Existential Risk and Economic Growth

As a sum­mer re­search fel­low at FHI, I’ve been work­ing on us­ing eco­nomic the­ory to bet­ter un­der­stand the re­la­tion­ship be­tween eco­nomic growth and ex­is­ten­tial risk. I’ve finished a pre­limi­nary draft; see be­low. I would be very in­ter­est­ing in hear­ing your thoughts and feed­back!

Draft: leopoldaschen­bren­ner.com/​xriskandgrowth

Tech­nolog­i­cal in­no­va­tion can cre­ate or miti­gate risks of catas­tro­phes—such as nu­clear war, ex­treme cli­mate change, or pow­er­ful ar­tifi­cial in­tel­li­gence run amok—that could im­peril hu­man civ­i­liza­tion. What is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween eco­nomic growth and these ex­is­ten­tial risks? In a model of en­doge­nous and di­rected tech­ni­cal change, with mod­er­ate pa­ram­e­ters, ex­is­ten­tial risk fol­lows a Kuznets-style in­verted U-shape. This sug­gests we could be liv­ing in a unique “time of per­ils,” hav­ing de­vel­oped tech­nolo­gies ad­vanced enough to threaten our per­ma­nent de­struc­tion, but not hav­ing grown wealthy enough yet to be will­ing to spend much on safety. Ac­cel­er­at­ing growth dur­ing this “time of per­ils” ini­tially in­creases risk, but im­proves the chances of hu­man­ity’s sur­vival in the long run. Con­versely, even short-term stag­na­tion could sub­stan­tially cur­tail the fu­ture of hu­man­ity. Nev­er­the­less, if the scale effect of ex­is­ten­tial risk is large and the re­turns to re­search diminish rapidly, it may be im­pos­si­ble to avert an even­tual ex­is­ten­tial catas­tro­phe.