Posts

AGI Risk: How to internationally regulate industries in non-democracies 2022-05-16T22:45:03.961Z
An attempt to promote prediction markets 2022-05-10T14:19:18.888Z
Ukraine giving - short term high leverage 2022-03-23T19:27:45.605Z
Do you mean democratization or regime change? 2022-03-23T18:45:35.716Z
Funding request: Promoting EA in MENA 2022-03-15T19:24:18.434Z
Thoughts on Post-PhD Jobs 2021-10-19T18:55:47.707Z
On Mike Berkowitz's 80k Podcast 2021-04-21T01:53:33.363Z
Up and Down with the Pandemic; Why Pandemic Policies Do Not Last and How to Change That 2021-03-29T23:04:02.080Z
Democracy and Development, a Simple Model 2021-03-11T20:39:51.936Z
PhD student mutual line-manager invitation 2021-03-07T23:00:57.263Z
A brief explanation of the Myanmar coup 2021-02-02T15:47:34.145Z
Best Consequentialists in Poli Sci #1 : Are Parliaments Better? 2020-10-08T16:38:35.133Z
How do political scientists do good? 2020-08-28T19:17:50.711Z
Improving local governance in fragile states - practical lessons #2 2020-08-15T00:25:32.436Z
Improving local governance in fragile states - practical lessons from the field 2020-08-12T03:07:11.193Z
Where the QALY's at in political science? 2020-08-05T05:04:53.198Z

Comments

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on AGI Risk: How to internationally regulate industries in non-democracies · 2022-05-17T01:28:51.593Z · EA · GW

Added an abstract

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on An attempt to promote prediction markets · 2022-05-12T23:00:23.629Z · EA · GW

In the assassination's problem, people manipulate the market to win bets. No one is doing that in this case.

Also, knowing when wars will happen is socially beneficial because uncertainty increases the probability of war. If both sides think they are strong, they both take strong bargaining positions. When their offers are rejected they fight. More knowledge -> bargains are more likely to be accepted.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on An attempt to promote prediction markets · 2022-05-12T22:57:21.778Z · EA · GW

Oh god the paragraph breaks didn't go through. Fixing!

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Should we buy coal mines? · 2022-05-05T14:34:33.496Z · EA · GW

Bottom Of The Envelope Calculation

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Should we buy coal mines? · 2022-05-05T14:34:08.446Z · EA · GW

What's a BOTEC

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Thoughts on Post-PhD Jobs · 2022-04-04T13:53:40.783Z · EA · GW

Ah, I see. I'm mixing up career capital and status actually.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Ukraine giving - short term high leverage · 2022-03-23T21:08:38.849Z · EA · GW

Multibillion dollar bureaucracies tent to be slow with stuff Ike this. You can call them to learn more, I don’t have all the details.

I have a full time job and can’t provide you a higher level of support/analysis without neglecting my responsibilities.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Have there been any quality evaluations of the impacts of regime change? · 2022-03-23T20:25:10.961Z · EA · GW

We also know a lot about what types of regimes are more susceptible to democratization. A democratization effort in Vietnam is much more likely to succeed because Vietnam is a party state, has some elections, has a strongish economy, etc. I can say more about that too.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Have there been any quality evaluations of the impacts of regime change? · 2022-03-23T20:13:38.987Z · EA · GW

First off, remove democracy from your lexicon. It's too complicated and confusing word, it means different things to different people. Usually if you bring democracy into this debate you get a circular answer by accidentally assuming many institutions at once.

A good starting question here is to think about the service recipients. What is the theory of change for how they compel the state to provide services under each system? What assumptions are needed for it to work?

Citizens have to coordinate to punish a leader that does not provide services if they want more services than the leader prefers to provide. So steps are:

  1. Citizens must want services.
  2. Citizens must find out if services are provided and if better provision is possible.
  3. Citizens they must communicate to eachother both the information and their awareness.
  4. Citizens they must coordinate to punish simultaneously because individually attack leaders is ineffective and punishable.
  5. If they want to prevent leaders from counter punishing (repression), citizens must punish repression (see above steps).
  6. Citizens must choose public goods over selling their votes.

Elections make the later steps easier by coordinating simultaneous punishments (election day). Experienced oppositions make 2 and 3 easier. If 1 or 6 are violated, you won't get any benefit though. Also if the middle class solves this and the poor do not, guess who gets service...

The short answer is that many countries democratize but see little benefit for public service because this is a really long chain that can break down easily.

I may come back and find the studies for this stuff.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Have there been any quality evaluations of the impacts of regime change? · 2022-03-23T20:02:02.719Z · EA · GW

Good question. Perhaps I should clarify this in the abstract.

Weakly constrained means elite supporters cannot limite the leader much.

Personalist means weakly constrained by elite supporters. The idea is that one person has lots of power, hence personalist.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Have there been any quality evaluations of the impacts of regime change? · 2022-03-23T18:38:34.444Z · EA · GW

Above is my recent article on property rights and sudden deaths of autocrats, which is not really your question. When I find time!

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Have there been any quality evaluations of the impacts of regime change? · 2022-03-23T18:31:20.626Z · EA · GW

Yes there is a lot of work on this area. AFAIK not on health outcomes but on similar areas. If there's interest I could do a blog post on it. https://github.com/tliptrot/Academic/raw/d4f44f249235afddbe16c67a3e6849038be22526/One Bullet Propert Rights Liptrot and Srivastava.pdf

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on A Forum post can be short · 2022-03-23T01:06:20.605Z · EA · GW

True

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Funding request: Promoting EA in MENA · 2022-03-16T20:06:33.292Z · EA · GW

One solution would be to make grant funding conditional on publishing. That transfers the risk onto me, who knows more about viability.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Funding request: Promoting EA in MENA · 2022-03-16T20:04:11.397Z · EA · GW

On follow up: Yeah I have to return to the US to continue my PhD at the end of the Summer. That definitely limits my ability to start a movement.

On game-theory: I am quite optimistic. From what I see, professional political actors like ministers, soldiers and warlords understand the "game" perfectly without my explaining. Regular citizens usually do not understand the games, giving them a disadvantage.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Funding request: Promoting EA in MENA · 2022-03-16T20:00:12.465Z · EA · GW
  1. I was aware there are some restrictions, but did not think they were so severe. I will reach out to them to learn more. That's an interesting concern.

  2. Yes autocratists study autocracy.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Funding request: Promoting EA in MENA · 2022-03-16T19:58:36.765Z · EA · GW

| My main question is, how sure are you that you can get articles published in major newspapers?

Good question. I'm uncertain. I would like to write up one piece now and try to get it in, as a check on the viability of the plan.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Thoughts on Post-PhD Jobs · 2021-10-20T02:09:08.830Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the comment, I'm just talking through things and appreciate the feedback.

In EA speak, I think “career capital” should be your goal. As an early grad, your PhD and skills have low direct value. You should choose either a personally interesting or high status/opportunity position.

I actually disagree with this. Firstly, those are actually pretty good skills. But secondly, I don't think PhD's have low direct value. Obviously most people's PhD's have 0 direct value, but that's because people don't select their areas strategically at all.

There's a two-way matching problem here. I would like to exchange a detailed study done well on an issue for a career. And lots of institutions would like to hire someone who has studied their issues for the information and for the signalling value (only a good hire could understand the issue so well). I've already done this with my first paper that got me the consulting gig.

The thing is, few industries are going out looking for PhD students. The WB does, but the CIA, State Department, political risk consultants, none of them are doing that. So you need to input the effort to solve the two-way matching problem by finding them and credibly signaling your value. That's not something most PhD students do at all. But I live in DC, and I'm good at networking so I can do that.

Additionally, everyone is seeking "career capital". The hunt for "career capital" is super crowded and exhausting. Trying to actually do things is easier.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Thoughts on Post-PhD Jobs · 2021-10-20T00:13:13.921Z · EA · GW

I certainly could do that. It would drive me toward more crowded fields, particularly development. But competing with lots of other really smart people is playing life on hard mode.

I'm not sure I want to play life on hard mode in my 30's.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on On Mike Berkowitz's 80k Podcast · 2021-04-22T18:51:00.045Z · EA · GW

Original median voter theorem paper, Duncan Black in 1948

Let us suppose that a decision is to be determined by vote of a committee. The members of the committee may meet in a single room, or they may be scattered over an area of the country as are the electors in a parliamentary constituency. Proposals are advanced, we assume, in the form of motions on a particular topic or in favor of one of a number of candidates. We do not inquire into the genesis of the motions but simply assume that given motions have been put forward. In the case of the selection of candidates, we assume that determinate candidates have offered themselves for election and that one is to be chosen by means of voting. For convenience we shall speak as if one of a number of alternative mo- tions, and not candidates, was being selected.

Let there be n members in the committee, where n is odd. We suppose that an ordering of the points on the horizontal axis representing motions exists, rendering the preference curves of all members single-peaked. The points on the horizontal axis corresponding to the members' optimums are named O, 02, 03, . . . , in the order of their occurrence. The middle or median optimum will be the (n + I)/2th, and, in Figure 3, only this median optimum, the one im- mediately above it and the one immediately below it are shown

Anyway, this is really a pedagogic question. How best should we teach politics? Some people advocate that we should disregard the MVT because it is both "obvious" and "false". Setting that contradiction aside, I think the underlying assumption that only theories with perfect data fit should be taught is wrong. By the same logic, physics should not teach Newtownian mechanics because it is wrong relative to quantum mechanics. You can't just give the reader quantum mechanics, you need to start with a theory they can understand then update it.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on On Mike Berkowitz's 80k Podcast · 2021-04-22T01:07:13.310Z · EA · GW
  1. The median voter theorem is just a mathematical conclusion from a set of simple assumptions, it can't be watered up or down. If some set of voters rank proposals on a single axis with single-peaked preferences then the only Condorcet winner will be the median voters ideal point. The key here is that the voters choose the axis on which to rank the proposals. The voters can rank the candidates on any axis, taxes or policies or height. Usually smarter actors rank proposals and candidates on an ideology axis by collapsing issues onto one axis, as a mental heuristic. But if they interpret the axis as "does he run ads where he shoots guns" instead of "does he vote for my tax rate", the gun ads determine the axis not the tax rate. In this case the assumption is that Republican primary voters care a lot about the Trump-support axis.

The two level game papers are cool, but not relevant here.

The MVT is important here because Trumps influence over represenatives is non-linear with his vote share. If Trump loses 20% of his primary influence and loses the median primary voter, he does not lose 20% of his influence, he loses most of his influence.

  1. There are better ways to select leaders, but our current leaders choose not to influence them. Our current leaders like the current leader-selection system because they win at it. (See paper)[https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1467-9248.2005.00514.x?casa_token=R0YSBl-4UKQAAAAA:pwa_9ENFHN8VU9PT50ymM6R1fy57NtdDSW1R7K5aeT8tGXMRvLzwHzkAoFh7di80Lp4mv8b4e8ZnFWg]
Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on On Mike Berkowitz's 80k Podcast · 2021-04-21T16:53:15.958Z · EA · GW

Interesting, that's a good point.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on On Mike Berkowitz's 80k Podcast · 2021-04-21T16:46:11.771Z · EA · GW

That’s good pushback, thank you.

I'll need to edit the piece more deeply, but for now I've added an explanation at the top.

Here are some counter criticisms

  1. That is a great summary of the modern critique of the MVT, thanks for sharing. The problem is that it applies to policy outcomes, but the subject is candidate selection. Caplan’s criticism is that voters are irrational at connecting votes to policies and policies to outcomes, which is true. If voters have a simpler utility function like “I want to vote against any anti-Trump candidates”, the median voter will apply very well. If 51% of voters choose to vote against any anti-trump candidates and you are anti-trump, the MVT will still cook your goose. Compare with democratic primaries, where the Bernie faction mobilized 40%, but Bernie does not have 4/5s of Trumps influence at all.

The response concerns me because Berkowitz passes up a great opportunity to explain a fundamental dynamic of the system in question. Imagine asking an economist “why did the price of gasoline increase when supply contracted” and the economist didn’t mention supply and demand curves. Sure it could be a Giffen good with a weird speculative market, but your explanation should start with the theory that explains maximum variation, then move to edge cases.

  1. Saying there is no silver bullet is a strong positive claim that Berkowitz doesn’t back up. I’m not all claiming there is definitive evidence that a silver bullet exists. I am simply claiming that we have not seen evidence disproving silver bullets, which Berkowitz claims. I should have made that more clear.

Viz-a-viz populism, if we define populism as “did any populist party form” then yes, there are few patterns. Martin Gurri is probably right that populism emerges from the information environment. But if we define it as populists that cam close to ruling, by getting 20% of the vote share, then we have some patterns. The German Bundestag was stunningly successful at deescalating every issue that the populists could use after 2016, for example (they paid billions to keep refugees out of Europe). Keeping populists out of office can probably be done with electoral engineering, but keeping populist minorities from forming can’t, so depends on goal post definitions.

  1. Fair enough, I shouldn’t argue that policy feedback is the definitive reason and Trump not. I'm just concerned that Berkowitz doesn't mention other explanations. Generally I am suspicious that activists will overfit on data to make their issue seem really important.
Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Is Democracy a Fad? · 2021-03-16T03:06:00.486Z · EA · GW

Democracies did not exist in the premodern world for one main reason; they were bad at war. Revolutions and republics did form in the Medieval period, particularly in capital-intensive trade hubs like Northern Italy and Northern Germany. However, most were quickly crushed under a wave of poorly armed peasant-soldiers from the coercive states next door.

A major reason for democracies rise in the 17th-21st centuries because democracies suddenly became much better at warfare than all other systems, and have maintained this advantage ever since. The first state to create a democratic nation-state and harness it to war was the Dutch in the Dutch revolt, who shocked Europe by defeating the Habsburg Empire. Shortly afterward Britain formed a democracy-nation hybrid who set the standard for military power. All major world wars since have been resounding Democratic victories., from the War of Jenkin's Ear to the Cold War. The main advantages of the democratic system are

  • Modern democracies had both large populations and property rights for capital, combining the two great advantages of previous state forms. Some autocracies have greatly improved their ability to accumulate capital to close this gap (Fascist Italy, China, Soviet Union).
  • Leaders pay a higher cost for defeat
  • Democracies can more credibly issue bonds (democratic advantage has faded over time)
  • Democracies rarely have to coup proof (divide and purge the military to prevent coups)

This advantage should be completely irrelevant going forward. China and Russia may democratize, giving the democracies a clean sweep of the security council powers. But the democracies are already at maximum influence in many stable anocracies like Morocco and Jordan.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Democracy and Development, a Simple Model · 2021-03-12T18:50:22.799Z · EA · GW

Hahaha I love hearing someone else say "cluster in polity-space". I use that phrase often but the other political scientists never do. It's an incredibly useful framework for describing correlated variations and side-stepping pointless debates about definition.

That's all spot on. Stable alternative models are rare and poor performing (Belgium, Lebanon, Bosnia, Libya).

The steel man for a democratic long run future: In the long run, the political system that survives longer should dominate. Once democracies pass a production threshold around 10,000 gdppc transitions become extremely rare. The half-life of a rich parliamentary system is really long > 200 years. By comparison autocracies have been unstable so far in all periods.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on A brief explanation of the Myanmar coup · 2021-03-07T22:39:48.428Z · EA · GW

Selectorate: People who select the leader

Ejectorate: People who don't.

In the Soviet Union, the selectorate was the Politburo Standing Committee. In Egypt and Myanmar the selectorate is a group of generals. In the US the selectorate are voters in swing states.

Thanks for the feedback.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Up and Down with the Pandemic; Why Pandemic Policies Do Not Last and How to Change That · 2021-01-07T05:25:30.346Z · EA · GW

I haven't ported the citations to this format yet, fyi

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Best Consequentialists in Poli Sci #1 : Are Parliaments Better? · 2021-01-05T18:57:45.069Z · EA · GW

My professor Hans Noel is featured in the article. Nice.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on My mistakes on the path to impact · 2020-12-13T19:23:14.276Z · EA · GW

I have a friend who is making the first two mistakes. They are in a different field from EA but similar totalizing vibe. They rarely apply to jobs that are outside their field-role but which would provide valuable career capital. They are also quite depressed from the long unemployment.

What can I say to help them not make these mistakes?

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on My mistakes on the path to impact · 2020-12-11T21:23:30.543Z · EA · GW

I disagree Max. We can all recall anecdotes of overconfidence because they create well-publicized narratives. With hindsight bias, it seems obvious that overconfidence was the subject. So naturally we overestimate overconfidence risks, just like nuclear power.

The costs of under confidence are invisible and ubiquitous. A grad student fails to submit her paper. An applicant doesn't apply. A graduate doesn't write down her NGO idea. Because you can't see the costs of underconfidence, they could be hundreds or thousands of times the overconfidence costs.

To break apart the question

  1. Should people update based on evidence and not have rigid world-models. Is people disagreeing with you moderate evidence?
  • Yes to both
  1. Once someone builds the best world-model they can, should they defer to higher-status people's models
  • Much much less often than we currently do
  1. How much should we weight disagreement between our models and the models of others?
Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on My mistakes on the path to impact · 2020-12-11T21:08:00.472Z · EA · GW

Thanks for making this. I experienced similar struggles in young adulthood and watched my friends go through them as well. It sucks that so many institutions leave young people with bad models of job-world and inflexible epistemology. It hits when we most need self-reliance and accuracy. IMO, the university professors are the worst offenders.

My disorganized thoughts

  1. Trusting your own models is invaluable. When I was 25 I had a major breakdown from career stress (read about it here). I realized my choices had been unimpeachable and bad. I always did "what I was supposed to do". But the outcomes would have been better if I trusted my own models.

There aren't consolation prizes for following socially approved world models. There are just outcomes. I decided to trust my own evidence and interpretation much more after that.

  1. It stuns me how often young people under-apply for jobs. The costs of over-applying are comparatively small. How to talk my friends out of it?

  2. I'm not sure you took risks, in an emotional sense. Under-applying protects against rejection. Loyalty protect against abandonment. In the moment, applying to an additional job and exploring a new career path feel very risky. I generally encourage young people to apply for tons of things, try new fields and move to new (developing) countries. I believe the strategies that feel risky are often the most effective, since they differentiate you and offer new skills. Maybe "risk" is the wrong heuristic for young people, who understand the world too little.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Best Consequentialists in Poli Sci #1 : Are Parliaments Better? · 2020-12-09T17:12:49.959Z · EA · GW

Great question! That is an incorrect interpretation, but this is the fault of the authors for their terrible reporting of the results not maintaining their reproduction data. I noticed the problems after writing.

Basically, those coefficients are the effect of one more year of parliamentarism in your history. So the .004 coefficient on corruption control means that 100 years of parliamentarism (1901-2001) is associated with a .4 increase.

I would also note that the dummy factors are stacked against parliamentarism. Think of it this way. In around 1880, Europe. East Asia and the Commonwealth chose parliamentarism while Latin America, the Francophone countries and (later) Africa chose presidentialism. We can't know if parl is the reason governance is worse in the later group, so we assume the reason is something else. But this is a strong assumption, we cannot rerun history and give the Norwejian constitution to Chile. So you should update up a bit toward parliamentarism.

To take import duties for example. If you keep country dummies in, 50 years of parl is associated with a 2.5% decrease in duties, half the impact of being a democracy. If you remove the continent dummies, then 50 years of parl is about as good as being a democracy.

Generally I would multiply the effect of parl by 50 then compare it to gdp per capita to ballpark total effect.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Best Consequentialists in Poli Sci #1 : Are Parliaments Better? · 2020-10-12T23:29:40.657Z · EA · GW

I don't know yet. I am curious.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Best Consequentialists in Poli Sci #1 : Are Parliaments Better? · 2020-10-12T04:40:36.553Z · EA · GW

Drutman is bae.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Best Consequentialists in Poli Sci #1 : Are Parliaments Better? · 2020-10-12T04:12:40.675Z · EA · GW

Drutman is bae.

It's crazy listening to people talk about America's problems and not apply the basic lessons of comparative politics. Drutman may be the only sane person talking about fixing American democracy because he's the only US pundit that actually compares the data on democratic institutions. American's are stuck in this 16th century Florentine conception of democracy without parties. People pay lip service to the idea that "the founders didn't believe parties would exist" then leave it at that.

One example is the way Americans talk about whipping (the speaker demanding party legislators vote). People talk about whipping as the end of the republic. Meanwhile, whipping is the complete norm in New Zealand, India, the UK, Canada, Tanzania, the Bundestag, Sweden, Japan, Turkey (formerly). At the start of the 20th century it was a reasonable prior that strong parties would lead to rapidly fluxuating economic regulations and growth slowdowns or major redistributions. At the time, it was a good guess. We now know that voters are great at stopping parties. Voters are the check and balance (federalism is still cool though).

Google your representative's position on ending the fillibuster. I bet you dollars to donuts that they say something like "if we abolish the fillibuster the other party will pass crazy bills A-Z". The reality is that strong parliaments get punished for passing bad bills and they learn to behave. Look at Sweden's wager-earner funds. Look at British Labor in the 1970's, locked out for two decades. Look at Canada's stunning record of policy stability despite a powerfully majoritarian system.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Best Consequentialists in Poli Sci #1 : Are Parliaments Better? · 2020-10-11T22:49:29.057Z · EA · GW

Good question. The key is that Gerring's paper ADJUSTED FOR DEMOCRACY. So it really means that "parliaments are better when they successfully become democracies", not "parliaments are better in general". This is a big stupid on Gerring's part. I just noticed it and am mad. Anyway-

South Sudan becoming a democracy was very hard due to the proto-state institutions before independence. Ethno-nationalist patrimonial warlord autocracies dominated pre-independence South Sudan and had effectively won their independence in a long and bloody civil war. And there were two warlordships of similar power and ethnic bases (and polygamy). Describing the main factions can get long and complicated and I could easily make a mistake. I'll just talk about three groups, the majority SPLM faction (mostly Dinka), the minority SPLM faction (mostly Nuer) and the International Community. I'm not an expert, so consider this a guess.

For the head of the majority faction (Salva Kiir) presidentialism is good because it concentrates power and patronage opportunities in his hands. He wants the presidency to have strong independence from the legislature. Remember the legislature is full of his lackeys. Being subservient to 300 lackeys makes corruption hard; capable people sneak in and bribes are more expensive (See Bueno De Mesquita, selectorate theory). This is the main reason, IMO.

For the head of the minority faction (Riek Machar), presidentialism also sounds nice because the upper house represented provincial governments. So the Nuer-dominated provinces have institutionalized power, maybe a veto. Note that war broke out a few months after Salva Kiir fired his ministers to consolidate power.

For the international community, the main thing is making sure that the government splits the money fairly. They know that state capacity will be tiny. In practice, they will be providing the services. But as long as the majority and minority faction are sharing the windfalls into their respective pyramid schemes fairly, a civil war might not happen. The massive corruption must seem fair to each warlord. Presidentialism should make this easier as well (checks and balances, multiple state actors with their own mandate).

If these actors were maximizing the quality of the health ministry in 20 years, Gerring would have been relevant. But none of them were.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on What is the increase in expected value of effective altruist Wayne Hsiung being mayor of Berkeley instead of its current incumbent? · 2020-10-09T14:33:33.728Z · EA · GW

Maybe. That's orthogonal to my comment. I was responding to

My default belief is that a politician implying something he knows the listener wants to hear is not evidence he's believes or will act on that implication.

As to the empirical content of "evidence-based policy", I'm not an expert on that question yet.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Best Consequentialists in Poli Sci #1 : Are Parliaments Better? · 2020-10-09T14:31:17.346Z · EA · GW

Good questions Thomas. The point of the blog series is to highlight papers that ask the right questions and use the right methods to have consequentialist value. I am not arguing that the Gerring paper is the last word. I'll answer a few of your questions, though.

  1. We know they aren't p-hacking in the selection of dependent variables because there are very few such variables that cover every country-year of interest. How many organizations measured the governance quality of Liberia, Columbia and Denmark in 1953. I'm working on introducing a new one using weather station quality.

  2. I didn't want to dive into the regression table in my blog post. All models used adjust for continent. They also adjust for distance to financial center. I would also point out that if the continents with lots of presidential regimes have less cross-border trade, this is evidence against quality of governance of presidentialism.

  3. There is a later study with an expanded dataset that supported the null on GDP, but I didn't include it because it ignored the 13 other governance indicators. This isn't my main research area so I won't do a full literature review for this blog post. In municipalities the same result is robustly observed.

If robustly establishing causation means "adjusting for every factor which could possibly affect governance outcomes at the country level", then the question is clearly unanswerable. There are hundreds of such factors and RCT's are impossible. But as consequentialists our goal isn't to achieve some arbitrary degree of confidence in our beliefs. The goal is to make better decisions. Since your prior on pres v. parl should be near .5, this evidence compellingly moves us toward the parl side, maybe to .7 . For a constitutional designer, that's a hugely valuable update. There remains a 30% chance of making the wrong decision, but that's way better than a 50% chance of making the wrong decision. Therefore if even one constitutional designer reads this paper, the QALY's that Gerring et al. have made is huge.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on I Want To Do Good - an EA puppet mini-musical! · 2020-10-08T22:05:58.825Z · EA · GW

:) ideal

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on What is the increase in expected value of effective altruist Wayne Hsiung being mayor of Berkeley instead of its current incumbent? · 2020-10-08T22:04:31.524Z · EA · GW

No time to call up the paper, but the basic answer is that such statements are evidence.

A common pattern is that politicians can propose policy A or B before entering office, but have an incentive to implement A once elected. So some of the politicians who propose B will switch to A once elected. But none of the politicians who support A will switch to B. For example this happens with economic security vs. economic efficiency platforms in Latin America (politicians prefer efficiency policies more once elected). About half of them switched in the study I read, and no efficiency campaigns switched to security after election.

That means the voter choice is simple. Even if you belief a politician might switch off B, the politician who is campaigning on B is always more likely to do B than the politician campaigning on A. This applies to head to head elections only ofc.

So the optimal decision theoretic choice is to support the politician who advocates for your policy in the election.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on If you like a post, tell the author! · 2020-10-08T18:10:50.118Z · EA · GW

As an author, this is SO TRUE.

Honestly the "people only comment to criticize" pattern incentivizes authors to be edgy to get any feedback on their ideas at all.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on How do political scientists do good? · 2020-09-20T22:07:42.905Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the comment. I've decided the most important thing is to learn to do my own expected value analysis for research programs.

Maybe econ is different from poli sci, but my experience is that grad students are extremely attuned to what the academic job market rewards, and if they don't start out that way, their advisors eventually push them in that direction."

I've been exploring this, and it appears to be a difference between the disciplines. Not sure why yet.

Since the academic market rewards difficult, technical work, the sort of work that doesn't do well on the job market can also be fairly tractable."

This makes sense. For example, looking at why some countries start charter cities and some do not would be very qualitative and poorly rewarded. But it would be really high-QALY.

Descriptive work

That actually makes a lot of sense. There could be some great descriptive work on aid which is non-causal.

Replications get okay rewards in Poli-Sci, since you might find a different method decision and be able to publish a new results. I plan to do lots of these.

I'd also love to see some meta-research on what researchers believe to be the highest-impact topics to study. Maybe you could ask faculty in your department what they would recommend an altruist work on? I wish I'd spoken to more of my professors about this since their suggestions were invaluable.

Thanks for this advice. It is valuable and I have already started doing it. Responses vary by professor. Some of them are like "utility...for people...we've never asked that question in this field. I have no idea" and some are like "yes of course, here are my thoughts". As a culture, political science is surprisingly non-activist compared to economics, in the sense that many pol scientists take no normative positions. Lots to learn about here.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on How do political scientists do good? · 2020-09-20T21:49:49.540Z · EA · GW

The question of how best to represent the interests of future persons is a good core question. My problem is more with their method of answering it. There's a great tradition of political philosophers thinking "what would be the ideal institution according to X moral philosophy" and then designing an institution backward from that. I consider this approach both crowded and low-leverage (John and McAskill are more in a middle position). The alternative is to look at how institutions work in practice then judge them against different ethical objectives, which is a bit more neglected. I also think the second approach is more effective. So writing at the same questions as John and McAskill could have good added value. If I have time I will take a look at Gov AI

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on How do political scientists do good? · 2020-09-16T19:11:07.494Z · EA · GW

Just read the paper and you are correct, my questions do differ. I should just make a post of my own about this I guess.

Firstly, I am skeptical that the future is best represented by creating special institutions. If people lose trust that their government cares about their interests the risks to democracy and state capacity are large, and introducing a new interest group endangers that trust. The alternative to directly representing the future is to consider which institutional arrangements create policies most beneficial to future people. They acknowledge a similar critique on page 15.

Future's assemblies - the analogy to the Irish assemblies is interesting. However, the Irish assemblies were selected for each issue separately, not for life. Here are several reasons they shouldn't be selected for life.

1. Selecting representatives for life greatly increases the benefits to actors that capture members.

2. Factions that by chance are under-represented in the future assembly must wait a long time for a change, so exiting is a more appealing option to them.

3. Are we sure why the Irish assemblors chose to think about the issue One possible explanation is that because they were only asked to make 1 decision, selecting an ideology and selecting a position on the issue were equally as cognitively expensive (they didn't have to think that hard). If that hypothesis is true, then when we ask the same set of assemblers to make many decisions they might realize that adopting an ideology makes the decision easier and they feel just as "right" afterward.

Well that's enough for now, I should get back to work. Thanks for sending the paper, hopefully I can write a full post on it.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on How do political scientists do good? · 2020-09-16T18:32:34.399Z · EA · GW

The electricity one is outside of our data range. States occasionally fail to provide electricity for weird price-politics reasons. But when that occurs, private sector electricity suppliers form fast (this can be a self-reinforcing policy as the new suppliers resist centralization). But that does suggest that as long as a community can pay for fuel, they will produce electricity. If our current institutions fail to provide electricity, people can form new ones fast.

I'll think about agricultural output for the moment. I would, anecdotally, assume political effects from that. Bread protests remain pretty common and many states continue bizarrely inefficient bread subsidies. Rulers probably do this because they believe that grain prices are related to their survival. Furthermore, if bread price increases are correlated with anti-government actions or violence, then it's plausible to to forecast an increase in civil wars with a 10% decrease in agricultural output.

But let's step back. By comparing changes in agricultural production with changes in grain prices I am comparing apples to oranges. The relevant object is the change in price of grains year-on-year. So how much would a 10% drop in agricultural production actually change the price of grains? And how has the salary of the very poor evolved relative to that price of grain over time? The global price of wheat has doubled once since WW2 . Of course there was also a major fuel shock that year. Country level data would probably be more useful for relating food price shocks to political effects.

A second problem is that the long term political effects could be negative or positive. Civil wars seem really bad for political systems partly because they often end in systems with more veto points and less independent problem-solvey states. But there's also evidence that the pressure of regime change is good, since it incentivizes a ruler to grow their economy to meet higher demands for food. De Mesquita and Easterly would both argue that leaders often lack incentives to improve the lives of their people (over satisfying narrow special interests). Translating changes in regime type to long term utility AFAIK has not been done, at least outside the most simplistic categories.

Actually, that could be a starting point. If we don't know the long term effects of majoritarian, minoritarian, concosiational, corporatist, monist, pluralist state structures, we cannot translate those values to long term utility. For example, it might be that majoritarian middle-income states are more likely to grow than minoritarians. Political scientists as a group hesitate t o assign utility values to different traits of political systems, so doing that would be fun and useful.

Sorry for rambling.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on How do political scientists do good? · 2020-09-15T21:10:47.166Z · EA · GW

Hmmm. That is an interesting question.

I was thinking recently about how stable patronage networks are during currency collapses, which might bear on the question.

Very rapid state collapses have occurred when side lost access to arms, as in Afghanistan in 1992. Investigating state collapse instances to estimate how much economic or social damage causes state collapse should be possible.

The world wars probably contain the closest example of a middle-income country undergoing state-collapse. Come to think of it, you could make an argument that state collapse occurs quickly during food shortages by looking at Austria-Hungary's collapse in 1918. There could be interesting arguments there.

I think the collapse of a civilization is a bit conceptually unclear, so that would be very difficult to investigate. Is civilization collapsed when regional leaders cease to identify with a westphalian state? Is civilization collapsed when the social contract is rewritten to return to the coercive premodern order? To make these questions more practical, did Italy collapse in 1943, when Italy became divided but Italians mostly refused to kill each other. Or did Austria-Hungary collapse in 1918 when it broke up into multiple sovereignty? But I could assert a few different definitions then construct a set of cases for each of them.

I'll look into past work on this subject.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors · 2020-09-03T18:30:05.003Z · EA · GW

I have one criticism of the argument that coup-proofing prevalence is evidence for personality factors. Suppose that if people observe a game being played multiple times they are more likely to set aside their personal preferences and "play to win". So if I were the first dictator of Iraq I might say "no I'm not going to kill generals who come from different towns, that would be evil". And then get killed for it. And maybe the second dictator says the same thing. But by the time the third or fourth dictator rises to power he'll either be selected for willingness to use violence or he will decide his preference for living is stronger than his preference for not killing. While I agree that many people would not commit inter-elite violence as the first leader, I suspect a much larger number would as the 5th leader. So an argument for point B.

Saddam Hussein was the 5th Iraqi leader to take power by coup within 21 years.

But on the other hand, there are lots of leaders that just stepped down when they lost the support of their ruling coalitions. And those heroes do not become famous. This is strong evidence of the importance of personality.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors · 2020-09-03T15:34:49.276Z · EA · GW

Hmmm, that is a good question. Let me dig in more. Here are reasons to talk about others than Hitler Stalin and Mao

Coup Proofing is a common practice of dictators for political survival

Some behaviors of Hitler, Stalin and Mao have compelling institutional explanations that have become repeated behavior of long-ruling dictators. I'm thinking of coup proofing in particular. Coup proofing is a set of policies dictators enact to prevent a single small group from seizing power; rotatring or purging officers (Tukachevsky/Rommel) splitting the army into multiple factions/militias (NKVD/SS/Revolutionary Guard). We've since observed that lots of dictators (and coup-threatened democracies) practice coup-proofing. So I would be careful about attributing the *intra-elite* violence by particular regimes to the personalities of the leaders. Coup-proofing cannot explain violence against non-elites by those regimes.

Change in ideological motivation between early dictators and modern dictators

Secondly, Hitler, Stalin and Mao were much more ideological than most modern dictators. The Mussolini model of a "moderate" or "synarchic" authoritarianism spread more after WWII. By moderate I mean without a narrow, extreme vision of state-society interaction, not that dissent or economic freedom were allowed. Particularly today ideology structures the behavior of dictators much less. So one could argue that both Hitler and Stalin faithfully followed the visions laid out in their (terrible and warped) ideologies. If you buy that argument you would update downward on future dictators committing similar violence against non-elites.

For example, Mohammad Bin Salman has killed and tortured elite rivals, dissenters and starved many thousands of Yemenis to death. But he does not seem interested in any state project that would involve violence on the scale of Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot.

All that said, I personally do not put much weight on my ideology argument. Firstly, the ideological explanation of Hitler and Stalin's behavior is not that strong. Secondly just because most dictators, like MBS and the Ethiopians, have "moderate" visions of state-society relations does not prevent future radical dictators from taking power (tail risk). Note that ISIS is a deathcult that took over half of two middle income countries, and that even in the 20's and 30's Mein Kampf was such ridiculous nonsense that Hitler should not have risen to power.

But on a first read this is a real hole in your argument. Almost all modern dictators do not look like Hitler, Stalin and Mao due to their weak ideoligical commitments. If you include a few more modern examples you can evade this argument. Off the top of my head I would suggest:

Khomeini and Ahmedinajad - they did not murder lots of people but their stubborn refusal to compromise with the world order has impoverished Iran without causing a regime change (they changed a bit recently but 30 years of bad decisions before).

Pol Pot - 1980's, only stopped by Vietnamese intervention

Modern Burma

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors · 2020-08-31T18:05:09.703Z · EA · GW

I'm compelled by this. That the difference is only 30% of 1 standard deviation means that lots of variation could be explained by other factors. Personality of the dictator could still explain lots of variation, even a majority. There could also be a relationship between dictator personality and allowances for dissent. Thanks for explaining that!

Aside, you would be more compelling if you talked about autocrats other than Hitler, Stalin and Mao.

Comment by Timothy_Liptrot on Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors · 2020-08-26T16:15:47.086Z · EA · GW

Source: https://edisciplinas.usp.br/pluginfile.php/103226/mod_resource/content/1/James%20Vreeland%202008.PDF

Concerns with causation:

I worry about the underlying assumption that democracies don't encourage malevolent traits. So we observe less mass killings and rival killings in democracies than in dictatorships. One explanation is that democracies are selecting for anti-killing leaders. Another explanation is that malevolent leaders in democracies see little gain from killing while malevolent leaders in certain types of dictatorships see much gain from killing. For example, Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon seem to have a lot of malevolent traits, but they mostly refrained from political killings. So the fourth section suggests too much causation on the personalities of leaders.

But it seems to me that leaders personalities are very likely at least sometimes a substantial factor.

Fair - even if most of the difference in political killing is from institutional incentives, preventing malevolent actors from becoming dictators or presidents is big gains.

Secondly, this research agenda must recognize that authoritarian cultures may accept or encourage violence against non-comformists or "disloyal" people. It's a deeply sad fact, but important to understand. If torturing dissidents is an expected and approved behavior it is weaker evidence of a malevolent personality (fundamental attribution error).

Targeting your interventions:

You should pay more attention to how autocrats are actually selected. There are a few good models, my favorite is selectorate theory which (in dictatorships) emphasizes trust between top lieutenants. To continue with your preferred 40's references, Herman Goring, Himler, Keitel and Borman all hate and distrust one another. But they each trust Hitler because Hitler selected them to receive stolen wealth in exchange for support. So as long as the autocrat is alive the alliance is "stable".

In this model they care most about malevolence when the ruling coalition/launching org selects the next dictator. This famously happened after Stalin died, when Beria (head of secret police) got overthrown and replaced with Khrushchev who promised to stop political killings. So target regimes in or near transitions.

For example, the politburo of Cuba might be interested in this research. Saudi Arabia, now that MBS has solidified control, will be less fruitful.