Recommendations for prioritizing political engagement in the 2020 US elections 2020-10-14T13:52:23.564Z · score: 36 (22 votes)
When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds? 2020-10-14T13:51:38.090Z · score: 47 (33 votes)
Prioritizing COVID-19 interventions & individual donations 2020-05-06T21:29:12.249Z · score: 74 (32 votes)
All causes are EA causes 2016-09-25T18:44:42.347Z · score: 17 (18 votes)
Reflections on EA Global from a first-time attendee 2016-09-18T13:38:25.752Z · score: 24 (30 votes)


Comment by iandavidmoss on 4 Years Later: President Trump and Global Catastrophic Risk · 2020-10-27T06:27:06.480Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Since I was one of the commenters on the original post, I thought I would take a moment to look back at my own analysis and predictions from four years ago. In the order of the points I brought up then:

  1. I was pleasantly surprised by how well US institutions held up in the first two years of Trump's presidency, but he has steadily eroded the federal government's independence and the power of factions on the center-right who oppose him, and is poised to dramatically accelerate that erosion if he is able to stay in office for a second term. The most worrying development has been the appointment of partisan enablers in key positions at the Department of Justice (Bill Barr) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (John Ratcliffe), which has given Trump some ability to twist the national security apparatus for his personal gain. Reportedly Trump wants to fire FBI director Chris Wray, CIA director Gina Haspel, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper after the election for not being sufficiently loyal to him, which will cement his grip on those agencies and make it possible for him to directly order persecution of political opponents.
  2. My biggest whiff of the past four years was not seeing the House of Representatives as winnable for Democrats in 2018. The national suburban realignment in voting patterns caught me by surprise, and I also expected to see more foreign interference in the 2018 midterms than apparently took place. However, having Democratic control of the House turned out not to be as much of a check on Trump as I'd hoped since he successfully used the previous two years to consolidate his control over Republican elected officials, expand his base within the party, and purge disloyal aides from his inner circle. These factors made it possible for him to survive impeachment and showed him that he could pretty much do whatever he wanted going forward and not get punished for it.
  3. I correctly predicted that Senate Republicans would end the filibuster, although they did so only for judicial nominees.
  4. Since 2016, there has been a big increase in focus on state legislative races on the progressive organizing side, in line with my recommendation. Democrats have made significant gains since then at the state level.
  5. There has actually been a big decline in rural,  white working-class support for Trump since 2016, although this seems to be more the result of Trump's policy failures, especially on healthcare and COVID, than progressive organizing. I consider this a failure on the part of the left (although not so much on the part of Democrats) since we have allowed ourselves to be used as propaganda by bad faith actors on the right time and again rather than seeking to bridge differences and create understanding back when it wasn't too late.

Overall, for me descent into authoritarianism and climate change are the two biggest reasons to resist a second Trump term, and I think Haydn underestimates both of these. On authoritarianism, while I agree that a military coup is unlikely, I think that abuses of power to punish political opponents in a second term are a virtual certainty, leading to greatly increased chance of sustained civil unrest in the short term and long-term damage to the the quality of governance and discourse in the United States. And on climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior under Trump have not simply been inactive, they have been feverishly rolling back regulations designed to control air pollution and preserve forested lands. There are other issues (like Supreme Court nominees) where Trump's positions are not appreciably different from what a generic Republican's would be, but on those two fronts in particular I see him as dramatically, uniquely bad for the US and the world and meriting the GCR label.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Recommendations for prioritizing political engagement in the 2020 US elections · 2020-10-26T18:35:44.357Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

My experience has been that across most domains, there is kind of a Pareto-optimality to coming in as an outsider and trying to find superior giving or intervention opportunities. It usually takes only a few hours of research to determine an approach that will be above average. It may take a couple hundred hours to find opportunities that will be in the top 10-20%. And unless you get lucky early on, it can easily take more like the 4k  you're describing to find the very best that's out there. So it depends on what your standard for excellence is and the opportunity cost of the time you're willing to put in.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Recommendations for prioritizing political engagement in the 2020 US elections · 2020-10-23T20:18:22.844Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Sorry for the delayed response -- the past week has been pretty crazy as you might imagine! 

I think we're both falling prey to a tendency to oversimplify things in this thread. The reality is that the value of a volunteer hour is highly context-dependent. Textbanking is a lot more efficient than phonebanking because you can reach more people in a given amount of time. However, textbanking is also a lot less neglected than phonebanking this year because it's easier to do. In-person canvassing is probably the least efficient of all, but you can reach people in person that you can't reach by either phone or text -- so it doesn't make sense to abandon it entirely. And regardless of the mode, if a campaign hasn't done a good job of curating its list, a volunteer's efforts are going to be pretty ineffectual.

We've put a lot of research into trying to identify high-impact volunteer opportunities, but honestly what we've done is just scratching the surface of what it would really take to get to a confident answer. Campaigns don't say on their websites, "hey, sign up to volunteer and by the way what we REALLY need is phonebankers who can speak Spanish." Because they don't want to alienate anyone who could be a productive volunteer and they want to make it as easy as possible for people. Because of that, finding out what the actual needs are takes a lot of shoe-leather investigation: talking to knowledgeable people in the field, analyzing the kinds and frequency of voter contact that's taking place across all campaigns to assess the level of saturation in different geographies. This kind of real-time cross-campaign landscape analysis simply doesn't exist at scale right now, so the best we can do is look at what the research says about the cost-effectiveness of different methods in terms of converting volunteer hours into net votes and try to make holistic judgments about where additional efforts would have the most value.  What I can say is that I'm confident that the suggestions we've offered a) will be helpful rather than harmful and b) are substantially better than just randomly signing up for a volunteer opportunity.

As a side note, you seem to have a lot more faith in the efficient markets hypothesis as it applies to organizational behavior than I do! I don't think I have ever encountered an institutional ecosystem that was unburdened by poor strategic thinking, inefficient legacy practices, and failure to coordinate complementary or duplicative efforts. In that regard, I've actually been pleasantly surprised with how high-functioning the progressive organizing space seems to be on the whole.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Recommendations for prioritizing political engagement in the 2020 US elections · 2020-10-23T19:42:41.966Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Yep, that was one of the "confidential opportunities" mentioned in the recs, that is before it became, uh, not confidential. :) In any case, the funding deadline has long passed on that one. In addition, Vote Tripling was one of our recommendations very early on and we've been working with them closely this past week as we've developed our textbanking recommendations.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Recommendations for prioritizing political engagement in the 2020 US elections · 2020-10-23T19:38:26.425Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · EA · GW

All: I've updated the post to reflect the fact that we've thoroughly overhauled our volunteer recommendations in anticipation of the final two weeks. Our top recommendation for people who don't have a lot of time to spare is to spend a few hours textbanking with one of our recommended campaigns, and we have lots more suggestions for those who can commit more time or have specialized skills to offer. If you'd like to see the recording or deck from the briefing we held on these earlier this week, feel free to get in touch. In addition, there were some minor changes to the donation recommendations last week.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Recommendations for prioritizing political engagement in the 2020 US elections · 2020-10-16T03:08:10.999Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Peter, just FYI, the Senate campaigns are now pretty much all getting a lot of  money and also outpacing their Republican counterparts, so we've decided to demote Theresa Greenfield from our top-level recs. But if you still want to give to the Senate, I think David's pooled fund is a good option. As I stated in the post, there's likely not a ton of difference at this point between the most competitive races in terms of one being better/more important than another. Just avoid McGrath, Kelly, and Harrison as they have all the money they could ever use.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Recommendations for prioritizing political engagement in the 2020 US elections · 2020-10-16T03:05:21.851Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Interestingly, the "typical" volunteering opportunity is in fact worth more like $20/hr. You only get into that 10x range by using a very specific combination of techniques and targeting that we're trying to incorporate into our textbanking recommendations. So I think this is partly an arbitrage opportunity due to the market not yet catching up to the research on a widespread basis.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Recommendations for prioritizing political engagement in the 2020 US elections · 2020-10-16T02:29:53.757Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

The best volunteer opportunities we've seen in terms of cost-effectiveness cash out to the equivalent of about a $150-200/hr rate if you were going to donate that money to our top recommendations instead. So if you can earn more than that OR if you have spare money lying around OR if you can raise more than that easily from others, then donating/raising is a better use of your time. Otherwise, volunteering is great at this stage. As mentioned in the post, we'll be rolling out a curated list/calendar of recommended & evidence-based textbanking events in the next few days, so watch this space.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Recommendations for prioritizing political engagement in the 2020 US elections · 2020-10-16T02:24:51.067Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Peter, anyone who would like to learn more about the Working America program is welcome to email to receive additional materials about it.

Comment by iandavidmoss on When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds? · 2020-10-15T20:55:58.630Z · score: 13 (6 votes) · EA · GW

I'll go ahead and say some positive things about Trump:

  • My overall impression is that his policy on China has been fairly effective at increasing pressure without leading to open hostilities. (I should note that I am in no way an expert on US-China relations though)
  • I think he's been a good match for Kim Jong-Un and his handling of that relationship has probably gone better than we could have expected under Clinton.
  • I appreciate that he doesn't appear to have any great appetite for armed conflict with other countries, although the Soleimani assassination was one glaring exception to that which could have turned out very differently.
  • I am genuinely impressed with his creativity, ability to think outside the box, and willingness to endure in the face of criticism.

See? Wasn't that hard.

Comment by iandavidmoss on When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds? · 2020-10-15T02:17:10.587Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you, Ben, that means a lot to me.

Comment by iandavidmoss on When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds? · 2020-10-15T00:20:04.846Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks very much Aaron, I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. Re: "mind control," that was intended to be an exaggeration for humorous effect, but I can see how it may reduce the credibility of the post for anyone who might be on the fence about these issues. So point taken and thank you.

Before the original post was taken down, there was an example of an argument that EA's effectiveness as a movement will be reduced by excessive partisanship. NunoSempere wrote, "I've briefly looked at the evolution of past social movements, and I don't get the sense that doing this kind of thing leads to a social movement being very long lived. One of the long lived movements I've studied cultivated (though perhaps not consciously) the skill of having members on both sides of any political conflict. If I imagine EA being very long lived, which seems somewhat valuable, playing politics is not a thing I picture happening in that scenario. See also the intersection between politics and movement collapse scenarios". I'll leave it to Nuno to elaborate further if so desired.

Your comments on the structure and positioning of the recommending organization seem reasonable to me, and yes, my assumption is that there should be a fairly high bar for propagating a recommendation.


Comment by IanDavidMoss on [deleted post] 2020-10-12T05:25:01.866Z

All: I've noticed that this post is attracting a lot of strong downvotes. I care about this community and it's important to me that my contributions to the forum be constructive. So I'm going to make those who downvoted an offer. If at least three of you either comment here or write me privately and say:

  1. What concerns the post raised for you
  2. What it would take to change your mind about those concerns

Then I will take the post down. In addition, if I find any of your arguments for why the post shouldn't have been made compelling, I will take it down even if fewer than three people participate.

Comment by IanDavidMoss on [deleted post] 2020-10-12T04:35:05.423Z

Larks, I have no idea what 2024 will bring, but I can assure you that I would not have made this pitch to the EA community over the 2012 election.

Comment by IanDavidMoss on [deleted post] 2020-10-12T04:22:25.092Z

Thanks for responding. A few quick thoughts:

  • I agree with you on #2.
  • I agree with #1 as well, but think you're conflating "unlikely" with "never." It's possible for cause areas to be high-profile and still be among the highest and best uses of one's resources. That's because neglectedness is only one of three considerations in the ITN framework, and a core (if implicit) premise of the post is that this particular election is both enormously important and highly tractable.
  • On #3, it sounds like you're disputing the notion that EA and Trump are misaligned here but are reluctant to say why. I'm happy for you to message me privately about this if you prefer. I do note that in the 2019 EA Survey less than 1% of respondents identified as right-wing, which I take to be very strong evidence of the misalignment I mentioned, at least as perceived by rank-and-file community members.

Question for you (and others who have had skeptical reactions to this post): would you be comfortable with there being a formal process to determine when political engagement under the "EA brand" is appropriate/encouraged? For example, there could be a council of trusted movement leaders to make such determinations, like the group that decides when community members are banned (I can't remember what they are called, sorry). Or there could be some kind of referendum system.

Comment by IanDavidMoss on [deleted post] 2020-10-12T02:00:54.356Z

Wei, I feel that I addressed this in the final paragraph of the article. From my perspective, it's pretty simple: EA values are EA values and partisan values are partisan values. So long as EA and partisan values happen to be in alignment, it's both natural and desirable for there to be an alliance between them. So I agree with you on the notion of maintaining them as separate concepts, but I personally would like to see as much engagement in politics (not just in the US, but around the world) by/within EA as is warranted by the alignment I mentioned, no more or no less.

To me, this feels completely straightforward and not threatening at all, so I am curious to understand better why it makes you uncomfortable. Is it that:

  • You don't agree that EA should be involved in partisan politics even in cases when there is very strong alignment between the movement and one party/coalition or very strong misalignment with an opposing party/coalition?
  • You disagree with the premise that Trump's leadership is very strongly misaligned with EA values?
  • Something else?

I very much appreciate your willingness to explore this further.

Comment by IanDavidMoss on [deleted post] 2020-10-11T22:39:41.541Z

Thanks, Ozzie! I agree with you that prioritization is both necessary and a way in which the EA community can add unique value. Compared to charitable donations, political giving seems to be a "flatter" market in that we haven't found that many opportunities that are more than an order of magnitude more impactful than the "naive" benchmark of donating to the Biden campaign. For me at least, though, one important insight from this work has been confirmation that there are impactful things to do at all, which was not something I took for granted at the beginning. Personally, it's been quite reassuring and motivating to know that there is a robust evidence base for different political engagement techniques that lends itself well to cost-effectiveness estimation and prioritization efforts.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Getting money out of politics and into charity · 2020-10-07T14:58:04.996Z · score: 17 (8 votes) · EA · GW

As someone who is currently engaged in raising money for political causes, I think the impact of a project like this is likely to be low, but it may be worth pursuing anyway. While some of the reasons for a low ceiling have already been pointed out (difficulty with positioning/credibility, the natural friction of getting people to use a new platform), I think the main reason is that there are a lot of ways for donors to engage in the political process beyond simply donating directly to campaigns (e.g., by donating to Super PACs, nonprofits with a political mission, etc.), and if partisanship and polarization are sufficiently strong underlying motivators it will be easy for activists to  circumvent this in search of an advantage for their candidate or cause. So I would suggest that a platform like this is more likely to work as intended if the underlying partisan temperature in the country is lowered considerably from where it has been over the past ~15 years. However, I could see the existence of a platform like this as a useful signaling mechanism in that effort even if it doesn't end up actually raising all that much money. Anyway, those are my two cents.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Prioritizing COVID-19 interventions & individual donations · 2020-09-08T20:53:50.358Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Apologies that you had this experience, treesintheforest. I note that Protege BR has changed the email address that they've listed for contributions, and it's now (Olabi is the social enterprise that runs Protege BR.) You could try writing there instead. Otherwise, OSMS should be a good backup option, although I don't have any more up-to-date info on where their funding gaps are than what's in the post.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Should we be donating/volunteering for the Biden campaign? · 2020-07-21T01:21:10.267Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I do think there is an excellent case to be made that preventing the re-election of Trump is strongly aligned with effective altruist priorities. I suspect there are more cost-effective ways of pursuing that objective than the Biden campaign itself, however. I am in the process of setting up a donor circle to explore these issues as a group; if you're interested in joining, please feel free to email for more info.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Prioritizing COVID-19 interventions & individual donations · 2020-05-22T21:56:25.141Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

On the basis of our criteria, yes. Depending on a donor's personal priorities and preferences, that could look different of course. E.g., for annual donors to these organizations, I think there is a strong case to keep giving.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Prioritizing COVID-19 interventions & individual donations · 2020-05-22T07:24:56.468Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Hi HStencil, we were able to look at all of these as part of the latest update! None besides DMI made into the main post, but we did write up Oxfam and PSI in our big spreadsheet and intend to monitor them going forward.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Prioritizing COVID-19 interventions & individual donations · 2020-05-22T07:22:01.003Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Hi all, as promised, we've been monitoring the situation over the past couple of weeks and continuing to learn more about the original charities we investigated as well as new ones that have since come to our attention. We just published an update to this post and have two new top-recommended charities, COVID-END and Open Source Medical Supplies! In addition, we've added Development Media International (previously listed as Top), IDinsight, Rapid Reviews COVID-19, and the COVID-19 Early Treatment Fund as promising opportunities, and wrote up reviews for the above charities plus Medical Credit Fund, ONE Campaign, Oxfam, Population Services International, and Give2Asia in our full database of opportunities.

Our group has now distributed almost $120,000 to these charities and an additional $200,000+ has been pledged. Thanks to many of you in the comments who suggested charities for us to review and otherwise added to our understanding of what's going on. We hope these updates prove useful to those still considering donations or other ways to help.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Prioritizing COVID-19 interventions & individual donations · 2020-05-21T12:46:16.230Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, this one has been on our radar since last week and we are planning to include it in our upcoming update!

Comment by iandavidmoss on Prioritizing COVID-19 interventions & individual donations · 2020-05-21T04:17:53.362Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Super helpful resource, thank you!

Comment by iandavidmoss on Prioritizing COVID-19 interventions & individual donations · 2020-05-18T21:05:48.625Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Ray, thanks for these reflections and ideas. In response to your first question, I know someone working with EdTech Hub on this issue. You can find their COVID-19 response here.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Research on Nudging People to Increase Donations to Effective Charities · 2020-05-12T12:47:20.519Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I suggest you check out ideas42's research on this topic. It's funded by the Gates Foundation and there is more work underway now that I assume will be written up at some point.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Would it be a good idea to create a 'GiveWell' for U.S. charities? · 2018-02-07T01:52:12.568Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I support the spirit of this comment: use already existing resources, instead of creating new ones, and don't make the solution more complicated than it needs to be. That said, neither Charity Navigator nor GuideStar currently make much of an attempt to calculate the cost-effectiveness of the charities in their database. They are both moving in the direction of encouraging charities to self-report impact data, but I'm not aware of any plans to use the kinds of standardized metrics or outcome definitions that would be necessary for a cost-effectiveness calculation. So I actually do think there would be a lot of value in an independent analysis of cost-effectiveness within a US framework, even a back-of-the-envelope one.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Anonymous EA comments · 2017-02-08T14:37:23.836Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

This is a great point. In addition to considering "how can we make it easier to get people to change their minds," I think we should also be asking, "is there good that can still be accomplished even when people are not willing to change their minds?" Sometimes social engineering is most effective when it works around people's biases and weaknesses rather than trying to attack them head on.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Anonymous EA comments · 2017-02-08T14:31:43.340Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I upvoted this mostly because it was new information to me, but I have the same questions as Richard.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Anonymous EA comments · 2017-02-08T14:23:48.721Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA · GW

For what it's worth and as an additional data point, I'm a meat eater and I didn't feel like this was a big problem at EA Global in 2016. For a gathering in which animal advocacy/veganism is so prevalent, I would have thought it really weird if the conference served meat anyway. The vegetarian food provided was delicious, and the one time I went out to dinner with a group and ordered meat, nobody got up in my face about it.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Anonymous EA comments · 2017-02-08T14:11:46.492Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I think I'm the one being called out with the reference to "a non-profit art magazine" being framed as EA-relevant, so I'll respond here. I endorse the commenter's thought that

If we had a notion of 'in this space/forum/organization, we consider the most effective thing to do given that one cares primarily about art' or 'given that one is focused on ending Alzheimer's, what is the most effective thing to do?', then people could spend more time seriously discussing those questions and less bickering over what counts as 'EA.'

If I'm understanding the proposal correctly, it's envisioning something like a reddit-style set of topic-specific subforums in which EA principles could be discussed as they relate to that topic. What I like about that solution is that it allows for the clarity of discussion boundaries that the commenter desires, but still includes discussions of cause-specific effectiveness within the broader umbrella of EA, which helps to facilitate cross-pollination of thinking across causes and from individual causes to the more global cause-neutral space.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Semi-regular Open Thread #35 · 2017-01-03T17:02:09.111Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I would be happy to see them once every other month or so.

Comment by iandavidmoss on EA Global 2017 Update · 2017-01-03T16:58:52.949Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Amy, I submitted a few programming ideas for last year's event that weren't selected. I'd like to review and consider resubmitting them this year, but I don't think I have a record of them since I typed them directly into the form. Would there be a way for me to get access to those submissions?

Comment by iandavidmoss on Semi-regular Open Thread #35 · 2016-12-30T23:59:47.523Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA · GW

In my ongoing and perhaps quixotic quest to bridge the worlds of EA and arts philanthropy, I have a blog post up at Stanford Social Innovation Review that gives effective altruism a shout-out. I also have a more detailed opinion piece on domain-specific EA coming out in the spring print edition of SSIR.

Comment by iandavidmoss on A Different Take on President Trump · 2016-12-17T02:21:35.402Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I think I have one more response left in me and then I'm going to call it quits.

Regarding Trump's character: you are still not fully engaging here. You didn't respond at all to my point that we can see him bullying private citizens on Twitter knowing full well that his supporters will rain down harassment on anyone he calls out there. As far as unfounded rumors go, the voting thing is just one of many, many examples, but let's talk about that. I appreciate that you provided evidence for your case, but you failed to mention that that evidence is disputed in what I find to be a convincing rebuttal by Harvard researchers. Sure, the claim that zero undocumented immigrants vote in elections is probably untrue, and I would not be surprised to learn that it happens once in a while. But millions of votes? The backup for that claim is pure speculation and hearsay. I stand by the characterization of that rumor as unfounded.

More to the point, I have counted two instances now in this thread where you have provided sources to back up factual claims you've made that have later turned out to be misleading or downright false. (The other example being the story about settling 1000 refugees on a small island when it turned out that there were just a couple dozen). Say what you want about outlets like the New York Times, but they issue corrections when they get facts wrong, and even employ a public editor to call them out when they screw up. When has Breitbart ever issued a correction for anything? I think that should be a red flag for you to reconsider the relative reliability of the mainstream media vs. your preferred sources. Perhaps you don't know anyone who works in mainstream media. I do, and they are honest people who believe strongly in journalistic ethics and integrity. I understand you have a worldview that is not well represented in those spaces and I support a reasonable degree of skepticism about any source, but when you find your views challenged there you should apply some of that skepticism to yourself as well. That's what we all do.

Regarding authoritarianism, if the best example you can come up with for a worst-case scenario in a democracy is seriously Angela Merkel, I think that speaks for itself. (Agreed that Hitler came to power in a democracy, but it was an extremely compromised democracy and the fact that he immediately moved Germany toward dictatorship supports rather than undermines my point.) The idea of Merkel "destroying her own country" seems, uh, inconsistent with a nation that is the 16th-happiest in the world.

Regarding social ostracization of "thought criminals," that is going to happen in any society, democratic or not. If it's going to happen, I'd prefer that the people who are ostracized are those who cause the most harm to others by their words and actions. It seems from your response that you don't believe in white privilege. I hope you can see that if one accepts white privilege as a reality, than the progressive double standard on racism makes sense and is justified. So it then becomes an empirical question of whether white privilege exists, for which I think there is ample evidence that it does.

So you are correct, I'm not convinced. I do appreciate you being realistic about that, and the time you've put in to explain your views. It seems we will continue to disagree.

Happy holidays (or, if you prefer, Merry Christmas) to you.

Comment by iandavidmoss on A Different Take on President Trump · 2016-12-11T14:28:04.922Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Since most of the discussion here has focused on Europe, and I'm based in the US, I will address my comment to the US-specific aspects of your response. I am a little tight on time so I apologize in advance for my brevity.

Re: Trump's character I think your rebuttal of Haydn's point here is quite weak. The only source you cite for Trump's character actually being okay is the Collected Work of Scott Adams, a cartoonist who as far as I know has never actually met or spent time with Donald Trump. Adams makes a big deal in his posts about how he has studied persuasion and hypnosis, make claims like "facts don't matter," and appears to me upon reading some of his recent work to be a sophist of the first order. (E.g., in one post he strongly implies that Clinton supporters are silly to think that half the country is having a mass hallucination that Trump is a sane/effective leader; in another post he strongly implies that experts are having a mass hallucination about climate change.) I would not consider his opinion about Trump's character to be any more valuable than those of the thousands of others who have opined on it and come to a different conclusion. As to your point about the media distorting Trump's character, there are significant ways in which our view of Trump is unobstructed by third parties -- e.g., we are able to see exactly what he says in his Twitter feed, including his bullying of private citizens and spreading of unfounded rumors.

Re: Bannon While I agree that descriptions of Bannon as "literally a Nazi" and the like are inaccurate, I do not think it's unfair to hold him accountable for views expressed in articles published by a website of which he was CEO. Similarly to critiques of Trump's candidacy in general, the problem is not that Bannon has expressed overtly bigoted views himself, the problem is that he had no problem helping to foster an environment in which bigotry was condoned, which in turn perpetuates systemic racism. This also relates to your point about policing the term "white nationalism." In general, the pattern that I see among conservative/liberatrian commenters is one in which racism is defined as bigotry; racism is an essential characteristic of a human being, and is an individual flaw rather than a systemic reality; and if one holds a single non-racist view that disproves any claims of racism (e.g., Trump is not racist because he picked Ben Carson for a cabinet post). By contrast, the sense in which people in the social justice movement use racism is as follows: racism is defined as prejudice + power (so in that sense it is specific to white people so long as white privilege is the norm, and distinct from bigotry which can be exhibited by people of any race); racism is characteristic of systems, institutional structures, and specific actions rather than people; people (progressives included) can be complicit in racism even if they do not have a prejudiced bone in their body. These are really important distinctions that affect the way in which language is used and understood, and I would advise against advocating for policing language unless you are willing to grapple with this more complex view of race relations.

Re: authoritarianism This seems addressed largely to a straw man. I don't think many people seriously believe that democracy equals utopia. The quote I most often hear from my liberal friends about democracy is that it's "the worst system of government, except for all the others." I also would agree with the idea that in some circumstances an authoritarian government could be more stable and better for collective wellbeing in the short term than a democracy, especially a compromised and/or divided one. The problem with authoritarian governments is that the downside risk from bad leaders is strongly magnified compared to the downside risk from democracies. The nightmare scenario here is not a Singapore but a North Korea. Furthermore, there's a big difference in risk between some tiny state being taken over by a dictator and the world's richest and most militarily powerful country moving in an authoritarian direction. I take your point that the risks to nuclear war may be overstated in the very short term, but still this does not bode well for a world in which minority rights are protected and truth-telling is valued and incentivized. I don't know about you, but I would not want to live in a regime like China where not only my speech but my very access to ideas and facts is strongly limited (and please don't come back with the absurd false equivalency that political correctness is akin to mass-scale state censorship).

Comment by iandavidmoss on Cause: Better political systems and policy making. · 2016-11-24T06:17:57.545Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I strongly agree with conclusions 2 and 3. I am inclined to agree with 1, but am less sure. My main concern is about tractability - influencing policy is hard to do to begin with, and changing the underlying mechanisms by which policy is made is even harder. But the potential impact is so enormous - it potentially has multipliers for every other EA issue - that I'm inclined to think it should be a major area of focus.

Comment by iandavidmoss on President Trump as a Global Catastrophic Risk · 2016-11-24T06:02:09.257Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

A few notes:

  1. I think you give too much credit to the strength of US institutions and their ability to resist an authoritarian power grab by the Trump administration. While the Constitution wisely set up checks and balances to make such consolidation of power very difficult, the two parties have been gaming the system for decades with the overall effect of concentrating more power in the executive branch over time. Consider that the President controls the extensive spying apparatus of the NSA and other intelligence agencies; significant regulatory authority over the conduct of commerce; and a large degree of influence over what information is fed the press, which has drastically reduced capacity to undertake independent reporting compared to a few decades ago. Under divided government, as was the case for most of President Obama's term, these powers can only take one so far; however, Trump will have both houses of Congress ostensibly aligned with him for at least the next two and likely the next four years. Although virtually none of the media establishment in the US is directly controlled by the government, Matt Yglesias has written about how Trump could use his regulatory powers to exert indirect influence over the corporate owners of the major media companies that report on the administration's activities. Twisting the US in an authoritarian direction won't happen overnight and would take a determined effort that it's not clear Trump has the patience for, but our institutions are most definitely vulnerable in the face of a combined and strategic deployment of the resources available to him. For example, what if the Supreme Court rules against him and he just refuses to honor the order? If Congress and the military are behind him, there's nothing anyone can really do. Furthermore, even if Trump doesn't end up installing an authoritarian regime in the US, he could make it much easier for someone else to do so in the future by breaking down a whole bunch of the norms and unwritten rules that have held the system together.

  2. Regarding control of Congress in 2018-20, it's important to note that the Democrats will be defending 25 seats in 2018 compared to Republicans' 8. It would be shocking if Democrats are able to flip either house of Congress in 2018. This makes engagement with Republicans who opposed Trump much more important, in my view. And in my circles, I am seeing very little attention devoted to this, so it seems fairly neglected for now. A big reason why Obama wasn't able to achieve more of his policy agenda during his presidency was because during the time that he had a filibuster-proof majority, the most conservative Democratic senators (particularly Ben Nelson) used the power of their single vote to extract enormous concessions. Just a few Republicans have the same power now, if they choose to use it.

  3. Sticking with the Senate, don't forget that the filibuster is not enshrined in the Constitution. The Senate has the power to change the rules regarding the filibuster at the beginning of each two-year session. There is reason to think it may not be long for this world. If Republicans get rid of the filibuster in order to help Trump, we are in big trouble. This is another instance where putting pressure on just a few Senators can make a huge impact.

  4. Conservatives were able to get to the place where they are because they built a grassroots movement over time that touched every level of government. Progressives, by contrast, have been overly focused on Presidential and Senate elections. State and local elections are extraordinarily neglected as a political cause. Each one does not have a lot of impact on its own, but cumulatively the impact is enormous. Right now, Democrats control only 13 of 50 state legislatures, which is barely enough to fight back against the passage of a constitutional amendment. Republicans have one-party control of government in fully half of the 50 states. Among other things, state governments in the 2018-2020 session will draw the Congressional district maps that will help determine control of Congress for the next decade. One of the reasons why Democrats have had so much trouble winning back the House is because Republicans were largely in charge of that districting process ten years ago. If one wants to help Democrats and progressives, state and local elections, followed by House contests, are where it's at.

  5. On a similar note, it's important to remember that elected officials listen most of all to their own constituents, rather than outsiders. One of the big problems in American society that has led to this result is the social and geographic segregation that has concentrated huge numbers of progressive voters in big cities and blue states where their political influence is limited. A very difficult but important thing to work on will be how to shift attitudes among people who have limited exposure to and little trust of this "other side" of America, as these people have proportionally more political influence in this environment. I am not sure of the right strategy here, but I note that attitudes toward gay marriage shifted very rapidly in the US over a ten-year period, so there is precedent.

Despite my critiques above, I really appreciate you taking the time to write this up - it's an important contribution. Hopefully we will collectively be able to build on it.

Comment by iandavidmoss on Setting Community Norms and Values: A response to the InIn Open Letter · 2016-10-28T03:09:55.413Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · EA · GW

People co-opting the term ‘effective altruism’ to justify activities that they were already doing that clearly wouldn’t be supported by EA reasoning

I don't know the particulars of the situation(s) that Will is referring to here, but as a general principle I think this is a very dangerous criterion to use for community censure and/or expulsion. What is "clearly supported by EA reasoning" is clearly in the eye of the beholder, if the endless debates on this forum and elsewhere are any indication.

I think the principle that Will is getting at is open-mindedness, or a lack thereof. Given that reason is so central to EA's identity as a movement, we certainly don't want to welcome or encourage ideologues who are unwilling to change their minds about things.

To me, however, there is a huge and very important difference between the following types of people:

  • Someone who brings strong opinions and perspectives based on prior knowledge and experience to the community, is willing to engage in good faith discussion with others about those opinions and why they might be wrong, and ultimately holds to their original views;

  • Someone who brings strong opinions and perspectives based on prior knowledge and experience to the community, is unwilling or unable to engage in good faith discussion with others about those opinions and why they might be wrong, and ultimately holds to their original views.

I feel that people who fit the former description can add tremendous value to the community in ways that people who fit the latter do not, especially when their views and reasoning are out of sync with the mainstream of EA thinking. But I would be very concerned about the former type of person being confused with the latter type when they decline to change their mind; after all, if one's priors are sufficiently strong, it's perfectly rational to require a high bar to change one's mind! I worry that attempts to police use of the term "effective altruism" based on refusal to update visibly on non-mainstream ideas would ultimately harm intellectual diversity and be shortsighted in relation to EA's goals.

(Edit: to be clear, I am not against the idea of a panel overall.)

Comment by iandavidmoss on All causes are EA causes · 2016-09-29T21:18:10.323Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

People who are passionate about the arts and want to support the arts can already join the community, it is just that if they truly want to be part of the community, then they should be supporting Effective Altruist causes as well, just as you can't become an artist just by hanging around artists, you have to occasionally make things.

I think this is reasonable. I guess the way I would put it is this. We need people in the effective altruist community who can serve as bridges between EA and domains, to help make those domains more effective. The people who are serving that bridge function should really understand EA and buy into its core concepts, including the basic logic of cause neutrality. That said, the people they're bridging to, in the domains, don't necessarily need to consider themselves effective altruists or be active in the EA community in order to do effective things within their domains. They just need to be willing to work with the person who is serving as the bridge.

Comment by iandavidmoss on All causes are EA causes · 2016-09-27T19:06:43.599Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

I would question whether 1 is in fact easier. In the case of most of the people I know, I would guess that it's not.

Comment by iandavidmoss on All causes are EA causes · 2016-09-27T15:36:29.110Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

That's very kind of you, Ben. I'm not getting burned out, but I am getting a little frustrated that some of my more substantive responses and clarifications are getting spread out across multiple threads when it would be easier for everyone if they were collected in one place. Not sure if you have any suggestions for that...maybe I could update the OP?

Comment by iandavidmoss on All causes are EA causes · 2016-09-27T15:17:29.861Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

(First, really stupid question - not sure I understand the math here? Why wouldn't switching from typical US to good US produce 9 extra units of impact per your assumption, not 4?)

Anyway, regarding this:

At the current margin, it seems substantially easier to me to persuade one person to change cause towards international health and support the best charity in the area, than to persuade 49 US focused donors to choose the best thing in their area.

I think one thing you're not taking into account is that not all EA community members are interchangeable; different people have different leverage within their communities. It would be trivial for me to motivate 49 arts enthusiasts to switch donations to a better US charity in the arts, given that I run a publication with roughly 10k total followers and several hundred "true fans." There are analogous people in other domains across the spectrum. So one approach to outreach could largely involve finding and forming partnerships with aligned, influential individuals in those domains.

Comment by iandavidmoss on All causes are EA causes · 2016-09-27T11:56:20.698Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

That's interesting, Carl, I wouldn't have necessarily thought of copyright reform as one of the highest-impact arts interventions, but the consumer surplus angle is intriguing. This exchange is actually a great example of how domains can benefit from participation in this community.

I also want to throw another thought out there: it's not inconceivable to me that we might find the most effective way to support the arts in the world is to, say, give cash transfers to poor people in Africa. Or put resources towards some other broad, systemic issue that affects everyone but is disproportionately relevant in the domain of the arts. If people in the effective altruist community said that, everyone would freak out and think you're just throwing stuff at a wall to get people to switch donations away from the arts. But if an entity with authentic roots in the arts said that, the reaction would be quite different. See, for example, this: Furthermore, Createquity would only come to that conclusion after researching the other major interventions and causes within the arts that people already care about, so we would have a much more concrete comparative case to make.

As always, everything I'm saying here potentially applies in other cause areas as well. I know we're talking about the arts a lot in this thread because that's my background and what I know best, but I don't think any of this is less true for, e.g., higher education or local social services.

Comment by iandavidmoss on All causes are EA causes · 2016-09-27T11:41:12.300Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Michael, I'll clarify what actions from the EA community I am specifically I am making a case for. I am arguing two things:

1) people who are already invested in EA outreach ought to consider strategies that reach and activate people invested in specific domains; and

2) people who are invested in EA in general, but not in EA outreach specifically, ought to recognize the value of 1).

Now, those "ought tos" are of course contingent upon your agreement with the specific arguments and assumptions that I lay out in the piece. But I am not trying to convince you, specifically, to campaign for domain-specific EA except to the extent that you're campaigning for EA already and not 100% successful in those efforts.

Comment by iandavidmoss on All causes are EA causes · 2016-09-27T01:18:49.629Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Spreading EA-thinking in other domains doesn't provide nearly as much data

I really disagree with this. I think it would result in dramatically more data compared to the alternative, especially if each of those domains is doing its own within-cause prioritization.

Comment by iandavidmoss on All causes are EA causes · 2016-09-27T01:07:40.578Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

So, are you arguing that investing in EA outreach in domain-specific ways can't compete or that investing in EA outreach at all can't compete? Your last paragraph sounds like you're saying the latter, but I find that to be a rather nonsensical position if you think that correctly targeted donations are so highly leveraged.

If the claim is that domain-specific EA outreach is less effective per unit invested than cause neutral EA outreach, keep in mind that I argue domain-specific EA outreach will grow the movement faster/more than the alternative, which in turn creates more resources that can be deployed toward further outreach (or other helpful functions, like operations or research). Depending on your assumptions about the ratio between the total ceiling of cause-neutral people and domain-specific people out there, that growth factor could be extremely significant to EA's total impact on the world.

Comment by iandavidmoss on All causes are EA causes · 2016-09-27T00:39:44.038Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Ben, the answer to that is simple. EA currently says to donors, "give 10% (or whatever amount you're willing) to the top charities that we recommend. Then do whatever you want with the rest, we don't care."

My claim is simply that EA should care about "the rest," if the goal is to maximize total wellbeing improvement. For many donors, I believe it is not as simple as having two pots, one for which you use your head and one for which you use your heart. In my family's case, we are interested in maximizing the good we do within the other 50%, subject to those top-level restrictions. That is also true of a large portion of grantmaking foundations with professional staff. It all comes back to my point about EA leaving opportunities for impact on the table.

Comment by iandavidmoss on All causes are EA causes · 2016-09-25T22:34:02.778Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

If you don't believe that there are other valuable causes out there, or that cause X can be conclusively determined to be better than cause Y, then why do you think cause prioritization research is a valuable use of EA resources?