Patrick Collison on Effective Altruism 2020-06-23T09:04:55.932Z · score: 56 (23 votes)


Comment by samuelknoche on Democracy Promotion as an EA Cause Area · 2020-07-01T09:36:29.600Z · score: 11 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the post. I agree that the promotion of democratic institutions as an EA cause area is worth a closer look. I think you might find this EA Forum post by Ben Kuhn interesting: “"Why Nations Fail" and the long-termist view of global poverty.”

Though I'm skeptical. A lot of the benefits from democracy require liberal democracy. For example, both Iran and Russia are technically democracies, yet neither seems like a force for domestic welfare or international peace. In The Great Delusion, John Mearscheimer also casts some doubt on the democratic peace theory, pointing out that the US has toppled a number of democratically elected governments: “Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964, and Chile in 1973.” He also references a 1994 paper, “Kant or Cant: The Myth of the Democratic Peace”:

Perhaps the most damning evidence against the case for liberal democratic norms is found in Christopher Layne’s careful examination of four cases where a pair of liberal democracies marched to the brink of war, but one side pulled back and ended the crisis. He carefully examines the decision-making process in both Britain and the United States during the 1861 Trent Affair and the Venezuelan Crisis of 1895–96, the Fashoda Crisis between Britain and France in 1898, and the 1923 Ruhr Crisis involving France and Germany, and convincingly argues that liberal norms had little to do with settling these crises. There was substantial nationalist fervor on each side, and all four outcomes were primarily determined by strategic calculations involving the balance of power.

I don’t know how strong these objections really are, but I would take the democratic peace theory with a grain of salt.

Then there is China. Acemoglu and Robinson argue that China’s model is unsustainable in the long run, that it will end up having to liberalize in order to maintain economic growth, but this is disputed. China seems to be quite unique in terms of competence among authoritarian countries. Human rights would definitely improve if China were to become a liberal democracy, but the effects on long-term growth seem less obvious.

One issue is that the evidence in this area is fairly weak. See Kuhn’s post for more details on that.

With respect to neglectedness and tractability, I think it is best to do an analysis on a country by country basis. Promoting democracy in China for example seems not to be very tractable, and also carries some downside risk (making China hostile to EA). The question of whether promoting democracy might be an EA cause probably depends on whether it is possible to find a single country where there exists any examples of neglected and tractable interventions.

I think it is possible to find such interventions. Kuhn speculates that sponsoring independent investigative media in Senegal might be effective. Maybe there are some specific effective interventions in pro-democracy aid or election monitoring. I would love to see more research into similar interventions.

Comment by samuelknoche on Patrick Collison on Effective Altruism · 2020-06-24T06:16:01.444Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Yeah, it does sound like he might be open to fund EA causes at some point in the future.

I do think though that it is still a good criticism. There is a risk that people who would otherwise pursue some weird idiosyncratic, yet impactful, projects might be discouraged by the fact that it might be hard to justify it from a simple EA framework. I think that one potential downside risk of 80k's work for example is that some people might end up being less impactful because they choose the "safe" EA path rather than a more unusual, risky, and, from the EA community's perspective, low status path.

Comment by samuelknoche on In praise of unhistoric heroism · 2020-03-03T13:26:08.263Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW


"But EA orgs can't be inclusive, so we should have a separate social space for EA's that is inclusive. Working at an EA org shouldn't be the only option for one's sanity."

Comment by samuelknoche on Seeking Advice: Arab EA · 2020-01-31T09:55:59.794Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

On a meta level, it would be nice if there was some more general advice on this. Even though EA outreach to authoritarian countries is generally viewed as a bad idea (see here), we cannot help that at least some people in these countries will learn about EA and will want to communicate and contribute in some way.

Comment by samuelknoche on Seeking Advice: Arab EA · 2020-01-31T09:05:05.556Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Far from me the idea that anyone do anything dangerous. But EA in itself doesn't seem really controversial or dangerous to talk about. In fact, EA Dubai has a public Facebook group and UAE laws aren't that different from Saudi laws.

And here is a EA Middle East group:

Comment by samuelknoche on Seeking Advice: Arab EA · 2020-01-30T16:20:37.555Z · score: 0 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I imagine that there should be ways to minimize the risks by remaining anonymous, using a VPN and avoiding any "controversial" topics, though I agree that one should be extremely careful with this.

Comment by samuelknoche on Seeking Advice: Arab EA · 2020-01-30T12:12:52.077Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Maybe try to create an EA Saudi Arabia social media group and see if you can find people that way. That would allow you to find others who are already interested in EA while staying anonymous.

One potential high impact activity might be to research how best to spread EA ideas in the Muslim world, and how EA should interact with the faith.

Comment by samuelknoche on The EA Hotel is now the Centre for Enabling EA Learning & Research (CEEALAR) · 2020-01-29T15:52:55.036Z · score: 15 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Though the hotel isn't trying to have a big public presence so a boring name like CEEALAR might be just right.

Comment by samuelknoche on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-01-28T13:54:43.304Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

It's difficult. You'd probably need a model of every country since state capacity, health care, information access... can vary widely.

Comment by samuelknoche on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-01-28T12:47:01.079Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

If the death rate is really that high, then we should significantly update P(it goes world scale pandemic) and P(a particular person gets it | it goes world scale pandemic) downwards as it would cause governments and individuals to put a lot of resources towards prevention.

One can also imagine that P(a particular person dies from it | a particular person gets it) will go down with time as resources are spent on finding better treatment and a cure.

Comment by samuelknoche on Against value drift · 2019-11-01T07:20:23.698Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · EA · GW

The idea that people always act selfishly is probably a bit extreme. But there's something very important pointed out in this post: considering selfish incentives is extremely important when thinking about how EA can become more sustainable and grow.

Just a few selfish incentives that I see operating within EA: the forum cash prize, reputation gains within the EA community for donating to effective charities, reputation gains for working for an EA org, being part of a community...

The point here is not that these are bad, but that we should acknowledge that these
are selfish incentives, and think about how to best design these selfish incentives to align them with EA goals.

To answer technicalities' comment, I'm pretty sure that even the people he lists did what they did at least in part because of a hope for future recognition or because they hoped for approval from only one or two people in their immediate vicinity. Of course, their main motivation was just to do good, but saying they were driven by no selfish incentive whatsoever would be denying human nature.

Also, book recommendation: The Elephant in the Brain

Comment by samuelknoche on Ineffective Altruism: Are there ideologies which generally cause there adherents to have worse impacts? · 2019-10-18T07:07:26.698Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Effective altruism, I hope.

Comment by samuelknoche on Effective Altruism is an Ideology, not (just) a Question · 2019-06-28T19:54:18.303Z · score: 11 (9 votes) · EA · GW

Or you could say that EA is an ideology that has tolerance, open-mindedness and skepticism as some of its highest values. Saying that EA is an ideology doesn't necessarily mean that it shares the same flaws as most other ideologies.

Comment by samuelknoche on Effective Altruism is an Ideology, not (just) a Question · 2019-06-28T11:04:01.705Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that in practice, EA does have an ideology. The majority of EAs share the assumptions of rationality, scientific materialism, utilitarianism and some form of techno-optimism. This explains why the three cause areas you mention aren't taken seriously by EA. And so if one wants to defend the current focus of most EAs, one also has to defend the assumptions - the ideology - that most EAs have.

However, in principle, EA does not prevent one from adopting the proposed cause areas. If I became convinced that the most effective way to do good was to fight for theocracy, Marxism and against the depletion of natural resources, I would do so and still call myself an EA.

Maybe it would be useful to distinguish between EA the general idea, which can be seen as just a question, and EA the real world movement. Though I’m not sure if defining EA the general idea as a question is really that accurate either. It seems to me that in practice, the ideology of rationality, utilitarianism... comes first, and EA is just the injunction to actually do something about it. “If you think that a rational, consequentialist approach to utilitarianism constitutes ‘good’, then be consistent and act accordingly.” And so maybe EA is at its core an ideological movement and the question of “How can I do the most good, with the resources available to me?” is just one of its tenets.

Comment by samuelknoche on Stories and altruism · 2019-05-20T11:46:23.052Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hotel Rwanda is pretty good.