What is a book that genuinely changed your life for the better? 2020-10-21T19:33:15.175Z · score: 19 (9 votes)
jackmalde's Shortform 2020-10-05T21:53:33.811Z · score: 4 (1 votes)
What is the background behind the UCL MA Philosophy EA course? 2020-10-03T13:56:22.076Z · score: 7 (3 votes)
Has anyone carried out analysis on who we should focus on to grow the movement? 2020-08-14T19:22:03.456Z · score: 7 (6 votes)
The problem with person-affecting views 2020-08-05T18:37:00.768Z · score: 25 (16 votes)
Are we neglecting education? Philosophy in schools as a longtermist area 2020-07-30T16:31:37.847Z · score: 44 (27 votes)
The 80,000 Hours podcast should host debates 2020-07-10T16:42:06.387Z · score: 48 (24 votes)
Summary of x-risks? 2019-06-04T09:50:35.301Z · score: 5 (5 votes)
Not getting carried away with reducing extinction risk? 2019-06-01T16:42:19.509Z · score: 10 (15 votes)


Comment by jackmalde on Some thoughts on EA outreach to high schoolers · 2020-10-27T19:56:10.526Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Another is that I think EA advice to high schoolers is less useful than what we have to say about later decisions. The common sense advice of things like "go to a prestigious university" and "quantitative subjects keep options open more" and "do internships / interesting projects / build CV material" already seems pretty good to me and are widely known.

I generally agree with your point but I do think there are a few things one could suggest e.g.

  • Suggesting Economics/PPE  as particularly great options for undergrad that keep options open whilst also leaving significant potential for doing good through career or further study
  • Similarly suggesting Econ as a good A-level option
  • Suggesting to those wanting to study maths/science at uni to consider something else technical but probably more useful, for example Econ/Econ+Maths or Computer Science (emphasis on "suggest" I realise the danger of pushing people into something they don't want to do)
  • Suggesting philosophy as a credible A-level to do! I think it would be good for people to introduced to philosophical ideas earlier
  • Making the classic EA point that counterfactual impact as a medic is small! This could save people from doing expensive six year medicine degrees and then have little impact

I know these suggestions aren't all that radical but they could still be somewhat useful. I am also aware that these suggestions would have to be made with care and the danger of being too pushy! 

EDIT: I don't have examples but I'm sure there are certain projects/internships one can do that are higher impact than others e.g. policy-related work

Comment by jackmalde on [deleted post] 2020-10-25T05:36:26.042Z

Ok I think you make a good point

Comment by jackmalde on Donor-Advised Funds vs. Taxable Accounts for Patient Donors · 2020-10-24T06:24:54.635Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks that makes sense.

I have just remembered about CEA’s EA Funds though which I understand essentially involves people giving money to CEA and CEA then forwarding the money onto various places, which aren’t necessarily other charities. Therefore it seems that my idea is possible? I don’t know if EA Funds actually gives to for-profits.

Do you know if it possible to give to an EA Fund from a DAF?

Comment by jackmalde on Donor-Advised Funds vs. Taxable Accounts for Patient Donors · 2020-10-23T18:31:19.297Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this very useful content!

A DAF can only give to legally registered charities. If you believe that, say, funding an early-stage startup is the best use of your money, then you can't do that if you put your money in a DAF

This seems a pretty big drawback to me. Obviously there are loads of great giving opportunities from an EA perspective that aren't registered charities. At the same time I do like the fact that DAFs can counter against value drift.

I wonder if there's scope for circumventing this issue by setting up a registered charity that can take donations from a DAF and then forward on to wherever the donor desires. Even an existing charity like CEA could act as a middle man like this. Is this a completely silly idea or a promising one?

Comment by jackmalde on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-10-17T09:20:48.661Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Good point although I guess there's always the possibility of moving and renting out your home (and then renting yourself in the place you move to)

Comment by jackmalde on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-10-17T09:00:45.059Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this Jamie. Useful to know that the outcome can differ according to person/location. I reckon I'll do this exercise for myself at some point. A few quick questions/comments (I haven't looked at this in detail so apologies if I've missed anything):

  • Have you identified the key difference(s) between your calculation and John's calculation that leads to the different result? It might be helpful to call this out
    • E.g. is it mainly driven by higher rental costs in London / the fact that you've assumed a smaller deposit for the house etc.
  • Pretty minor point, but the 3.5% discount rate should decline over time and it doesn't seem you've factored this in (it shouldn't really change much though as you're not looking over a very long time scale)
  • I'm not really sure how useful the 3.5% discount rate is for philanthropists, in particular EA philanthropists. It includes a discount of future utility on account of the future being less morally valuable, which is something that philosophers have pretty much rejected and is quite counter to EA philosophy. There are good reasons for EA philanthropists to discount (more on that here and here) but I don't there's a good reason for us to expect it to lead to a 3.5% rate. It could actually be higher or lower depending on an individual's preferred cause area/underlying ethical views. The general point that you're making that buying a house only provides access to money when older, and therefore that this becomes subject to discounting is a very useful one though.
  • Doesn't John's calculation also say buying is better? Or am I missing something?
Comment by jackmalde on Announcing our summer 2020 ACE Movement Grants · 2020-10-15T14:31:30.923Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for this very helpful reply. I will certainly have a look at some of those links when I get a chance.

Comment by jackmalde on Announcing our summer 2020 ACE Movement Grants · 2020-10-15T12:42:59.314Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I'm not sure how I feel about so much money going to Encompass. I'm not saying that racial equity in the EAA movement isn't desirable, but I'm sceptical that it is so important as to justify such a large grant that could have instead gone to an organisation working directly to improve the lives of animals.

To clarify, I'm not sure either way. Is there any reading I can do to become more informed on this?

Comment by jackmalde on Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups · 2020-10-14T21:49:59.043Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

As I said in an earlier comment, I think we need to evaluate this on a case-by-case basis and ultimately make decisions based on a (rough) calculation of expected benefit vs expected harm of letting someone speak. So for me there isn't really a standard "line on behaving immorally". For example, if someone has bad character but it is genuinely plausible they might come up cause X, then I reckon they should (probably) be allowed to speak.

So I don't think actual 'rules' are helpful. General 'reasons' why we might or might not invite a speaker on the other hand are certainly helpful and I think Larks alludes to some in this post (for example the cause X point!).

I didn't actually interpret Lark's post as trying to contribute to the "ongoing prosecution-and-defence of Robin's character or work", but instead think it is trying to add to the cancel culture conversation more generally, using Robin's case as a useful example.

Comment by jackmalde on Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups · 2020-10-14T21:00:29.842Z · score: 4 (5 votes) · EA · GW
For all that EAs are consequentialists, I don’t think we should ignore wrongdoing ‘for the greater good’. We can, I hope, defend the good without giving carte blanche to the bad, even when both exist within the same person.

We certainly shouldn't 'ignore' or give 'carte blanche' to the bad in a person, but I don't think that necessarily means we have to cancel them.

I'm not saying that there shouldn't be occasions where we do in fact cancel someone on account of their character, but as someone who identifies as a consequentialist EA I've never understood the reluctance to do something 'for the greater good'. Clue is in the word greater?

If someone is a shitty person but having them speak will in expectation lead to greater benefit than harm it seems to me we should let them speak. If it is the case that expected harm exceeds expected benefit then of course let's cancel, but let's continue to do these (rough) EV calculation on a case by case basis - this is a strength of the EA community.

Comment by jackmalde on jackmalde's Shortform · 2020-10-13T15:13:21.265Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Very good point!

Comment by jackmalde on jackmalde's Shortform · 2020-10-13T13:38:24.196Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Ah well fair enough that makes a lot of sense. I think he could have worded it a bit better, although judging by your upvotes I probably just missed the point!

Having said that I still think it's quite natural to consider a life where it feels like you're eating muzak and potatoes all the time to be very boring, which of course would be a mistake given that such a life is supposed to be entirely painless.

Indeed I don't think it helps that Parfit calls it a "drab existence". "Drab" is a negative word, but Parfit's "drab existence" is actually supposed to be completely lacking in anything negative.

Comment by jackmalde on jackmalde's Shortform · 2020-10-13T12:08:08.230Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I am referring to this paper where Parfit says:

Best of all would be Z . This is an enormous population all of whom have lives that are not much above the level where they would cease to be worth living. A life could be like this either because its ecstasies make its agonies seem just worth enduring, or because it is painless but drab. Let us imagine lives in Z to be of this second kind. There is nothing bad in each of these lives; but there is little happiness, and little else that is good. The people in Z never suffer; but all they have is muzak and potatoes. Though there is little happiness in each life in Z , because there are so many of these lives Z is the outcome in which there would be the greatest total sum of happiness.

He refers to muzak and potatoes a few more times in the paper in the same vein.

I realise I have not been charitable enough to Parfit as he does make the assumption that the life of muzak and potatoes would not be characterised by intense boredom and loneliness when he says "never suffer". In that case he is simply presenting a life with no pains and only very minor pleasures, and saying that that is one example of a life that may be barely worth living.

The problem is that it was counterproductive to make that assumption in the first place because, in reality, very few people could actually live a life of muzak and potatoes without severe pain. This presents an issue when we actually have to imagine vast numbers of people living with just muzak and potatoes, and then make a judgement on how good/bad this is.

To put it another way, people may imagine muzak and potatoes to be boring as hell and think "OK the repugnant conclusion is repugnant then". But the point is they shouldn't be imagining it to be as boring as hell, as in this case it is supposed to be a completely painless existence. Therefore I think we need to give people a more realistic conception of a life that is barely worth living to wrap their heads around.

Comment by jackmalde on Open and Welcome Thread: October 2020 · 2020-10-11T10:37:27.463Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Ah OK it may be worth doing then

Comment by jackmalde on What is the increase in expected value of effective altruist Wayne Hsiung being mayor of Berkeley instead of its current incumbent? · 2020-10-08T20:24:23.920Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

It’s certainly not strong evidence, but it is evidence. All other things equal I would vote for someone who claims they are an effective altruist over someone who doesn’t.

Politicians do have at least some incentive to deliver on promises. If they don’t it should reduce the probability of them getting elected / tarnish their reputation. I accept this is certainly not a perfect rule by any means but it’s still got a grain of truth.

Overall I don’t take much from him saying he’s an EA, but that doesn’t mean I take nothing at all.

Comment by jackmalde on Open and Welcome Thread: October 2020 · 2020-10-06T19:50:38.122Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Is it difficult to remove the possibility of strongly upvoting yourself?

Comment by jackmalde on If you like a post, tell the author! · 2020-10-06T18:28:42.131Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I like this comment

Comment by jackmalde on Open and Welcome Thread: October 2020 · 2020-10-06T18:24:34.338Z · score: 16 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Anyone else find it weird that we can strongly upvote our own comments and posts? It doesn’t seem to do anything except promote the content of certain people who are happy to upvote themselves, at the expense of those who aren’t.

EDIT: I strongly upvoted this comment

Comment by jackmalde on jackmalde's Shortform · 2020-10-05T21:53:34.249Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

When introducing the ‘repugnant conclusion’, Parfit considers that a life barely worth living might be of the “painless but drab” variety, consisting only of “muzak and potatoes”. The mundanity of such a life then gives the repugnant conclusion its repugnance. This is probably the first and only time I will ever say this, but I’m amazed at Parfit’s sloppiness here. A life of just muzak and potatoes isn’t even close to being worth living.

Parfit’s general idea that a life that is barely worth living might be one with no pains and only very minor pleasures seems reasonable enough, but he should have realised that boredom and loneliness are severe pains in themselves. Can anyone honestly tell me that they would choose right now a life of listening to mundane music and eating potatoes with no other pleasures at all, over just being put in a coma? Bear in mind that we currently torture people by putting them in solitary confinement (whilst ensuring they remain fed). I would think the only people who could actually survive muzak and potatoes without going crazy would be buddhist monks who have trained themselves to rid themselves of craving.

Maybe we can remove the boredom and loneliness objections by imagining a life that lasts just a minute and just consists of muzak and potatoes. However that is a bizarre life that differs from any sort of life we can realistically imagine living, so it’s hard to properly judge its quality. If we are going to opine on the repugnance of the repugnant conclusion we need to think up a realistic concept of a life barely worth living. I’m sure such a life is far better than one with just muzak and potatoes.

Comment by jackmalde on What actually is the argument for effective altruism? · 2020-09-29T20:51:17.446Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW
I was thinking that most people would say that if my goal is X, and I achieve far less of X than I easily could have, then that would qualify as a 'mistake' in normal language

I see where you're coming from but I actually agree with Michael.

In reality a lot of people are interested in contributing to the common good but actually aren't interested in doing this to the greatest extent possible. A lot of people are quite happy to engage in satisficing behaviour whereby they do some amount of good that gives them a certain amount of satisfaction, but then forget about doing further good. In fact this will be the case for many in the EA community, except the satisficing level is likely to be much higher than average.

So, whilst it's possible this is over pedantic, I think "the claim" could use a rethink. It's too late in the evening for me to be able to advise on anything better though...

Comment by jackmalde on What actually is the argument for effective altruism? · 2020-09-29T20:36:48.028Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW
Surely it's better to just get out there and do good?

Depends. As Ben and Aaron explain in their comments, high identifiability should in theory be able to offset low spread. In other words, if the opportunity cost of engaging in EA thinking is small enough, it might be worth engaging in it even if the gain from doing so is also small.

Comment by jackmalde on Some thoughts on EA outreach to high schoolers · 2020-09-18T06:59:12.271Z · score: 14 (7 votes) · EA · GW
Though I guess it somewhat filters for intelligence, which correlates a bit with those things

As someone who went to a top private school I would agree with this, although admit it's not a perfect correlation.

Indeed I think we could do some targeting within top schools as you get a variety of students with different interests. You will get those who want to go to debating society and discuss the big issues of the day. You will get those are bored in every class waiting to get to the sports pitch. You will get maths geniuses who are pretty consumed by pursuing pure maths without much thought about the impact they will have. And you will get some who don't really want to be there.

So potential targeting could look like - EA outreach for students that actually sign up for it (obviously they will be interested then), for those taking philosophy A-level, for those in debating society (we could even arrange for a debate on a relevant topic), for those participating in Maths Olympiads etc. This targeting could bear more fruit than just 'outreach to Etonians'.

Comment by jackmalde on Some thoughts on EA outreach to high schoolers · 2020-09-15T12:01:02.181Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Interesting, what sort of content do your videos cover and how can I check them out?

Comment by jackmalde on Some thoughts on EA outreach to high schoolers · 2020-09-15T11:59:45.442Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Agreed but maybe there’s scope for spreading some of the core ideas of EA (a la Doing Good Better) as opposed to more specific career advice from 80K?

Comment by jackmalde on AMA: Owen Cotton-Barratt, RSP Director · 2020-09-03T06:10:11.992Z · score: 15 (7 votes) · EA · GW

I'm not 100% sure but we may be defining opportunity cost differently. I'm drawing a distinction between opportunity cost and personal cost. Opportunity cost relates to the fact that doing something may inhibit you from doing something else that is more effective. Even if going vegan didn't have any opportunity cost (which is what I'm arguing in most cases), people may still not want to do it due to high perceived personal cost (e.g. thinking vegan food isn't tasty). I'm not claiming there is no personal cost and that is indeed why people don't go / stay vegan - although I do think personal costs are unfortunately overblown.

Without addressing all of your points in detail I think a useful thought experiment might be to imagine a world where we are eating humans not animals. E.g. say there are mentally-challenged humans of a comparable intelligence/capacity to suffer to non-human animals and we farm them in poor conditions and eat them causing their suffering. I'd imagine most people would judge this as morally unacceptable and go vegan on consequentialist grounds (although perhaps not and it would actually be deontological grounds?). If you would go vegan in the thought experiment but not in the real world then you're probably speciesist to some degree which I ultimately don't think can be defended.

I think the EA schtick is more like "we'll think things through really carefully and tell you what the most efficient ways to do good are". And so I think that if it's presented as "you want to be an EA now? great! how about ve*anism?"

EA is sometimes described as doing the most good (most common definition) or I suppose is sometimes described as finding the most effective ways to do good. These can be construed as two different things. I would say under the first definition that being vegan naturally becomes part of the conversation for the reasons I have mentioned (little to no opportunity cost).

Also, we may be fundamentally disagreeing on the scale of the benefits on consequentialist grounds of going vegan as well - I think they are quite considerable. Indeed "signalling caring" as you put it can then convince others to consider veganism in which case you can get a snowball of positive effects. But that's a whole other discussion.

P.S. I agree we can probably improve the way veganism is messaged in EA and it's possible I am part of the problem!

Comment by jackmalde on AMA: Owen Cotton-Barratt, RSP Director · 2020-09-02T21:42:09.672Z · score: 15 (8 votes) · EA · GW

I almost feel cheeky responding to this as you've essentially been baited into providing a controversial view, which I am now choosing to argue against. Sorry!

I'd say that something doesn't have to be the most effective thing to do for it to be worth doing, even if you're an EA. If something is a good thing, and provided it doesn't really have an opportunity cost, then it seems to me that a consequentialist EA should do it regardless of how good it is.

To illustrate my point, one can say it's a good thing to donate to a seeing eye dog charity. In a way it is, but an EA would say it isn't because there is an opportunity cost as you could instead donate to the Against Malaria Foundation for example which is more effective. So donating to a seeing eye dog charity isn't really a good thing to do.

Choosing to follow a ve*an diet doesn't have an opportunity cost (usually). You have to eat, and you're just choosing to eat something different. It doesn't stop you doing something else. Therefore even if it realises a small benefit it seems worth it (and for the record I don't think the benefit is small).

Or perhaps you just think the personal cost to you of being ve*an is substantial enough to offset the harm to the animals. From a utilitarian view I'd imagine this is unlikely to be true. I happen to think avoiding the suffering of even one animal is significant, similarly to the fact that we think it would be highly significant to save just one human life. And following a vegan diet for a while will benefit way more than just one animal anyway.

Comment by jackmalde on AMA: Owen Cotton-Barratt, RSP Director · 2020-08-31T20:02:27.050Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Ah OK thanks, that makes sense. Certainly seems worthwhile to have more research into this

Comment by jackmalde on AMA: Owen Cotton-Barratt, RSP Director · 2020-08-31T19:25:14.811Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this detailed reply! I appreciate these aren't questions with simple answers.

research into what type of activities have good long-term returns for longtermists

Do you mind elaborating slightly on what you mean here? To me this just reads as finding out the best activities to do if you're a longtermist, but given that you say it's a "small slice of our portfolio" I suspect this is this more specific.

Comment by jackmalde on AMA: Owen Cotton-Barratt, RSP Director · 2020-08-29T19:08:32.010Z · score: 12 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Would you currently prefer a marginal resource to be used by an impatient longtermist (i.e. to reduce existential risk) or by a patient longtermist (i.e. to invest for the future)? Assume both would spend their resource as effectively as possible

Where do you think the impatient longtermist would spend their resource and where do you think the patient longtermist would spend their resource?

Finally, how do you best think we should proceed to answer these questions with more certainty?

P.S. there may well have been a much simpler way to formulate these questions, feel free to reformulate if you want to!

Comment by jackmalde on Some thoughts on the EA Munich // Robin Hanson incident · 2020-08-29T13:58:01.337Z · score: 24 (9 votes) · EA · GW

I think there's another difference between:

a) Thinking that a speaker shouldn't be allowed to speak at an event

b) Deciding not to attend an event with a confirmed speaker because you don't like their ideas

For the first half of your comment I thought you fell into camp b) but not camp a). However your last paragraph seems to imply you fall into both camps.

Personally I would not want a person to speak at an EA event if I thought they were likely to cause reputational damage to EA. In this particular case I (tentatively) don't think Hanson would have. Sure he's said some questionable things, but he was being invited to talk about tort law and I fail to see how allowing that signals condoning his questionable ideas. Therefore I would probably have let him speak and anyone who didn't want to hear him would obviously have been free to not attend.

It seems to me that people often imply that personally finding a speaker beyond the pale means that the speaker shouldn't be allowed to speak to anyone. I've always found this slightly odd.

Comment by jackmalde on Has anyone carried out analysis on who we should focus on to grow the movement? · 2020-08-18T20:35:07.889Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks. I agree that specific organisations must be doing some of their own outreach analysis. I do wonder if it would be helpful for someone to investigate whether there are any groups that EA as a whole needs to do more to reach out to. The analysis may not throw up anything revolutionary but it could still be worth doing to see. I may try something myself at some point.

Comment by jackmalde on The case of the missing cause prioritisation research · 2020-08-18T09:05:43.551Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

OK that’s good to hear. It probably makes sense to spend some time laying a solid theoretical base to build on. I’m aware of how new GPI still is so I’m looking forward to seeing how things progress!

Comment by jackmalde on The case of the missing cause prioritisation research · 2020-08-17T06:00:22.208Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Hey Phil. I'm someone who is very interested in the work of GPI and am impressed by what I have seen so far. I'm looking forward to seeing what the new economists get up to!

I had a look at Leopold's paper a while back, have listened to you on the 80K podcast and have watched a few of GPI's videos including Christian Tarsney's one on the epistemic challenge to longtermism. I notice that in a lot of this research, key results are highly sensitive to the value of certain parameters. My memory is slightly hazy on specifics but I think in Christian's paper the validity of longtermism depends largely on the existence and frequency of exogenous nullifying events (ENEs) that can essentially wipe out any trajectory change efforts that came before (apologies if I'm not being perfectly accurate here).

I am wondering if empirical estimation of key parameters is a gap in current cause prioritisation research. Because the value of these parameters is so important in determining results from the models, it seems very high-value to more accurately estimate these parameters. Do you know if anyone is actually doing this? Is anyone for example looking into the nature of ENEs? Is this something new economists at GPI might engage in? If this type of research isn't suitable for GPI, does GPI need closer links to other research institutions that are interested in carrying out more empirical research?

Comment by jackmalde on The Case for Education · 2020-08-14T18:43:31.149Z · score: 17 (7 votes) · EA · GW
But how can it be that EAs see so much wrong with the education system, while also spending so much time in university

A key claim in this post seems to be that the vast majority if not all EAs see higher education as broken and that they only go to signal their ability. Is there sufficient evidence for this claim? Maybe the claim is true, but the only evidence you provide is anecdotal and based on a single meet up.

Is it possible, even if that claim is true, that a minority of people really benefit from the higher education system and have a great impact on the world through it? Perhaps top academics? I genuinely don't know the answer to this question, but I think it's another important one to ask. If the answer is "yes" then perhaps the existence of the current higher education system is justified, but in a smaller form.

Comment by jackmalde on The emerging school of patient longtermism · 2020-08-10T06:39:03.546Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

You might also like to listen to the podcast episode and have a look at the comments in the original post which cover quite a few objections to Will's argument.

For what it's worth I don't think Will ever suggests the hinge was in the past (I might be wrong though). His idea that hinginess generally increases over time probably implies that he doesn't think the hinge was in the past. He does mention that thinking about the past is useful though to get a sense of the overall distribution of hinginess over time which then allows us to compare the present to the future.

Comment by jackmalde on The emerging school of patient longtermism · 2020-08-09T07:48:19.542Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Also I just want to add that Will isn’t implying we shouldn’t do anything about x-risks, just that we may want to diversify by putting more resources into “buck-passing” strategies that allow more influential decision-makers in the future to be as effective as possible

Comment by jackmalde on The emerging school of patient longtermism · 2020-08-08T05:59:22.513Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I think you probably need to read the argument again (but so do I and apologies if I get anything wrong here). Will has two main arguments against thinking that we are currently at the hinge of history (HoH):

1. It would be an extraordinary coincidence if right now was the HoH. In other words our prior probability of that possibility should be low and so we need pretty extraordinary evidence to believe that we are at HoH (and we don't have such extraordinary evidence)

2. Hinginess generally has increased over time as we become more knowledgeable, powerful and hold better values. We should probably expect this trend to continue and so it seems most likely that HoH is in the future

I understand that (critical) feedback on his ideas mainly came in challenging point 1 - many in the EA movement don't think we need to set such a low prior for HoH and think that the evidence that we are at HoH is strong enough.

Comment by jackmalde on Using Subjective Well-Being to Estimate the Moral Weights of Averting Deaths and Reducing Poverty · 2020-08-07T19:05:20.706Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Oh that's great. I very much hope that goes well! I hope I didn't give the wrong impression from my comments, I would love to see SWB be taken more seriously in the development economics literature.

Comment by jackmalde on What is the increase in expected value of effective altruist Wayne Hsiung being mayor of Berkeley instead of its current incumbent? · 2020-08-07T18:59:14.093Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Well I guess someone who hasn't heard of EA couldn't say that.

So I don't think that statement is quite as useless as you do. It shows that he:

A) Knows about EA

B) Has at least implied that he wants to use EA thinking in the role

EAs generally tend to think that the cause areas they focus on and the prioritisation they do within those cause areas allow them to be many magnitudes more effective than a typical non-EA. So I might expect him, in expectation, to be more effective than a typical mayor.

I do take your point that that alone isn't much and we will want to examine his track record and specific proposals in more detail.

Comment by jackmalde on The problem with person-affecting views · 2020-08-07T18:46:41.736Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

This might depend on how you define welfare. If you define it to be something like "the intrinsic goodness of the experience of a sentient being" or something along those lines, then I would think C being better than B can't really be disputed.

For example if you accept a preference utilitarian view of the world, and under the above definition of welfare, the fact that the person has higher welfare must mean that they have had some preferences satisfied. Otherwise in what sense can we say that they had higher welfare?

If we have this interpretation of welfare I don't think it makes any sense to discuss that C might not be better than B. What do you think?

Comment by jackmalde on The problem with person-affecting views · 2020-08-06T19:39:03.222Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, I'll check out your writings on VCLU!

Comment by jackmalde on The problem with person-affecting views · 2020-08-06T19:37:34.520Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks. There's a lot to digest there. It's an interesting idea that population ethics is simply separate to the rest of ethics. That's something I want to think about a bit more.

Comment by jackmalde on The problem with person-affecting views · 2020-08-06T19:26:16.706Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks that's interesting. I have more credence in hedonistic utilitarianism than preference utilitarianism for similar reasons to the ones you raise.

Comment by jackmalde on The problem with person-affecting views · 2020-08-06T19:23:47.600Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for all of this. I think IIA is just something that seems intuitive. For example it would seem silly to me for someone to choose jam over peanut butter but then, on finding out that honey mustard was also an option, think that they should have chosen peanut butter. My support of IIA doesn't really go beyond this intuitive feeling and perhaps I should think about it more.

Thanks for the readings about lexicality and rank-discounted utilitarianism. I'll check it out.

Comment by jackmalde on Using Subjective Well-Being to Estimate the Moral Weights of Averting Deaths and Reducing Poverty · 2020-08-06T19:05:53.136Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your response. Apologies that I chose to sidestep the actual analysis itself. For what it's worth I was very impressed when I was reading through it. I might revisit at some point to see if there are any specific comments I can provide on the analysis.

There are quite a few separate points you could be making and I’m not sure which you mean to press.

Apologies if I wasn't clear. The main point I want to press isn't that I disagree with the use of SWB in LMIC analysis, it's actually just to highlight that, to my knowledge, this isn't the preferred approach of economists to analyse wellbeing in LMICs. Therefore if such analysis is going to feature heavily in HLI's work I personally think it would be worth your while to address this tension formally in some way. This could be by doing a write-up to justify your choice to use SWB rather than say the capability approach or multi-dimensional poverty indices. If you address this formally I think it would increase the probability that the work of HLI is taken seriously by economists, and you may even win over some converts to your cause. If you don't address this I have a feeling many economists (and perhaps some other people of interest) would ignore your work citing concerns over adaptive preferences.

Of course I'm not an expert so if I were you I'd test this with some academic economists. The director of The Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative, Sabina Alkire, is a leader in multidimensional poverty and the capability approach. She would be a brilliant person to talk to get a clearer sense of the current views of economists regarding the use of SWB in LMIC. It may well be the case that economists are more accepting of this approach than I realise.

A different concern one might have is that those in low-income contexts use scales very differently from those elsewhere: someone who says there are 4/10 but lives in poverty actually has a very different set of psychological states from someone who says they are 4/10 in the UK.

For what it's worth I think that this might be the most prominent concern. I look forward to seeing your paper arguing for cardinal comparability. If your paper covers cardinal comparability between those in low-income and high-income contexts, then I think it would go some way to addressing the tension that I have raised.

Comment by jackmalde on The problem with person-affecting views · 2020-08-06T07:08:35.054Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, an interesting view, although not one I immediately find convincing.

I have higher credence in hedonistic utilitarianism than preference utilitarianism so would not be concerned by the fact that no frustrated preferences would be satisfied in your scenario. Improving hedonistic welfare, even if there is no preliminary suffering, still seems to me to be a good thing to do.

For example we could consider someone walking around, happy without a care in the world, and then going home and sleeping. Then we could consider the alternative that the person is walking around, happy without a care in the world, and then happens upon the most beautiful sight they have ever seen filling them with a long-lasting sense of wonder and fulfilment. It seems to me that the latter scenario is indeed better than the former.

Comment by jackmalde on The problem with person-affecting views · 2020-08-05T21:10:17.243Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Hey Michael,

Thanks for this, I suspected you might make a helpful comment! The procreation asymmetry is my long lost love. It's what I used to believe quite strongly but ultimately I started to doubt it for the same reasons that I've outlined in this post.

My intuition is that giving up IIA is only slightly less barmy than giving up transitivity, but thanks for the suggested reading. I certainly feel like my thinking on population ethics can evolve further and I don't rule out reconnecting with the procreation asymmetry.

For what it's worth my current view is that the repugnant conclusion may only seem repugnant because we tend to think of 'a life barely worth living' as a pretty drab existence. I actually think that such a life is much 'better' than we intuitively think. I have a hunch that various biases are contributing to us overvaluing the quality of our lives in comparison to the zero level, something that David Benatar has written about. My thinking on this is very nascent though and there's always the very repugnant conclusion to contend with which keeps me somewhat uneasy with total utilitarianism.

Comment by jackmalde on Using Subjective Well-Being to Estimate the Moral Weights of Averting Deaths and Reducing Poverty · 2020-08-04T14:32:36.712Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

A very interesting post! Thanks for sharing.

I understand that the main objective of this post was to demonstrate a proof of concept and not to argue that the WELLBY approach should be used. If you are planning to do some work on the latter I would personally suggest looking closely at the literature around the suitability of using SWB scores in low-income settings. My understanding is that the consensus view amongst economists is that alternative approaches, such as the capability approach or multi-dimensional poverty indices, are preferable to SWB in such contexts. I should say that I’m currently fairly agnostic on this issue and could be swayed either way, which is why I would love to see a review and philosophical discussion of the literature. If HLI is looking to focus on LMICs, I personally think such a review would be important.

One of the main points of contention is that of “adaptive preferences”. The idea can probably be best be summed up in this quote by Amartya Sen:

The utilitarian calculus based on, say, happiness can be deeply unfair to those who are persistently deprived, such as the traditional underdogs in stratified societies, oppressed minorities in intolerant communities, precarious sharecroppers living in a world of uncertainty, sweated workers in exploitative industrial arrangements, subdued housewives in deeply sexist cultures. The hopelessly deprived people may lack the courage to desire any radical change and often tend to adjust their desires and expectations to what little they see as feasible. They train themselves to take pleasure in small mercies. The practical merit of such adjustments for people in chronically adverse positions is easy to understand: this is one way of making deprived lives bearable. But the adjustments also have the incidental effect of distorting the scale of utilities.
Sen, A. K. 2008. “The Economics of Happiness and Capability.” L. Bruni, F. Comim, and M. Pugno, eds., Capabilities and Happiness, 16–27. New York: Oxford University Press.

Of course you can bite the bullet and say that there is no morally significant difference between a highly deprived person who has adapted to their environment and rates themself at a 5, versus someone materially well off who also rates themselves at a 5. This doesn’t seem to me to be an obviously repugnant view to take, but it is something that I think should be discussed.

I should note that it isn’t immediately clear to me to what extent adaptation could be a problem for your analysis in this post. After all, your analysis around the doubling of consumption considers changes in life satisfaction as opposed to say comparing levels between the poor and rich world for the purposes of optimising resource allocation between them. In addition I did find it interesting in your WELLBYs lost from death analysis, that the happiness scores you cite for the LMIC world are pretty low, which might imply that such adaptation hasn’t occurred to a meaningful extent. Even so, I would say that using life satisfaction scores in a low-income context in the first place requires some acknowledgement of the literature that is critical of doing so. Also, when I saw that the IDinsight beneficiary survey estimated the neutral point at 0.56, whilst the UK study found it at 2/10, this flagged to me the possibility of some adaptive preferences at play.

I just want to reiterate that I’m not saying using SWB measures in LMICs is inappropriate, I just think it might be helpful to have greater scrutiny of doing so.

P.S. Apologies if all of the above was entirely obvious to you and you already have / are planning to look into this topic. Also apologies if I have exaggerated the potential scale of the issue - I’m not an expert when it comes to the economics of LMICs by any means. Having said that I can point you in the direction of some relevant reading if you’re interested in investigating further.

Comment by jackmalde on Are we neglecting education? Philosophy in schools as a longtermist area · 2020-08-03T07:11:30.746Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

OK thanks that all makes sense. I would love for there to further research and investigation. For example some philosophers/education practitioners in the movement could have a look at the philosophy course I mention to see if it's something that is worth supporting in addition to your suggestions in another comment.

Comment by jackmalde on Are we neglecting education? Philosophy in schools as a longtermist area · 2020-08-03T06:51:21.647Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for these clarifications Michael