As someone who started a nonprofit to speed up pharmaceutical drug development, this quote rings very true:
“The amount of money you need to develop these technologies at the early stages is much less than what you need at the later stages, but obtaining money for the later stages, like clinical trials, is much easier because much of the de-risking has already happened. Since philanthropic money is only needed at the early stages, the answer to that question is a relatively tiny amount of money: 500 millions or even 250 millions over a period of 10 years, which is an order of magnitude of what SENS currently has, which is about 5 million dollars per year. 250-500 millions is still a pitifully small amount of money as compared to the kind that’s spent in medical research generally.”
Disclaimer: The bulk of my recent personal giving ($1k) went to SENS.
Disclaimer: I’m the executive director for The Center for Election Science.
There’s some good stuff in this post.
Excessive political polarisation, especially party polarisation in the US, makes it harder to reach consensus or a fair compromise, and undermines trust in public institutions. Efforts to avoid harmful long-term dynamics, and to strengthen democratic governance, are therefore of interest to effective altruists. One concrete lever is electoral reform.
Still, I think the downsides of plurality voting outweigh its advantages, and there is some degree of consensus among experts that plurality voting is not a good system. … Still, I think the downsides of plurality voting outweigh its advantages, and there is some degree of consensus among experts that plurality voting is not a good system.
Understated, but still good stuff. Also, experts really hate plurality. See one such meeting of experts where not a single person approved of plurality. As an aside, they favored approval voting with IRV following in second.
All things considered, I think electoral reform, while probably not a “top tier” intervention, should be part of the longtermist EA portfolio.
I might disagree on the degree, but my sentiment overlaps with its place in longtermism.
The post gets at the idea that anything is better than plurality and that we shouldn’t feel like we have to pick among systems. But then it ultimately picks among systems. This is the dilemma we find ourselves in. We have to advocate for something, and when we’re presenting an opportunity, it is only reasonable for those exploring to consider the options. If experts don’t then do the correcting, then errors will go ignored, and poor decisions will be made.
My full empathy goes to anyone who does the legwork to create a post here (it’s challenging and it’s putting yourself out there). But practically all the arguments raised in this well-meaning post are addressed in the previous posting, which also links to the approval voting criticisms article and limits of RCV. If after looking, you don’t see it addressed, please reply and I’ll see if I can find an answer. You’ll find answers about later-no-harm and bullet voting, proportional approaches, the reflection of candidate support, practicality, and much more.
I’m noticing that the arguments referenced here come almost exclusively from FairVote. As a caveat, this organization repeatedly argues that approval voting should not be used in virtually any circumstance (despite when experts clearly disagree and even prefer approval voting). They also failed to acknowledge any faults within an RCV election where virtually every RCV mistake occurred. It’s hard to take them seriously after that. This refers to the Burlington election where voters got a worse outcome for ranking their favorite first, candidates could have been harmed by getting more higher-preference rankings, voter segments would have gotten a better outcome staying at home, and the candidate who could beat everyone head to head was eliminated due to RCV’s tendency to vote split along the middle. They also discouraged others from looking at election data from alternative voting methods in a Wall Street Journal article.
FairVote frequently cites Dartmouth while omitting any other reason that might have caused voters to choose fewer candidates (like few candidates being on the ballot and an enormous number of write-ins). As one can also get from the approval voting criticisms article, even when a majority choose only one candidate, the remainder who choose multiple candidates can (1) have a material effect in choosing a different winner and (2) give support to candidates who would otherwise be invisible. These repeals were not “often” the case. This argument also fails to acknowledge all the cities that repealed RCV due to either complaints of complexity or flat-out bad winners being elected. There are also cities that take forever to implement RCV or don’t do it at all due to the cost of software and new machines. This is one big reason why Fargo and St. Louis wanted approval voting instead of RCV.
This isn’t to say that any FairVote reference is bad, just that it potentially warrants more investigation.
When we are looking at voting methods, a good track record isn’t merely recorded uses. We need to see how it performs in competitive elections that have a different plurality winner. And note that practically any alternative voting method will handle spoiler candidates who get little support. Want more data? Funding a research department for CES would go a long way.
It’s also important to remember that no voting method can guarantee a majority and that methods like RCV merely contrive a majority through eliminating candidates via vote splitting—sometimes by eliminating the best candidate. Metrics that you can use to see whether a good winner was elected involve looking at Condorcet matrixes and candidate utilities (note that using explicit Condorcet methods is not practical due to “tie-breakers” from cycles). It’s not enough to say that a method didn’t provide a “majority” and so that method must have chosen the wrong winner.
It’s also important to note that CES was seriously vetted for close to a year before a grant was awarded. This grant from two years ago wasn’t a rash decision. This is a system that has been studied academically since the late ’70s with one of its developers on the CES board of advisers.
Also, CES went into this space agnostic about the voting method. We took the time in our early years (before we had any funds) to really think about the alternatives, including practicality as a concern. This is not the same approach that other organizations have taken either going with a system merely because it either (1) has previous use, or (2) superficially approximates the setup of a separate proportional method (STV).
Ultimately, I think for EA to switch to a voting method that already has funding relative to approval voting (and has serious issues) would be a mistake. This is a space that is overall extremely underfunded relative to other election reform areas given its importance (see earlier analysis). As an organization, we’ve already demonstrated how cost-effective we can be in a much shorter time frame compared to peers in our space. We hired staff and got approval voting in its first US city all within a year of initial funding.
Failing to provide further support or removing it at this crucial time wouldn’t be the optimal move here. It would just eliminate a promising alternative approach from being tested at all. If this is perceived as too much of a risk, then I would fear how this mentality would keep EA from pursuing other efforts where outcomes are even more unclear.
Any new updates on sending me the old information? I pester others on giving publicly and want to be sure that I model well personally. I’m thinking of adding a section to my personal website about my current, past, and planned giving for accountability.
The poll included only those who intended to vote in the Democratic Primary.
It’s very difficult to manage volunteers in this way, particularly given our small staff size. We tend to contract polling out. That said, it takes some expertise to sort through the data. Having staff for research would help us dramatically in both evaluating voting methods and measuring progress within cities that we’ve won in.
Caucus voting still has vote splitting as voters aren’t able to support multiple candidates simultaneously. With approval voting, you can support multiple candidates simultaneously. We haven’t analyzed caucus voting. We did do this poll, however, on the democratic primaries: https://www.electionscience.org/press-releases/new-poll-74-of-democratic-primary-voters-would-support-warren-for-president/
I’d like to see us do much more research and evaluation, but we currently don’t have it in our budget to hire a Director of Research and support staff.
I’m curious about the work that Citizens’ Climate Lobby is doing. They push for a carbon tax that comes back as a public dividend. They’re doing lobbying now, but I’d be curious about how their odds might improve if tackled as a series of ballot initiatives.
On the moderate component, it’s important to note a couple things: (1) moderate can change depending on what the population is and (2) sometimes we get a distorted view of what moderate is through the media.
Here, we’re looking at a subgroup—people registered as democrats. So the population is a bit different. One of the platforms that Warren and Sanders are similar on that separate them from Biden is Medicare for All. It tends to poll rather well, particularly among democrats despite it being considered more extreme by the media.
On the democracy not always being good component, I touched on this a little elsewhere with a kind of “what else?” type reply. But perhaps, as you mentioned, there are some positions that are best not elected. I would take less issue with positions best not elected but more issue with positions elected badly (ex// FPTP).
Replied at the bottom by accident. Starts with, “Hi, Adam.”
Q: How would we know approval voting would give better policies? Why would the policies be good? And how do we know the policies would be good rather than merely popular?
A: I’m combining these ideas I pulled out because of their similarity. Approval voting tends to pull out the middle viewpoint (whatever that is for a particular electorate). And because viability is not an issue to gain initial support, it can provide a ramp for new ideas.
Is it possible that the popular opinion is bad? It sure is. But for this to be a real worry under approval voting would mean that the alternative of what we have now as being better. We might find that there is some popular issue that people win on that is not correct or overall good. This is also possible now, but with a poorer voting method. The question is whether approval voting provides a net gain so that popular issues that are good actually move forward at a pace faster than they would otherwise. Because of the quicker feedback and approval voting doing a better job of capturing candidate support, I believe this to likely be true. And to the degree that this is true in enacting better policies, many policies have carryover benefits that go well into the future.
I’m not sure I understood the question on supply and demand-side politics.
P.S. I accidentally added this as a main thread reply. Sorry about that.
Sending my old data would be awesome. Thanks! It took awhile to track everything down. myfullname@gmail.
I have a little bit of hesitation doing much on EA Hub because I lost all my data (including donation history) from my last profile. It was deleted without warning during the switch—or at least I missed the heads up. That aside, the updates sound exciting.
Right now, initiatives are our main path, but with more funds we’d be open to experimenting in lower-risk scenarios. I’d be excited to read what information you come up with.
We use polling as an initial indicator to see how receptive a demographic would be to the initiative. Fortunately, the simplicity helps us with receptivity.
Within a particular target city, we don’t want to add more dollars than necessary to an effort. Winning soundly is important, but we didn’t need to throw $1M directly into Fargo, for example. I suppose if we had, the support may have gone nonmonotinic in relation to the spend and backlashed against us. But I don’t see that as a particularly big risk for us. We’re more efficient than that.
Also, being as early as we are in the game, we’re a little cautious about taking on a city we don’t think we can win. We’re aggressive, but not more aggressive than we think we can get away with.
I agree with you that this is an important area. I wrote a whole essay on the technical aspects of planned giving. https://medium.com/@aaronhamlin/planned-giving-for-everyone-15b9baf88632
I have some more related essays here: https://www.aaronhamlin.com/articles/#philanthropy
Hi, Matt! Thanks for the question.
This estimate is based off of me asking our Director of Campaigns and Advocacy about likelihood of success with lobbying. He gave me an estimate and then I did a correction based off what I’d seen, which lowered the success probability to 5% per effort. The expected cost per person (factoring in this probability) is much lower because when it does work, you can get an entire state to change their voting method. The scale counteracts the cost and probability rather quickly.
That said, lobbying is a challenging effort. I’m cautious about spending too much time and money here without having a 501(c)4 as it can push away our resources from wins that are more likely. We have a need for momentum at the moment. Still, with the potential cost effectiveness, this is an area we’re considering in the future. It’s likely we’ll be risk averse initially as we gain experience.
If you have particular resources you’ve found on lobbying, feel free to share. Like I said, this would be a new space for us. We had one opportunity here recently, but we decided against it based on the particular circumstances.
I was surprised not to see documentaries on the list. I recognize the show, don’t tell aim. But you can do a lot of showing with documentaries. The price point is higher and also harder to create, but it has potentially large reach and is easily shareable. It also has a lower commitment for consumption than a book and can have a clear call to action. Perhaps this approach misses the premise of what you’re aiming at though.
Next up would be a fictional movie, but that’s potentially even higher cost.
Very welcome! And thank you for taking the steps, Cullen. :)