often for a fraction of market value, transferring resources to rich countries) and had to pay off debt before all else. Why didn't these countries default on their debt? Hickel claims that they knew to expect retaliation and were scared into submission by the West's long history of coups.
For illustration, Sankara ('affectionately known as Africa's Che', p.179) once made a shocking speech in which he denounced debt. He said:
'Our creditors are those who had colonised us before. They managed us then and they manage us now. But we did not ask for this debt. And therefore we will not repay it. Debt is neocolonialism. It is a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa. Each one of us becomes a financial slave. We are told to repay. We are told it is a moral issue. But it is not. The debt cannot be repaid. If we don't repay, the lenders will not die. That is for sure. But if we do repay, we will die. That is also for sure.' (quoted from Hickel p.180)
Three months later, Sankara 'was assasinated in a coup widely believed to have been backed by France', resulting in dictatorial rule.
(c) Neocolonialism by unequal trade terms
If the reaction to violation of trade norms is an economic sanction, then rich countries will be able to exert power on poor countries in a way that poor countries cannot exert power on rich countries.
Hickel suggests that, as a result, the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules requiring trade liberalisation unfairly hurt poorer countries. For example, farmers in sub-Saharan Africa starve because their produce is undercut by below-cost competition from Europe and the US, where farm subsidies exist in contravention to WTO rules. Sub-Saharan Africa has little power to fight back, since the sanctions of Chad, for example, will barely be noticed by the US.
Systemic policy change and (social) entrepreneurship
For at least the last five years, I've wanted to set up my own business. (I've been involved in some 'nonprofit startups', in a broad sense, since then.)
I hoped that I could make a significant social impact both directly (social entrepreneurship) and by making a large amount of money that I could then donate to high-impact causes.
I had been concerned before that this might be missing out on systemic change to tackle root causes of problems. But I assumed that entrepreneurship might be able to do this too, and, given my uncertainty in how to go about achieving systemic change (and what change I wanted to implement), I figured my near-certainty that I wanted to found a startup should dominate in making my decision.
But now that hand-wave is no longer convincing. I sent a message to a friend recently (edited very slightly for clarity) that summed up my thought:
I wanted to believe that social entrepreneurship would make the world far better. Relatively speaking, though, affordable farm equipment leasing in sub-Saharan Africa won't help much if farmers there are systematically undercut by below-cost subsidised exports from Europe and the US, when the WTO prohibits such subsidies (but these countries have no real power to sanction, so Europe and the US have impunity).
Without changing the systems that cause poverty, it seems very inefficient to focus on relieving the symptoms. Even schemes that aim at the long-term, like those that improve incomes, seem generally less efficient than dealing with causes like crippling debt. (This relies on such systemic change being feasible.)
I think there are many people who have the mental model I used to have: that global development has been hindered by colonialism, by some devastating conflicts like the Iraq War, and by certain policies of rich countries, but that overall poverty is declining and modern efforts at international development have been working.
Fitting the pieces of the puzzle together to give a picture of 'de-development', where money flows from poor countries to rich countries as the direct result of policies that rich countries make, sometimes explicitly, has made me sceptical of the value of malaria nets and local or even national social enterprises. These seem to have a very small impact compared to the impact of changing the system.
How could the system be changed? Hickel offers some suggestions, including some compelling ones that I think would be achievable despite the existence of vested interests against them:
- Debt default for poor countries to allow them to develop. (Remember, the debt was only taken on in many cases because the countries had been plundered by colonialists.)
- Increased redistribution to reduce need for perpetual exponential growth, which Hickel argues is ecologically impossible. (He is a supporter of the controversial de-growth movement; please share resources for or against de-growth - not sure how we could avoid de-growth at some point, so I'm curious what sensible arguments there are against it.)
- Switching (relatedly) from GDP to GPI (or similar) as a national performance index.
- Firmer regulation around tax havens. Hickel argues that tax corruption from Western corporations is far greater in financial value than the government corruption for which poor countries are criticised.
Another I would add is to abolish agricultural subsidies in the US and EU. Although this would meet with significant corporate opposition, these subsidies are not in voters' best interests and so could be out-voted.
The scale of the benefit from these changes is potentially huge - much bigger than pretty much any enterprise I can think of. Google, Facebook, or the world's leading social enterprises don't seem to be making these sorts of systemic changes - because they can't really, I think. Please correct me here if you think I'm wrong!
What about neglectedness and tractability?
I should firstly point out that I think neglectedness may be overemphasised; sometimes, I feel that certain fringe EA causes (fish welfare, perhaps) are emphasised mainly because of their neglectedness. To me at least (perhaps a blatant species-ist) I would much rather aim to eliminate poverty than enable fish to live happier lives. This may be my bias.
As for tractability, as mentioned earlier I think these issues can be solved. Yes, powerful vested interests may be against the reforms above, but the most powerful countries still have sufficient democratic control, despite the power of lobbying.
At times of great challenge, such as our current climate crisis, radical policies can be made that harm vested interests. We saw this, in my understanding (not an expert) with the abolition of slavery. If we could abolish slavery, it seems plausible that we could abolish agricultural subsidies!
At a personal level, I will soon be an Oxford PPE graduate. Having specialised in economics, I have been told by one of my tutors (professors) that I wouldn't have a huge amount of difficulty getting into Oxford's MPhil in economics. From there, I think I could plausibly obtain a PhD from a top UK or US university, and head out into some area of policy / advocacy directly or via academia. The next part discusses tractability at a personal level in a little more detail.
Some relevant stuff about me
This part isn't really about how I hope to achieve changes like the ones mentioned above. As to that question, I am very unsure. Instead, this part gives you some information about what I like and where I think my strengths and weaknesses are.
I would really appreciate ideas and advice based on the thoughts here.
1) Economics, mathematics, and academia
I have generally achieved strong results in economics, despite working only moderately hard (and occasionally working very little). This suggests that, if I were to work harder in economics, I could do very well by conventional criteria and use those results (e.g. final exam results) as leverage to build career capital. It might also suggest that I could be a good economist - I hope so.
Economics is not the only route to systems change. Law is another, for example. I get the impression that economics provides more options because it can be quite quantitative, whereas law is not usually quantitative. If I decided to focus on something different, Economics might be more flexible as a graduate degree to hold.
Fortunately, I know a lawyer who has achieved significant social change. I will talk to her about law as an option, being aware that she may have a pro-law bias.
My ability in maths is quite strong, but frankly unexceptional. It seems like it wouldn't be my comparative advantage to focus on a particularly quantitative field, unless it also required a rare skillset or understanding that I had (e.g. a neglected but important field of economics that requires some skill that most people with high quantitative skills currently lack).
I've often thought I wouldn't be a good fit for academia. But my teachers, parents, and friends, and one of my tutors (professors) seem to disagree and think I would be a very good fit. I like asking challenging questions and think I have a relatively analytical mind.
I also think that my writing skills are reasonably strong. (You can be the judge, although this post is more like thought spaghetti anyway!) I think I could see myself writing popular economics books.
2) Bureaucracy, formality, and directness
I'm not very keen on bureaucracy, and usually not very keen on formality either. I do not think I would make a very good diplomat.
I like to be very direct and do not like to be dishonest. Sometimes, I am too direct, speak before I think, and offend people. I try to avoid this and think I am doing this much less often than I used to (and still progressing).
Given my directness, I think I would struggle to back a party line that I disagreed with very significantly. This, and my desire to be honest, make me think I wouldn't be a good fit for party politics, despite the obvious advantage of Oxford and PPE in the UK political system.
3) Autonomy and feedback length
I think I would dislike any career where I lacked sufficient autonomy. I think this is why I wanted to be an entrepreneur: being in charge of creating something that didn't exist before doesn't just allow an impact to be made; it allows you to make an impact. This might not matter morally, but it definitely matters for me with respect to personal fit.
This is tied to the concept of feedback length. Advocacy is a long game, and I am concerned that you often fight for a long period of time and it is difficult to track your efforts. The fast-paced startup environment of fast feedback loops excites me; honestly, slow and bureaucratic meetings do not.
As a result, I don't think I would make a good fit for the civil service, despite being (I hope) sufficiently competent.
4) A 'personal pull'
For years, I have felt a 'personal pull' towards entrepreneurship of some sort, although I have not been sure what exactly. Maybe this is too much romanticism, but as a result I wanted to at least test personal fit for entrepreneurship in my 20s, and had designed my career plans around that.
The plan was to gain career capital through work in something very flexible like strategy consulting (or possibly investment banking), then quit after a predetermined maximum number of years to start startups and keep going unless I realised I didn't like it.
Abandoning this plan is difficult to swallow for me. Ignoring impact, I don't know if I'd be more effective in entrepreneurship than in policy, but as it stands I imagine I'd be much more excited about entrepreneurship. I've been forced to seriously consider this switch because I think that the impact of systemic change far outweighs that accessible to traditional entrepreneurs (even 'social entrepreneurs').
Charity entrepreneurship remains an option. I've enjoyed creating small nonprofit initiatives. However, I'm sceptical of charity entrepreneurship's ability to achieve systemic change - and I'd probably (correct me if I'm wrong) need a graduate degree in economics to tackle the global economic system. (Well, I probably wouldn't in practice, but I think I'd need an advanced degree to be taken seriously in a society where you are judged based on brands and certificates!)
I think the best option is to become a public- and/or political-facing economist in development or a related field, advising governments or lobbying related political groups to improve the global economic system.
Cause prioritisation & personal next steps
If Hickel is right, what follows is not just that changes to the global economic system are necessary but that the nature of global development is misunderstood. If I can change both these things (I'd be open to and enjoy writing popular books, for example) my impact could be very large.
I want to read some more about cause prioritisation first, but it seems that an economics background would equip me well for tackling other cause areas (including Global Priorities Research) affecting policy if I were to come to believe they were more important.
From a longtermist perspective, the global economy's inherent ties to ecological sustainability and the time-sensitive nature of irreversible climate damage suggest that reform is essential.
In any case, systemic reform seems much more important than what I could accomplish as even an exceptionally successful social entrepreneur. Is this correct?
There is always a risk of unintentional harm, but it seems like much greater harm could arise from leaving the global economy exactly as it is than from trying to change it (in incremental and moderate ways). I am not proposing communism; I am proposing a rethink and moderation of capitalism to serve people, particularly the poorest people.
My next steps are to talk to intelligent friends and connections (including a former economist at a major international organisation) about Hickel's work, and to read and research much more to understand development better. I might also try to find some research opportunities for skill and academic CV development.
Before that, I want to know what you think.
I know this post, while long, is very much incomplete. It is a first pass at thoughts that have come to me all over just a few days.
Main reasons I might be wrong, in a guessed order of likelihood/concern:
- I have poor personal fit, meaning that I would have a relatively lower impact in careers related to policy than in careers related to entrepreneurship
- I'm underestimating the positive potential of social entrepreneurship to create social impact, either within or outside of systemic change
- The types of systemic change I'm considering would in fact have minimal or negative impacts, or are inadvisable given uncertainty and possible significant negative downside
- The types of systemic change I'm considering are likely to be too intractable to have a high expected impact
Things I would massively appreciate:
- Ideas and critiques of anything I've said (major parts of Hickel's arguments, superiority of systemic change over social entrepreneurship, personal fit, plans)
- Thoughts on dealing with the mental pressure of switching away from something I've wanted to pursue for a long time, and/or ideas about incorporating an entrepreneurial approach to the study of economics and influence of poverty
- General ideas about optimal career planning, particularly from those who have pursued postgrad studies in economics
- Books or articles that I should prioritise reading - I feel like a muggle
- Connections to anyone in development economics or related fields who would be willing to chat to me
p.s. I apologise if I have offended anyone or said something egregious, wrong, or egregiously wrong! Please don't take me too seriously at this point, since these are early thoughts.
answer by weeatquince
) · GW
Hi, let me try and give some feedback on your career plan:
Your career plan sounds great!
• I think the thing the world is missing right now is a good understanding of how to create sustainable systemic change. I think an econ qualification with the aim of producing really high value research on issues that are pertinent to how to bring countries out of poverty would be a really high value action, and doing this kind of work is near the top of my to do list too.
However I would caution:
• Explore whilst you are young. The path sounds like it would be good for impact but I think it is important to work in the area where your strengths match. And you should think about ways to explore your strengths. This could be by getting a job and doing a Masters course part time or doing internships over the summer or doing something else for a year etc.
• Similarly, many of the academics I think are best at creating really useful research have some experience outside of academia in creating change. Eg: taken time out from academia to run for a political position or work in politics. You can get experience in a field that is pertinent to how change is created then you might be better able to address the problems. Also at some point in the future when you have a clearer idea to solutions you might want to pivot from academia to starting a campaign or a social enterprise etc so other experience is useful.
Hope that helps
↑ comment by NoteworthyTrain ·
2020-07-25T19:12:22.540Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thank you! I've been thinking along similar lines, actually, although I'd like to do some more research on the first bullet point. It seems plausible, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's actually true, and it seems very important to have a good idea of whether it's true.
answer by Petrsvaton1
) · GW
I am not at all sure whether you still follow this thread, but in case you do, I'd like to somewhat push back about what you said about coups.
I became interested in this topic a while ago and I tried to find out as much as possible about events like the 1973 coup in Chile or the 1965 crisis in Indonesia etc., and about Western involvement. I found out that the coups were usually homegrown affairs driven by domestic actors (such as disgruntled conservative military officers) and often even supported by a wide section of the public (which was for example angry about economic mismanagement by the previous regime), while the West played at best a minor role. Usually, you find many vague accusations about Western "backing" for the coup, but there is rarely good evidence of any major or crucial external intervention.
For example, I read a lot of comments about a "US-backed coup" in Honduras in 2009. I try to Google it and the best thing I found about US involvement was the fact that the US recognized the new regime and didn't attempt to reinstate the overthrown leader.
I would argue that in many of the coups which the West supported, it most important contribution was to signal, even implicitly, that it wouldn't be too unhappy if the leftist leader of the country in question was overthrown. Now this is definitely bad, but it seems to me a far cry from the West having orchestrated the whole thing.
(Similarly, in the former Czechoslovakia where I am from, there was a communist coup in 1948. People, especially foreigners, will often point out that the coup was "backed by the Soviets", and while that is definitely true in the sense that they badly wanted the coup to succeed and had strong intelligence ties in the country, it doesn't seem they did anything decisive and you don't need to mention them in order to explain what happened.)
There were some coups, like Guatemala in 1954, where the US did in fact intervened to overthrow a popular government (by training an army of thugs who invaded the country), but as far as I can tell, the reality was usually closer to what I described above. Iran in 1953 might also fall into this category, I don't know enough about it to be able to tell.
I therefore overall think that many leftwing authors, such as Hickel, or for example Chomsky, tend to wildly exaggerate the West's role in most of these coups by making sweeping statements about how the US orchestrated this coup or overthrew that government, but that they usually don't have strong evidence and yet their case often sails through strangely uncontested.
I would also argue that the idea that the West can (or could in the past) overthrow foreign governments at will by covert intelligence operations portrays the West/US/CIA as these almighty diabolical masterminds who can subtly direct events in faraway countries without leaving evidence and that this view totally ignores the agency of the people in the countries in question. (Also, if the West had this ability, you would expect that they would have done a coups in places like Cuba, North Korea, Syria or Iran a long time ago.)
Lastly, I would say that Hickel misunderstands the motivation for Cold war era US policy in the Third World. As far as I can tell, the US didn't care much about countries internal economic policies, and in fact many pro-US right wing regimes like the junta in Brazil in Chiang's regime on Taiwan or Suharto in Indonesia had strongly interventionist and very non-neoliberal policies and the US never complained about it. What they disliked was an ideological affiliation with Marxism and a pro-USSR foreign policy, as long as a country refrained from that, the West was happy with almost anything. (Again, Guatemala seems to me like an exception here, possibly Iran too.)
Anyway, I hope this is a helpful response, take care :-)
↑ comment by NoteworthyTrain ·
2021-07-02T10:14:54.735Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thank you for this - very insightful. I posted here not really sure about Hickel's epistemics, so I really appreciate some pushback of his views. (Also: sorry for the late reply. I haven't checked my account here for ages!) Is there any reading you'd suggest?Replies from: Charles_Dillon
↑ comment by Charles Dillon (Charles_Dillon ) ·
2021-07-02T11:22:38.093Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Without claiming to know a great deal about Hickel or his epistemics myself, I think if you are interested in forming an opinion on it yourself it might be worth sharing this Twitter thread from Max Roser (founder of Our World In Data) which does not portray Hickel as very rigorous and suggests he is somewhat dishonest.Replies from: NoteworthyTrain
answer by ishaan
) · GW
However, I'm sceptical of charity entrepreneurship's ability to achieve systemic change - I'd probably (correct me if I'm wrong) need a graduate degree in economics to tackle the global economic system.
It might plausibly be helpful to hire staff who had graduate degree in economics, but I think you would not necessarily need a graduate degree in economics yourself in order to start an organization focused on improving economic policy. Of course it's hard to say for sure until it's tried - but there's a lot that goes into running an organization, and it takes many different skills and types of people to make it come together. Domain expertise is only one part of it. A lot of great charities (e.g. GiveWell, AMF) were started by people who didn't enter with domain expertise or related degrees. (None of which is to say that economics isn't a strong option for a variety of paths, only that you shouldn't put the path of starting an organization in the "I need a degree first" box.)
(As for my opinion more generally, I do think that social entrepreneurship would under-perform relative to purely EtG (if you give to the right place), and also under-perform relative to focused non-profit or policy work (if you work on the right thing), because it has to simultaneously turn profit and achieve impact, which really limits the flexibility to work on the higher impact things. But it primarily depends on what specifically you're working on, in every case.)
↑ comment by NoteworthyTrain ·
2020-07-15T13:32:15.296Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Yes, I think this is correct. It's worth thinking about what the best path would be - and, although I'm leaning more and more towards a graduate degree in economics, I'm still uncertain and I agree that it wouldn't be necessary for every type of policy work.
As for social entrepreneurship vs structural change, this is difficult because
(a) for-profit social enterprises may be more sustainable because of a lack of reliance on grants that may not materialise;
(b) policy change is much harder to achieve (perhaps) than even a successful social enterprise.Replies from: ishaan
↑ comment by ishaan ·
2020-07-16T02:24:33.503Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
The tricky part of social enterprise from my perspective is that high impact activities are hard to find, and I figure they would be even harder to find when placed under the additional constraint that they must be self sustaining. Which is not to say that you might not find one (see here [EA · GW] and here), just that, finding an idea that works is arguably the trickiest part.
for-profit social enterprises may be more sustainable because of a lack of reliance on grants that may not materialise;
This is true, but keep in mind, impact via social enterprise may be "free" in terms of funding (so very cost-effective), but, it comes with opportunity costs in terms of your time. When you generate impact via social enterprise, you are essentially your own funder. Therefore, for a social enterprise to beat your earning-to-give baseline, its net impact must exceed the good you would have done via whatever you might have otherwise donated to a GiveWell top charity if you instead were donating as much money as you would in a high earning path. (This is of course also true for non-profit/other direct work paths). Basically, social enterprises aren't "free" (since your time isn't free) so it's a question of finding the right idea and then also deciding if the restrictions inherent in trying to be self-sustaining are easier than the restrictions (and funding counterfactuals) inherent in getting external funding.
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comment by Dale ·
2020-07-17T16:44:29.871Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I doubt it will be a fringe view on this forum that Western colonialism tended to cripple poor countries' economies, or that certain European and US interventions (like the Iraq War) led to huge devastation.
You're right that this is not a fringe view, and it is probably one of the more mainstream views Hickel has. However, I do not think that it is obviously true. Poor countries suffered many disadvantages from colonialism, but also gained many advantages, like education, infrastructure, and more advanced legal systems. The earliest western colonialism seemed quite brutal and destructive, like the Spanish in South America, but the later kinds were much more benign, ultimately culminating in extremely beneficial British rule over Hong Kong. There are clearly some parts of the world that have ended up very rich as a direct result of colonial rule, like the US, Canada, Australia or Hong Kong. Within sub-Saharan Africa, the area that was colonized the longest (South Africa) is also the richest, and the only part of Africa that wasn't colonized (Ethiopia) is no richer than most other sub-Saharan African countries. Whether this colonization was beneficial on net is an empirical question; the only paper I have seen with an even vaguely credible methodology is this one on shipping islands:
Using a new database of islands throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans we examine whether colonial origins affect modern economic outcomes. We argue that the nature of discovery and colonization of islands provides random variation in the length and type of colonial experience. We instrument for length of colonization using wind direction and wind speed. Wind patterns which mattered a great deal during the age of sail do not have a direct effect on GDP today, but do affect GDP via their historical impact on colonization. The number of years spent as a European colony is strongly positively related to the island's GDP per capita and negatively related to infant mortality. This basic relationship is also found to hold for a standard dataset of developing countries. ... The timing of the colonial experience seems to matter. Time spent as a colony after 1700 is more beneficial to modern income than years before 1700, consistent with a change in the nature of colonial relationships over time.
You're definitely right that condemning the Iraq war is far from a fringe view, but honesty compels again me to object. While I think the Iraq war was a mistake, it must be noted that as late as 2006 it seems the majority of Iraqis actually thought the war was a good idea, even after seeing 3 years of poorly-administered aftermath:
A majority of Iraqis (61%) still believe that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth the hardships they might have suffered, but this is down from the 77 percent who said this in January.
I haven't checked this, but it seems quite plausible to me that in 2006 the war was actually more popular in Iraq than it was in the west!
Additionally, it's also important to note that Iraq's GDP has grown dramatically since the war. In 2002 it was around $19bn; by 2012 it was apparently almost 10x higher at around $218 (and has remained around this level since). They benefited from a rise in the oil price, of course, but I don't think that can explain everything, and oil prices have fallen again now anyway. Their unemployment rate also apparently fell from around 9-10% pre-war to around 8% now.
More pertinently from your case, the invasion of Iraq was clearly quite an unusual situation. In the 17 years since we have not seen another similar invasion by western powers, partly because western governments have little desire to repeat the expensive war + subsequent nation-building process. Most poor countries have not seen a conflict similar to the Iraq war, and probably will not (if nothing else they rarely pretend to have WMDs!); civil wars are much more common. As such I don't think the Iraq war experience has much read-through to your ultimate question how how effective farm equipment rental programs in sub-Saharan Africa will be.
A different scenario to contrast the Iraq experience with would be the English invasion of Sierra Leone in 2000. Unlike Iraq, Sierre Leone is the sort of extremely poor country that EAs typically consider health and poverty interventions in, and the military intervention was extremely successful:
The rebel forces were scared away from the city, the UN got off its knees and the government army was revitalised. Eighteen months later, Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war was brought to an end. In the streets of Freetown at the time the graffiti read: "Queen Elizabeth for king!" and "Return to us our colonial mother!" Tony Blair remains more popular here than anywhere else on the planet. He still visits the country every couple of years, and officials from his office are seconded into the finance and health ministries. Several Sierra Leoneans said they would personally campaign for Blair to be the country's president. A young Freetown documentary-maker, Arthur Pratt, told me: "We think we are to him as a favourite child."
Now, the intervention in Sierra Leone was unusual in how well it went. But I don't think you can consider unusually bad interventions like Iraq without also considering unusually good interventions as well. Replies from: NoteworthyTrain
comment by vaidehi_agarwalla ·
2020-07-15T02:18:01.044Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
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!Replies from: willbradshaw, NoteworthyTrain
↑ comment by willbradshaw ·
2020-07-15T08:39:12.046Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks Vaidehi, great comment. If those numbers are right then the drops in both absolute and relative poverty in both South Asia and Indonesia seem pretty amazing.
↑ comment by NoteworthyTrain ·
2020-07-15T11:57:22.752Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Very interesting! I will let you know. I definitely want to spend some time just looking at the data for myself, and will let you know when I come to some (tentative) conclusions.
comment by Max_Daniel ·
2020-07-14T07:33:57.249Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Great post! I'm impressed by how carefully you consider your career options, and appreciate the summary of 'The Divide'.
I'm afraid I can't comment on your main questions as I don't have a great sense of careers in the global poverty space. But I thought you might be interested in this list of links [EA(p) · GW(p)] on the debate between Hickel and people who favor a more optimistic narrative.Replies from: NoteworthyTrain
comment by richard_ngo ·
2020-07-14T16:13:19.554Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
A while back I read this article by Hickel, which was based on the book. See this EA forum post [EA · GW] which I made after reading it, and also the comments which I wrote down at the time:
Replies from: Linch, NoteworthyTrain
- The article was much better than I thought it would be based on the first few paragraphs.
- Still a few dodgy bits though - e.g. it quotes FAO numbers on how many people are hungry, but neglects to mention that this is good progress (quote from FAO): "The proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions has fallen by almost half. One in in seven children worldwide are underweight, down from one in four in 1990."
- I also tried to factcheck the claim that the specific number $1.90 is a bad metric to use, by reading the report he said was a "trenchant critique" of it. There was a lot of stuff about how a single summary statistic can be highly uncertain, but not much about why any other poverty line would be better.
- Overall I do think it's fairly valuable to point out that there's been almost no movement of people above $7.40 if you exclude China. But the achievement of moving a lot of people above the $1.90 number shouldn't be understated.
- This graph seems like the most important summary of the claims in the article. So basically, the history of poverty reduction was almost entirely Asia, the future of it (or lack thereof) will be almost entirely about Africa.
- Note that the graph displays absolute numbers of people. The population of Africa went from 600M in 1990 to 1.2B today to 1.6B in 2030, apparently. So according to this graph there’s been a reduction in percentage of extreme poverty in Africa, and that’s projected to continue, but it’s at a far lower rate than Asia.
↑ comment by Linch ·
2020-07-16T12:58:44.273Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
The population of China is slightly higher than the population of Africa, so it seems odd to exclude it. By symmetry, I can say that poverty in the world is a lot lower if you exclude Africa, and I think the point is approximately equally valid.
(Of course, poverty reduction in different provinces in China are correlated, but so are different countries in Subsaharan Africa! )Replies from: richard_ngo, NoteworthyTrain
↑ comment by richard_ngo ·
2020-07-16T13:06:34.577Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Point taken, but I think the correlation in China is so much larger than the correlation between African countries (with respect to the things we're most interested in, like the effects of policies) that it's reasonable to look at the data with China excluded when trying to find a long-term trend in the global economy.Replies from: Linch
↑ comment by Linch ·
2020-07-16T13:30:05.418Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I agree that if you're trying to predict the future of extreme poverty, excluding China when looking at trends seems reasonable.
If you're trying to understand living conditions of the past/present (which was my impression of what Hickel was claiming to be doing?), excluding >1 billion people seems not the best.
More broadly I'm a bit worried about a specific argumentation pattern where statistical boundaries are gerrymandered around the edges to get the desired result. There was a politician's Tweet I saw a long time ago (paraphrased, can't find it anymore) where
a [junior US politician] did poorly except for LGBT people, ethnic minorities, women, and those under 65.
I can't find the original post so it's possible my memory's embellishing, and certainly I don't think what Hickel's doing is quite that bad, but I'm still worried about the broader pattern of excluding groups that don't fit your narrative well, rather than a careful impartial look at the evidence. Replies from: NoteworthyTrain
↑ comment by NoteworthyTrain ·
2020-07-16T14:11:14.870Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I agree. I'm concerned about the same, and want to look at both
- some of the evidence for myself; and
- some of what others think, both through my new stack of books on development (from Abhijit & Banerjee to Acemoglu & Robinson to Jeffrey Sachs to Ha-Joon Chang - I'm excited!) and through conversations.
I just haven't been able to do it yet, since I'm in the middle of an internship. That's why I wrote this post with some first thoughts.Replies from: Linch
↑ comment by Linch ·
2020-07-16T15:37:58.329Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
This sounds like a good battle plan! And do let us know what you finally decide on!
Oh, also I want to be clear that what I was concerned about is the broader structure of argument, rather than being critical of your post! :)
↑ comment by NoteworthyTrain ·
2020-07-16T13:30:12.063Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
This is fair, although I take Richard's point below as well. (I'm not sure about its truth, because I don't know enough about China or Africa.)
I think the point is that there are two points
- Poverty in China has decreased recently
- Poverty in Africa has (arguably) increased recently
(Hickel claims that China's very non-neoliberal policy enriched its people, while African countries' mandated structural adjustments impoverished its people. I don't know enough to say if this is true, but it's another reason Hickel excludes China.)Replies from: Dale
↑ comment by Dale ·
2020-07-16T15:51:12.528Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Hickel claims that China's very non-neoliberal policy enriched its people
China's post-1979 reforms are one of the textbook examples of neoliberalism! They privatized many businesses, allowed the creation of markets for many goods and services, opened up to international trade and reduced capital controls. While there is still a great deal of central control, the level is dramatically lower than it was in the 1970s. Their economic freedom ranking improved from a terrible 3.59 in 1980 to a respectable (though still not great) 6 in 2002, a very rapid rise. This is a similar increase to other countries undergoing neoliberal reforms at the same time, like the UK, Chile and Sweden, though many of these started from a higher base.
EDIT: Unless you are talking about the One Child Policy, which I would agree is very non-neoliberal, and is a major policy.Replies from: NoteworthyTrain
↑ comment by NoteworthyTrain ·
2020-07-14T16:45:54.354Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Fascinating! Thanks for this. I tried to point out your 4th bullet point and I'm definitely a little sceptical, since Hickel's book is clearly a polemic with an agenda, but I think it's a valuable contribution (like you say).
That said, the 'this article by Hickel' link isn't working for me.Replies from: richard_ngo
comment by Barth ·
2020-07-15T10:37:57.896Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Fascinating write up. Congratulations for taking so much perspective on yourself ! This is prime time for you to consider such important life choices, so don't hesitate to take all the time you need to be sure of your decisions.
Disclaimer: I studied a bit of engineering, a bit of economics in business school, worked in the corporate world and now work in the fight against poverty within a social enterprise. My views are very liberal. I also have a very entrepreneurial character, as reported by my colleagues. I feel our trajectories are not too different - I just have a few more years under my belt I guess.
Reading through your summary of Hickel's points, my immediate reaction was that he is pushing his agenda pretty hard. As others have outlined, both relative and absolute poverty have decreased as a % of the population. Of course the growth of population has outpaced the decrease in poverty, but that's a little dishonest to show only this side of the picture.
Regarding neo-colonialism, it's a mixed bag. Yes, there used to be a lot of foreign interference with coups etc. And it might still be there today - I don't know that there is a good way to quantify this. Nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests. Changing that is a daunting task, but if you believe you are able to make it happen, then by all means, pursue it at all costs.
I would just expand on a couple of points:
- Whether we like it or not, capitalism is the name of the game. I find it more efficient to learn the rules of the game than to try to change it. When you say "For example, farmers in sub-Saharan Africa starve because their produce is undercut by below-cost competition from Europe and the US, where farm subsidies exist in contravention to WTO rules", I think this shows that whoever's idea this is does not understand the game. Sub Saharan African farmers are not connected to global markets in any kind of way. Believing that corn or wheat subsidies in the US are causing corn prices to increase in Botswana is delusional. The cost of bringing that corn to landlocked countries is totally prohibitive, and as a result no ear of corn produced in the US reaches these poor countries. There are cases of African governments importing corn from, say, Mexico once the local production has ran out - to avoid famine !
- I like to raise the example of two countries to compare the impact of different policies: Rwanda and Burundi. Both countries are very similar in agro ecology, natural resources, population & ethnies, social norms, etc. Following the '94 genocide, you could say that both countries emerged with roughly the same situation - with the exception that Rwanda had lost 1M+ population in the genocide, while Burundi's civil war kept going until ~2003. Both countries adopted widely different policies. Rwanda "gave in" to international aid, working with all the traditional donors you can imagine - WB, EU, USAID, etc. Burundi chose self-reliance, and was much more wary of foreign aid. This was reinforced after the 2015 coup attempt - half of foreign aid was pulled out of the country. While the situation is of course more nuanced than what I am describing, Burundi is now the poorest or 2nd poorest country in the world by GDP per capita, with a GDP growth of 2-3% (nominal !), while Rwanda's GDP has consistently grown by 7-8% over the last 10 years. To illustrate the gap more concretely, let's mention the Covid situation: Rwanda was one of the few countries that were allowed to resume flights to Europe recently, while Burundi's president first claimed that "Burundi was favoured by God, and Covid would spare the country", before his wife was evacuated to Nairobi for emergency treatment, and he himself died of cardiac arrest (probably Covid related).
I could go on for days about this - feel free to reach out directly if you'd like to continue the conversation in private - but in short, I think promoting the sovereignty of a developing country might not be the best solution to accelerate its development. Providing fertiliser to farmers so that they can grow enough food to feed their families, on the other hand, that's impactful and there's no question about it.Replies from: NoteworthyTrain
↑ comment by NoteworthyTrain ·
2020-07-15T11:56:00.745Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thank you so much for this! It's a very interesting perspective, and you sound like exactly the sort of person I would love to talk to about my next steps!
'Reading through your summary of Hickel's points, my immediate reaction was that he is pushing his agenda pretty hard. As others have outlined, both relative and absolute poverty have decreased as a % of the population. Of course the growth of population has outpaced the decrease in poverty, but that's a little dishonest to show only this side of the picture.'
- Yes, I thought this and I got the impression that Hickel's argument was not very balanced. I guess it wasn't intended to be.
- vaidehi_agarwalla [EA · GW]'s comment suggests Hickel may still have a point. Hickel points to the idea that the morally relevant number with respect to poverty is the proportion of poverty that we could alleviate but don't. There would be a debate about how to measure poverty and counterfactuals here, but the basic idea seems correct.
'Whether we like it or not, capitalism is the name of the game. I find it more efficient to learn the rules of the game than to try to change it.'
- I agree, to an extent. But there are different versions of capitalism. No country has a pure capitalist economy, and the choice of hybrid system seems both malleable and significant.
- Capitalism as it is currently practised is also ecologically unsustainable, so it will have to change in some way, whether by force of argument or nature.
'When you say "For example, farmers in sub-Saharan Africa starve because their produce is undercut by below-cost competition from Europe and the US, where farm subsidies exist in contravention to WTO rules", I think this shows that whoever's idea this is does not understand the game. Sub Saharan African farmers are not connected to global markets in any kind of way. Believing that corn or wheat subsidies in the US are causing corn prices to increase in Botswana is delusional. The cost of bringing that corn to landlocked countries is totally prohibitive, and as a result no ear of corn produced in the US reaches these poor countries.'
- This is interesting, but I'm not sure it's correct, since exports from SSA could still be impacted by global prices and so subsidies - unless, as you say, 'Sub Saharan African farmers are not connected to global markets in any kind of way'. That said, I'm not an expert.
- Looking at papers like this one (from the EU itself!) there seems to be a consensus that market price effects did exist and affect 'developing countries'; 'decoupling' may help but the paper admits that there might still be distortionary effects. (The quotation below doesn't mention poor countries, but they're mentioned elsewhere in the paper.)
'With the change from price support to direct payments, the CAP’s distorting effects have been reduced. Direct payments, initially introduced in the CAP’s 1992 reform, have mostly been decoupled from production since the 2003 reform. While it is widely recognised that commodity-coupled support created market distortions, decoupled support is not in principle supposed to have an impact on production. ... However, while significant progress has been made to reduce the distorting effects of CAP payments, direct payments might still impact agricultural performance and markets outside the EU. First, ... this is because of decoupled payments’ indirect effects, which may enhance the competitiveness of EU farmers on global markets. Second, this could also result from some coupled support still existing under the Voluntary Coupled Support (VCS) scheme.' (p.18)
The Rwanda and Burundi case is very interesting - thanks for bringing it up. I'd have to read more about it and figure out if it's exceptional, since I don't have enough knowledge on the topic yet. I'm sceptical of Hickel's all-out attack on the WB, IMF, and WTO: I expect there are incremental systemic improvements that would have a huge effect but there are also things they have done well.
Thanks again, and I'd love to talk more! I've sent you a message.
comment by harald ·
2020-09-16T09:44:41.591Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thank you for writing up your notes and thoughts on this book! I hadn't heard of it before, and have since read it. A lot to think about and research - I'd be interested in sharing notes and may write some posts looking into specific claims he made in the book.
comment by Prabhat Soni ·
2020-07-16T10:46:37.288Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
This was a very enjoyable post! You frequently analysed yourself from a 3rd person viewpoint, and very skeptical of your claims -- which is very healthy :)
Related to poverty eradication / systematic change
1. How exactly do you think we should measure the poverty line? Relative poverty? Absolute poverty? Enough money to buy x bottles of water a day? Enough money to produce x units of happiness?
2. Neo-colonialism has expanded beyond Europe and the US. Apparently, China is also doing this. China gives loans to poorer countries for development of ports, and when those countries default on their debt, China siezes control of the ports. And, what are your opinions on neo-colonialism between different parts of the same country?
3. Would de-growth result in better income equality and also lower total economic growth? If so, could you elaborate on what this tradeoff looks like (preferably in a quantitative sense)?
4. Is the amount of colonialism/neo-colonialism increasing/decreasing/same over the past ~100 years?
5. You mentioned using GPI instead of GDP as a national performance index? What do you think are the chances of GPI gaining widespread acceptance?
Related to personal career plans
1. You expressed a LOT of interest in Economics, and some interest in Law. What are your thoughts on a Master's in Public Policy?
2. Are entrepreneurial skills a rare asset within EA? How does supply-demand of entrepreneurial skills in EA look like?
3. You mentioned that even big tech companies aren't able to achieve large amounts of change. I would a little skeptical of this. One counter-example is that American English is slowly replacing British English, even in countries that used to historically speak British English. I think one of the biggest reasons for this is popular softwares like MS Word, Google docs and Google search having American English as their default language. However, I have a feeling that large changes like this generally happen when a company is REALLY succesful/popular (I'm not sure though).Replies from: NoteworthyTrain
comment by Aidan O'Gara ·
2020-07-15T00:01:19.179Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Hickel has some very interesting ideas, and I really enjoyed your writeup. I find plausible the central claim that neocolonialist foreign and economic policy has put hundreds of millions of people into poverty. I'm a bit unsure of his arguments about the harms of debt and trade terms (hopefully will return later), but the case that foreign-imposed regime change has been harmful seems really strong.
So, question: Might it be highly impactful to prevent governments from harmfully overthrowing foreign regimes?
- Governments overthrow each other all the time. The United States has overthrown dozens of foreign governments over the last century, including recent interventions in Libya, Yemen, Palestine, and Iraq. The Soviet Union did the same, and modern day Russia aggressively interferes in foreign democratic elections, including the 2016 US election. China might do the same, but I can't find great evidence. I don't know about the UK and EU, I can't find obvious recent examples that weren't primarily US-led (e.g. Iraq, Libya). Official histories probably understate the number of overthrows because successful attempts can remain secret, at least for the years immediately following the overthrow.
- Toppling governments can be extremely harmful. After 5 minutes of Googling, it seems foreign imposed regime changes might increase the likelihood of civil wars ("in roughly 40 percent of the cases of covert regime change undertaken during the Cold War, a civil war occurred within 10 years of the operation.") and human rights abuses ("In more than 55 percent of the cases of covert regime-change missions undertaken during the Cold War, the targeted states experienced a government-sponsored mass killing episode within 10 years of the regime-change attempt."). I'd also expect to find strong evidence of increased poverty, decreased economic growth, and worse health and education outcomes.
Clearly there's much more to be discussed here, but I'll post now and come back later. A few questions:
- How tractable is changing the foreign policy of major governments? How does one do it? What are some examples of historical successes or failures?
- Is this "neglected"? The concept doesn't apply super cleanly here, but my hunch might be that few people involved in foreign policy have EA values, meaning EA might have the "competitive edge" of pursuing an uncommon goal.
- What are the risks to EA here? Government is generally contentious and polarized, and regime change is an extremely controversial issue. What specific ways could EA attempts to work on regime change or other foreign policy causes end up backfiring?
Some related conversation:Replies from: NoteworthyTrain
comment by Keirra_W ·
2020-07-14T22:22:11.884Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Have you considered starting a research organization, or economic development think tank or consultancy in which your employees would do the day-to-day advising and 'politicking'. You could still be the entrepreneur who grows the organization and steers it forward.Replies from: NoteworthyTrain
↑ comment by NoteworthyTrain ·
2020-07-14T22:41:57.861Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Only vaguely, but it's an interesting idea. I wonder how I'd do this and what the likely impact would be, particularly as compared to being more directly involved in policy myself.