Indi­rect long-term effects

TagLast edit: 11 Jun 2021 8:39 UTC by EA Wiki assistant

Indirect long-term effects are effects on the long-run future from interventions targeted at the short-term. Other terms that have been used for this concept or somewhat similar concepts include flow-through effects (Karnofsky 2013; Karnofsky et al. 2013; Shulman 2013; Wiblin 2016), ripple effects (Beckstead 2013; Whittlestone 2017), knock-on effects (Gaensbauer 2016; Greaves 2016; Snowden 2017) and cascading effects.

When evaluating the outcome of an action, a distinction can be made between the action’s direct and indirect effects. Although the boundary between these two categories is often imprecise, direct effects are those effects that are relatively obvious and intended. Indirect effects, in turn, are effects which are either non-obvious (i.e., it is difficult to determine whether or to what extent they follows from the relevant actions), unintended, or both.

For instance, reduced malaria incidence is a relatively direct effect of bed-net distribution, whereas more indirect effects may include improved education and increased GDP growth (which in turn may have even further long-run effects).

Many kinds of indirect effects have received attention within the effective altruism community, including the following:


Beckstead, Nick (2013) On the overwhelming importance of shaping the far future, Doctoral thesis, Rutgers University.

Gaensbauer, Evan (2016) Effective altruism, environmentalism, and climate change: an introduction, Effective Altruism Forum, March 10.

Greaves, Hilary (2016) Cluelessness, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 116, pp. 311–339.

Karnofsky, Holden (2013) Flow-through effects, The GiveWell Blog, May 15.

Karnofsky, Holden et al. (2013) Flow through effects conversation, Jeff Kaufman’s Blog, August 19.

Shulman, Carl (2013) What proxies to use for flow-through effects?, Reflective Disequilibrium, December 11.

Snowden, James (2017) The economic benefits of malaria eradication, The Giving What We Can blog, January 18.

Whittlestone, Jess (2017) The long-term future, Effective Altruism, November 16.

Wiblin, Robert (2016) Making sense of long-term indirect effects, Effective Altruism, August 7.

Related entries

accidental harm | broad vs. narrow interventions | cluelessness | existential risk factor | naive vs. sophisticated consequentialism | forecasting

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