Do power laws drive politics?post by felix.h · 2021-02-10T19:00:37.528Z · EA · GW · 6 comments
This was a post I made in the EA subreddit (link here), but it might also receive some interesting input here, hence this crosspost. Would love to hear feedback on it!
One of the key insights of EA for me is that altruism is dependent on power laws. Certain interventions are much more effective than others, even though these effective options are sometimes ignored by the larger public.
For a while I have had the intuition this might also be the case for politics. I have been exhausted by the constant media cycle around it, with every week bringing a new controversy to be outraged about. But what if politics is dependent on power laws? What if, for example, 80% of the policy interventions have only 20% of the total impact in terms of lives saved, living quality improved, qalys extended...etc, but 20% of political actions produce 80% of the results?
Some cases I noticed seem to comply with this thought:
- George W. Bush, for all the bad things that he did, funded a little known anti-AIDS programme that probably saved more lives than were lost in the Iraq war.
- land reform in Asia: because of a quite specific alignment of people and forces the US supported a certain type of land reform in Taiwan, Japan and South-Korea after World War 2, which helped kickstart these countries' industrialisation, and economic trajectory out of poverty. (Sources: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16144575-how-asia-works & https://twitter.com/noahpinion/status/1052002737863385088)
- biotech R&D: South-Korea's industrial policy on biotech, active since the 1990ies, combined with the traumatic experience of MERS in 2015 built the basis for a quick setup of test-and-trace capacities when other countries fumbled with ramping up testing in the early stages of the pandemic. (source: https://www.korea-chair.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/KFVUB_Policy-Brief-2020-04.pdf)
Of course most of this is anecdotal, and there's disagreement about how effective these policy actions were, but it would be logical that principles derived from development interventions carry over into politics. If EA's can identify government actions with potentially high payoff, it could be a very good way to be effective. It would also add some direction to what people such as Rob Wiblin already said about the social impact of voting, and about how EA's should engage with politics.
But again, this is mostly a gut feeling, so I would love input from EA's, and see if others have (not) been thinking in the same way.
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