Posts

HaukeHillebrandt's Shortform 2020-04-17T10:13:42.853Z · score: 6 (1 votes)
Growth and the case against randomista development 2020-01-16T10:11:51.136Z · score: 285 (125 votes)
Dataset of Trillion Dollar figures 2020-01-13T13:33:25.067Z · score: 37 (19 votes)
Let’s Fund: annual review / fundraising / hiring / AMA 2019-12-31T14:54:35.968Z · score: 37 (12 votes)
[updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions 2019-10-02T08:36:27.444Z · score: 103 (50 votes)
New popular science book on x-risks: "End Times" 2019-10-01T07:18:10.789Z · score: 17 (10 votes)
Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) 2019-06-30T16:53:31.350Z · score: 55 (25 votes)
Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy 2019-05-25T18:17:05.070Z · score: 68 (32 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: 79 (40 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: 23 (11 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: 8 (3 votes)
Announcing: "Lets-Fund.org: 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: 27 (17 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: 16 (12 votes)

Comments

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Improving local governance in fragile states - practical lessons from the field · 2020-08-12T11:50:09.383Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

What do you think is the probability of a civil war in Lebanon now and what are the best giving opportunities for donors looking to reduce the risk of war?

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-08-12T10:48:39.913Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Median income and GDP per capita correlate very strongly (.93 in one sample).

Generally, for emerging economies, growth (raising GDP per capita) seems sufficient to increase median income (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_rising_tide_lifts_all_boats).

Amongst countries with a GDP per capita > $10,000 (~Namibia), no country has a median income below the extreme poverty line (1.90*365 = $693.5). 

And raising median income is sufficient and necessary to eliminate extreme poverty.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-08-09T09:39:27.737Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I have a section in the appendices "Quotes from Duflo and Banerjee" with more quotes from them from their latest book.

"Economists (and other experts) seem to have very little useful to say about why some countries grow and others do not.

We actually cite Pritchett above directly replying to this quote:

"The Venezuelan economy is not in 2018 spiraling into hyperinflation and in the midst of a tragic economic depression because “economists have little useful to say about economic growth” in the sense the advice, if followed, would be useful."

Whole paper is worth a read:

https://d101vc9winf8ln.cloudfront.net/documents/32264/original/RCTs_and_the_big_questions_10000words_june30.pdf?1565974982

Given that economic growth requires manpower and brainpower, it seems plausible, however, that whenever that spark occurs, it is more likely to catch fire if women and men are properly educated, well fed, and healthy, and if citizens feel secure and confident enough to invest in their children, and to let them leave home to get the new jobs in the city.

From our piece above: Admittedly, GDP and health are strongly correlated. Healthier people can work harder and learn more in school and so one might expect better health to cause growth. However, the evidence for health causing growth is weak and the effect is small: 

 “If improving health leads to growth, this would be a reason, beyond the welfare gain from better health itself, that governments might want to make such investments. However, the evidence for such an effect of health on growth is relatively weak. Cross-country empirical analyses that find large effects for this causal channel tend to have serious identification problems. The few studies that use better identification find small or even negative effects. Theoretical and empirical analyses of the individual causal channels by which health should raise growth find positive effects, but again these tend to be fairly small. Putting the different channels together into a simulation model shows that potential growth effects of better health are only modest, and arrive with a significant delay.” "Health and Economic Growth - CDN." Health and Economic Growth. Accessed 20 Nov. 2018.

 (Though there is some disagreement in the literature - for instance, “targeted interventions to improve the health conditions of women and children, such as iodine supplementation or vaccination against human papilloma virus, are likely to yield very high returns in terms of economic growth, well-being, and long-run development.)”)

earned 20 percent more as adults every year, meaning $3,269 USD PPP over a lifetime. The effect might be lower if deworming became universal: The children lucky enough to have been dewormed may have been in part taking the jobs of others.

But to scale this number, note that Kenya’s highest sustained per capita growth rate in modern memory was about 4.5 percent in 2006–2008.

If we could press a macroeconomic policy lever that could make that kind of unprecedented growth happen again, it would still take four years to raise average incomes by the same 20 percent. And, as it turns out, no one has such a lever."

1. Indeed, it is crucial that there's no general equilibrium theory of deworming and we don't know whether these effects scale to the whole population as well as growth does. 2. Of course, the literature on this is hotly debated (c.f. worm wars). Perhaps some targeted effective investments in health might cause growth or otherwise have outsized effects on welfare. 

Our best bet is the literature on the “fetal origins hypothesis” and child development, where early environment affects cognitive development and later life outcomes. Some of the effect sizes are downright incredible and its implications might be big (if true). For example, salt iodization is cheap and might improve (population-level) cognitive development and IQ. , Other examples are pollution, nutrition, disease, weather, smoking, alcohol etc. 

A counterpoint though is that because growth causes population health, and income has also been shown to improve birth weight, test scores etc, growth might still dominate this.

3. Increasing growth benefits almost everyone in the economy and improving policies such as trade policies reach users with ‘zero marginal cost’. In other words, a think tank advocating for lower tariffs for Nigeria to EU markets provides a public good for all 190 million Nigerians. Adding another Nigerian due to population growth is increasing this intervention effectiveness at zero marginal cost.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Addressing Global Poverty as a Strategy to Improve the Long-Term Future · 2020-08-07T13:07:56.719Z · score: 13 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Greg Lewis writes about this in his excellent post: "Beware of surprising and suspicious convergence":

Imagine this:

Oliver: … Thus we see that donating to the opera is the best way of promoting the arts.

Eleanor: Okay, but I’m principally interested in improving human welfare.

Oliver: Oh! Well I think it is also the case that donating to the opera is best for improving human welfare too.

Generally, what is best for one thing is usually not the best for something else, and thus Oliver’s claim that donations to opera are best for the arts and human welfare is surprising. We may suspect bias: that Oliver’s claim that the Opera is best for the human welfare is primarily motivated by his enthusiasm for opera and desire to find reasons in favour, rather than a cooler, more objective search for what is really best for human welfare.

[...]

The claim that, even granting the overwhelming importance of the far future, it turns out that global poverty charities are still the best to give to, given their robust benefits, positive flow through effects, and the speculativeness of far future causes.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on How to promote widespread usage of high quality, reusable masks · 2020-08-03T17:13:57.368Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'm sorry if I'm being ignorant because I haven't followed C-19 very closely recently, but can you point out what you take offense with?

Comment by haukehillebrandt on What is an easy way for a $10-50 monthly subscription to a EA fund from outside of US? (my mom case) · 2020-08-01T10:10:31.245Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

https://www.effektiv-spenden.org/ offers SEPA, but there's no English site yet.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on The academic contribution to AI safety seems large · 2020-07-30T11:32:08.345Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Really interesting and informative - thanks for writing this!

On midterm safety: I think this is underexplored and not discussed enough here.

I have been thinking that generating more examples of how midterm safety risks could be catastrophic might be helpful (e.g. fusion power is apparently bottlenecked by computing power and algorithmic advances). Btw I thought this video by Stuart Armstrong on specification gaming was really good for skeptical specialists.

Also, I feel like more writing on midterm safety could be combined with Greg Lewis' post on GCRs importance from a person affecting view because that significantly relaxes assumptions about the importance of AI safety that might seem alien to skeptics.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Covid offsets and carbon offsets · 2020-07-24T13:52:03.340Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Relevant EA forum post: "Ethical offsetting is antithetical to EA"

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Most Effective Voter Turnout Campaigns? · 2020-07-22T12:12:57.099Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I don't have a great answer, but I have a brain/link dump Google doc on this topic that might be of interest.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on HaukeHillebrandt's Shortform · 2020-07-15T13:53:10.634Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

My brain dump "Potential priority areas within cognitive sciences (psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind)"

https://docs.google.com/document/d/12m_KDzKWfwQebrHGN4G4XCVIYPUHrm05Z6SB_loZr5w/edit

Feel free to contribute by making suggested edits!

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Report on careers in politics and policy in Germany · 2020-07-14T13:46:31.408Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Excellent post - really enjoyed reading it.

My intuition used to be that continental European political careers were generally maybe not the best career option for people interested in effective altruism, but now with the EU and especially Berlin and Paris becoming less insular, more important with more international influence (Brussels effect, G-Zero world etc.), I'm more inclined to think it's perhaps the competitive advantage for people from those countries with the right personal fit.

(I think you could tell readers that there's a german version further down, I read the English version until I realized that there was a German one oops).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on BenMillwood's Shortform · 2020-07-13T13:41:46.638Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

This is a excellent point, I agree. You're absolutely right that they could argue that and that reputational risks should be considered before such a strategy is adopted. And even though it is perfectly legal to lobby for your own positions / stock, lobbying for shorts is usually more morally laden in the eyes of the public (there is in fact evidence that people react very strongly to this).

However, I think if someone were to mount the criticism of having ulterior motives, then there is a counterargument to show that this criticism is ultimately misguided:

If the market is efficient, then the valuation of an industry will have risks that could be created easily through lobbying priced in. In other words, if the high valuation of Big Tobacco were dependent on someone not doing a relatively cheap lobbying campaign for tobacco taxes, then shorting it would make sense for socially neutral investors with no altruistic motives - and thus is should already be done.

Thus, this strategy would only work for truly altruistic agent who will ultimately lose money in the process, but only get a discount on their philanthropic investment. In other words, the investment in the lobbying should likely be higher than the profit from the short. And so, it would be invalid to say that someone using this strategy would have ulterior motives. But yes again, I take your point that this subtle point might get lost and it will end up being a PR disaster.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on BenMillwood's Shortform · 2020-07-12T10:33:15.124Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, this is a general strategy for a philanthropists who wants to recoup some of their philanthropic investment:

1. Short harmful industry/company X (e.g. tobacco/Philip Morris, meat / Tyson)

2. Then lobby against this industry (e.g. fund a think tank that lobbies for tobacco taxes in a market that the company is very exposed to).

3. Profit from the short to get a discount on your philanthropic investment.

Contrary to what many people intuit, this is perfectly legal in many jurisdictions (this is not legal or investment advice though).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on What values would EA want to promote? · 2020-07-10T13:39:47.050Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

My interpretation of this was promoting robustly good values (e.g. violence is bad) at scale as an effective intervention.

For instance, these are values that the UK government tries to promote:

"Champion democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and address global challenges, including through campaigns on preventing sexual violence in conflict, reducing modern slavery and promoting female education. Promote human and environmental security through London Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference. Deepen relationships between states and people, including through the Commonwealth Summit."

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/827788/FCOAnnualReport201819.pdf#page=32

Comment by haukehillebrandt on evelynciara's Shortform · 2020-07-10T10:54:32.178Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Also see a recent paper finding no evidence for the automation hypothesis:

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2019/12/automation-so-far-business-as-usual.html

Comment by haukehillebrandt on BenMillwood's Shortform · 2020-07-10T10:53:35.818Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Also see:

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2017/08/can-short-apocalypse.html

Comment by haukehillebrandt on HaukeHillebrandt's Shortform · 2020-07-07T10:42:48.556Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Gwern.net articles with an importance score of 9 or 10

Comment by haukehillebrandt on EA Forum feature suggestion thread · 2020-06-24T22:27:43.971Z · score: 16 (9 votes) · EA · GW

1. Could analytics be displayed on the forum? I think it'd be interesting to people to see how many people read different posts. This is also related to the question re: the forum prize - I reckon many authors would be more motivated by seeing that their posts are widely read than by a cash prize.

2. I often see very long posts that jump right into the introduction without summary. Could one introduce a field that is mandatory if a posts is more than 300 words long that forces the author to provide a 200 characters (or so) summary? Or something like this:

https://www.elsevier.com/authors/journal-authors/highlights

could even be added by the mods.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-06-22T16:37:28.928Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for your questions. I do write about neglectedness elsewher

1: I’d like to push a bit on the neglectedness argument. Let’s say we want to donate to advocacy groups for policies we feel confident are effective. I believe that there is quite some tension between the degree of certainty that some policy is effective, and its neglectedness. In other words, the policies where we can feel most confident they are effective might already have so much funding and attention that each additional donor or career might have much less marginal benefit. Conversely, the strategies that are most neglected might also carry more uncertainty, as they have been less critically vetted by a large diversity of economists. What are your thoughts on this?

This is an excellent point - you highlight a very interesting dynamic. Basically, the reason why RD is called sometimes called neglected (i.e. "neglected tropical diseases", "global poverty is neglected") is not necessarily due a low amount of money going to the cause in absolute terms, but because the problem is so huge. For instance, transnational wealth transfers through cash transfers can absorb virtually infinite amounts of donor money at not very rapidly diminishing returns. When these funding gaps are very hard to fill even for mega donors (e.g. billionaires and sovereigns), then that's a good reason for them to be more neglected than say research and advocacy for economic growth. The entire economics profession at $6bn a year that we guesstimated above could be roughly bankrolled indefinitely by the wealth of the Gates foundation.

However, given that there's still a lot of very suboptimal economic policy (e.g. see Venezuela or how poorly some countries do in absolute on the World Bank Doing Business indicators) and very little growth advocacy for and there are like still many unfunded opportunities. Btw - my intuition is that similar arguments can be made about other research (e.g. agricultural research) that would benefit emerging economies.

I write more in the appendix under the heading "Growth is not as neglected as RD, its low-hanging fruit have been picked, and the marginal dollar is not as effective"

2: more generally, can you outline in what way current incentive structures in the economics field and other institutions might cause sub-optimal policies to be advocated in a way that effective altruists (through being effective altruists) can mitigate?

Great question: General EA heuristics might be at play here: people are less likely to care for people far removed from them and thus less likely to give to International development think tanks that advocate for them. This domestic bias manifests in suboptimal allocation of research effort - fewer PhDs becoming development economists relative to its effectiveness (100x multiplier) vs. people who become advanced economy labor economists (e.g. studying the effect of minimum wage on employment.

I think generally the world might spend too little on R&D (~1.7%) in general relative to the ~100 trillion in GDP.

I highlight a few more biases in the appendices under the heading (Appendix 5. Biases against growth/for RD ).

3: Daron Acemoglu argues that the main obstacle to economic development in developing countries are institutions that are not conducive to growth, by being extractive, i.e. having excessively concentrated power which among other things slows down innovation. This seems to be something more difficult to address for Westerners. Relatedly, countries with insufficiently inclusive political institutions may grow but without such institutions are unlikely to improve the welfare of the poorest.

Yes, you're raising a great point here. However, there are some attempts to use ODA to strengthen non-extractive institutions. Better and more transparent tax collection might one thing that also falls under economic policy advice. Another example is the Budget Strengthening Initiative

see

https://www.odi.org/blogs/9847-why-uganda-more-transparent-norway

"In Uganda, a government website allows the public to find out both what the Ugandan government plans – and actually does – in districts around the country. A toll-free number lets concerned citizens complain directly with the government if they spot any wrongdoing. The initiative also trains journalists in making the most effective use of the data available."

Research and software for things like that scale and imho would be aid better spent than direct funding of randomista interventions.

4: “However, no one can reliably and rigorously demonstrate exactly which actions best promote development (…) This should lead us to be sceptical about RD.” You could also argue for the opposite conclusion. Since we cannot reliably know which actions promote development, RD can at least help us alleviate suffering of those who are poor today.

This is precisely the point of the contention that the Randomista camp with Duflo et al. has with the Growth camp with Pritchett et al.

I write more about this in the appendix under the heading "The field of “Growth diagnostics”" and "Quotes from Duflo and Banerjee".

I happen to agree with the Pritchett et al. camp and think the Nobel prize winners are wrong on this, which of course is a strong claim.

As we argue in the piece, the value of information of getting to the bottom of who is right here is likely very high.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Climate Change Is Neglected By EA · 2020-06-22T11:00:58.976Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA · GW

You raise some excellent points that have a bunch of implications for estimating the value of EA funding policy research.

How confident are you that the funds are actually fully used for the purpose?

I'm very confident that the funds are used for their Clean Energy Innovation program.

We have a mutual agreement of understanding with ITIF that any donations through Let’s Fund will be restricted to the Clean Energy Innovation Program, led by Professor David Hart and Dr Colin Cunliff.

We're in regular contact with their fundraising person and the David Hart.

They have recently hired an additional person and are now also hiring for another policy analyst in Brussels. We think this is very likely in part due to the Let's Fund grant.

how confident are you that they will not reduce their discretionary spending to this program as a consequence?

I think this is plausible but fairly unlikely that the effect is massive - I think think tank programs at think tanks such as ITIF do not tend to top up their programs with discretionary spending much, but there is a bit of "market" where the person who leads the program needs to acquire grant funding. The better the program is at receiving grant funding the more it'll be scaled up. Otherwise, there'd be no incentive for people running the individual programs to apply for grants.

However, of course additional funds, even if restricted to a program will likely be good for ITIF as a whole, because it benefits from the economies of scale and more basic infrastructure (e.g. support staff, a bigger office, communications staff).

> they have some pieces that are fairly confrontational towards China

Yes, so as argued above, I think donations through Let's Fund will predominantly benefit their Clean Energy program, but a small effect on the whole ITIFs activities can't be ruled out.

ITIF works on other issues and I haven't vetted their value in-depth, but my superficial review of ITIFs overall activities leads me to believe that none of their activities are very controversial. This is in part why we selected ITIF.

ITIF is a think tank based in Washington, DC. The Global Go To Think Tank Index has ranked ITIF 1st in their “Science and Technology think tanks“ category in 2017 and 2018.

They also rank quite well on the general rankings.

It's a very academic think tank with lots of their staff members holding advanced degrees and having policy experience in technocratic environments. I think they can still be described as quite centrist and nonpartisan, though ITIFs staff seems closer to the US Democrats than other parties. Also, it is fairly libertarian in terms of economic thinking.

More about ITIF here: https://itif.org/about

On their China stance in particular: I think they mostly argue against some of China's economic policies in a constructive not confrontational way (see everything about China here: https://itif.org/regions/china ). You could see the sign of the value of that going either way - it might be that more constructive criticism is better than not talking about it and then having populists being the only ones who talk about some of China's anti-competitive practices.

This is all very uncertain however. People who are very worried about unintentional consequences might not want to donate to ITIF for those reasons.

Did you consider the Clean Air Task Force when looking for giving opportunities?

Yes, I read the FP report on it. I think the Clean Air Task force is an excellent giving opportunity in climate change. The main reason why I think ITIF has higher expected value is that ITIF is more narrowly focused on increasing clean energy R&D spending, which I make the case is the best policy to push currently on the margin. However, it is perhaps more risky than the Clean Air Task Force, which is more diversified.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on HaukeHillebrandt's Shortform · 2020-06-17T14:31:28.378Z · score: 13 (6 votes) · EA · GW

You can quickly check what others are thinking about the articles you read online through a "bookmarklet": just one click on the bookmark in your browser takes you right to the Twitter response of any article.

In chrome you can create this by going to:
chrome://bookmarks/

"Add new bookmark"
Bookmark name:
Twitter response

URL:
javascript:window.location='https://twitter.com/search?q='+window.location

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-08T15:53:12.809Z · score: 5 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Contra: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/07/britain-is-not-america-but-we-too-are-disfigured-by-deep-and-pervasive-racism

Interesting stats on police violence in the UK:

https://www.inquest.org.uk/bame-deaths-in-police-custody

Might suggest that the benefits of protesting in the UK and elsewhere outweigh the costs of virus spread especially given the differential state of the pandemic.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions · 2020-06-02T10:17:03.184Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the comment!

the title of the article could maybe use editing!

I think I'll just leave the title for now, because it is confusing as it is and I'm not sure if it's worth it to redo/rewrite the analysis. I should probably have just called it "How to compare the relative effectiveness of development vs. climate interventions". I'll make a note in the beginning of the post linking to your guesstimate, saying that you found different results.

I can't quite follow your analysis from the screenshots (perhaps you could link the models and the assumptions for others). For instance, I'm not sure why the input value of money going to Americans vs. GiveDirectly recipients is 23 to 350.

But generally, I agree that Monte Carlo simulations and minding the distributions can be valuable for better error propagation. Also, I was probably being unclear but my analysis was not supposed to be a confidence intervals but rather my the best guess and extreme scenarios.

For instance, in the cell for cost per tonne of CO2 averted in the pessimistic scenario I intentionally picked the extreme value from the Founder Pledge analysis $0.02 and not their mean value (from the cell note: "A donation to CfRN will avert a tonne of CO2e for $0.12, with a plausible range of $0.02 - $0.72." https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/12lwvxlWLjwuSuXiciFvnBF2bkfcCkrusdqqT37_QWac/edit#gid=1267972809&range=E35 ).

Echoing what Greg Lewis said about hobbyists modelling the C19 pandemic being perhaps not super productive, I'm also not sure how productive further
empirical work such as this is on the EA forum (I don't even know how many hits the forum gets generally, and this post in particular, how many climate modellers read it, etc.). I think maybe an org with more research capacity would be better suited to do further analysis on this. Or perhaps one could commission researchers with a background in climate modelling to do this (e.g. the author of this paper might be really qualified to do this: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014098831930218X ).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions · 2020-06-02T09:14:23.763Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I had emailed all the authors of this analysis and asked them, but they didn't get back to me, so I think it's ambiguous and not really replicable. But yes I agree it's a fairly small uncertainty compared to the others.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Projects tackling nuclear risk? · 2020-05-30T10:15:16.566Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · EA · GW

The Nuclear Threat Initiative works on this.

Also see:

https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/global-catastrophic-risks/biosecurity/nuclear-threat-initiative-projects-to-reduce-global-catastrophic-biological-risks

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Racial Demographics at Longtermist Organizations · 2020-05-06T14:04:30.373Z · score: 0 (7 votes) · EA · GW

I assumed diversity of any kind was meant - as used in common parlance (i.e. gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, etc. excluding political diversity which is a more recent Jonathan Haidt thing).

If in the context of this thread, only ethnic diversity was meant, then this implies that we ought to improve gender diversity in EA orgs, but not ethnic diversity. Which would make this highly upvoted statement even more absurd.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Racial Demographics at Longtermist Organizations · 2020-05-02T11:10:12.785Z · score: 20 (43 votes) · EA · GW
given the enormous stakes I think it would be a mistake for even donors and organisations who do value diversity as a terminal value to dedicate resources to this instead of focusing on their core mission. Nor do I think there are likely to be significant instrumental benefits.

I very strongly disagree.

At the very least, consider the instrumental benefits from avoiding the PR-risk of the community adopting your far-out view that we ought not value diversity at all. This seems like a legitimate risk for EA, as evidenced by your comment having more upvotes than the author of this thread.

However, my sense is that, despite problems with diversity in EA, this has been recognized, and the majority view is actually that diversity is important and needs to be improved (see for instance CEA's stance on diversity).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Modular empirical science · 2020-04-23T15:19:12.864Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I'm not working with him on this, but Let's Fund is just funding him to do advocacy on Registered Reports.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Modular empirical science · 2020-04-23T12:39:04.017Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA · GW

This is very similar to the Registered Reports format - check out my report and crowdfunding campaign to improve science:

Lets-Fund.org/Better-Science

Comment by haukehillebrandt on How to promote widespread usage of high quality, reusable masks · 2020-04-20T11:48:56.590Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I see your point, yet still think the central argument and the other points I made still stand. I also think there are more than superficial similarities between what you suggest and what Greg criticizes, but not because both proposals are about masks, but rather because both proposals are hobbyists ideas for an intervention of dubious effectiveness.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on How to promote widespread usage of high quality, reusable masks · 2020-04-20T11:13:18.026Z · score: 9 (7 votes) · EA · GW

I appreciate you coming up with innovative ideas to stop C19, but I strongly downvoted this for the following reasons:

1. See Greg Lewis interview on the 80k podcast (https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/greg-lewis-covid-19-global-catastrophic-biological-risks/) especially the last 25 mins on EA community mistakes on the c19 response (he mentions that facemasks in particular can actually be net negative - I realize this is slightly different, yet still applies to this post).

2. especially here you have a direct call to action to spread this aggressively on social media.

3. There does seem to be a cost-effectiveness analysis and so we don't know whether this is worth anyone's time.

But I think it's important for people to come up with innovative ideas. I think what would be better is to send this directly to junior people in this field (say junior authors of this paper: https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/study-identifies-275-ways-to-reduce-spread-of-coronavirus-following-lockdown and ask them whether this might be something interesting - the ideas being that they're in a better position to judge whether it's really effective policy and worth more senior people's currently very precious time and pass it on to them.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on HaukeHillebrandt's Shortform · 2020-04-17T10:13:43.066Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

[Years of life lost due to C19]

A recent meta-analysis looks at C-19-related mortality by age groups in Europe and finds the following age distribution:

< 40: 0.1%

40-69: 12.8%

≥ 70: 84.8%

In this spreadsheet model I combine this data with Metaculus predictions to get at the years of life lost (YLLs) due to C19.

I find C19 might cause 6m - 87m YYLs (highly dependending on # of deaths). For comparison, substance abuse causes 13m, diarrhea causes 85m YYLs.

Countries often spend 1-3x GDP per capita to avert a DALY, and so the world might want to spend $2-8trn to avert C19 YYLs (could also be a rough proxy for the cost of C19).

One of the many simplifying assumptions of this model is that excludes disability caused by C19 - which might be severe.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) · 2020-04-16T09:26:46.340Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the comments... I think you're generally raising a bunch of valid points.

A few more thoughts on this:

First, perverse incentives are already present within the current system. Indeed, they're likely ubiquitous and inherent in any optimization process - it's just a matter of how powerful they are and the scale.

There is already a lot of regulatory capture and "revolving doors" between regulators and industry (c.f. 2008). In theory, nuclear regulators should want the nuclear industry to flourish, because their job and job prospects depend on it. In practice, it seems hard for me to see how implementing this would increase perverse incentives. Again, if you do this on an industry wide basis (the department of nuclear security is funded by an ETF of nuclear companies), it seems hard to see how regulators can substantially affect the stock movements of a whole industry.

It seems like a related but slightly separate problem.

Also note that this strategy is neutral wrt the absolute level of funding of the regulators. Rather it helps with prioritization within regulation (i.e. the government can buy $10bn or $100bn in stocks and disburse them to fund regulators).

And then it can't do all the prioritization without human input: perhaps we do not need to regulate the $4 trillion global restaurant industry as much as the $4 trillion dollar global chemical industry. But I think there's currently not much quantitative prioritization going on wrt how much regulation capacity should be assigned to different companies within an industry. So this is just to finesse current funding levels.

Second, generally, I slightly disagree that limited resources for regulators is not one of the major problem (again see 2008 - where regulators are always way behind industry in terms of staff, resources, analytic capacity, etc. - the same seems to be true for the tech industry, where there aren't sufficient funds to hire top talent with deep understanding of the sector). Again, this strategy doesn't really speak to the absolute amount we should spend on regulation - just that it's a better way to cut the pie.

Hm... but I actually just had another idea of how to fund regulators perhaps reducing perverse incentives and also optimizing more for negative externalities.

Consider that the EU has fined Google $10bn. I think currently this is disbursed to go into the general budget.

But maybe one could buy Google stocks (or a technology ETF) with that money and use the dividends to fund digital regulation.

This way regulators would be incentivized to reduce negative externalities (through fining companies and the industry), but then also they'd be held back to completely wreck industries or companies, because they're financed by the overall health of the industry after the fine.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on A generalized strategy of ‘mission hedging’: investing in 'evil' to do more good · 2020-04-15T14:37:06.337Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I think I might not really understand Paul’s argument completely, but I really value his opinion generally, so I think more people should look into this more (but he also said he meant to write a new version soon).

Having said that, I still think divestment is not worth it for EAs and I still believe mission hedging is a better strategy, for four reasons:

  1. I don’t think divestment changes the stock price substantially as I argue in my Impact Investing report with John Halstead. Peter Gerdes makes very similar points in the comments of Paul’s blog.
  2. Even if share prices did not return to equilibrium, the impact on the level of production is likely to be low. Public equity is generally traded in secondary markets, meaning that changes in stock price affect shareholders, rather than the usable capital the company has at hand. From the impact investing report: “Movements in the share price do not always affect the capital available to companies. In industries that generate a lot of cash and so do not need to raise capital, changes in share prices will not have much impact. In addition, public equity is generally traded in secondary markets, meaning that changes in stock price affect shareholders, rather than the usable capital the company has at hand.[38].” Also see Modigliani–Miller theorem.
  3. The post is too focused on marginal cost-effectiveness/benefit cost ratios but we should look at the cost-effectiveness at scale and also the total benefit minus cost. Paul highlights that the first unit of divestment is free and I agree with this. Thus, the first unit of divestment has theoretically an infinite marginal cost-effectiveness (infinite benefit cost ratio). But after the first dollar of divestment the costs increase. And then beyond the individual investor, the cost increases further. He also acknowledges that “It’s hard to implement” and “Deciding how to divest is quite challenging.” and “These funds would only be appealing to an unusual audience” Thus, even if Paul is right, and even if the marginal cost-effectiveness is high, the overall benefit will likely be small as this doesn’t seem to scale and have substantial associated set-up costs.
  4. Even if one could scale at a benefit cost ratio - I don’t think it would be particularly effective. Consider, that Paul argues that one can ““sacrifice <$1 to reduce EvilCo’s output by >$5”. I have an intuition that this is unrealistically high on the face of it, because it would allow all kinds of uncompetitive practices like shorting competitors to dominate the market, but, for simplicity, let’s go with it and say it’s 10:1. Global fossil fuel industry revenue is ~$10trn. To reduce output to zero with divestment, you'd need to spend ~$1trn. Fossil fuel industry emits ~35gT/y. To reduce their output by 1 ton, their revenue needs to be reduced by ~$285 ($10trn / 35bn). So it's $285/tCO2e averted. Even with 10:1 leverage, this would be quite expensive (but am not 100% confident in this calculation). As you say Jonas: “Any thoughts on whether divestment is generally worth the opportunity cost if the returns had been donated to the most effective charities? (E.g., reductions in carbon emissions from divestment vs. donations to clean energy R&D.)” I think there are more effective ways to solve climate change with $1 trillion (e.g. through clean energy R&D). I don’t think trying to reduce corporations' costs of capital is an effective way to reduce their externalities. Generally, multi-objective optimization is harder than single-objective optimization. Divestment tries to optimize for both social impact and financial impact. However, I think it’s easier to optimize for financial impact (which is relatively straightforward), and then use the profits to optimize for social impact through donations (which we also have a relatively good grasp on). With mission hedging you still have the option to donate and it can also be combined with using leverage (for instance, this 3x leveraged AI FAANG+ ETF for people wanting to hedge against long-term risks from AI- this is of course not financial advice).
Comment by haukehillebrandt on Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) · 2020-04-15T09:27:14.550Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

In theory, yes you're right there might be a perverse incentive.

But in practice I don't think it'll be very pronounced, because regulators do not have that much influence on a corporation.

Also the individuals regulator's salaries are not directly tied to stock dividends of the corporations they regulate, but rather the absolute amount of staff in a team tasked with regulating a particular corporation or sector within a larger government agency.

On the individual level promotions, pay rises, bonuses, and other incentives should still be based on what we're ultimately want regulators to do: reducing negative externalities and increasing positive externalities (i.e. performance reviews, doing good work).

Adding more checks and balances (e.g. journalism, watchdogs, critical think tanks, red teaming within government) might be better than what we have now.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Are there good EA projects for helping with COVID-19? · 2020-03-04T08:47:49.249Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Found this paper: "Optimizing respiratory management in resource-limited settings"
"Mechanical ventilation is an expensive intervention associated with considerable mortality and a high rate of iatrogenic complications in many LMICs. Recent case series report crude mortality rates for ventilated patients of between 36 and 72%. Measures to avert the need for invasive mechanical ventilation in LMICs are showing promise: bubble continuous positive airway pressure has been demonstrated to decrease mortality in children with acute respiratory failure and trials suggest that noninvasive ventilation can be conducted safely in settings where resources are low." ... "One of the most significant developments in acute care research in LMICs in recent years has been the publication of three trials demonstrating that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) can reduce mortality in children under 5 years of age, compared with oxygen delivered via standard low-flow nasal cannula [35▪,36,37▪]. CPAP can also decrease the need for invasive mechanical ventilation [38▪▪]. There are three main ways to generate CPAP: first, by using a pressure driver or a ventilator; second, using high flow nasal-cannula oxygen therapy (HFNC); or third, by submerging the expiratory limb of a breathing circuit in water to create so-called bubble CPAP. Traditionally bubble CPAP circuits also contain a driver, although some newer iterations only use the oxygen/air flow from an oxygen concentrator to generate CPAP [39].

All three trials used bubble CPAP as the intervention and together showed a risk ratio of survival of 0.58 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.41–0.82] [38▪▪]. One study had an additional intervention arm using HFNC, but no conclusions were drawn regarding its efficacy as the study was terminated early due to increased mortality in the control group.

Nasal cannulae, used as the patient interface in all three trials, are an attractive option for understaffed environments because they generally require lower levels of nursing supervision to use safely [39]. The basic circuits and simplified care protocols meant that the equipment required few adjustments, especially when compared with invasive mechanical ventilation.

There are elements of each of these studies that epitomize context-appropriate innovation and research. The bubble CPAP circuit deployed in the Bangladesh study was fashioned out of readily available, cheap equipment (standard nasal cannula, a shampoo bottle and intravenous fluid tubing) so the cost of the circuit was approximately $3 per patient [35▪]. They used an oxygen concentrator and no driver in the circuit with additional cost savings." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6319564/

here’s a build diagram for a bubble cpap

https://www.edjones.org/articles/bubble-cpap-in-resource-poor-settings/?fbclid=IwAR05oxQ2tPg1LDD6o73cBWOGKukaYBq8APcFpNmB1y900nPovTwV0yFBWBQ

are studies indicating it’s helpful for adults (despite its primary use in infants)

https://intjem.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12245-019-0224-0

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-02-17T10:01:20.766Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Great comment - strong upvote! :)

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-28T10:03:47.439Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, I list a couple more quotes from this article, but also many quotes from their Duflo and Banerjee's book in the Appendix. I think these quotes really get to the crux of the disagreement between growth and randomista development.

From their Foreign affairs article:

“There are many ways to improve allocation, from the moves away from collectivized agriculture that China made under Deng to the efforts India made in the 1990s to speed the resolution of debt disputes and thus make credit markets more efficient. But the flip side to this is that at a certain point, the gains start to diminish. Many developing economies are now reaching this point.”
“Quality of life means more than just consumption. Although better lives are indeed partly about being able to consume more, most human beings, even the very poor, care about more than that. They want to feel worthy and respected, keep their parents healthy, educate their children, have their voices heard, and follow their dreams. A higher GDP may help the poor achieve many of those things, but it is only one way of doing so, and it is not always the best one.”

Quotes from Duflo and Banerjee

From “Good Economics for Hard Times”

“How would anyone know whether pre-1991 growth would have continued had there been no crisis and the trade barriers not been brought down in 1991? To complicate matters, trade was being liberalized gradually starting in the 1980s; 1991 just sped that up (a lot). Was the big bang necessary? We will never know unless we are allowed to rewind history and let it go down the other path. Unsurprisingly, however, economists find it very hard to let go of this sort of question.”
CHASING THE GROWTH MIRAGE
“Unfortunately, just as we don’t know much about how to make growth happen, we know very little about why some countries get stuck but others don’t—why South Korea kept growing but Mexico did not—or how one gets out."
“Perhaps the reason why some countries, like China, can grow so fast for so long is that they start with a lot of poorly used talent and resources that can then be harnessed”
“Solow’s was what economists call an exogenous growth model, where the word “exogenous,” meaning driven by outside effects or forces, acknowledges our inability to do anything about the long-run growth rate. Growth, in short, is beyond our control.”
“The growth tide does raise all boats, but it doesn’t lift all boats to the same level—many economists worry that there may be such a thing as the middle-income trap, an intermediate-level GDP where countries get stuck or nearly stuck. According to the World Bank, of 101 middle-income economies in 1960, only 13 had become high income by 2008.122 Malaysia, Thailand, Egypt, Mexico, and Peru all seem to have trouble moving up. “
“In Indian manufacturing there was a sharp acceleration in technology upgrading at the plant level, and some reallocation toward the best firms within each industry after 2002. This appears to be unrelated to any economic policy, and is described as “India’s mysterious manufacturing miracle.”121 But it is no miracle. At its root, it is a modest improvement from a dismal starting point, and one can imagine various reasons it happened. Perhaps a generational shift, as control passed from the parents to their children, often educated abroad, more ambitious, and savvier about technology and world markets. Or the effect of the accumulation of modest profits that eventually made it possible to pay for the shift to bigger and better plants.”
“One very real danger is that in trying to hold on to fast growth, India (and other countries facing sharply slowing growth) will veer toward policies that hurt the poor now in the name of future growth. The need to be “business friendly” to preserve growth may be interpreted, as it was in the US and UK in the Reagan-Thatcher era, as open season for all kinds of anti-poor, pro-rich policies (such as bailouts for over indebted corporations and wealthy individuals) that enrich the top earners at the cost of everyone else, and do nothing for growth. If the US and UK experience is any guide, asking the poor to tighten their belts, in the hope that giveaways to the rich will eventually trickle down, does nothing for growth and even less for the poor. If anything, the explosion of inequality in an economy no longer growing has the risk of being very bad news for growth, because the political backlash leads to the election of populist leaders touting miracle solutions that rarely work and often lead to Venezuela-style disasters. Interestingly, even the IMF, so long the bastion of growth-first orthodoxy, now recognizes that sacrificing the poor to promote growth was bad policy. It now requires its country teams to include inequality in factors to take into consideration when providing policy guidance to countries and outlining conditions under which they can receive IMF assistance.123
“The bottom line is that despite the best efforts of generations of economists, the deep mechanisms of persistent economic growth remain elusive. No one knows if growth will pick up again in rich countries, or what to do to make it more likely. The good news is that we do have things to do in the meantime; there is a lot that both poor and rich countries could do to get rid of the most egregious sources of waste in their economies. While these things may not propel countries to permanently faster growth, they could dramatically improve the welfare of their citizens. Moreover, while we do not know when the growth locomotive will start, if and when it does, the poor will be more likely to hop onto that train if they are in decent health, can read and write, and can think beyond their immediate circumstances. It may not be an accident that many of the winners of globalization were ex-communist countries that had invested heavily in the human capital of their populations in the communist years (China, Vietnam) or countries threatened with communism that had pursued similar policies for that reason (Taiwan, South Korea). The best bet, therefore, for a country like India is to attempt to do things that can make the quality of life better for its citizens with the resources it already has: improving education, health, and the functioning of the courts and the banks, and building better infrastructure (better roads and more livable cities, for example).”
On climate: “Mitigation through better technologies may not do the trick; people’s consumption will need to fall. We may have to be content not only with cleaner cars but also with smaller cars, or no cars at all.”
Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-26T10:59:21.068Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Excellent comment - strongly upvoted for engaging with the data.

how did you calculate the median figure for Vietnam that you reference in section 4 ($6,914 GDP per capita)?

The sheet where we calculated the median growth episode within the spreadsheet is here:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1VcQ2r5zuCztd1_2vRscK8UOEAiQqhvvhkJVfagCzpqQ/edit#gid=1331750623&range=D26

Source: Pritchett, Labor p23

Vietnam was just the median of these selected growth episodes- because Pritchett in his example uses quite a big growth episode. Pritchett calculates the NPV gain from growth acceleration per person from this median case as $6,914. This is for illustrative purposes, picking Vietnam has no special significance here. "To be affected by a think tank" also has no special significance, we didn't check whether this growth episode was likely affected by a think tank.

These are selected by Pritchett:

"These are a list selected the largest episodes of growth acceleration. Source: Selected episodes. Author’s estimates from estimates in Pritchett, Sen, Kar, and Raihan 2016"

so... re your question:

When I look at the those figures in Appendix A, though, it seems like the median growth episode calculated using PRM (without reference to dollar size) is somewhere around Ecuador's negative growth in 1978, which doesn't seem like it would line up even with the conversion to $PPP.

Yes, this is likely largely due to Vietnam having a roughly ~10x higher population and being 10x poorer back then.

I think it is okay to use, as Pritchett does, these selected growth episodes, because if one wants to maximize effectiveness using policy one can strategically only look at big poor countries. One could further look at only those countries where growth is sluggish and perhaps where economic policy is particularly bad.

I write about this in the appendix:

Because effective altruism often tries to focus on the poorest countries, where a dollar goes 100x further than in rich countries, there is perhaps most hope for growth diagnostics.
So perhaps Duflo is right in that “Growth is likely to slow, at least in China and India, and there may be very little that anyone can do about it.” And this is actually born out in China’s and India’s performance on the World Bank’s Doing Business indicators, where they score 63th and 31st out of 189 countries, though being relatively poor. Thus, there seem no low hanging fruit to improve their economic policy.
However, below I show a table where I multiply population size of every country by their poverty multiplier (i.e. $1 is worth x times more going to this country than to the richest country in the sample. See appendix 2 of this doc for more info). This can then be ordered by the utility created by increasing GDP per capita by $1. India comes out on top because of its large population (1.3bn) and relatively low GDP per capita ($6,574). China comes 3rd, because though it has a large population, it is already relatively rich ($15,531). Recall that the problem is that we might not know how to increase growth in India and China.
However, there are many smaller very poor countries in the top 10 sample such as DRC and Ethiopia - very poor countries with 100 million population. This can then also multiplied further by neglectedness/tractability criteria. For instance, in a country’s ranking on the WB Doing Business ranking divided by GDP. There one can see that, relative to its GDP per capita, China already does quite well on the Doing Business ranking. However, the DRC and Ethiopia do poorly on the doing business ranking, even relative to their GDP. These countries could be most cost-effective for economic policy assistance.
Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T17:25:44.328Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I think this view would probably be endorsed by many prominent development economists. But I concede that there are also development economists who believe that health and education is very important.

When I first read about Rodrik's theory of development, I updated in the direction that health and education are not that important for growth at least for very poor countries, even though it's quite unintuitive.

From the appendix doc:

Historically, almost all non-poor countries have grown their economies in three steps:
Rural to urban migration: Unskilled (subsistence) farmers migrate to cities and start working in factories. Over night, this increases their productivity many times over.
Manufacturing absorbs vast amounts of unskilled labor: These workers need very little human capital: they do not need to be educated because work in factories is very simple. Population health does not prevent growth either, because there are enough to replace sick workers.
Manufacturing exports niche products to the world market: The factories find their niche product (e.g. initially often garments) and export to the world market, which can absorb large amounts of the same good (e.g. billions of shoes)

Again quoting Weil's review of "Health and growth" (emphasis mine):

As is often the case in economics, the observation that income and health are correlated, is only the beginning of the discussion. Such a correlation can be induced by causation running in either direction, as well as by the effects of some third factor. A priori, there are good reasons to think that all of these are possibilities. People who are healthier can work harder and learn more in school; and where people live longer they will be incentivized to invest more in education.Thus, we would expect better health to cause economic growth. On the other hand, higher income allows individuals or governments to make investments that yield better health. Finally, differences in the quality of institutions (looking across countries), in human capital (looking across individuals), or in the level of technology (looking over time) can induce correlated movements in health and income."

re: Nunn: I'm not ruling out that invariant geographical factors influence economic development by way of health. But it's a different question on whether we can do anything about that by ramping up health spending and ameliorate these differences and whether that's important for growth.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T17:05:04.833Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

In my opinion, randomistas do not focus on growth at all, be it level effects or growth effects.

Though to be fair there's this short passage in Duflo's new book on this:

while we do not know when the growth locomotive will start, if and when it does, the poor will be more likely to hop onto that train if they are in decent health, can read and write, and can think beyond their immediate circumstances. It may not be an accident that many of the winners of globalization were ex-communist countries that had invested heavily in the human capital of their populations in the communist years (China, Vietnam) or countries threatened with communism that had pursued similar policies for that reason (Taiwan, South Korea).

Also we do say that "we do not think that the things assessed by RD do not increase economic growth at all: indeed some RD health interventions increase earnings and consumption later in life, and thus do increase growth to an extent. However, evaluating whether the effect size is trivial or not should be a top priority for proponents of RD."

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T15:50:39.379Z · score: 24 (9 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, interesting take.

Aside from risk aversion, in the appendix, I list some more cognitive biases that might be at play for why people prefer RCTs.

Relatedly, perhaps people sympathetic to long-termism might believe that speeding up growth might speed up GCRs from emerging technologies. And while it is unclear when growth will speed up x-risk at all (see for instance), I think that when it comes to differential technological development, not all growth is equal.

What speeds up risks from emerging technologies is mostly growth in highly technical sectors in high-income countries. Growth in low-income countries will not increase world growth much and is less likely to cause risks from emerging technologies.

Put simply: Burundi’s catch-up growth won’t speed up global growth by much, is unlikely to speed up risks from AI or bio any time soon. Growth has been argued to lead to “Greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, and dedication to democracy.” Perhaps growth in poor countries will actually increase stability and thus be good from a differential technological development point.

Lower skilled labor also competes with AI R&D and so increasing trade and migration decrease AI R&D (see “Why Are [Silicon Valley] Geniuses Destroying Jobs in Uganda?”.

But even if growth in poor countries will slightly increase x-risks, then it might still be optimal to support it and offset the x-risk increase through targeted interventions to decrease x-risks. This is because multiobjective optimization for both x-risk reduction and global poverty is likely harder than single objective optimization for the most effective interventions in each category separately.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T15:37:12.239Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · EA · GW

The paper we cited is a comprehensive recent meta-analysis on the topic of health and growth that synthesizes the literature on this topic.

The paper concludes:

“If improving health leads to growth, this would be a reason, beyond the welfare gain from better health itself, that governments might want to make such investments. However, the evidence for such an effect of health on growth is relatively weak. Cross-country empirical analyses that find large effects for this causal channel tend to have serious identification problems. The few studies that use better identification find small or even negative effects. Theoretical and empirical analyses of the individual causal channels by which health should raise growth find positive effects, but again these tend to be fairly small. Putting the different channels together into a simulation model shows that potential growth effects of better health are only modest, and arrive with a significant delay.”

We did however acknowledge that this claim is controversial:

Moreover, and more controversially, we do not believe that health interventions (whether directly funded or implemented by the state) are the best way to increase growth in the poorest countries.[15] Here, we want to start a discussion on what the most effective causes of growth are, given its huge importance.

This is a topic of ongoing debate in the literature - future research could look into this topic more and a starting point could be the citation trail from the study above.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T15:11:03.395Z · score: 26 (13 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks (strongly upvoted for trying to falsify a central claim). All opinions are mine.

1. While the interesting paper you cite shows that policies bad for growth are at historic lows and argues that much progress has been made, 20% of all countries still have bad policies, and 25% of SSA countries. Given the potential very high effectiveness of growth policy, that we tried to demonstrate in the piece, the value of information of looking into this further is high.

2. I do cite Rodrik in the Appendix who argues that these days, “standard prescriptions” (i.e. Washington Consensus) might not work any longer and we should be skeptical of top-down, comprehensive, universal solutions (though perhaps there are some more generalizable policy prescriptions to be discovered with further research - Rodrik for instance expands the Washington consensus with an additional 10 policy prescriptions).

However, technical assistance by more specialized agencies (e.g. DFID, USAID, GIZ as well as the World Bank’s country offices), and also NGOs such as the International Growth Center, the Copenhagen Consensus, etc. might be able to do “growth diagnostics” to find out where growth is bottlenecked and then help with tailor-made policies on a country-by-country basis.

They might also help with implementation issues, and even indifference issues.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T14:24:30.003Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW
I'm not sure the 'extreme scepticism' (perhaps we could just call it scepticism?) argument is given a fair shake. Note that answering the question of what causes a country to grow is basically the big question of development economics, and as such it has received considerable attention from economists. In the Duflo and Banarjee piece, they argue that economists did find good low hanging fruit, notably misallocation of resources, but they argue this is reaching a point of diminishing returns. Economists are now struggling to find great opportunities in growth economics, and so there is a good case for looking at different approaches to development. This argument feels plausible to me, and it means you do not have to make the apparently crazy claim that economists never had significant influence on past effective growth policies.

Yes, I steelman this view in the Appendix (my view not necessarily John's):

"Growth is not as neglected as RD, its low-hanging fruit have been picked, and the marginal dollar is not as effective"
“The evidence that macroeconomic policies, price distortions, financial policies, and trade openness have predictable, robust, and systematic effects on national growth rates is quite weak—except possibly in the extremes. Humongous fiscal deficits or autarkic trade policies can stifle economic growth, but moderate amounts of each are associated with widely varying economic outcomes.”
For instance, take the debate over trade liberalization. Recall that there was exceptionally weak global trade growth over recent years. Relatedly to the previous point, some argue that the “low-hanging fruit” of economic liberalization has already been picked. For instance, Weyl argues that in “Radical markets”:
“There is a consensus that the economic gains from further opening international trade in goods is minimal. Studies by the World Bank and prominent trade economists find that eliminating all remaining barriers to international trade in goods would increase global output by only a small amount, 0.3–4.1%. For global investment, the most optimistic estimate in the literature finds a 1.7% increase in global income from the elimination of barriers to capital mobility. Many believe that liberalization of international capital markets has gone too far. Three top IMF economists recently argued that even liberalization that has already taken place has brought limited gains to economies while generating inequality and instability.”

However, there is a debate about this and counterarguments:

Others argue that trade policy is still very relevant. Complete rich-country liberalization would, after a 15- year adjustment, increase income in developing countries by $100 billion per year, which is approximately twice current aid flows.
Also, guarding against protectionism and not losing the growth from trade might be very important: one study suggest that an “increase in tariffs to average bound rates of 44.7 percent in highly protectionist countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka would translate into a decline in real income in South Asia by 4.2 percent or welfare losses of close to US$125 billion relative to the baseline by 2020”.

Pritchett too seems much more optimistic about growth diagnostics and believes that while we might not know everything, we generally have a reasonable understanding of what causes growth and can even influence it.

Pritchett has edited a whole volume on growth diagnostics, including on the causes of growth in India.

Generally, my take is that growth diagnostics might get harder the richer a country becomes, by virtue of there being less and less data from other countries on how they developed. Thus, for the poorest countries, growth diagnostics might be easiest because we can draw lessons from all other countries on they developed.

Because effective altruism often tries to focus on the poorest countries, where a dollar goes 100x further than in rich countries, there is perhaps most hope for growth diagnostics.

So perhaps Duflo is right in that “Growth is likely to slow, at least in China and India, and there may be very little that anyone can do about it.” And this is actually born out in China’s and India’s performance on the World Bank’s Doing Business indicators, where they score 63th and 31st out of 189 countries, though being relatively poor. Thus, there seem no low hanging fruit to improve their economic policy.

But in the Appendix I have an analysis where I multiply population size of every country by their poverty multiplier (i.e. $1 is worth x times more going to this country than to the richest country in the sample. See appendix 2 of this doc for more info). This can then be ordered by the utility created by increasing GDP per capita by $1. India comes out on top because of its large population (1.3bn) and relatively low GDP per capita ($6,574). China comes 3rd, because though it has a large population, it is already relatively rich ($15,531). Recall that the problem is that we might not know how to increase growth in India and China.

However, there are many very poor countries in the top 10 sample such as DRC, Bangladesh and Ethiopia - very poor countries with +100 million population. This can then also multiplied further by neglectedness/tractability criteria. For instance, in a country’s ranking on the WB Doing Business ranking divided by GDP. There one can see that, relative to its GDP per capita, China already does quite well on the Doing Business ranking. However, the DRC and Ethiopia do poorly on the doing business ranking, even relative to their GDP. These countries could be most cost-effective for economic policy assistance.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center is actually doing something along the lines of assisting countries / highlighting the need to improve their economic policies. For instance they are helping Bangladesh to improve its economy and prioritize which policies would have the highest social, economic and environmental benefits for every dollar spent. On top of their list is e-procurement across government and land records digitization - related to criteria used to rank countries on the WB Doing Business index.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T14:08:41.280Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW
Randomista is clearly not a neutral term, and I think constitutes a kind of name calling (e.g. Corbynista in the UK). Do proponents of RCT development use this term for themselves?

We did not use it in a name calling way but rather as a neutral term to describe the intellectual movement. The term is used by mainstream economists who are critical in a respectful way, but also by randomistas themselves (note for instance that Duflo or Blattman have used the term).

However, it is true that

"the term was first used by another Nobel laureate and a long time and fierce critic of RCTs, Angus Deaton. According to Andrew Leigh, the author of a recent book titled, Randomistas: How Radical Researchers Are Changing Our World (2018), the term was meant mostly as an abuse which Leigh turned into a compliment. Leigh defined a Randomista as ‘‘someone who believes we can find answers to important questions by tossing a coin and putting people into a treatment and control group, comparing the outcome, and then using the randomization to get a true causal effect.” (Social Science Space, 2018)."
source
Comment by haukehillebrandt on Dataset of Trillion Dollar figures · 2020-01-17T11:59:42.354Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Nice, you found another blunder in the literature!

"First, and classically, rating agencies’ fees tend to be high. The revenues of rating agencies come from new ratings and from the reexamination of former ones, as it is very difficult for a company, once it has been rated, to withdraw its rating from the market. It means the operational risk of rating agencies is quite low, just as the volatility of their revenues. We don’t know much about the prices of ratings and the profits of agencies. Nevertheless, in 2011, the operational profit of Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s was about 40 %; and Fitch’s was 31 %. For the first nine months of 2011, the revenue of Standard and Poor’s reached US$ 1.3 trillion for about 1,400 analysts. The figures for Moody’s were US$ 1.2 trillion for 1,300 analysts. These figures make for an annual revenue per analyst higher than US$ 1 million, which is quite high."

from this paper on reforming rating agencies: https://sci-hub.tw/https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-44287-7_12

So this should be billions, not trillions.

I had actually interpreted the figure differently and thought that rating agencies analysts rate trillions in value or something.

Have deleted these from the dataset.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-16T15:33:25.602Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

[37] Pritchett, ‘Randomizing Development: Method or Madness?’ (2019), p. 23-24. see:

https://d101vc9winf8ln.cloudfront.net/documents/32264/original/RCTs_and_the_big_questions_10000words_june30.pdf#page=23

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-16T10:26:56.639Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks - yes, John Halstead and I co-authored this post.

(We'll use the forum's new co-authoring function, this is why I accidentally omitted the authors when first posting, but it will take a little time reflect it, so I've fixed this provisionally).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Dataset of Trillion Dollar figures · 2020-01-15T17:11:20.004Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

done! thanks for the suggestion