Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) 2019-06-30T16:53:31.350Z · score: 51 (24 votes)
Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy 2019-05-25T18:17:05.070Z · score: 67 (31 votes)
Nick Bostrom on Sam Harris' podcast 2019-03-19T11:21:09.483Z · score: 17 (9 votes)
[EAGx Talk] Considerations for Fundraising in Effective Altruism 2019-01-15T11:20:46.237Z · score: 14 (5 votes)
EA orgs are trying to fundraise ~$10m - $16m 2019-01-06T13:51:03.483Z · score: 50 (22 votes)
New web app for calibration training funded by the Open Philanthropy Project 2018-12-15T15:18:54.905Z · score: 17 (8 votes)
Impact investing is only a good idea in specific circumstances 2018-12-06T12:13:46.544Z · score: 74 (37 votes)
Effective Altruism in non-high-income countries 2018-11-15T17:18:42.761Z · score: 37 (21 votes)
“The Vulnerable World Hypothesis” (Nick Bostrom’s new paper) 2018-11-09T11:20:42.330Z · score: 22 (10 votes)
Why donate to meta-research? 2018-11-08T09:29:58.740Z · score: 17 (5 votes)
[link] Why donate to (scientific) research? 2018-10-29T11:13:25.026Z · score: 7 (2 votes)
Announcing: " High-Impact Crowdfunding campaigns" & "Let's Fund #1: A (small) scientific Revolution" 2018-10-25T21:22:14.605Z · score: 39 (31 votes)
A generalized strategy of ‘mission hedging’: investing in 'evil' to do more good 2018-02-18T17:41:31.873Z · score: 22 (14 votes)
69 things that might be pretty effective to fund 2018-01-21T22:47:32.094Z · score: 34 (30 votes)
Some objections and counter arguments against global poverty/health interventions 2015-08-05T09:44:11.863Z · score: 9 (5 votes)
Giving What We Can's response to recent deworming studies 2015-07-23T18:19:59.535Z · score: 9 (9 votes)
Long-lasting insecticide treated nets: $3,340 per life saved, $100 per DALY averted. How is this calculated? 2015-07-13T16:08:20.169Z · score: 9 (5 votes)
An update on Project Healthy Children 2015-06-08T13:36:16.414Z · score: 7 (3 votes)
Room for more funding: Why doesn’t the Gates foundation just close the funding gap of AMF and SCI? 2015-06-03T14:48:07.317Z · score: 4 (4 votes)
Feedback and $2k in funding needed for EA essay competition 2015-05-13T15:13:29.362Z · score: 15 (11 votes)


Comment by haukehillebrandt on EU AI policy and OPSI Consultation · 2019-08-11T09:28:41.541Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

just came across this - deadline has already passed but perhaps this might still be useful:

OMB Seeking Input on AI R&D

In support of the administration’s artificial intelligence R&D strategy, the White House Office of Management and Budget is accepting public comments on ways to improve the accessibility and quality of relevant federal datasets and models. OMB notes that domain areas of particular interest include weather forecasting, manufacturing, agriculture, and national security, among others. Comments are due Aug. 9.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution · 2019-08-03T11:12:09.707Z · score: 14 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Generally I really find this research agenda interesting. I have only skimmed this post, but I also like your analysis the way you go about it.

One nitpick:

As it turns out, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT all get rid of Cluster Headaches in a majority of sufferers. Given the safety profile of these agents, it is insane to think that there are millions of people suffering needlessly from this condition who could be nearly-instantly cured with something as simple as growing and eating some magic mushrooms.

I think this is hyperbole. I reviewed the literature a while ago, and while I do agree that there is some suggestive evidence that this is true, I do not think that it is so strong as to warrant the claims you make and there are many qualifications. Also, I think you should cite the relevant studies on this subject (,5).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on The Unit of Caring: On "fringe" ideas · 2019-08-02T12:33:14.434Z · score: 11 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Also see Linch's excellent summary of the philosophy paper "The possibility of ongoing moral catastrophe":

Comment by haukehillebrandt on There are *a bajillion* jobs working on plant-based foods right now · 2019-07-20T10:12:49.368Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · EA · GW

This post got me wondering whether there should be Glassdoor for EA.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-07-11T06:59:17.763Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, this is an intuition I had as well.

Carbon tariffs (or border carbon adjustments) might prevent some, but not all,[156] carbon leakage and reduce emissions. But they are quite difficult to calculate (calculating the carbon intensity of every imported good) and might lower trade flows and welfare, especially in emerging economies.[157]

Generally, I thought there was surprisingly little research on carbon tariffs, even though, as your intuition shows, they should go hand in hand with carbon taxes.

Crucially, even if we were to have perfect carbon taxes and tariffs, UK emissions only make up 3% and shrinking of the global total.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Defining Meta Existential Risk · 2019-07-09T19:49:27.686Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Very interesting - you might be interested in my recent post on Corporate GCRs, where I make a similar argument.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) · 2019-07-08T14:43:30.140Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Many thanks for your kind feedback. I thought your review and deconstruction of the issues were excellent and I concur with many points that you make. I have updated the Google Doc version of the manuscript that I believe you also kindly commented on. I might update this post to reflect this if I choose to do another version of this post.

Please see my inline response below.

>>It is definitely true that there are incentives for firms to grow up the their efficient size. However, equally there are incentives not to grow further

You are absolutely right that I ignored mentioning that there are indeed some incentives for corporations not to grow further. However, overall, I think on net incentives to grow are slightly stronger than to stay at the current size, as evidenced by growth in corporate size.

>> one of your proposed policies would actually increase corporate revenue as a % of GDP.

I’m really sorry for being unclear: I did not actually propose breaking up corporations, because I do not think it’s politically tractable. I merely mention it because people will probably think about this.

>>Revenues of the Fortune 500 increased from 58% to 73% of US GDP
>>This is very misleading.
>>People more commonly look at S&P profits as a % of GDP, which is better, but still not great. You mention as an aside that this is partly due to international revenues, but without noting how this undermines the point. Over the last few decades we have seen considerable globalisation, as US companies have expanded into overseas markets, so this ratio would have increased even if the compositition of the domestic US economy remained totally unchanged.

I’m sorry I was being unclear here — the point here is not the size of states relative to their domestic firms, but the size of the largest corporations (proxied by the Fortune, even though Fortune Global would be better) and the largest state actors (the US).

Why compare corporate revenue to state tax revenue?
>> There is no actual justification for assuming that a company with revenues of $100bn is more powerful than a state with taxes of $90bn.

I agree that the authors of that paper could have provided more reasoning on the measure and source they cite (you there original source is here). I absolutely agree that better measures of corporate power are conceivable — however I only found this one dataset.

However, I feel like there’s something to be said for using revenues instead of profits. As I write, the revenue is the budget a corporation has to fulfill its goal (often to sell things), which I had defined as being roughly proportional to its power. Profits usually benefit shareholders and not the corporate entity itself. There are corporations might have high profits but that are somewhat small and can’t use much revenues to fulfil its objectives.

You also outline some very telling differences between Australia and Walmart that I absolutely agree with. However, there might be more similarities between corporations and states that it might at first superficially appear. For instance, yes states ‘can imprison people’, yet, corporations can decide on supply chains and effectively keep many people in modern slavery.

>>This article, however, rather than interrogating the claim that corporate revenues can be directly compared to state taxes, instead accepts it completely.

I did mention that “corporate revenue is a crude, but useful proxies for their power (despite corporations and states spending on different things).” My thinking here was “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

In the space of a few short paragraphs we move from proposing it as an interesting idea to accepting it as the basis for claims like:
71 out of the 100 most powerful actors are corporations

Sorry I did postulate that I use revenue as a proxy for power, but have changed this (will be reflected in a future version of this doc). I did optimize for brevity while writing and so I agree that the reasoning can move quite fast, and a future version could benefit from much more hedging.

"Shell’s revenue/budget to sell fossil fuels is $272bn"
Where does this number come from? I checked their 2018 numbers on bloomberg and got revenue of $388bn.

I’m sorry I should have cited this more clearly - this is from the paper I cite, which is based on the Fortune Global 2017.

More importantly, revenue is not at all the same thing as 'budget to sell fossil fuels'. That would be part of SG&A, which is obviously much smaller - around $11bn. Instead, most of their revenue is spent buying physical inputs for e.g. their refining business.

That’s an excellent point - fixed costs for buying physical inputs can significantly curtail corporate power. I agree that ‘budget to sell fossil fuels’ was poorly worded. What I meant by that is the budget available to get fossil fuels to the consumer (which includes extraction of fossil fuels etc.).

According to OpenSecrets, the largest US corporate spender on lobbying in 2018 was Alphabet (Google), spending just under $23m. It is technically true that their budget could increase to over a billion; however, this would require a >33,000% increase.

Yes, I do cite numbers on lobbying expenditures, and agree that they are not as big yet. My point was merely that in theory there is a potential for large increases. In fact, corporations might spend significantly more - as your source suggests:

If states are weakened by entitlement spending, it is because they choose to do so.

In staunchly democratic states where many people receive entitlements, political realities being what they are, it is difficult, but agreed, not impossible, for states to cut spending.

smaller pieces would only reduce externalities if those externalities were super-linear in corporate size. This doesn't seem to be the case however - if you split up corporation with two factories, you still have two companies with one factory each, producing just as much pollution in total.

I do agree that in some cases externalities might not increase with corporate size. However, because bigger corporations have bigger economies of scale, and one big corporation is often better at increasing consumer surplus and growth, they should also be ‘better’ at explointing profits from untaxed externalities. My intuitions here might be bias me though because I have never understand why anyone would want to fight 1 horse sized duck, effectively a dinosaur, as opposed to 100 tiny duck sized horses.

The article might also have benefited from discussion of the track records of non-capitalist systems,

My agenda was probably a bit simpler than you might have supposed – I just wanted to highlight that there might be something about corporate power that needs altruists attention.

I wholeheartedly agree that non-capitalist system are strictly worse than capitalist ones and have cited evidence that corporations do a huge amount of good in the world.

Although my agenda was fairly simple, the issues raised may well require more serious consideration – of the sort that you have offered.

You might be surprised to hear that I consider my own political leanings very free market.

I'm not denying that reducing ill-effects from socialist systems (see Venezuela) still deserve a lot of attention.

However, I think it's a false dichotomy that we cannot worry about the ill effects that socialism can have while at the same time seriously considering whether corporations can have increasingly ill effects as well and perhaps deserve more regulation/attention.

It is not possible to reduce corporate power in a vacuum - the proposed solutions largely instead transfer it to governments.

My policy solutions come in different flavors. True, the sovereign wealth fund idea would be more statist, but with minimal government interference in the market. Tax incentives for private individuals would be a more market-y solution, even though that too is technically state interference.

Entities which in the past have repeatedly brought mankind to the brink of nuclear war - an externality far greater than that of any mere corporation.

I agree that states have historically created more risks (such as nuclear war), however, I myself was quite surprised by the evidence of corporate influence when it comes to nuclear war. In particular, the dilution of the Biological Weapons Convention protocol by the bio industry. I would want altruists to look into this more.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on New study in Science implies that tree planting is the cheapest climate change solution · 2019-07-06T09:23:52.255Z · score: 44 (18 votes) · EA · GW

I have not looked at this deeply, so take all of this with a grain of salt, but a quick scan makes me believe that this is very hyped.

Having skimmed the paper it seems the only thing the authors do and what is peer-reviewed is estimate earth's theoretical maximum capacity for reforestation.

There are few problems:

1) Feasibility: "200 GtC is a technical potential assuming every hectare of forestland on earth is increased to 100% forest cover"

"An assessment of the biophysical capacity for restoring global tree cover provides a necessary but insufficient foundation for evaluating where tree cover can be feasibly increased. The kinds of trees as well as how and where they are grown determine how and which people benefit. In some contexts, increasing tree cover can elevate fire risk, decrease water supplies, and cause crop damage by wildlife. Reforestation programs often favor single-species tree plantations over restoring native forest ecosystems. This approach can generate negative consequences for biodiversity and carbon storage (5), threaten food and land security, and exacerbate social inequities. How restored lands are governed determines how reforestation costs and benefits are distributed."

There are no dollar signs or economic feasibility analysis in that paper. So the people who wrote it just cited some number that is not peer-reviewed and even if loosely based on previous numbers might not work at the scale.


2) There seems to be no scientific consensus how much (or even if!) new trees are a GHG sink on net. Some legitimate papers even suggests that new trees could be a net GHG source. (the paper does not make any new contributions to this question and I think just assumes that trees absorb GHG).

For instance, see this recent paper in Nature communications:

a) "Limited capacity of tree growth to mitigate the global greenhouse effect under predicted warming"

b) this recent paper in PNAS (top journal as well)

"On-going carbon uptake due to forest demography is large, but much smaller than previous influential estimates have suggested. Contrary to previous findings, these latest data sources indicate that the sink is predominantly in mid-high latitude, rather than tropical, forests."

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) · 2019-07-04T19:10:53.319Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, that's a interesting point.

However, I think given that there's a lot of regulatory capture going on, it is increasingly hard for governments to influence large amounts of corporate revenue, and corporations should work actively against this. This is evidenced by states being increasingly unable to collect corporate taxes.

Also, even if there's some truth to it and states control some corporate revenue, then this might be offset to an extent by state power being curtailed by mandatory and entitlement spending taking up an increasing share of their budgets (e.g. >70% in the US).

I've seen countries' GDP being compared colloquially to corporate revenue, but have never seen a paper on this. Do you know of one?

In terms of value added vs. revenue as a measure of corporate power - I think value added doesn't quite capture it, because a high revenue, low value add company (think: Walmart) might still have substantial influence due to economies of scale of their lobbying (even if they just spend a small percentage of their overall revenue on this, it will be quite high).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) · 2019-07-04T14:09:55.007Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Great point.

I think it makes sense:

  • Revenues of the Fortune 500 increased from 58% to 73% of US GDP
  • Bigger, Fortune 100, corps grew even faster: from 33% to 46% of GDP. Their share of Fortune 500 revenues increased from 57% to 63%

That means that the larger the corporation the larger its growth.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) · 2019-07-04T13:58:52.132Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, good point - I have not modelled this with actual data. There are some other ways of how corporations influence the political process e.g. through think tank funding as well (

I meant that lobbying spend seems to be not increasing linearly with inflation or GDP, but lobbying spending becoming a bigger and bigger share of GDP.

Evidence about this from my citations:

"Lobbying by banks increased in absolute terms over most of this time period, rising from a trough of $36.3 million in 1999 to a peak of $88.2 million in 2014. When scaled by the industry valueadded (i.e., gross domestic product-by-industry), this pattern remains largely unchanged (see Figure 2)."

"Google, Amazon, and Facebook all spent record amounts last year lobbying the US government

They spent a combined $48 million — up 13 percent from 2017"

also see this graph:

if you were to smooth it and perhaps squint your eyes a bit you might see a something hyperlinear / exponential there instead of a linear trend.

But see this graph which paints a different picture:

I'll revisit this claim in the next version of the paper.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-07-04T13:07:49.273Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks so much, Matthew for your detailed response. I will just briefly respond to a few points of disagreements.

Additionally, I think the choice to use the German example of clean energy subsidies is unrepresentative. In the U.S., which is responsible for 35% of clean energy R&D, the ratio is much closer to 1:1 (post-ARRA). And while the subsidies in Germany didn't go to R&D, they encouraged learning in manufacturing and production, which greatly drove down the price. While this isn't included as R&D, it has a similar effect of making renewable energy cheaper.

The US is the biggest funder of clean energy R&D, so yes the ratio is definitely better. However, globally clean energy deployment subsidies are >$120 billion whereas clean energy R&D is just $22bn.

I also disagree with your distinction between “technology” vs. “economic or policy limitation”. Policy tractability is a function technology. As clean energy gets cheaper it will get adapted more readily.

  • ITIF's target R&D areas are broadly correct, and will surpass the challenges above. Mix of agreement and disagreement.

Note that recommendation of ITIF does not hinge on their technology missions. While you might have disagreements on the particular technology missions they propose, they too are experts on this topic, and there are many more experts that agree with them. We mostly believe that most of the value from this comes from encouraging all countries to increase their energy R&D through Mission Innovation. Generally, increasing in spending will lead to increases in the clean energy that the technocratic consensus deems most effective.

In the report we write (citations available there):

"Our analysis focused exclusively on the climate policy solutions that are most effective. This seemed to be our competitive advantage. We saved time by not analyzing in-depth the impacts of climate change (we had done a shallow literature review on this in a previous analysis ,). Instead, we relied on the scientific consensus on this topic. Also, unlike other analyses, we did not compare the effectiveness of different energy sources. For instance, is nuclear really good and its drawbacks are overstated? Are renewables like solar underestimated? Can coal perhaps be made clean through carbon capture? We intentionally steered clear of these controversies and have not engaged with these questions on a deep level. There seems to be no expert consensus on whether any one technology is much superior and unreasonably neglected than others. Instead, we feel there is some mild consensus amongst energy experts that the world's future energy supply must come from a diverse mix of energy sources and it is best to opt for 'technology neutrality', i.e. being agnostic with regards to which low-carbon technology is best. We assumed that clean energy R&D budget increases will either lead to all technologies becoming better across the board or one technology will emerge more readily as the 'winner'.

Relatedly, our views on the importance of clean energy innovation also seem uncontroversial within large parts of academia, but have not made it outside of academia yet. We came across a few recently published and unpublished papers that reached similar conclusions to ours and so we believe in the coming years our views might be more mainstream.,"

>> And I think the U.S. climate philanthropic sector has largely correctly identified policy interventions in India and China as the highest priority. From an EA angle, I think the most neglected climate-interventions are in adaptation in poor countries that are most vulnerable to climate change, and in understanding and adaptation to extreme warming scenarios.

On adaptation: I disagree that adaptation is more effective than what I outline in my report, as it is not a global public good. On the understanding to extreme warming scnearios I actually agree a bit, above I write:

Funding more research on such topics might be even be more cost-effective than clean energy R&D funding. However, the overall funding gap is likely much lower (perhaps in the hundreds of millions) than for clean energy R&D (which is in the tens of billions) and so diminishing returns will set in earlier. Consider that, in the US alone, climate change research funding is 1.7% of total research grants and about $1.5 billion annually. Thus, while investing in climate change research is quite cost-effective, there is an upper bound on the benefits. Put simply, the engineering challenges of creating cheaper clean energy technology are vast and need many more billions, whereas the value of information from climate change research might be very high, but there diminishing returns set in earlier, and we already have a lot of funding in place. “

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-07-03T16:08:49.750Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'm very much pro regulation and we rank it very highly in my comparison of climate policies :)

>> If regulators don't think about the unintended consequences, then yes, I agree we risk unintended consequences. But surely the solution is to do regulation well?

>>With proper consultation with industry, regulation could induce innovation as Khorton suggested. With proper thought, it could set the right incentives and not encourage outcomes that are only marginally help. Indeed part of the point of lobbying should be to help governments see where they might go wrong and help them to get it right.

Yes, absolutely, this is an excellent point. However, I feel sometimes governments do not do regulation very well. Regulation is sometimes not set into in the future (and then sometimes when the time comes around there is industry push-back and the regulation is diluted), phasing in regulation to minimize switching costs is not done, making regulation 'revenue neutral' by reducing other non-Pigovian taxes does not often happen, making regulation technology neutral (see comment above).

>>A large company cannot move to a different jurisdiction at the drop of a hat. If the regulation is done well, with proper consultation, firms would rather work towards a regulation with a proper lead time than move countries.

Yes, you're absolutely right - companies can't move very easily and this point is frequently overstated. However, supply chains often can sometimes be switched more effortlessly and carbon leakage has been demonstrated empirically (I cite some studies on this). More crucially though, if you look at the carbon intensity of different economies:

you see that advanced economies have already moved energy intensive industries abroad. Thus, regulation in our advanced economies will not create the right incentives that are optimal from a global perspective.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-24T13:22:24.685Z · score: 13 (4 votes) · EA · GW

They will first find a way to do X cheaper, and that can be innovation or producing elsewhere.

I write about the subtleties in a section on regulation in the appendix:

"Many countries use regulation to set environmental standards (e.g. for cars) or ban certain technologies completely (e.g. coal power).

Take non-electric car bans: France, the UK,[242] and even China and India[243] have all announced plans to ban sales of non-electric cars by 2040. More than ten countries have targets for electric vehicles in place.[244],[245]. Unfortunately, these initiatives are often not technology-neutral and exclude synthetic fuels, hydro-fuels, and biofuels, which can decarbonize transport. However, there are also legitimate arguments against technology-neutral policies.[246] For instance, they might incentivize only slightly greener technology that is more cost-effective in the short term (think: biofuels), but lock out emerging energy technologies that would be better in the long term (think: electric cars). Frontloading technology-specific policies may actually be more optimal.[247]

The benefits of regulation and setting emission standards can diffuse throughout the world. Due to pressure from advanced importing economies that have adopted stringent emission standards, emerging economies have more rapidly adopted these standards.[248] And this is not only so that they meet the requirements for export, as evidenced by the fact that some countries, such as China, now have emission standards even though local car manufacturers cannot compete in international markets.[249] Rather, emerging economies have adopted these emission standards because the technology is now cheap enough that, in the case of China, for instance, adoption makes sense to reduce heavy air pollution.[250] Thus, environmental regulation can be a successful strategy for international technology transfer, and more ambitious future non-electric car bans should be implemented. Moreover, many countries already have generous tax breaks for electric vehicles,[251] which could be expanded in tandem with bans.

It makes sense to regulate emissions standards for cars, for which the demand is probably relatively inelastic. To an extent, this might also be the case for residential electricity usage, which, unlike industrial electricity usage, does not suffer from carbon leakage. The global passenger car fleet causes around 9% of total global energy-related emissions;[252] innovating to make electric cars cheaper might therefore be a great global public good.

Another way for governments to stimulate clean energy innovation through regulation is banning certain technologies. Consider bans on coal power. More than 20 states have joined “Powering Past Coal Alliance”[253] to phase out coal power and signed a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage (incidentally, the International Energy Agency estimates that carbon capture and storage has been dramatically underinvested in, receiving only $1.2 billion in investment in 2016 (total low-carbon energy investments amounted to $850 billion). Admittedly, the signatories did not use much coal power in the first place.

Finally, the EU’s “Biofuel FlightPath Initiative” aims to replace 4% of current EU jet fuel consumption with biojet fuel derived from renewable sources by 2020.[254] Aviation causes about 5% (2%–14%, 90% likelihood range) of climate change.[255]

Regulations such as these bans are theoretically equivalent to a punitive carbon tax and might have positive spillovers for the world, yet they have drawbacks similar to the carbon pricing described above (e.g. carbon leakage). In contrast to outright bans, future expected regulation and phase-ins have the benefit of guarding against abruptly high switching costs. Commitments to ban environmentally harmful technology in the future might be politically easier to push for than regulating the present and might seem like quick policy wins. But the effectiveness of future regulation is traded off with how credible commitments are against industry pressure on policy-makers when the time comes around to actually phase out environmentally harmful technology.

Finally, in theory, elegant carbon pricing based on estimated externalities (here the social cost of carbon) is more welfare maximizing than crude bans or arbitrary environmental standard setting."

all citations at:

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-24T10:34:10.684Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Re research on climate change. Let's assume that we're at a stage where we'll shortly be seeing diminishing marginal returns on this sort of research (as you claim) and that a small amount of extra research might be more valuable than a small amount of extra research of clean energy. Might that not (maybe) be a better thing to campaign for? E.g. if $1bn of climate change research outperforms $10bn of clean energy research (obviously these are made-up numbers) then campaigning for $1bn of extra government spend might be easier than campaigning for $1obn of extra spend.

Yes, campaigning for more climate change research funding has the potential to have a higher benefit-cost ratio, but the benefit minus the cost might not be as high. I have some ideas on how to go about increasing that funding as well but I don't think it's very suitable for crowdfunding campaign. If anyone knows an ultra high net worth donor who would be interested in it please get in touch (

Re regulation

I don't think there is a strawman here. I think you're right that regulation can be done poorly and done very well. For instance, as I write in my report in contrast to outright bans, future expected regulation and phase-ins have the benefit of guarding against abruptly high switching costs. I also didn't come down very hard on regulation and talk about it's technology spillovers.

However, the basic economic fact remains that if you have two countries, one with regulation, one with less tight regulation, then, all else being equal, there is the potential for carbon leakage and that's why many people worry about economic competitiveness.

Also, regulation has similar drawbacks to carbon taxes in that it doesn't induce innovation which is the crucial consideration of this report.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Announcing the launch of the Happier Lives Institute · 2019-06-21T22:52:07.444Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

people living in high density cities underestimate how stressed and unhappy they actually are

Can you say more about this?

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [Link] Ideas on how to improve scientific research · 2019-06-21T21:44:39.582Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks very interesting!

I have a long report on meta-research and funding opportunity here:

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-12T10:12:25.720Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

You're absolutely correct that biases and beliefs often creep into many kinds of researchers.

I just meant to convey that ITIF is much more unbiased and non-partisan than one might expect and certainly more than many think tanks with a clear political leaning.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-11T08:20:00.777Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW

explain how this can lead to more spending on previously neglected R&D

Mission Innovation is an international agreement under which many countries have coordinated to spend part of GDP on clean energy R&D. Unfortunately, signatory countries are currently not on track to fulfill their pledges. One of the focus areas of ITIF's clean energy innovation program is the Mission Innovation agreement, the importance of which Hart has highlighted since the agreements inception in 2016.

Mission Innovation tries to solve the 'free-rider problem', i.e. countries not spending as much as others (relative to their GDP) on clean energy R&D. Because the agreement attempts to coordinate many countries to spend a non-trivial part of GDP on clean energy R&D, Mission Innovation provides great leverage.

This is a typical policy instrument and there are many precedents for spending part of GDP or GNI on global public goods to increase global cooperation on an issue. For instance:

  • NATO member states hold each other accountable to ramp up defense spending to 2% of GDP
  • OECD member states have committed to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid
  • EU member states spend around 0.7% of GNI to finance the EU budget
  • EU member states have agreed to spend 3% of GDP by 2020 (3.5% of GDP by 2025) on research and development

Though countries often fall short of their commitments, international agreements to spend part of GDP adds up to massive amounts. The international agreements to spend on global public goods might have also contributed to these issues being higher up on the policy agenda.

Recently Cunliff wrote a policy brief titled "Omission Innovation: The Missing Element in Most Countries' Response to Climate Change". There, Cunliff argues that "only significantly greater levels of public investment in clean energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) will produce the level of innovation necessary to dramatically reduce emissions from unabated fossil fuel consumption." Cunliff highlights that countries are not on track to fulfill their Mission Innovation pledges and "If the member countries stay on their current feeble growth trajectory, [Mission Innovation] will reach only 50% of its target." Another example of ITIF’s work on this is a recent op-ed by Hart in which he calls for the US to lead on international coordination of long-duration grid storage R&D.

what the money would be spent on

We think the main mechanism of their impact will be high-quality, unbiased policy research on smarter spending on clean energy R&D. Communicating this research to policy-makers might then result in policy changes. We imagine this to happen through typical think tank outputs such as books, reports, policy briefs, blogs, conferences, workshops, commentaries, formal briefings and informal discussions with policy-makers, government officials, and key stakeholders.

ITIF could spend money productively by hiring staff such as policy researchers or assistants. In fact, ITIF has recently hired for another Senior Policy Analyst in Clean Energy Innovation to scale up, but seems to only have secured funding for one year so far. Hiring competent staff for several years can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The typical budget/staff ratio at the top 20 US think tanks is roughly $153,000—ITIF's ratio is very similar at ~$152,000.

Conservative case: $500,000 over three years ($167,000/year), equivalent to the mean salary of 1 additional staff. Medium case: $1,500,000 over three years ($500,000/year), equivalent to the mean salary of 3 additional staff. Optimistic case: $2,000,000 over three years ($667,000/year), equivalent to the mean salary of 4 additional staff.

Note that the funds will be intentionally restricted only to the ITIF clean energy innovation program. However, within clean energy innovation Hart and Cunliff can use the money flexibly in whatever way they see fit. For instance, they might decide that it is better to spend funds on travel to give more talks or organize events and workshops on clean energy innovation.

Also, the very first graph says "CO2 emissions by region in the NPS", but what's the NPS?

Sorry this is International Energy Agency slang - I've added this to our website. NPS = New Policies Scenario. The NPS aims to provide a sense of where today's policy ambitions seem likely to take the energy sector. It incorporates not just the policies and measures that governments around the world have already put in place, but also the likely effects of announced policies, including the Nationally Determined Contributions made for the Paris Agreement.

what is your relationship to the stated authors Hart & Cunliff

For this grant evaluation, we cold contacted ITIF, who we had no prior contact and so declare no competing interests.

The most important consideration is that their work focuses on the most effective policy: higher and smarter spending on clean energy R&D.

In other words, our search for a funding opportunity in climate change was very theoretically motivated: we first considered what the most effective policy area is, and only then looked for organizations with a focus on clean energy R&D policy. ITIF fit the bill perfectly.

I've added this to the website as well.

how does Bill Gates fit in?

We use his explainer video because it's very succinct and in our quotes section as an endorsement for our view:

"“If we create the right environment for innovation, we can accelerate the pace of progress, develop and deploy new solutions, and eventually provide everyone with reliable, affordable energy that is carbon free. We can avoid the worst climate-change scenarios while also lifting people out of poverty, growing food more efficiently, and saving lives by reducing pollution.

To create this future we need to take several steps:

One step is to lay the foundation for innovation by drastically increasing government funding for research on clean energy solutions. Right now, the world spends only a few billion dollars a year on researching early-stage ideas for zero-carbon energy. It should be investing two or three times that much.

Why should governments fund basic research? For the same reason that companies tend not to: because it is a public good. The benefits to society are far greater than the amount that the inventor can capture.”

Bill Gates Philanthropist, Gates Foundation"

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a private sector coalition of billionaires led by Bill Gates, has started a venture to invest in breakthrough energy projects.

As far as I know they focus exclusively to get billionaires to invest directly in private energy companies.

The Gates foundation also does not make grants within climate policy, but focuses on US education and global development.

Thus Gates does not directly fund climate change policy research and this might be reason to think that this area is still neglected.

Generally, clean energy innovation is neglected by philanthropists. US philanthropists gave only $115,000 in grants to promote government clean energy R&D spending and only $20,000 to promote the role of government in fostering innovation annually on average from 2011-2015. This suggests that there are likely still increasing returns to scale.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Summary of x-risks? · 2019-06-04T21:14:21.806Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · EA · GW

John Halstead at Founders Pledge has written an excellent, accessible, yet in-depth report on x-risks, which you can find at:

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-04T14:14:34.127Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Here, neglectedness is taken as a reason for tractability, while it should be a reason for marginal cost-effectiveness.

No sorry that's incorrect. These are two separate points.

Clean energy R&D is neglected because only $22 billion globannually are invested - Norway could in theory triple this if they wanted to and it would have a very large effect on global emissions.

Carbon taxes are also neglected. But if Norway were to implement a carbon tax the effect on global emissions would be tiny.

Increasing public clean energy R&D does not necessarily require strong multilateralism or harmonized national policies. This makes it very tractable politically and uniquely positioned in the space of all climate policies as a decentralized approach.

Even if clean energy R&D spending would be relatively higher (say 100 billion), it might still be more tractable for a small country to increase it than to implementing carbon taxes.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-04T09:00:26.471Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Better understanding the relative rankings I would be interested to know: For "Research on climate change", you say in your spreadsheet that neglectedness is only 2 because "Much research funding already in this area and returns are probably diminishing" Do we know how much? (or any other reason for thinking that returns are diminishing here but not in the clean energy arena?)

This is an excellent question. I think there are some research projects on climate change which are plausibly more cost-effective than clean energy R&D.

Examples of high-impact climate research include: Research on the transient climate response, global scale flood forecasting systems, Research on the ethics and feasibility of global geoengineering, Research on the feasibility of using ocean alkalinity as a scalable and cheap way to absorb large amounts of carbon (for as little as $10 per tonne of CO₂ averted), Research on reducing emissions from unconventional sources, and Research on super-pollutants.

Funding more research on such topics might be even be more cost-effective than clean energy R&D funding. However, the overall funding gap is likely much lower (perhaps in the hundreds of millions) than for clean energy R&D (which is in the tens of billions) and so diminishing returns will set in earlier. Consider that, in the US alone, climate change research funding is 1.7% of total research grants and about $1.5 billion annually. Thus, while investing in climate change research is quite cost-effective, there is an upper bound on the benefits. Put simply, the engineering challenges of creating cheaper clean energy technology are vast and need many more billions, whereas the value of information from climate change research might be very high, but there diminishing returns set in earlier, and we already have a lot of funding in place. I hope this makes sense?

For Regulation, why is importance smaller than it is for research on clean energy? (or research on climate change, for that matter?)

Great question.

Regulations such as these car or coal power plant bans are theoretically equivalent to a punitive carbon tax and might have positive spillovers for the world, yet they have drawbacks similar to the carbon pricing described in the report (e.g. carbon leakage). Put simply, if you ban carbon intensive energy in the UK (e.g. coal) industry might move abroad. This might also not stimulate energy innovation in the best areas (e.g. the UK might just rely more on old nuclear technology that won't be used in emerging economies). In contrast, if you invest in basic clean energy R&D this might create the low carbon technology cheaper around the world.

For Regulation, why is tractability scored lower than governments funding research when regulation costs (roughly) no money? For Regulation, when I read section 8 of your document, I wasn't sure how to interpret some of your comments. You pointed out ways that current approaches to regulation are sub-optimal. Does that mean you think there's an opportunity to campaign for regulations to be done differently? It seemed to me like a write-up that was very positive about regulation.

Great question. For me tractability in this comparison is not about cost but political tractability that is a function of monetary costs. The great thing about clean energy R&D increases is that few people will object to it whereas with regulation often creates a lot of industry push-back. Put simply, my sense is that a politician would have a harder time shutting down 5 coal power plants than increasing the clean energy R&D budget by 50%.

In contrast to outright bans, future expected regulation and phase-ins have the benefit of guarding against abruptly high switching costs. Commitments to ban environmentally harmful technology in the future might be politically easier to push for than regulating the present and might seem like quick policy wins. Put simply, it is often easier for a politician to announce "By 2030 no diesel cars will be allowed any more in this country.". But the effectiveness of future regulation is traded off with how credible commitments are against industry pressure on policy-makers when the time comes around to actually phase out environmentally harmful technology. I think in the past politicians have sometimes announced that this or that environmentally harmful technology should not exist anymore but then when the time came around there was renewed industry push-back and times were extended.

"if there were billions more dollars thrown into this field that would be great because we have loads of leads to follow and I could list out a load of them off the top of my head if you wanted me to"

A 2018 meta-analysis summarized the results of several studies[25] that all asked several experts by how much clean energy prices if clean energy R&D were to increase by several billions. The meta-analysis concludes:

"[...] experts largely believe that increased public RD&D investments will result in reductions in future technology costs by 2030, although possibly with diminishing marginal returns. [....] for all technologies, experts see the possibility of breakthroughs that would make the technology cost competitive, envisioning sustained annual rates of cost reduction on the order of 10 percent per year. Moreover, such breakthroughs appear more likely under higher RD&D."[26]

The results from these experts surveys: moving from low to medium or high R&D investment scenarios might decrease clean energy costs by several percent.

This view is shared by a number of academics, international organizations, and members of the private sector, including:

  1. Daron Acemoglu, the most cited economic scholar in the recent decade, who argues that optimal climate change policy requires both carbon pricing and subsidies for clean energy research. Clean energy research should be heavily front-loaded to carbon taxation, which can be phased in gradually to minimize switching costs for industry.[19] This argument is not about how high carbon taxes should be in absolute terms or when exactly they should come. It merely suggests that we need to prioritize clean energy R&D, because it would not make much sense to create better clean energy technology later this century. In short, there is good reason to prioritize clean energy R&D.

  2. The International Energy Agency notes that public R&D on energy technologies grew at an average rate of only 2% per year in the last 5 years.[20] For that reason, they argue that more spending on public and private clean energy R&D would be productive and is needed.[21]

  3. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition,[22] a private sector coalition of billionaires led by Bill Gates, has started a venture to invest in breakthrough energy projects. According to recent analyses, public energy R&D can productively absorb large amounts of additional funding[23] and should increase 5-fold to be socially optimal. The US R&D budgets should even increase 10-fold.[24]

You can find all citations and the full report here:

the discussion section suggests that the constraints for funding are likely to come from there being an adequate pool of scientist and engineering personnel available.

I guess this is a question about Talent constraints. My sense is that there are more talented scientists and engineers who currently work in the private sector that could be mobilized. Generally my sense is that ‘Idle talent’ can be mobilized quickly for science if research funding is available. For many years most researchers have trained more researchers (e.g., graduate students, postdoctoral researchers) than are needed to replace themselves, and so there is a pipeline of highly qualified young researchers who could be rapidly mobilized to take on extra work if there was more money in the system. Increasing salaries and working conditions might be another effect to get people from the private sector to do basic research —

it also raises the possibility of government funding crowding out private sector funding

As a rule, the less applied the science the less private sector funding there is, so I feel this should not be a concern here, because I'm arguing for basic clean energy R&D such as that done by government. There's also a factor pushing in the other direction: the more basic R&D, the more private sector funding is crowded in later down the R&D pipeline.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-01T13:20:30.451Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I do not have a super strict definition of the ITN framework, but we are inspired by 80k's ITN methodology. The arguments and findings from the ITN analysis, sometimes serve as inputs to the fermi estimate.

Tractability for instance we mention several times throughout the report:

"Public clean energy R&D is neglected: only $22 billion is spent per year globally. Many advanced economies such as the US could unilaterally increase this substantially i.e. even without international coordination—which makes this policy uniquely politically tractable. "

"Increasing public clean energy R&D does not necessarily require strong multilateralism or harmonized national policies. This makes it very tractable politically and uniquely positioned in the space of all climate policies as a decentralized approach (see Figure 4)."


"Political tractability of carbon pricing approaches

Carbon pricing is becoming increasingly unpopular and politically difficult to implement.[173] One commentator writes that “the carbon tax’s fading appeal, even among groups that like it in principle, shows the difficulties of crafting a politically palatable solution to one of the world’s most urgent problems”.[174] It might be an even larger political challenge to increase the carbon tax to reflect the social cost of carbon (i.e. the true price of the externalities).[175] The political feasibility of a carbon tax is further decreased by the seemingly endless debates on how high it be should be (although it would make sense to set the carbon price to the marginal abatement cost, which is easier to estimate than the marginal social cost of carbon,[176] or use the lower bound of the social cost of carbon,[177] and/or simply err on the side of overestimating externalities, while reducing other non-Pigovian taxes).

On the positive side, carbon pricing might face less industry pushback and regulatory capture than many might assume: Major fossil fuel companies are advocating for carbon pricing.[178] This might be a case of ‘Bootleggers and Baptists,’[179] a phenomenon in which profit-driven corporations cause externalities (bootleggers) to align politically with socially motivated governments (baptists) trying to reduce externalities, as pushing for tighter regulation of their own industry (e.g. alcohol, carbon) gives them an advantage by making it harder for new competition to enter the market. On the other hand, the fossil fuel companies have invested over $1 billion on misleading climate-related branding and lobbying.[180]

In the appendix, we list two different ways of measuring national efforts to price carbon. The first is the country’s environmentally-related tax revenue as a percentage of GDP (e.g. gas taxes etc.). The second measure takes into account both carbon taxes and emission trading systems to calculate the effective carbon rate."

"Cheaper clean energy technology might save the world a lot of money and might reduce both emissions and poverty. Many people also suggest that this would make a carbon tax more politically palatable."

"Theoretically, a perfect global carbon pricing regime implemented early might have been the only policy needed to prevent climate change.[143] Leading economists agree that carbon taxes are a great policy intervention.[144] Increasingly, advanced economies do price or tax carbon emissions. A global carbon price would lead to lower emissions and incentivize the private market to build cleaner energy technology. Although there are proposals and increasing public support for a global carbon tax,[145] the biggest challenge still is that they do not seem politically palatable enough.[146] Some countries, such as Russia, derive a substantial part of their GDP from fossil fuels[147] and it might thus be in their interest not to adopt a carbon price."

On neglectedness:

"Public clean energy R&D is neglected: only $22 billion is spent per year globally compared to $140 billion spent on clean energy deployment subsidies and trillions spent on energy."

"But is public spending on clean energy R&D really neglected? Is it effective to spend more? We think so. Consider that, globally, only $22 billion in public funds are spent on clean energy R&D annually—this is only 0.02% of World GDP.[18] For comparison, world energy expenditure was 6% of the World's GDP. This means we spend about 300 times as much on energy than on making energy better.

Why is there so little investment in clean energy innovation?

Generally, basic R&D is under-supplied at both the private and public level. There are several theoretical reasons for this:

  1. On a global level, basic clean energy R&D is under-supplied by both governments and the private sector. Why? Because it suffers from the free-rider problem, as all basic R&D and public goods do. Countries and firms can just let others do the basic research and then reap the benefits because knowledge is hard to protect internationally. Private R&D cannot be protected perfectly because patents expire or industry know-how diffuses to other firms and not all rents from investments can be captured. This results in a socially suboptimal investment. In other words, additional public investment through basic R&D funding and subsidies increase social surplus, because private capital can only capture a fraction of the social surplus pie.
  2. Generally, venture capital and the market neglect capital-intensive, high-risk, high-return, long time-horizon investments.
  3. Clean energy R&D, in particular, is under-supplied because externalities of carbon are not priced adequately, leading to insufficient commercial applications for clean energy R&D."

"First, generally, clean energy innovation is neglected by philanthropists. US philanthropists gave only $115,000 in grants to promote government clean energy R&D spending and only $20,000 to promote the role of government in fostering innovation annually on average from 2011-2015.[52] This suggests that there are likely still increasing returns to scale."

"Climate change is relatively non-neglected

Climate change is a high-profile topic that many people work on. It is funded by both governments and big private foundations. Thus, even though clean energy innovation in particular has been relatively underfunded within the climate policy space, it is conceivable that in the future ITIF might receive grants for their clean energy innovation program from other funders, which lowers the counterfactual impact of donating to this project. In other words, comparatively, climate change is not very neglected. For instance, the risks and expected losses of pandemics are of a similar magnitude than those of climate change, yet the area is more neglected by other funders.[75]"

You might also be interested in the cell notes in this spreadsheet that give the very quick reason for all climate policies scores on the ITN framework.

Does that answer your question?

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-01T12:59:18.564Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

>>what I saw as a lack of clear "final benefit" description along the lines of "assuming a middling outcome, we'd expect to prevent".

I think a thorough "final benefit" / "$ per ton of CO2 equivalent"/ "$ per degree of warming averted" calculation is not in principal outside of the realm of empirical investigation, but there are many difficulties here (e.g. the elasticity of clean energy demand, the comparative carbon intensities of other low carbon energy etc.). I might come back to that in case there is very strong demand for these numbers. But I also don't think we need these calculations for the same reason that many high risks, high return grants lauded in the EA community do not need to include a "$ per life saved" calculation. I do have a bunch of what Bostrom calls crucial considerations in this report and I think EA research should head perhaps more in that direction.

But for what it's worth we do mention the economic benefits of reducing global low carbon energy costs by several percentage points. They might be very large, because World Energy expenditure is in the trillions, [48],[49] and even a small reduction in cost by several percentage point might lead to large savings. Also there is a recent study which found that combining clean energy innovation with emission reduction policies reduces the costs of climate mitigation with a net present value of $3-6 trillion.[50]

Also, one economic model suggests that "if a carbon tax imposes a dollar of cost on the economy, induced innovation will end up reducing that cost to around 70 cents".[73] Given that political acceptability is mainly a function of cost, making clean energy cheaper might make carbon taxes more likely. Just based only on this effect, it might make this a really good reason for donating to this, but again it's hard to quantify the exact benefits.

>>Have you spoken to Open Phil about this opportunity?

I do not know OpenPhil's official position on this, but there is a cell in "Open Philanthropy Project's Public Priorities- Global Catastrophic Risks" spreadsheet which mentions that clean tech R&D might be a potential philanthropic opportunity. But the same spreadsheet also mentions says that Anthropogenic climate change (other than geoengineering) is not prioritized. I'll definitely approach them though.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-05-28T21:35:42.697Z · score: 13 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you so much for your excellent comments—there seems to be a theme in there that captures something interesting about the way people in EA think.

>>This example doesn't seem to have anything to do with "the potential for policy change".

I see what you’re saying: my example is definitely not decisive evidence for a strong causal links between ITIF’s policy research and policy change. But I feel that saying that this example doesn’t have anything to do with the potential for policy change is a bit strong. Under Obama, if you wanted to get right people talking about an issue then publishing a book at MIT press and having it reviewed in the NYT seems like a good start. I have added a statement about that the book was launched at an event at the National Press Club with Financial Times Washington commentator Edward Luce.

But yes this was just one point, for instance, elsewhere in the report we write “The launch event for this report demonstrated that ITIF had good convening power, with high-profile panelists such as a former deputy head of the US Environmental Protection Agency.[44]

And yes ITIF is a very well regarded think tank based on the top rankings on the global think tank rankings. Think tanks are generally meant to change policy and so a good ranking is likely to indicate this. This is more of a holistic argument (cluster thinking if you will).

Relatedly and re: your comment on the Fermi estimate:

In the report I write (I’ve made some minor changes now to make this more clear).

What effect will the spending increases have on clean energy costs? Above we cited a meta-analysis of studies surveying experts suggesting that energy costs will decrease by several percentage points, if energy R&D is increased from a low to a medium or high investment scenario. The table below shows how many additional million dollars in clean energy R&D the low, medium and high investment scenarios correspond to. The amount of increase for some of the medium scenarios are roughly the same order of magnitude as benefits under realistic and optimistic assumptions in our cost-effectiveness analysis ($53 million and $750 million; see Table 2) and so this project could plausibly decrease low carbon energy costs significantly.

As mentioned above, because World Energy expenditure is in the trillions, [48],[49] even a small reduction in cost by several percentage point might lead to large savings. This cost-effectiveness analysis is roughly in line with a recent study which found that combining clean energy innovation with emission reduction policies reduces the costs of climate mitigation with a net present value of $3-6 trillion.[50]

>>Is spending $2 million to generate $50 million in R&D likely to produce more good for human life than buying 400,000 mosquito nets? Maybe yes, maybe not, but I'm not sure how to figure out the range of possible answers.

One could multiply things out further if one feels inclined to, but the model uncertainty increases so much that it doesn’t allow for meaningful comparison with other causes.

This is more of a high risk, high reward donation opportunity than the low risk, low reward global development interventions whose benefits are more readily quantifiable and comparable. I think it’s definitely much better in expectation—I’d rather have a reasonable chance of lowering carbon electricity prices by a few percent than save 40 lives with 400,000 bednets.

I think we need to be careful of precision bias in EA and favouring ever more elaborate, explicit cost-effectiveness modelling of low risk easily quantifiable interventions while neglecting the more high risk "better approximately right than precisely wrong" kind of interventions.

I agree though that it’s hard to say whether this is better than funding say policy reform that would improve trade with emerging economies or biosecurity.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-05-28T09:10:23.260Z · score: 33 (10 votes) · EA · GW

The amount spent on deployment subsidies is drastically out of proportion to how much is spent on public R&D.[188] In Germany, one study critical of subsidies suggests up to $580 billion overall will be spent till 2020 on clean energy generally, while the German government projects to only spend ~$620 billion until 2050.[189] The majority of these billions will be spent on subsidies.

German solar subsidies dwarf public R&D funding by a factor of 120 (!),[190] when economic modelling has suggested that the optimal ratio should be roughly one-to-one.[191] [192]

Globally, clean energy deployment subsidies are around $140 billion annually.[193] compared to R&D.

I have talked to several people in government about this, but our views on the importance of clean energy innovation also seem uncontroversial within large parts of the academia, but have not made it outside of academia yet.

This view is shared by a number of academics, international organisations, and members of the private sector, including:

  1. Daron Acemoglu, the most cited economic scholar in the recent decade, argues that optimal climate change policy requires both carbon pricing and subsidies for clean energy research.[202] He further argues that clean energy research should be heavily front-loaded to carbon taxation, which can be phased in gradually to minimize switching costs for industry. This argument has no bearing on the how high carbon taxes should be in absolute terms, nor how high clean energy R&D should be in the future, only that the latter should be prioritized. Put simply, it makes no sense to have most of our R&D spending later this century, but a high carbon tax can still be introduced at a later stage.
  2. The International Energy Agency, which notes that because public R&D on energy technologies grew only at an average rate of only 2% per year in the last 5 years[203], there is need for more and that more spending on public and private clean energy R&D spending would be productive.[204]
  3. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition,[205] a private sector coalition of billionaires led by Bill Gates, has started a venture to invest in breakthrough energy projects.

We came across a few recently published and unpublished papers that reached similar conclusions to ours and so we believe in the coming years our views might be more mainstream.[83],[84],[85]

All citations can be found at:

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Which scientific discovery was most ahead of its time? · 2019-05-22T07:09:32.719Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Oops- that was accidental. I wrote that paragraph. Have edited this.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Which scientific discovery was most ahead of its time? · 2019-05-20T09:56:22.957Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Sorry if that was unclear, but it's the title of the paper by Einstein:

It's also known as the Paradox paper- which is where you might know it from:

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Which scientific discovery was most ahead of its time? · 2019-05-16T14:55:55.225Z · score: 18 (10 votes) · EA · GW

In scientometrics, there is a literature on "Sleeping Beauties"—papers whose relevance has not been recognized for decades, but then suddenly become highly influential and cited. The Einstein paper "Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete?" is a popular example of this.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [Link] 5-HTTLPR · 2019-05-10T12:38:59.532Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Also—shameless self-promotion—see Let's Fund's Better Science crowdfunding campaign that tries to tackle the replication crisis and make science better.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on How do we check for flaws in Effective Altruism? · 2019-05-07T09:13:41.033Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I love this idea.

Relatedly: if you have a website you're sometimes spammed by bots that tell you that you have grammar mistakes, broken links or that they can help you reduce the loading time of your page.

Perhaps there's a business idea here somewhere, where you 'mass tell' people they've incorrect statistics/beliefs etc. on their website, which they can find behind a $X paywall. Also see:

Comment by haukehillebrandt on The most cost-efficient way to convert money into personal health · 2019-05-07T09:04:22.735Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · EA · GW
Were you under the impression that I was disagreeing with the sodium-reduction guidelines because I was merely unaware that they existed?

No, my model of your view is that you were aware of the guidelines, but believe that sodium-reduction guidelines are on net harmful. Am I correct?

Both too little and too much salt is bad, but based on two the more recent meta-analyses I linked above, that deal with this controversy in the Ioannidis article you linked, I think the WHO salt reduction guidelines are on net good.

As a rule, public health messaging should be tell people to watch their salt intake to reduce their blood pressure, because:

  • average salt consumption is much higher than the WHO recommends
  • it will likely increase due to profit motives absent policy interventions
  • many more people with high blood pressure will benefit than people with low blood
    pressure would be harmed because they adapt a very low sodium diet on the basis of sodium reduction guidelines
Comment by haukehillebrandt on What is the Impact of Beyond Meat? · 2019-05-04T08:13:19.270Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Interesting question.

Ever so rough fermi: Beyond's revenue was around $100 million - they sell their products at $1 and save an animal for every 100 products sold, then they save 1 million animals a year. Increasing their revenue by 1% through a grant or unpaid internship would save 10k animals.

But if the market is efficient, the counterfactual impact of for-profit clean meat companies is converging towards zero.

More basic clean meat R&D might be more undersupplied by the market.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on The most cost-efficient way to convert money into personal health · 2019-05-04T07:45:42.072Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that, if sustained throughout the lifecourse, then moderate consumption of salt and sugar is not harmful. I wrote this sentence with metabolic syndrome in mind - this affects very many people as they get older.

On salt: I agree that salt is essential and not new to human diets, and that for the majority of people reducing sodium by a lot is harmful.

However, many people have high blood pressure and should avoid excessive sodium consumption [see study, study]. Also, many scholars argue that salt can be described as addictive [see 'Salt addiction hypothesis'] and some implicate it in making food hyperpalatable (also see 'The Hungry Brain' by a former OPP consultant).

On sugar: the WHO recommends a reduced intake of free sugars throughout the lifecourse.

Not sure what you mean that people harm themselves (you mean that they mess with their basal metabolic rate? I think this is only happens in extreme cases, not when, say, just cutting out sugar sweetened beverages). Thinking about this in terms of the reversal test, recommending increasing sugar intake (which is happening anyway) does not make sense to me on average.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on What is the current best estimate of the cumulative elasticity of chicken? · 2019-05-04T05:44:15.795Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Sorry I was being unclear.

I was trying to make a point about the comparative effectiveness of two popular kinds of interventions in animal welfare: animal product reduction advocacy (e.g. leafletting, corporate campaigns etc.) vs. clean meat R&D.

The effectiveness of animal product reduction advocacy relies more heavily on the elasticity.

Poultry elasticity might be higher than the—harder to measure, more meaningful—animal product elasticity. For instance, reduction in demand for poultry might lower the price of feed further down in the supply chain - reducing the price and thus increasing the demand of other animal products.

Thus, using poultry elasticity as a parameter when evaluating animal product reduction advocacy interventions overstates its effectiveness (relative to clean meat R&D).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on What is the current best estimate of the cumulative elasticity of chicken? · 2019-05-03T13:02:26.736Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Saulius - I think this is really interesting info.

However, I feel that this be misleading in that it overstates the case for vegetarianism over clean meat R&D, because what one is really interested in is meat or animal product elasticity. In other words, poultry elasticity understates the counterfactual where reduction of poultry supply due to someone's vegetarianism increases the supply of other animal products.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on The most cost-efficient way to convert money into personal health · 2019-05-01T19:32:26.806Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you so much for writing this. It’s really important to take care of one’s health and so I’m glad you bring this up.

Of course, social relationships are important, but the recent talk about the loneliness epidemic (/ depression) is there for a reason-it’s just quite hard for people to establish satisfying social relationships and I don't think anyone has quite cracked it yet. Quitting smoking, alcohol, salt, and sugar is also hard–they are quite addictive. The jury on sitting seems to still out [1, 2, 3, 4] - it might be that exercise can effectively eliminate associations with ill-health.

If you factor in time costs, willpower and other constraints, then I think the below are better ways to effectively improve your own health.

Disclaimer: this is not medical advice, please consult your doctor before doing any of this. Also, this is based on experiences of a socio-economically-privileged, abled-bodied male.

  1. One-off behaviors that have long-lasting effects:
    1. Example: routine vaccinations and vaccination refreshers. You need to get the DPT and MMR vaccine during childhood and also need a refreshers during adulthood. There might be other vaccinations that might be effective for some people such as the HPV vaccine or meningitis.
    2. (Non-elective) surgeries
  2. One-off behaviors or purchases that create semi-permanent lock-in. Examples:
    1. Annual reminder for doctor’s / dentist appointment
    2. Signing up for a gym as close to your home/work as possible (beware of trivial inconveniences)
    3. Signing up with for psychotherapy
    4. Setting an annual calendar reminder to September to get a flu shot
    5. (Fitbit) scale to track your weight
    6. Noise-cancelling headphones to reduce hearing damage
    7. Eye-mask to improve sleep
    8. Better/private health insurance
  3. Remove negative health behaviors. As a rule, it’s often more effective/easier to remove negatives (not doing bad things) from one's lives than adding positives (doing good things).
    1. For example, you can’t outrun a bad diet: drinking 500 excess calories by drinking a liter of soda is much easier than doing an hour of exercise.
    2. Smoking/drinking less alcohol is more effective and easier than exercising
    3. Cancel addictive media that encourages sedentary behavior and reduces sleep
  4. Taking supplements and medications. The benefit-cost-ratio can be very high: you just need to remember to take the pill and do it, which might improve your health by quite a bit. Many people in advanced economies have micronutrient deficiencies such as iron, Vitamin D, insufficient fiber, etc.
  5. Health behavior change through listening to audiobooks might be very effective. Kick back and relax, while a professional audiobook narrator with an authoritative voice whispers affirmative, encouraging, actionable, scientific, focus-group tested, carefully edited prose right into your ear for 10 hours straight. In my experience, audiobooks can really hit the point home—all the behavior change, none of the eye clamps. You can get them for free with an audible trial. For health:
    1. “The Ultimate Guide to Fasting” and “The Obesity Code” by Jason Fung
    2. “The easy way to quit smoking”, "The Easy Way to Control Alcohol" by Allen Carr
    3. “Why we sleep” - for better sleep
    4. “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain” for mental health
  6. Relatedly, learning about health might have a high value of information, if it makes you aware off unhealthy behaviors you could easily change (for instance, lifestyle risks for cancer)
  7. Weight loss: being overweight is one of the biggest causes of ill-health in advanced economies. I found water fasting to be really effective.
  8. Improving sleep (humans sleep a third of their life, so it scores very highly on importance).
  9. Exercise: If you want to optimize for health, keep it very short (<30 mins) because you’re quickly hitting diminishing returns, but do it more often. In the gym, do 20 mins of 1) low impact high-intensity interval training cardio (e.g. elliptical) and 2) do 1-2 exercises resistance/weight training with focus on safe and easy versions of the big compound lifts ((front) squats, Romanian deadlift, overhead press, dips, chin-ups). Increase weight slowly but steadily so that you to become strong, but stop increasing the weight when you reach your bodyweight to reduce injuries. Learn some bodyweight exercise for days you don't go to the gym.

Lately, I’ve been wondering whether this is a lot of effortful micro-optimization and whether not bigger things in life are not much more effective. For example, moving to a healthier city/country with better public health/ less air/noise pollution. Thoughts on this?

Comment by haukehillebrandt on What Master's is the best preparation for an Econ PhD? · 2019-04-17T13:58:05.745Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · EA · GW

This might not apply to everyone, but one of the most neglected criteria for Master and PhD programmes generally is whether to do them in the U.S. or in Europe.

The difference is the length of the programme. In the UK for instance, many Master's programme are often 1 year and PhDs are 3 years. One can sometimes go straight into a PhD from undergraduate.

In contrast, US PhDs are usually 5 years. For people who want to go into academia a longer PhD might make sense, but perhaps for others shorter European style graduate study might make more sense.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Is Modern Monetary Theory a good idea? · 2019-04-17T13:46:17.064Z · score: 32 (13 votes) · EA · GW

The IGM Economic Experts Panel explores the extent to which economists agree or disagree on major public policy issues. To assess such beliefs they assembled a panel of expert economists. They had something on Modern Monetary Theory recently:

Of interest might also be the comments and further links that the economists cite to backup their opinions.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Effective Impact Investing · 2019-02-28T19:23:38.272Z · score: 27 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you very much Gabe and Max for the constructive feedback! I really appreciated it and have upvoted your post.

Having said that I disagree with your main arguments and conclusions – I largely agree with John’s response above (hence replying to his post).

Some more thoughts on this, which are mine and also not necessarily John’s.

On my judgment call of favoring theory over very noisy empirical evidence, I wanted to add that:

“Financial economists have found that a randomly chosen portfolio of as few as fifty stocks achieves 90% of the diversification benefits available from full diversification across the entire market. The reason is that once one owns shares of a few dozen of them, the diversification gains from ownership of shares in additional corporations are small.”

John Y. Campbell et al., Have Individual Stocks Become More Volatile? An Empirical Exploration of Idiosyncratic Risk, 56 Journal of Finance 1 (2001). As cited in Weyl’s Radical Markets.

So that means the effects of divestment are likely small and hard to pick up. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Generally, multi-objective optimization is harder than single-objective optimization, and it is usually probably better to optimize for financial returns without social impact constraints with investments that feed your charitable giving and then to optimize for social impact through non-profits without profit-making constraints. As one of the economists in the survey that John cited says: “Hard to believe that adding constraints on portfolio choice leads to higher returns”.

On shareholder advocacy:

Shareholder advocacy might very well have some impact. The question is how much effective than normal advocacy it is. Shareholder advocacy has costs and I don’t think there’s a free lunch here. For instance, it has time costs and socially motivated shareholder advocacy should theoretically reduce a corporation’s profits because it moves the corporation away from its goal to maximize profits.

I also wonder what the added value of being a shareholder for advocacy is. In other words, in theory, there should not be much reason for corporations to listen substantially more to minority stakeholders (or any shareholder for that matter) more so than non-shareholder advocacy, because their goal is to maximize shareholder value. I also worry that there might be displacement effects: one corporation that does not exploit socially harmful ways of making profits might bow under pressure and change their ways, but another purely financially motivated corporation might fill in.

The examples you cite might mostly be because of a corporation's financial self-interest. Tyson investing in clean-meat is actually an example that I’ve cited in my mission hedging piece. Or it might just be good PR and trivially expensive for corporations. To take your example: “At $7 million in annual firearms sales, the category represents less than 1/175th of 1 percent of Kroger's $123 billion in revenues.”, given that the profits of this will be quite small it would be hard to see that normal advocacy might not have had the same effect. I feel like you imply that shareholder’s ‘might’ does substantial work here and makes it particularly effective, but there are costs and the effectiveness is unclear.

I think there can be some effective shareholder activism:

“Shareholder activism is an alternative middle ground approach in which investments are used to submit and vote on shareholder proposals that influence firms directly. Due to Securities and Exchange Commission rules, a foundation only has to own $2,000 in market value of the firm’s securities (continuously for one year) in order to submit a proposal to be voted on by all shareholders (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (1998)). Thus shareholder activism would be an additional benefit of investing in a firm but is not expected to motivate a sizable investment level.”

This is likely to be effective, but more a clever hack that can be exploited with a few 10s of million dollars and does not warrant SRI on this scale which also uses up a lot of philanthropic bandwidth.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Announcing: " High-Impact Crowdfunding campaigns" & "Let's Fund #1: A (small) scientific Revolution" · 2018-11-16T10:58:13.307Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks so much for the detailed comments and feedback!

1) I'm aware of Oxford Prio's research into this and had read their research. They looked more into Open Science which is related but slightly different from meta-research. There are many more funders funding transparancy, openness and data sharing than meta-research. I do not recall that Oxford prio looked Registered Reports specifically. I think it's an interesting analysis but I think the funders they listed in their analysis are neglecting Registered Reports.

2) re: the literature review methods: we do have a section titled 'Our Research process' in one of our reports. I did a literature review and based on expertise in science created a shortlist of potentially very impactful projects within meta-research (some other projects I considered are listed in the report linked above). Then I interviewed about 5 people in the meta-research field and asked them about their opinions on these projects. Registered Reports seemed most promising of all of these projects. How assess the quality of the papers I cite: as a general rule I look into the studies corresponding to how much weight I place on the point I'm trying to make. So if the study is crucial to the point I'm trying to I look into it more. I also try to find evidence from many different sources so that no argument rests on a single source (also see Sequence vs. Cluster Thinking by Givewell), and generally see whether there are many counter arguments and cite those. Thanks also for flagging the conflict of interest in the cancer study I cite, I absolutely see where you're coming from and have added a footnote to the analysis. In this particular case, I disagree that the study should be completely dismissed and has little value, only because this study was partially funded by a pharma cooperation. I believe that the results can broadly be informative and give a general idea of the impact of new drugs, though it might be an a biased overestimate. This because the study was more descriptive as opposed to an experimental, is not advocating for a particular drug, was peer-reviewed, pushlished and partially funded by the impartial National Institute on Aging. It also does fits with my priors that new cancer drugs often do work quite well.

Evidence Frameworks such as GRADE are interesting and I think they deserve to be funded more. I think they are in practise applied much more in clinical science and would not have such a generalized impact as Registered Reports.

re: EU funding for meta-research: It's encouraging that they have funded this specific doctoral programme for meta-research, and that space should definitely be watched, but I can't see that there is a big general pot of funding available for meta-research, that would hint at this area not stillbeing relatively neglected.

In the future we might add explicit numerical estimates of the degrees of confidence in particular claims for now we opted for careful language and hedging where appropriate. It's a great idea to add a section on what would 'falsify' the case for this grant, we might do this in the future (from the top of my mind: if one could provide evidence that RR advocacy would be bad in the sense that getting people to donate to this over conspicious consumption would be net bad for the world, or if there'd be much better high-risk, high-reward funding opportunity that smaller donors would give to that we're distracting donors from then I would definitely change my mind).

Thanks also for the website suggestions! Generally your feedback is very much appreciated.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crohn's disease · 2018-11-15T17:23:49.043Z · score: 14 (3 votes) · EA · GW

This might be naive and I have only skimmed this thread, but wouldn't using a cheap study using mouse model be best here? Maybe contact the authors of the papers cited in this paper "Mouse models of inflammatory bowel disease for investigating mucosal immunity in the intestine" to collaborate on such a study.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Announcing: " High-Impact Crowdfunding campaigns" & "Let's Fund #1: A (small) scientific Revolution" · 2018-11-04T09:24:28.980Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the comment!

how will go about finding high-impact projects (I think you mentioned to me that you have some in mind already, but do you have a method for generating a sustainable flow of projects or is there a risk that you might run out soon?)

Our KPI is quality-adjusted money moved. So we not only need a good fundraising ratio but also keep the research quality very high (our first campaign is backed up by ~17k words of analysis). We already have some research on climate change ( from my time doing research at the Center for Global Development for our second campaign. But we want to do more and better research, especially into GCR reduction projects (potentially evaluated/peer-reviewed by other (EA) researchers for QA). If you have a really good idea for what we could look into next, we can discuss it in the comments here.

There are many high impact projects out there, one just needs to do all the research to find them. We're currently doing the YCombinator startup school and they tell you 'do things htat don't scale' (see

how will it be funded?

Because we're not taking a cut of the money donated (in fact, we can't do that becasue we're not handling any money, it's all through Facebook and GoFundMe's crowdfunding platforms), we will have to find donors who think that our work is valuable.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Cost-effectiveness of The Humane League's corporate campaigns: 2015-2017 · 2018-04-03T09:31:14.430Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, absolutely, but the elasticity is somewhat hard to calculate (somewhat should try this though!). My example from above is just making a conservative assumption that the replacement effect is extreme. Of course it could be that there would have been a 37 million hen increase independent of corporate campaigns and that corporate campaigns have moved 25.8 million of those hens out of cages.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Cost-effectiveness of The Humane League's corporate campaigns: 2015-2017 · 2018-04-02T11:23:19.295Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · EA · GW

This is very interesting thanks!

These projections of cost-effectiveness seem promising. I have a nagging related worry about what these campaigns have achieved so far, both in order to estimate a lower bound of their effectiveness, but which might also be relevant for future effectiveness. This worry resulted from the hypothesis that there is a displacement effect so that consumers and companies who buy cage free, will lower the price of caged eggs and thus increase demand from other consumers and retailers (in the US and potentially abroad).

Looking very briefly at the data it seems that the number of US cage free hens seem to have gone up in absolute terms by 25.8 million between Jan 2016-Oct 2017. However, it seems that total layer hens in the very similar time period from Dec '15 to Dec '17 have gone up by 37 million ( spreadsheet with sources ). In other words, the absolute number of caged hens seems to be increasing and corporate campaigns might have not had any effect at all so far. This seems to be in line with industry news.

This is also worrying especially if processed eggs from caged eggs might be exported to other countries in the future if the prices for eggs are further pushed down, or if processed eggs from caged hens are imported into the US.

But I'm not an export on this topic, so I would really like to hear someone to tell me what's wrong with this argument.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on A generalized strategy of ‘mission hedging’: investing in 'evil' to do more good · 2018-02-23T20:28:43.731Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Excellent comments- thanks!

AI safety advocates are not focused on slowing down AI development and in many cases tend to think it might be helpful, in which case mission hedging is counterproductive.

I know people working on AI safety who would want to slow down progress in AI if it would be tractable. I actually think that it might be possible to slow down AI by reducing taxes on labor and increasing migration - see - which I think is a better idea than robot taxes: . Somebody should write about this.

But this not really about speed: mission hedging might work in this case because the stock price of an AI company merely reflects the probability of whether a company will come up with better artificial intelligence than the competition earlier, not when.

I could also imagine a scenario in which AI problems also weigh down a company's stock. Maybe a big scandal occurs around AI that foreshadows future problems with AGI and also embarrasses AI developers.

Note that it is important to diversify within mission hedging. So weighing down one company's stock doesn't matter. I feel that any scandals that are not really related to the actual ability of the AI industry to produce better AI faster will likely have very limited effect on the stock price dropping. I'm reminded here of fatalities with self-driving cars, which has not rocked investors confidence in investing in them. But even if it does, than that just means that self-driving cars are not as great as we thought they would be (presumably some fatalities are already 'priced in').

But yes, your point is valid in the that 'you can't short the apocalypse', as I mention above. Overall, I actually think, all things considered, mission hedging might work best for AI risk scenarios.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on A generalized strategy of ‘mission hedging’: investing in 'evil' to do more good · 2018-02-23T20:02:08.930Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

These are excellent comments, thank you!

Regarding your first point on investing in industries that covary vs. are causally related: you're right that mission hedging can also work when there is just covariance. I think the main benefit of investing in companies that cause the bad activity is that it will have have a tighter covariance than investing in companies that do not cause the bad activity and we can know this ex ante. I do take your point that this is potentially more of a reputational risk in investing in companies that cause the bad activity (for some cases, for some people). I do not think the reputational risk argument applies much to either small investors or some investments such as investing in technology companies to hedge against AI risks. Now, your last point I find most interesting: if the efficient market hypothesis (EHM) doesn't hold then it's better to invest in things that have a high covariance. I have a strong intuition that EHM holds for publically traded stocks, especially for small investors, who don't make a big fuzz about investing. Overall, I feel drawn to selecting investments that cause the bad activity due to higher certainty about high future covariance.

Now do our donations go further when the problems in the world get worse? I'm inclined to say "yes", but I think it's a very small effect.

Yes, this crucially depends on whether there are increasing returns to scale to charitable intervention, which is another assumption. However, for me the assumption has has intuitive appeal. I can imagine the effect size to be substantial in some cases (I now give a toy model in the beginning of the text). Think about the effect of public good type interventions where the cost-effectiveness scales pretty linearly with the problem (how many beings are affected).

I took a look at your calculation and I'm sorry to say that I don't quite understand it. However, based on the numbers that I see, I think that plugging in different parameters into the model would also not be entirely unreasonable. But yes, I agree think it might be interesting to have more empirical validation on this.

I think our disagreement might boil down to different intuitions about whether EMH holds on the stock market and whether there returns to scale i.e. whether a charity becomes more effective as the problem gets bigger. I think this is somewhat likely in some cases (but I'm not completely confident in this). So I'm still pretty convinced about this to the point where I would advice people to seriously, though carefully consider using mission hedging over your covariance approach.

Also, I think that generalizing to selecting estimates based on covariance with charity value is the right framework to use here, instead of just looking at this sort of hedging.

I think investing in corporations that cause the bad activity is theoretically equivalent to this and in fact is based on finding a (distal) cause of charity effectiveness. However, as mentioned above it assumes increasing returns to scale.

But I just thought about finding a more proximal cause of charity effectiveness, that can still be directly implemented on the stock market and maybe this might be shorting the endowment of your favorite charity. Will Macaskill made a similar comment on your post saying that maybe it might be worth considering shorting FB if OpenPhil is still heavily reliant on it. Maybe your favourite charity has an endowment and it itself doesn't hedge against risks (because their portfolio is not optimally diversified).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on A generalized strategy of ‘mission hedging’: investing in 'evil' to do more good · 2018-02-20T12:48:10.466Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Sorry, I missed your previous comment. I'm not an expert on climate change and this not necessarily the best place for this discussion of why this is neglected within effective altruism - I would recommend that you post your question to Effective Altruism Hangout facebook group and ask for an answer. The reason that you get downvoted is that you post on many different threads even though it's not really related to the discussion. I would recommend you reading this: before posting though:

However, here are my two cents:

Comment by haukehillebrandt on A generalized strategy of ‘mission hedging’: investing in 'evil' to do more good · 2018-02-20T12:08:32.664Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for asking for clarification - I'm sorry I think I've been unclear about the mechanism. It's not really about shareholder activism, this is just an extra.

I've now added a few graphs and a spreadsheet as a toy model of why mission hedging beats a strategy that maximizes financial returns in the introduction. Can you take a look and see whether it's more clear now? Or maybe I'm missing your question.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on A generalized strategy of ‘mission hedging’: investing in 'evil' to do more good · 2018-02-19T10:54:33.100Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Great question!

In theory, mission hedging can always beat maximizing expected returns in terms of maximizing expected utility.

In practice, I think the main considerations here are a) whether you can find a suitable hedge in practice and b) whether you are sufficiently certain that a cause is important, because you give up the flexibility of being cause neutral and tie yourself financially to a particular cause. You can remain cause neutral by trying to maximize expected financial returns.

To me, the two most promising applications seem to be AI safety, where people are often quite certain that it is one of the most pressing causes (as per maxipok or preventing s-risk), and it seems as if investing in AI companies is plausible to me (but note Kit Harris objections in the comment section here). And then also using mission hedging for ones career might be good by either joining the military, the secret service, or an AI company for the reasons outlined above i.e. historically people in the military have sometimes had outsized impact.