This is an interesting thought experiment and I like the specific framing of the question.
My initial thoughts are that this clearly would have been a good thing to try to work on, mainly due to the fact that the 2008 financial crisis cost trillions of dollars and arguably also led to lots of bad political developments in the western world (eg. setting the stage for Trumpism). If you buy the Tyler Cowen arguemnts that economic growth is very important for the long term then that bolsters this case. However a caveat would be that due to moral uncertainty it’s hard to actually know the long term consequences of such a large event.
Here are some other ways to think about this:
As Ramiro mentions below, very few people were alert to the potential risk before the crisis, so an additional person thinking and advocating for this would have increased the proportion of people thinking about this by a lot.
Even if you had predicted how the crisis would have unfolded and what caused it, could you have actually done anything about it? Would you just ring up the federal reserve and tell them to change their policy? Would anyone have listened to you as a random EA person? This is potentially the biggest problem in my view.
Other benefits—better economic modelling
I am a strong believer in alternative approaches to economic modelling which can take into account things like financial contagion (such as agent-based models), so a potential benefit of working on this type of thing before the crisis is that you might have developed and promoted these techniques further, and these tools could help with other economic problems. In my view this is still a valuable and neglected thing to work on.
An additional benefit of calling the alarm on the financial crisis before it happened is the reputational benefit. Even if no one listened to you at the time, you would be recognised as one of the few people who “foresaw the crisis”, and therefore your opinions might be given more weight, for example the people from The Big Short who are always wheeled out on TV to provide opinions. You could say “hey, I predicted the financial crisis, so maybe you should also listen to me about this other <<insert EA cause area here>> stuff”.
As someone interested in Complexity Science I find the ABM point very appealing. For those of you with a further interest in this, I would highly recommend this paper by Richard Bookstaber as a place to start. He also wrote a book on this topic and was also one of the people to foreshadow the crisis.
Also if you are interested in Complexity Science but never got a chance to interact with people from the field/learn more about it, I would recommend signing up for this event.
Hey Venkatesh, I am also really interested in Complexity Science, in fact I am going to publish a blog post on here soon about Complexity Science and how it relates to EA.I’ve also read Bookstaber’s book, in fact Doyne Farmer has a similar book coming out soon which looks great, you can read the intro here.
I hadn’t heard of the Complexity Weekend event but it looks great, will check that out!