Wow, thanks so much – very cool to hear!
Totally agreed RE the central nervous system!
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find good data on something that specific. Obviously, someone going from an omnivorous diet where they replace all land animals with plants and eat the same number of fish is going to consume fewer animals. But at least in my case, and in others of people I know, they increased their fish consumption as a result of going pescetarian.
There are also lots of recommendations to swap out land animals for fish for climate and health reasons, so I wanted to focus more on the animal welfare implications of doing that.
Interesting, will check these out.
Given that many fish we eat come from farms (and that number is increasing), do you think these arguments still hold?
Congratulations Clara! I think this is a really valuable project and am excited to see it come to fruition.
Another thing to consider is the enormous amount of info value we got out of this campaign. It looks like large amounts of money are not a sufficient condition for victory, but if Carrick hadn't been able to raise the amount of hard money needed to make the campaign happen, we would've learned a lot less.
Epistemic status: very tired.
As others mentioned, this feels like too much of an update based on one data point.
One of the largest advantages EAs running for office will have is their ability to fundraise from other EAs. I worry that skepticism of EAs in politics and/or slowness to act on time sensitive donation oppos will kneecap the success of future candidates.
Big picture, I think the impact case was pretty solid. The US govt is enormously influential. It moves a lot of money, regulates important industries, has the largest military, and can uniquely affect x risk. Members of congress exert significant control over the govt. Senators more, president most.
Having an extremely committed EA in govt seems worth A LOT to me.
Raising some amount of money is essential to winning, no matter how much outside money is committed to a race. Campaigns need to hire staff, get on the ballot, and do other things that super PACs can't do. They also get much more favorable rates on TV ad buys, can make better ads, etc. "Hard money", i.e. that raised by campaigns by retail donors and governed by donor caps, is way more valuable than "soft money", i.e. independent expenditure made by super PACs.
It seems clear to me that marginal hard dollars increase the odds of success, and it doesn't have to be that big of an increase for it to be a good bet in expected value terms.
I would guess that almost no EAs donating to GiveWell charities really understand the evidence base and models going into the recommendation, but we outsource our thinking to people/orgs we trust. Obviously, there's way less of a track record with running EAs for office and a lot of uncertainty baked into politics. But the most experienced, aligned people in the political data science world were supportive of this particular race happening, and A LOT of thinking went into this decision.
I've definitely noticed this as a part of the EA NYC community (and I wouldn't be surprised if this were true elsewhere). I think it might come from a place of trying to pre-empt common criticisms/characterizations of EA, but comes off as weird, especially when the person has no preconceptions about EA. EA has a strong culture that's pretty different from every other community I've ever been a part of, but it doesn't exert control over my life. Obviously, ideas and people from EA influence me in big ways, but because I believe those ideas and respect those people.
A few thoughts on how we could mitigate some of these risks:
- Have generous reimbursement policies at EA orgs but don't pay exorbitant salaries.
- I think most EAs should value their time higher and be willing to trade money for time, and in these cases, I think you can justify a business expense. I think this will help clarify which spending choices are meant to actually boost productivity and which are just for fun. To be clear, I think spending some fraction of your income on just "fun" things like vacations, concerts, and eating out is fine in moderation. But to me at least, the shallow pond thought experiment is still basically true and there is plenty of need left in the world, even with the current funding situation.
- I think we systematically overestimate how much spending more on personal consumption will make us happy/productive. I know plenty of people in finance/consulting/tech who have convinced themselves that they "need" to spend hundreds of thousands on personal consumption every year. I've lived in NYC on <$50K after taxes and donating for 4 years and feel like I've been able to do basically everything I want to do.
- Emphasize costly signals of altruism.
- We should encourage people to take the GWWC pledge and go vegetarian/vegan because they're probably good things to do on their merits and because they signal a commitment to making a sacrifice to help others.
This is a great post, and I'm glad these points are being raised. I share a lot of the same concerns (basically, what happens to EA long term when it's just a good deal to join it?).
A big and small personal win from these changes in funding:
- I decided to launch a magazine reporting on what matters in the long-term in large part because of the change in funding situation and related calls for more ambition. I had the idea for doing this more than 3 years ago, but didn't pursue it. (We're aiming to launch in Mar 2023).
- In August, I quit my job at GiveDirectly to pursue freelance journalism full time, and planned to make basically no money for possibly 1-2 years. I cut a lot of costs to maximize my runway. A few months later, I got a job with an EA org that paid better than any job I had in the past. Now my time was scarce and money was not. I bought a free-standing dishwasher for ~$1000, which bought back ~45 minutes a day. I think this decision, and other smaller ones like it, were very good.
But it's easy to get into self-serving territory where you value your time so highly that you can justify almost any expense (or don't think of cheaper ways to meet the same goals). This can also move us into territory where, to do ostensibly altruistic work, we don't give anything up, and, in fact, argue that others should give things to us.
This feels fundamentally different from the movement that attracted me 5 years ago (though the reasoning is very consistent, and may well be right).
Unilateral disarmament by the US seems bad, but if the US and USSR eliminated all nukes, as they almost did in 1986, that seems good to me. No other countries had anywhere close the number, and we could have been much more convincing in getting other countries to follow suit.
Great, thank you! This is definitely out of date, at least for GiveDirectly, where I used to work. GD has moved over $500M to people in poverty, though some substantial fraction of that (>$200M if my memory serves) was to people in the US. The Impact site says $100M.
Is there a good summary of EA's impact to date?
At EAG SF 2017, there was a bit at the end of Will's keynote about some of the impact of different EA projects/campaigns (e.g. number of cage free commitments).
I think it would be extremely helpful to have a webpage or doc summarizing the impact that the EA community has had to date. You can kind of back into by looking at GiveWell and Open Phil's impact (the two orgs that I think have moved the most money so far). But this both misses a lot while probably overstating impact (e.g. GiveWell preceded EA and plenty of their donors don't know what EA is).
I think we spend too much time talking about our ideas and not enough talking about what we've actually gotten done. In particular, projects that have had big impact that wouldn't have existed but for EA (probably) would likely be compelling to more "doers" than just the amount of money we've moved. I think we struggle to reach "doers" (we nail it with "thinkers") and this may be a contributor.
Forgive me if this exists and I missed it, but a quick search of the Forum, 80k, and the main EA site didn't turn this up.
Pre-ordered a hardcover copy!
Curious for more specifics on the hardcover vs. Kindle thing. Are Kindle pre-orders counted as some fraction of a hardcover order? If so, what is that fraction?
I'm excited for this series! I'm a big believer in EAs doing more things out in the world, both for the direct impacts but probably even more for the information value.
For example, I'm thrilled that Longview is getting into nuclear security grantmaking. I think this is:
- good in its own terms
- will teach us more about how international relations, coordination, and treaties work, which seems essential to ensure AI and synthetic bio advances go well
- gives us something concrete to point to that almost everyone can agree is valuable
(disclosure that I contract for Longview on something totally different and learned about this when everyone else did).
I think the sociology of EA will make us overly biased towards research and away from action, even when action would be more effective, in the near and long term. For example, I think there are major limitations to developing AI governance strategies in the absence of working with and talking to governments.
TBC, research is extremely important, and I'm glad the community is so focused on asking and answering important questions, but I'd be really happy to see more people "get after it" the way you have.
Thanks for this writeup!
Josh Clark also did a podcast series on x-risk called the End of the World. It's very good! Almost everyone he quotes is from FHI and it's very aligned with EA thinking on x-risk.
Thanks for this writeup James!
I'm a freelance journalist and work as a media consultant for Longview and have been thinking about questions like this a lot. I agree that science and technology journalism seems particularly valuable for EAs to have a presence in.
A few notes on this idea:
- The main constraint to doing something like this is finding EA/Longtermist writers/journalists who could plausibly write columns. One thing I'd love to see is more EAs pitching pieces to various organizations (80K is updating their career guide for journalism very soon with advice on this).
- Future Perfect is a vertical with a dedicated editor and writers, not a column. Columns usually refer to recurring opinion essays by one person (e.g. Ezra Klein at the NYT). Verticals are obviously harder to get off the ground and more expensive, but ultimately more valuable.
- There are some projects in development, but I can't discuss publicly yet.
If you want to chat more, you can email at firstname.lastname@example.org
SBF gave $5M to ProPublica to start a biosecurity section.
Disclosure: my partner is working on Carrick's campaign. But I also chose to donate $2900 before she was involved with the campaign. I was persuaded by the fact that small dollar donations are particularly useful in elections, which have individual donation caps. Also, if you're primarily interested in funding longtermist projects, I don't think there's much need for small dollar donors in other domains given how much big donors are focusing on LT.
I think Carrick has at least a 20% chance based on conversations with relevant domain experts. He's leading in fundraising, which I expect to continue. Fundraising is more important to electoral success the more obscure the race is, and house primaries are the most obscure federal elections there are. He also got ~10k Twitter followers in a few days and has 10x more than Salinas (his top competitor IMO). I know Twitter isn't real life, but it speaks to a strong network and savvy comms, which matter a lot in campaigning.
Salinas was appointed to her state rep position and has never won a competitive election. She has strong endorsements, and I think is still probably the candidate most likely to win based on name recognition, endorsements, and political experience.
FWIW, I worked for a successful state house campaign and have volunteered on a few other campaigns.
This is great, thank you for talking with him and translating this for us.
Bregman is a great example of someone who I think embodies a lot of EA ideas in his work and can reach more left-wing people. I remember him getting a lot of kudos from left twitter when he called out hypocrisy at Davos and criticized Tucker Carlson on his show (so effectively that Carlson's blowup prevented the segment from airing).
Obviously, there are some tensions between Bregman's shtick and EA's dependence on billionaire philanthropy, but I think it would be smart to keep trying to reach people like him (who can subsequently reach other people EA has historically struggled to reach).
FYI, the link in this sentence is incorrect: This might be starting with the recent increase in funding for GiveWell.
I decided against writing a piece, but I think I actually engage honestly with Koch's claims. I think there's a strong case that Charles Koch has done more harm than almost anyone alive in the last 40 years, which I make in the piece. If you'd like more evidence for this, I recommend the book Dark Money.
If you can point to specific things you think I got wrong, I'd be happy to hear them. If we can't be honest about the impact and motivations of people as odious as Charles Koch, I think we should reevaluate some things.
I wouldn't have approached writing about Musk in the same way for a few reasons:
- I wasn't writing the CA piece in the hopes that Koch would read it and change his ways.
- Musk has been sympathetic to EA ideas in the past and seems more genuinely motivated to help others (in his own way) than Koch
- His core business may actually be net positive, while Koch's is almost certainly not.
Candidly, I'm not super informed on global food insecurity and would try to avoid getting too bogged down in engaging deeply with Beasley's claim (which seems pretty unlikely to be true, as OP spelled out nicely). But if there is a good EA write up on the topic, I might be able to bone up while writing the piece (assuming it gets assigned).
Yeah, the whole interview is filled with fun stuff like that.
EDIT: I wrote a pitch and sent it to the Guardian's op-ed page. Given how quickly news cycles change, I think time is of the essence, but I'm also wary of reputational risks to EA, so I'd be happy to work with comms professionals about the best way to approach this, should they decide to run the piece.
I'm a freelance journalist and previously worked in fundraising at GiveDirectly. I may be able to write a draft tomorrow, or at least an op-ed pitch. If people have concerns/ideas, feel free to comment or DM me.
I've written for lefty outlets before and was thinking that the Guardian may be a good place to try to run this. It's still likely to be rejected because these things are competitive. Worst case, I could write something on Medium that could go up quickly.
The general idea would be to agree that the $6B to solve world hunger claim is problematic, and pivot to filling the funding gaps of the GiveWell charities. GiveDirectly has the most room for funding, and could scale up a lot if needed (we went from ~$50M per year to $320M in 2020). Musk also donated $~15k in doge coin to GD while I was there. Trying to move into other cause areas is likely to be confusing and overreaching IMO. I had a short discussion of a similar idea in a past piece I wrote.
"We can learn a bit more about Koch by examining some of his claims in the interview. In response to the above question, Koch says:
I don’t like the term capitalism, that assumes that what we’re after is a system where certain people have a lot of capital. That’s not what we’re about. What we’re after is a system where everybody has the opportunity to realize their potential, including those who start with nothing. And businesses should only profit to the extent that they’re helping other people improve their lives… And polluting and making people sick, killing people shouldn’t profit. They should bear a cost for that…our biggest failures in our mind are safety problems. When there’s an accident and people die, I mean, that’s monstrous. Job one is keeping people safe and job two is protecting the environment. In the last 5 years, the EPA has ranked us either number one or two of US companies in pollution reduction initiatives.
There’s a lot to unpack here. If Charles isn’t “about” a system where certain people have a lot of capital, then why does he have over $47 billion? If he wanted to prove how not about capitalism he was, he could give away his capital. There is certainly no shortage of social problems that could be addressed by $47 billion. With the interest on his fortune, Charles could fully prevent and treat neglected tropical diseases that affect more than a billion people annually. With his principal, he could end extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90 per day) for a year in all of Nigeria, Brazil, India, China, and Angola. Now this level of giving is not sustainable even for Mr. Koch, but that’s okay, because he’s not “about” anyone having that much money."
Again, Beckstead could have made the exact same point while offering my parenthetical. It would have communicated the same idea while also acknowledging the real world context. I'm not opposed to decoupling or thought experiments to help clarify our positions on things.
Yes I think that Summers was wrong. Extending his logic, companies should take even fewer steps to mitigate pollution in industrial practices in poor countries than they do in rich countries, because the economic costs of doing so are lower in poor countries and because it's probably cheaper and therefore more economically efficient to not mitigate pollution. He even says in the memo that moral reasons and social concerns could be invoked to oppose his line of reasoning, which seems relevant to people who claim to want to do good in the world, not just maximize a narrow understanding of economic productivity.
What that can look like in practice is what Texaco did in Ecuador. I'm not claiming a direct causal link between the Summers' memo and Texaco's actions. I'm simply saying that when intellectual elites make arguments that it's okay to pollute more in poor countries, we shouldn't be surprised when they do so.
I think there should be strong norms against making arguments that justify shifting resources from the least well-off people to the best-off people in the world. These types of ideas have been used by people in power to justify global inequality.
In 1991, Larry Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, sent a memo arguing that pollution should be pushed to poorer places because it's more economically efficient. Around the same time, Texaco was leaving open pools of carcinogenic substances all over the Ecuadorian rainforest, which contributed to elevated cancer rates in the local population. There were ways to safely dispose of the toxic waste produced by oil drilling, but they weren't employed because the lives of indigenous Ecuadorian people weren't sufficiently valued by Texaco.
If Beckstead had added a parenthetical like "(However, it's typically many orders of magnitude cheaper to save lives in poor countries than in rich countries)," I wouldn't take the same issue with the quote.
I believe that governments can be competent in highly technical endeavors (e.g. Manhattan Project and Apollo Programs), operate large distribution networks (USPS), and run businesses (many states have a legal monopoly on alcohol sales). It's a matter of investment. This article goes into a lot more detail on how a public pharma sector could work.
but I do suspect that it's not like the vaccine information is going to be withheld from the world while at the same time pharma companies just price gouge their way through the Global South; I think it's more likely the vaccines will be provided to developing countries via foreign aid and/or other mechanisms at far lower cost relative to what was charged among wealthy countries.
Vaccine distribution in poor countries has been almost nonexistent so far. This is already a massive problem, and it's astonishing to me that EA isn't yelling from the rooftops about it!
The KHN article lays it out well:
"High-income countries, representing just a fifth of the global adult population, have purchased more than half of all vaccine doses, resulting in disparities between adult population share and doses purchased for all other country income groups."
Maybe rich countries will donate their extra doses once they vaccinate every one of their citizens, but that may not happen for months or years. All the while, people in poor countries are dying from COVID and mutations are more likely to crop up that may bypass vaccines. Of course, this would be good for vaccine makers, who can then make a booster and sell that.
I think open-sourcing any IP (either by govt's buying it and putting it out for free, or by developing it with that intention from the beginning like Oxford had planned) would largely solve this problem. You wouldn't need to have contracts or govts mandate that companies don't profit during the pandemic. There would just be an actually competitive market for generic vaccines.
Vaccine availability in poor countries is abysmal. Which is the main issue I see with the IP-protecting approach to vaccine development. If you just let companies set monopoly prices, as other commenters have suggested, poor countries will be priced out.
Then we should massively invest in alternative models for developing and producing vaccines. The reality is that monopoly prices and IP protections are making vaccines inaccessible to the majority of the world. If you just remove IP protections but don't put something else in place, I could see that leading to bad outcomes, but that's not what advocates are calling for. Decades of market fundamentalism has thoroughly limited our ideas of what is possible. Public sector drug development was the norm for many countries around the world, until the pharma industry captured rich country govts.
It's not too surprising that the top comment is a rehashing of market fundamentalism. Going through point by point.
Unfortunately, this agreement has had major downsides. By preventing AstraZeneca from making a profit, it has undermined their ability to invest in capacity, and is one of the causes of the numerous production setbacks we have seen. I think it would have been much better if AstraZeneca was allowed to charge higher prices to incentivise them to produce more! If there is a shortage, that suggests that prices are too low, not too high.
If Oxford had required that their partner sell the vaccines for say 10% over the cost of production and distribution for the lifecycle of the patent, there would be no incentive to slow-roll production until the pandemic is deemed to be "over" so they can really start cashing in. The problem here is the cliff, not the price cap. Generic drugs are widely available even though the companies that make them don't have a legal monopoly. Better yet, a public sector pharma sector could just pursue research and production that has the highest social impact, with no concern for whether it's profitable (cures and vaccines will be less profitable than treatments and drugs that require indefinite prescriptions).
Given you highlight Moderna, why did you not mention that they have in fact agreed not to enforce their vaccine IP rights during the pandemic?
The paragraph after my quote from the NYT op-ed addresses this directly:
"Moderna has pledged not to enforce its “Covid-19 related patents against those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic.” But as Doctors Without Borders has pointed out, that offer is less generous than it seems since other types of intellectual property, such as know-how or trade secrets, typically are needed to develop and produce vaccines."
As it happens, I doubt this will be that important a move. Manufacturing mRNA vaccines is a very advanced business that requires a lot of expertise; these are not small molecule drugs! Even with the IP waiver I suspect most others would struggle to do what Moderna and Pfizer have achieved. There just is not a huge amount of currently idle capacity in this supply chain. For more detail on the manufacturing details, I recommend reading this article.
I agree that some of the rhetoric around how easy it would be to spin up new manufacturing capacity, especially that which is related to novel tech, is probably inaccurate. But these problems were foreseen a year ago. Licensing and coordinating new production takes time, deals have to be negotiated and struck. If the IP were public, every company and govt with the capacity to manufacture vaccines could be working on it (or have begun retrofitting plants to build that capacity) . The fact that no companies contributed to knowledge sharing efforts is mentioned in many of the articles I linked.
The article you linked also doesn't say that other plants couldn't make the vaccines on a timeline that could impact the course of the pandemic, it just says that it's a myth that dozens of facilities stand ready to make more vaccine right now (which may actually be true of vaccines that aren't using mRNA approaches).
I also think you have misunderstood how accounting works. Net Income is after R&D expense. The more a company spends on R&D, the lower Net Income will be. The fact that Net Income is low compared to cash return doesn't mean that the company isn't doing R&D.
No, I understand this. Net income could be reinvested in R&D if a company chose to do so. The point is that vaccine development isn't as profitable as other, less socially useful drugs (like things to treat male pattern baldness). This article goes into a lot of detail on how market forces have diminished our research and production capacities over time:
"The AIDS pandemic focused attention on America’s own disappearing base of vaccine R&D, even as Washington accelerated the trend worldwide. In 1985, the nonprofit Institute of Medicine warned that America’s “reliance on market incentives to ensure vaccine availability may lead to a failure to meet public health needs [and] may not result in optimal levels of vaccine innovation.” Douglas MacMaster, the president of Merck, delivered a similar message before Congress a year later, warning that his company, one of the last to maintain a vaccine research program, might not be able to fund it much longer, given the “profitability of such products.”
Merck ended up keeping its vaccine department. But despite claims by the industry, U.S. drug companies have not produced a “renaissance” of infectious disease research on par with the achievements of the last century. Hoyt made a study of pharma’s post-1970 vaccine record and published her findings in her 2012 book, Long Shot: Vaccines for National Defense, revealing that vaccine innovation had in fact been in a decades-long slide—one tracking precisely to the rise of monopoly science and the related financialization of the drug business. "
I actually think that it is a major problem how low the prices for the vaccines have been. These drug companies have provided us with a way out of the pandemic that many people thought was impossible - and very few expected as quickly as this. For this they should have been richly rewarded - we want to incentivise companies to work on the world's biggest problems for the future! Unfortunately, if you look at the share prices of Pfizer or AstraZeneca and compare them to the broader market, you can see this was not the case. Given the amount these companies have been attacked by politicians, I think it is plausible that AstraZeneca leadership might regard this entire endeavour as a mistake.
If you think this is true, how do you expect the world to get vaccinated? It's already cost prohibitive for poor countries to secure enough vaccine for their citizens. Almost no one in the global South has been vaccinated and COVAX is underfunded and only promises to vaccinated 20% of the population of the countries it covers. How would these companies making even more money off of the vaccines improve this situation?
Thinking that you can be opposed to a broad ideology on empirical grounds is simply mistaken. You can say something like " the countries that adopted self-described Marxist governments fared worse than they would have otherwise". But even that claim requires a lot of evidence to defend! Marxist revolutions didn't happen in already wealthy countries with stable institutions. I don't even consider myself a Marxist-- I'm just trying to make the point that this stuff is too complicated to make a claim that an ideology is empirically right or wrong.
Ideology is like bad breath, you can't smell your own. You have an ideology, whether you'd like to admit it or not!
I share your wish that American politics weren't so focused on Americans and wish that Bernie were more of an internationalist. However, his platform on immigration in 2020 was better than any other candidate's from an EA perspective IMO, even if his record may not have been great on it.
Many EAs support open borders, which to me is in the same general ballpark of "abolish the police". Both are radical breaks from how the world currently is. Both slogans are open to many different interpretations. And both have a lot of literature and research behind them. But one slogan is popular among EAs, and one isn't.
I'm a self-described socialist. I also work at an EA-aligned nonprofit and co-organize one of the largest EA groups in the world. I know plenty of other EAs who do great work and identify as socialists or leftists.
But maybe EA would be better off without us because our political contributions are objectively wrong according to your analysis.
Your analysis assumes that the goal of anyone with left of center politics is to flip seats from red to blue, but this is not the goal of the DSA. Obviously, winning majorities is essential to enacting legislation, but the composition of those majorities will change what legislation looks like. In the example I linked above, Bernie was able to significantly influence the American Rescue Plan to get more unconditional cash to people who need it, among other things. In New York State, Dems hold super majorities in the Assembly and Senate. All 5 of DSA's endorsed candidates won their primaries (the actually competitive election). One of them was the lead sponsor on the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, which significantly restricts the usage of solitary confinement (i.e. torture) in New York's corrections facilities and just passed the Assembly and Senate with veto-proof majorities yesterday.
- supported the Iraq War
- opposed the Iran deal
- supported Saudi's war on Yemen
Source. (The author of this article also wrote a defense of EA 5 years ago)
The nature of presidential primaries is that there is typically a clear front-runner by some point who captures the lions share of the remaining delegates. Even so, in 2016, the results were far closer, with Hillary receiving 55% of the popular vote to Bernie's 43%.
Honestly, you sound ideologically opposed to socialism, which is fine. What's frustrating is that you're writing about politics with a certitude that doesn't seem to match your understanding of it. You're picking a few random data points and then asserting that this proves some very broad claim, like that socialists participating in politics is bad for progressives or that Engel is better than Bowman.
Arguments like this certainly don't help win over leftists to EA.
A self described democratic socialist nearly won the democratic nomination for president. The Democratic socialists of America (dsa) helped get dozens of candidates elected to national, state, and city offices over the last 4 years. Polling shows millennials being more sympathetic to socialism than capitalism.
The Warren example would also quickly get your political analysis dismissed by almost anyone on the left. Warren's lifetime voting record is slightly more left than bernies according to this site (https://progressivepunch.org/scores.htm?house=senate) but she took office in 2012, while bernie became a senator in 2006 after serving 16 years in the house. The democratic party has moved to the left over the last 30 years so more recently elected officials will have a more left record, all else equal. Bernie also received far more support from left wing organizations than Warren. The last point that Warren is trying to get actual legislation done while bernie and other socialists aren't is just wrong. Bernie played a huge role in shaping the recently passed American rescue plan, which is estimated to halve child poverty (https://www.politico.com/newsletters/politico-nightly/2021/03/16/bernie-sanders-joe-manchin-492117).
This argument is hugely dismissive of a significant strain of American politics based on flawed analysis and unsupported assertions.
The thing that dem socs in the us want, a socialist economy and government, hasn't really happened in a rich country. The closest example would be Sweden in the 70s. I don't think there's much value in comparing the results of left wing revolutions in extremely poor and war ravaged countries with what might happen if dem socs like bernie sanders were to be able to enact their agendas in rich countries. The most economically left wing governments and societies in the rich world, i.e. Scandinavia, are some of the best places to live based on a whole host of metrics.
The main issue I have with this quote is that it's so divorced from the reality of how cost effective it is to save lives in rich countries vs. poor countries (something that most EAs probably know already). I understand that this objection is addressed by the caveat 'other things being equal', but it seems important to note that it costs orders of magnitude more to save lives in rich countries, so unless Beckstead thinks the knock-on effects of saving lives in rich countries are sufficient to offset the cost differences, it would still follow that we should focus our money on saving lives in poor countries.
Good writeup, thank you!
It strikes me that the populist claim ("...that democracy has been stolen by elites, and that the people need to claim it back") is plainly true in the US. I guess my quibble would be that there has never really been true democracy in the US; for most of our history, large groups have been excluded from democratic processes. While almost everyone can vote now, there are still large barriers to voting (e.g. it's not a national holiday, you often have to register in advance, non-citizens can't vote, etc.). Voting also has a lot less impact than campaign contributions and other political spending, which are obviously a factor of wealth. There was a Princeton paper that found the wealthy are many times more likely to achieve their desired policy goals (https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746). Michael Bloomberg is now trying to openly buy the presidency and might succeed.
Does the author engage substantively with this point? I've seen establishment academics poopoo populism, lumping together the right and left-wing versions of it.
Wonderful feedback, thanks! It's tricky because it's not just an EA podcast, so I have to assume many of my listeners aren't familiar with EA. I could cover the EA side of things at the beginning of the show when it's relevant, then tell people who are EA veterans when to skip to. Rob does this and I find it pretty helpful. I always find it interesting to hear about the personal experience of people who "stare into the abyss" for the careers (see my episode with asylum attorney Brianna Rennix). For future posts will use your title advice.
I wouldn't consider Dave Rubin's show intellectual, but he does have reach.
I participated in a civil disobedience direct action protesting an ICE-affiliated private detention center in Elizabeth, NJ. I was one of 36 people arrested for blocking traffic in and out of the facility (and nothing else). We spent hours traveling there, prepping for the action, blocking the road, being arrested and detained. All in, it was a full day of work for everyone involved, plus over 100 others who showed up. We raised money for a lawyer and travel expenses for people traveling for court. From an EA standpoint, this is really hard to justify. We shut down vehicle traffic from one facility for a few hours and got some press.
But, that was the first action of now nearly 40 across the country in the past 7 weeks. People have shut down the ICE HQ for hours, disrupted companies working with ICE, and got a bunch of press coverage on the horrible treatment of immigrants. It sill remains to be seen what the final result will be, but it does seem like the Trump admin has responded to popular protests in the past (the airport protests in particular). Even if this ultimately fails, a ton of young people are getting trained in activism and organizing. One of the organizers cut her teeth organizing the Women's March. The downstream effects of getting young people involved in effective political organizing are hard to measure, but can change the course of history. Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 presidential campaign, but the young people who worked on his campaign went on to take over the Republican Party (see Rick Perlstein's book Before the Storm if you're interested in the story). While the org is definitely not EA, I found the organizing to be very well-thought through and effective, especially compared to other actions I've participated in.
For anyone curious, the group that organized this is called Never Again Action (https://www.neveragainaction.com/).
The endorsement episode was released before the election and the mini-analysis was released the day after the election, when it appeared that Caban had won. I was personally involved with the campaign and thought it would be helpful to direct anyone who was inspired by the conversation with Chloe to take a concrete action. I could redact, but agree it might be odd.
Thanks! I was doing one per week at first, but have found that to be unsustainable.
Thanks! That's a really good idea. I definitely think there is an appetite for more EA-aligned podcasts and the barrier to entry is pretty low. I'll work on this in the next few weeks.
What are your thoughts on the rise of left-wing politics in the US (e.g. the Sanders campaign, the election of AOC and the rest of the squad, the victories and near-victories at the local levels)? Related: how do you think EAs should think about the 2020 US presidential race?
Good point. I think the biggest way he's changed my mind is by helping me understand the ways in which other people's perspectives and default modes of thinking may differ. I have a tendency to see the exchange of ideas as an argument to win (partly a product of my personality, partly a product of my years doing competitive debate). Spencer's approach in conversation, writing, and tools on Clearer Thinking emphasize the mode of discovering how other people think about the world. His work has also pushed me to examine my own bias, particularly on political issues.
Thanks for taking these things into account. I also won't have the time to go too much deeper on this stuff. I would say a general response to relying on things like rankings of think tanks or other establishment measures of institutional credibility won't be very persuasive to a lot of people on the left. The world is dominated by capitalist countries, companies, and institutions that support/defend them. There is a lot of money to be made in defending free markets. See Dark Money by Jane Mayer for a detailed investigation into how a handful of billionaires built alternative ideological infrastructure that became mainstream and established, despite having a self-interested, market fundamentalist ideology. The ranking you linked appears to based on surveys of other people in the establishment. If you're broadly critical of the establishment, you don't find their rankings to be credible. For a quick example of the Cato Institute misrepresenting data in its writing see: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/10/never-trust-the-cato-institute
For another example of ostensibly opposed think tanks working together (because they both serve the interests of capitalists) see: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/12/why-is-the-center-for-american-progress-betraying-the-left
Not trusting the establishment creates a lot of problems, which is why a lot of leftists (more prevalent in the past I think) believe some crackpottery and align with some cranks. The establishment may be right about a lot of things, but in some cases it's collectively wrong and there won't be many establishment sources you can cite to say so.
Eh, I've explained EA to a lot of lefties I meet and almost all of them have never heard of it, but are on board with the basics. However, my interpretation of and description of EA is pretty consistent with my lefty principles (both are extensions of radical egalitarian principles to me), and I'm sure lots of lefties would not like how market-friendly EA tends to be. I say some version of: EA is a social movement of people trying to do as much good as possible, using evidence to inform their perspective. This generally leads to people giving money to highly effective charities, giving up animal products, and prioritizing the long-term future.
Current Affairs overall is fairly amenable to EA and has a large platform within the left. I don't think "they are a political movement that seeks attention and power" is a fair or complete characterization of the left. The people I know on the left genuinely believe that their preferred policies will improve people's lives (e.g. single payer, increase minimum wage, more worker coops, etc.). You may disagree with their prescriptions, although based on the pro-market sources you tend to cite on these topics, you may not be interrogating your own biases enough. But if you believe what the typical DSA member does (that we know what the right policies are to address inequality and healthcare, and the only thing standing in the way of making them happen are entrenched wealthy interests), then their strategy of mobilizing large numbers of people to organize and canvass for these issues is a smart one. The EA approach to policy will only help affect things on the margin or in very technocratic roles, IMO. These things are important too, but EA has demonstrated no capability to mobilize popular support for its preferred policies.
Read the article. I can definitely see that happening and agree with the author's ideas at the end. I'm based in NYC and the DSA here is quite big and very effective at electoral politics (e.g. AOC and hopefully Tiffany Caban). I don't think that article proves any law of nature around lefty organizing. I do think that it illustrates a failure mode of left-wing communities (deference to identity concerns could be manipulated by bad actors). I don't think it's evidence that socialism is undesirable as a political project, any more so than EA's tendency to avoid politics makes it undesirable as a social movement.
Late to the party, but after seeing a few of your posts on politics (which I find informative, especially for the papers you link), I've noticed that you tend to uncritically cite sources who have clear ideological commitments to market capitalism/right wing politics that are obvious from a cursory google search. For example, the book you cite on Cuba makes no mention of the US embargo on Cuba in the summary, and very little reference to it in the index. One of the authors worked at Goldman Sachs and KKR. A UN study estimated that the embargo has cost Cuba $130B (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-economy-un/us-trade-embargo-has-cost-cuba-130-billion-un-says-idUSKBN1IA00T). Cuba's GDP per capita in PPP terms is $22.2K, more than the neighboring Dominican Republic ($19.3k) and Haiti ($1.8K) (taken from each country's wiki page). I'm far from an expert on this and don't know what Cuba's GDP per capita "should" be, but based on this list, Cuba would be the 8th wealthiest country in Latin America and the Caribbean by GDP PPP per capita (out of 32).
The author of the book on Soviet agriculture, D Gale Johnson, chaired the U Chicago Econ dept, which has been the hub of libertarian Austrian economics. From his wiki "Among other notable contributions to economics, Johnson concluded that the strength of an industry depends on how the market works and not so much on government actions."
For an alternative perspective of the economic productivity of the USSR, see chapter 5, footnote 8 of Understanding Power: the Indispensable Chomsky (http://www.understandingpower.com/files/AllChaps.pdf): "In June 1956, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer that "the economic danger from the Soviet Union was perhaps greater than the military danger." The U.S.S.R. was "transforming itself rapidly . . . into a modern and efficient industrial state," while Western Europe was still stagnating." (this happened in spite of the USSR's utter destruction during WWII).
The Economic Freedom of the World Index is published by the Cato Institute, among other libertarian/pro-market think tanks and institutes. There has been an enormous amount of propaganda produced around these questions (how well did communist governments perform economically, what economic system should we prefer). Your posts don't appear to take this into account.
I should note that none of this is an apology for human rights abuses carried out by Castro and the USSR.
I wish I could even more strongly upvote this. I think the tension between EA and leftism is largely a product of mutual misunderstanding. In general, I think there is more overlap and room for cooperation than disagreement (particularly on things like open borders, decarceration, wealth redistribution/addressing inequality). I would encourage EAs to check out a Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) meeting in their hometown. Even if you strongly disagree with leftism/socialism, you'll see a very different method of organizing people committed to helping others, which I have found an educational contrast with how we do things at EA NYC. DSA is great at involving lots of members in impactful local campaigns (supporting policies like universal rent control or medicare for all, organizing tenants, or supporting electoral candidates).
For the people who think that the left is disorganized and ineffective, I would encourage you to read more about the DSA's electoral successes in the past few years (good overview of the DSA here: https://newrepublic.com/article/153768/inside-democratic-socialists-america-struggle-political-mainstream and a shorter piece by Nathan Robinson https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/05/why-i-love-the-d-s-a). Congresswomen AOC and Rashida Tlaib were DSA members and probably would not have won without the DSA's grassroots support. Tiffany Caban is a DSA-backed public defender who has a real shot at becoming the next Queens District Attorney, an extraordinarily powerful position. Queens has over 2M people and the DA can unilaterally decide a lot of criminal justice policy in their jurisdiction. If Bernie wins the primary and general, DSA will have played a large role in turning out grassroots volunteers.
I'm not advocating that EA actively engage in political campaigns or radically change the way its local groups are structured. I just think that EAs who are interested in policy change go to some DSA events, because I think the DSA understands how political change happens far better than almost everyone I know in EA. Even if you think their priorities are dead wrong, they have been massively successful on an annual budget of less than $1m (https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/133109557).
I wrote a long piece on psychedelics for Current Affairs magazine diving into the history, economics, and potential political impact: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/04/make-america-trip-again. I don't spend too much time on the research on psychedelic therapies (these are well covered elsewhere, particularly Michael Pollan's book How to Change Your Mind). I also don't take an explicitly EA approach to the piece, although I do identify with EA.
I do think that psychedelics are a massively under-explored EA topic for reasons that have been mentioned. Their ability to increase psychological openness would probably prime them for EA in addition to all the mental health benefits.