↑ comment by quinn ·
2022-07-31T16:17:06.750Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks. I was inspired yesterday to do a point by point addressing of the piece. Feels a little "when you wrestle with a pig, you get muddy and the pig likes it", but spoiler alert I think there's nonzero worthy critique hiding in the bad writing.
Workers will rationalize high-paying jobs by giving most of their income away. Actually, when you work, you already give to society, but that is too complex for some to understand.
I think EAs live in the space between the extreme "capitalism is perfectly inefficient such that a wallstreet compensation package is irrelevant to the (negligible) social value that a wall street worker produces" and the equally extreme "capitalism is perfectly efficient such that a wallstreet compensation package is in direct proportion to the (evidentially high) social value that a wallstreet worker produces". Also, insofar as capitalism is designed and not emergent, is it really optimized for social value? It seems optimized for metrics which are proxies for social value, and very much subject to goodhart, but I'll stop before I start riots in every last history and economics department. Moreover, how about we want more number go up? If number go up is good, and working some arbitrary gig in fact makes number go up, donating some of the proceeds will make number go up more, so E2G people are correct to do both!
Animal rights and veganism are big in the movement as well.
Sorry this reads to me like applause lights [LW · GW] for the "I hate those smug virtue signaling vegans because I love bacon" crowd. OP's thesis about EA doesn't really relate to our unusually high vegan population, they might as well have pointed out our unusually high queer or jewish or computer programmer population.
Yes, they direct money toward malaria nets and treatments for parasitic worms, but they also supply supplements for vitamin A deficiency, though genetically modified “golden” rice already provides vitamin A more effectively. Hmmm, seems like a move backward.
Sorry one sec I'm laughing a little at this "what have the romans ever done for us?" moment. "yeah, besides the malaria nets and deworming, which I admit are a plus, what have the EAs ever done for the poor?" it's like monty python! Anyway, my friend, if you think golden rice is a neglected approach to vitamin A deficiency, are you rolling up your sleeves and advancing the argument? Do you even bother to cite evidence that it's more effective? "Hmmm, seems like a move backward" is a completely unjustified and frivolous sentence.
That’s a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.
EAs do not subscribe to the interpretation of the theory of random variables that you imply! We do not believe that random variables conserve a supply of events out in the universe of potentiality, such that an event of a particular class drains the supply of events of that class from the future. We instead believe that events of a class occurring does not imply that there's less of that class of event available to occur in the future. In fact, if anything we believe the opposite, if anything we believe that observing an event of a class should update us to think they're more likely than we did before we observed it! Moreover, EAs are widely on record advocating for pandemic preparedness well before covid.
Partly as a result of his and his brother’s efforts, $30 billion for pandemic preparation was written into the Biden administration’s thankfully stalled Build Back Better porkfest.
From a writing style perspective, this is blatant applause lights [LW · GW] for the tribe of those who think build back better is bad.
Catch that? Someone else pays. Effective, but not exactly selfless. It’s the classic progressive playbook: Raise taxes to fund their pet projects but not yours or mine. I don’t care if altruists spend their own money trying to prevent future risks from robot invasions or green nanotech goo, but they should stop asking American taxpayers to waste money on their quirky concerns.
Not wrong. Policy efforts inevitably lead to this line (from this crowd at least), unless they're, like, tax-cutting. Policy EAs are advancing a public goods argument. It opens us up to every lowering-my-taxes-is-ITN guy that every single public goods argument in the world is opened up to. I don't need to point out that OP surely has pet projects that they think ought to be funded, by taxes even, and I can omit conjectures about what they are and about how I personally feel about them. But this is a legitimate bit of information about EA policy efforts. (Obviously subject to framing devices: tax increments are sufficiently complex that a hostile reader would call something "increase by 0.75%" while another reader would say "pushing numbers around the page such that the 0.75% came from somewhere else so it's not a real increment" and neither would be strictly lying).
And “effective” is in the eye of the beholder. Effective altruism proponent Steven Pinker said last year, “I don’t particularly think that combating artificial intelligence risk is an effective form of altruism.”
I'll omit how what I actually think about Pinker, but in no worlds is this settled. Pinker is one guy who lots of people disagree with!
There are other critics. Development economist Lant Pritchett finds it “puzzling that people’s [sic] whose private fortunes are generated by non-linearity”—Facebook, Google and FTX can write code that scales to billions of users—“waste their time debating the best (cost-effective) linear way to give away their private fortunes.” He notes that “national development” and “high economic productivity” drive human well-being.
Seems valid to me. Nonlinear returns on philanthropy would be awesome, wouldn't they? It's sort of like "if a non-engineer says 'wouldnt a heat-preserving engine be great?' we don't laud them as a visionary inventor" in this case, because I don't expect OP to roll up their sleeves and start iterating on what that nonlinearly returning mechanism would look like! But that doesn't mean we shouldn't take a look ourselves.
There are only four things you can do with your money: spend it, pay taxes, give it away or invest it. Only the last drives productivity and helps society in the long term.
This should clearly be in our overton window about how to do the most good. It almost alludes to the excellent Hauke Hillebrandt essay [EA · GW] doesn't it?
Eric Hoffer wrote in 1967 of the U.S.: “What starts out here as a mass movement ends up as a racket, a cult, or a corporation.” That’s true even of allegedly altruistic ones.
This seems underjustified and not of a lot of substance. I think what OP has portrayed may qualify as a racket to people of a particular persuasion regarding government spending, or as a cult to the "I intuitively dislike virtue signaling and smugness so I look for logical holes in anyone who tries to do good" crowd, but OP could have been more precise and explicit about which of those they think is important to end on. But alas, when you're in a given memeplex that you know you share with your audience, you only have to handwave! lol
As Scott Alexander recently addressed, EAs are like a borg: we assimilate critics of any quality bar whatsoever. As much as we respect Zvi "guys, I keep telling you I'm not an EA" Mowshowitz' wishes to not carry a card with a lightbulb heart stamped on it, it's pretty hard not to think of him as an honorary member. My point is we really should consider borg-ing up the "taxation is theft" sort of arguments about public goods and the "investment beats aid" sort of arguments about raising global welfare.