I agree that 1. is a problem. I think you want to keep things fairly simple for the sake of transparency, which would mean you end up being e.g. unfairly positive towards leaders of asian countries with conscientious populations and strong hygiene norms. One thing you could do would be to add “which is better than other similar countries like X, Y and Z”—but then there is still some subjectivity about which peer countries to include.
I’m less concerned about 2. Even if the majority of voters are impossible to persuade, the marginal voter theorem suggests that you only need to influence a few people. And even in a state where one party has basically no chance, there is often competition at other levels. For example, if Cuomo is the Democrat nominee for New York State Governor, he will almost definitely win—but this might help a rival Democrat challenge him for that nomination.
Your project sounds like a good one… but I agree it would be very hard. Focusing on covid only seemed like a tractable smaller version.
Secondly, we would want them to more precisely calculate the negative externalities caused by their wealth accumulation and engage in direct reparations where possible, or at least commit to contribute a significant amount to prevent further harm in the specific sector where wealth was generated.
I think you dramatically over-estimate how often it will be possible to identify and make amends to the victims. There are a few cases, e.g.
A burglar who keeps detailed records of which houses he broke into.
A lawyer who took fees from her client despite knowing their case was doomed.
A hacker who knows exactly which bitcoin wallets he hacked.
I agree it is plausible that in these cases people might have some specific duty to the victims that takes precedence over a generalized obligation of benevolence.
But far more commonly the victims are very diffuse and cannot be individually identified:
A manager at Norilsk, whose decisions caused pollution that has hurt many people… but he can’t tell exactly who or how much.
A lobbyist whose work lead to the passing of a law that benefited her firm or union, but lead to slightly higher prices for millions of ordinary people… but has little idea who specifically, or how much for each person.
The head of a human trafficking organization, which doesn’t keep records on his victims to reduce the risk of detection.
An saleswoman who is less than 100% honest about her products, but can’t tell who would have purchased them anyway even if she had been perfectly truthful.
Or the victims might have died, either as a result of the immoral behavior or just due to the passage of time:
A mercenary who kills people in an immoral war.
Someone who mis-sold financial products to the very elderly decades ago.
Someone whose ancestors sold members of rival tribes into slavery, giving their tribe and descendants wealth and power through to the present day.
In these cases it is impossible to make amends in the way you seem to want to. You could try to help people who are similar to those you helped, but I’m not sure why that is relevant. If I burgle a house on Washington Avenue, but then I lose track of the victims after they leave town, I don’t see any reason why I owe other residents of Washington Avenue any specific debt—maybe some other street has poorer people who can be helped more efficiently. Helping merely similar people doesn’t do anything for the actual victims! At this point I think I should just consider this a debt I can never repay, and focus on helping the world in general.
I think you are under-estimating the practical difficulties involved in self-determination. A good example is Brexit. On paper, it seems like it should be an ideal case:
The UK has experience being a successful independent country for hundreds of years.
The UK held a referendum on the subject where everyone could vote, rather than just a few secessionist leaders, proving widespread buy-in.
The UK gets relatively little benefit from the EU—it organizes defense, education, police, healthcare etc. all by itself, and is a net payer of funds towards the rest of the EU.
The UK speaks a different language from the rest of the EU.
There are essentially no territorial disputes between the UK and EU.
The UK is leaving in accordance with the EU rules, rather than via a civil war / war of independence.
… but despite this, Brexit has been very costly! The mere threat of (temporarily?) losing access to some EU markets has cost them several points of GDP, and it is not clear this will be regained.
I’m also not really sure why this would be an EA topic.
I was curious about the formatting of some of your demographic questions. For example this question;
28. Your gender:
provides only a free text box, with no standard options. This is often considered poor survey technique, because it can lead to a very broad range of responses, which require a lot of manual work on the backend. You will need to manually determine whether ‘woman’, ‘Female’, ‘Lady’, ‘f’ etc. are the same thing, and what you want to do with someone who says ‘Dude’. Not only is this time consuming but it adds subjectivity to your analysis. It also increases the amount of work required from your respondents—if they are on their iPhone they will have to manipulate the keypad, rather than just pressing once.
Since you are using SurveyMonkey, you have access to their SurveyMonkey Certified Questions:
This certified question was added from our Question Bank. It was written by our methodologists to minimize bias and get the most accurate responses. If you edit the wording of this question, it’ll no longer be certified, which means it might be subject to bias and accuracy issues.
Most of their accredited gender questions avoid these problems by giving you simple options to click. This will likely be optimal for the vast majority of your respondents, and if you wanted to be politically correct you could always include an ‘Other’ box!
Strangely, it seems like for the race/ethnicity option you go in the opposite direction, by providing the full list of standard US options for people to select from. This includes ‘Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander’, even though I think less than 0.1% of the global population fall into this composite category. If you are concerned about space limitations I would have considered removing this category, as well as the Alaskan Native one, implicitly folding them into the ‘other’ box.
I was disappointed to see this. I think there is a strong ’What gets measured gets done” effect, so the fact that some demographic questions (race, sexual preference) are recorded while others (politics, diet, religion) are not is significant. In particular, I think it tends to lead to efforts to reach out to groups which the data shows to be under-represented, while those without data are neglected.
Has he given any more thought to the argument Tyler gave here that eating wild-caught fish is ethically acceptable, because the alternative to our catching them is a similarly unpleasant natural death?
Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest the US shouldn’t have intervened—I think quite possibly we should have! I just meant the costs would likely have been higher than you estimated, because it’s not just the per-hour cost of the radio jamming plane. Political capital with neighbors is costly, and protecting the plane could have been quite expensive. Wikipedia suggests Rwanda had some (old) Russian fighter jets, so they might have needed to be shot down, and they may also have had SAMs which would require neutralization.
Yeah, I was thinking about things like the role of civilian firearms as a defence against lynching in the US south, where they seem to have been somewhat effective:
We assess firearm access in the U.S. South by measuring the fraction of suicides committed with firearms. Black residents of the Jim Crow South were disarmed, before re-arming themselves during the Civil-Rights Era. We find that lynchings decrease with greater Black firearm access. During the Civil-Rights Movement, both the relative Black homicide and Black “accidental death by firearm” rates decrease with Black firearm access, indicating frequent misclassification of homicides as accidents. In the contemporary era, greater firearm access correlates with higher Black death rates. We find that firearms offered an effective means of Black self-defense in the Jim Crow South.
But it’s not exactly the same case because lynching is quite different from genocide, and the total number killed was quite small—probably under 5,000 over many decades.
Perhaps a more similar case was the decision by the Albanian government to arm the northern civilian population to help protect them from the south:
The Opening of the depots (Albanian: Hapja e depove) was the opening of weapons depots in the north, for protection against the violence of the south. The decision was taken by President Berisha. When southern Albanian bases were looted, it was estimated that, on average, every male from the age of ten upwards had at least one firearm and ample ammunition. To protect the civilians in north and central Albania, the government allowed civilians to arm themselves from government arms depots. During the rebellion 656,000 weapons of various types, and 1.5 billion rounds of ammunition, 3.5 million hand grenades and one million land mines, were looted from army depots.
Again, this is not a perfect example, because we don’t know what would have happened if they had not been armed.
We do know that many historical genocides were preceded by the disarming of the victims. For example, prior to the Armenian Genocide:
As anti-Armenian mobs were being armed, the government attempted to convince Armenians to surrender their guns.  A 1903 law banned the manufacture or import of gunpowder without government permission.  In 1910, manufacturing or importing weapons without government permission, as well as carrying weapons or ammunition without permission was forbidden.  During World War I, in February 1915, local officials in each Armenian district were ordered to surrender quotas of firearms. When officials surrendered the required number, they were executed for conspiracy against the government. When officials could not surrender enough weapons from their community, the officials were executed for stockpiling weapons. Armenian homes were also searched, and firearms confiscated. Many of these mountain dwellers had kept arms despite prior government efforts to disarm them. 
Similarly, prior to the Soviet genocides:
The December decree of the CPC of 1918, “On the surrender of weapons”, ordered people to surrender any firearms, swords, bayonets and bombs, regardless of the degree of serviceability. The penalty for not doing so was ten years’ imprisonment.
Similarly, Weimar Germany had relatively strict regulation of firearms, and the Nazis banned Jewish firearm ownership prior to the holocaust.
Of course, once a government has decided to disarm a population, presumably they would not be willing to allow outsiders to re-arm that population. So it might be more effective to educate at-risk groups about how to conceal firearms and avoid confiscation.
I think you raise a good point about governments arming groups that they later go on to fight—the US arming the mujahideen in Afghanistan is a classic example. But my impression is that these cases generally involve the supply of anti-tank weapons, anti-air weapons, and other pieces of relatively heavy-duty equipment. If you aim is to simply make genocide more difficult, small arms are likely sufficient. The Rwandan genocide, for example, made widespread use of machetes to murder victims—ownership of even relatively small caliber weapons, common among ordinary civilians in the US, could have likely prevented much of this.
Interesting work on a very important topic, good job. I was especially surprised to see that it took two weeks for the US to learn about the genocide; surely the US ambassador should have noticed?
I think you are a little harsh on the US decision not to use the radio blocking technology. It sounds like money wasn’t their only (main?) objection: it was also logistically difficult to use the radio blocking plane, and require a substantial escort. Perhaps keeping it safe might even have required destroying Rwandan SAMs:
It costs approximately $8500 per flight hour and requires a semi-secure area of operations due to its vulnerability and limited self-protection.Then we had to get it from where it was already and be sure it could be moved. Then we would have needed flight clearance from all the countries nearby. And then we would need the political go-ahead. By the time we got all this, weeks would have passed.
It costs approximately $8500 per flight hour and requires a semi-secure area of operations due to its vulnerability and limited self-protection.
Then we had to get it from where it was already and be sure it could be moved. Then we would have needed flight clearance from all the countries nearby. And then we would need the political go-ahead. By the time we got all this, weeks would have passed.
Looking at your spreadsheet, it seems the Rwandan genocide in some ways represents a best case scenario for intervention, as it was implemented in a somewhat decentralized way with civilians in a third world country. Many of the other genocides occurred under the direct orders of more powerful states, which would prevent such interventions from working—even if the US could have blocked German radio in 1943, for example, the holocaust would have continued.
Some other techniques that might be useful:
Try to prevent the causes of genocides.
Working on genocide forecasting, so that vulnerable populations can prepare.
Promote emigration rights (it doesn’t matter how many countries will let you in if your current country won’t let you out).
Promote firearm ownership in vulnerable populations.
Yes, and I would also highlight this one:
People are of equal moral value (all people matter: everyone has an equal claim to be happy, healthy, fulfilled and free)
I think many people might disagree, perhaps thinking that actually:
Good people have more value than bad people
Children matter more than old people
Smokers have less of a claim to be healthy than non-smokers
Criminals have less of a claim on being free than law-abiding citizens
People who work hard have more right to be happy than those who are lazy
We have a right to the pursuit of happiness, but not a guarantee we will succeed.
Some possible new ones for you:
It is bad to put other people at risk of death
We should think about the future when making decisions
New technologies can cause big changes
Nuclear war would be bad
It is bad for children to die
Hurting animals unnecessarily is bad
If a charity is just wasting all its money you shouldn’t donate
and perhaps the most unifying view of them all:
I hate Mosquitoes
I like that you went back and reviewed your predictions. However, this piece could have been better if you had also reviewed the ways in which Trump has been better than you expected.
For example, under ‘Authoritarianism’ you list the election of some authoritarian and anti-globalist leaders. But equally there are positive cases—in France Macron, a highly globalist and neoliberal candidate, won the election. Similarly in the UK, the relatively authoritarian May was replaced with the much more libertarian Johnson. This is a far cry from your worries about France exiting the EU and breaking up NATO:
Le Pen wants France to leave the EU, the euro and NATO. Were that to happen I doubt whether the euro or EU would survive in anything like its current form, and NATO would be put further at risk.
Similarly, you listed worries about social progress:
Third, social progress is important. One of the reasons to prevent global catastrophes, aside from saving lives, is to ensure that the future is better than the past. Under the liberal global order the world has had unusually positive scientific, technological, and social progress since WWII. Improvements include the spread of democracy; the rise of tolerance for religious, ideological, and philosophical diversity; the civil rights movement; the rise of women’s equality and feminism; the increase in per capita incomes; and the lowest levels of per capita violence in human history. We should want these trends to continue. We should want the world to move in an anti-authoritarian direction not just because it is safer, but because that is a better future.
Many of these things have improved under Trump. For example, a Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justice wrote a decision extending anti-discrimination rights to transsexuals. The US murder rate fell from 5.4 under Obama in 2016 to 5.0 in 2019 (source). The Trump administration is (trying to) promote religious freedom. Per capita income has risen (at least pre-covid).
You spend a lot of time text worrying that Trump might use nuclear weapons:
There are three risks associated with nuclear weapons.First is simply that Trump uses nuclear weapons – either in a Cuban Missile Crisis situation or in a ‘limited’ way.
There are three risks associated with nuclear weapons.
First is simply that Trump uses nuclear weapons – either in a Cuban Missile Crisis situation or in a ‘limited’ way.
But he has not done so. In fact, he has generally been quite pacifistic: the Wikipedia list of US Wars does not list a single one starting during his administration, unlike most (all?) previous presidents.
Despite this and your worries about the decline of Pax Americana, in some ways the situation seems better than before. For example, Russia invaded Ukraine during the Obama Administration, despite a US commitment to protect Ukraine. Under Trump I do not think Russia has invaded anywhere.
Similarly, you worried that he might cause other countries might try to get nukes:
Trump has made statements that have been interpreted as encouraging Saudi Arabia to do so. … Trump has made statements that have been interpreted as encouraging Japan and South Korea to do so.
Again I am not aware of any of these countries acquiring any nuclear weapons, or even making significant progress.
You worried that he might start a public bioweapon program that could undermine the international stigma against their use:
I also think Trump would be less hesitant to use or develop biological weapons. Were he to start developing them – let alone use them – it would strongly undermine norms against them.
To my knowledge he has not done this.
In some cases Trump has been bad, but for the opposite reason than you were worried about! For example you criticized him for supporting travel bans during Ebola:
He reacted poorly to the Ebola outbreak – exaggerating fears and proposing populist solutions.
Given that covid has turned out to be much more dangerous than the WHO initially said, if he had exaggerated fears this time it would have been much more accurate. Similarly travel bans have been extremely effective with regard covid: they have kept New Zealand and Taiwan basically safe, and the lockdowns that have been employed by virtually all governments are basically internal travel bans. To the extent that Trump responded poorly to covid, it was largely by making the same mistakes he criticized obama for.
Here is a recent newspaper article describing Wayne as using cult-like techniques and abuse with DxE, and also here.
Thanks for the hyperlink! I’m a bit surprised at the argument that these countries are not safe. Obviously all places have some risk, but both Tunisia and Libya have much lower murder rates than the US does, and I wouldn’t accept ‘it is too dangerous here’ as a reason for why the US shouldn’t take refugees.
Interesting idea. Are you trying to evaluate how cost-effective they have been historically, or how cost-effective they might be in the future with additional funding? Presumably they latter will be lower, due to mean reversion. Additionally, the easiest to save people will probably already have been saved, leaving people who are more difficult to access.
I thought the two other comments about downsides were interesting (incentivising a larger number and more risky crossings, and negative reactions from people in Europe), but it seems that there is an easy solution—they could return the rescued people to Africa, instead of taking them to Europe. This would mean the incentives to attempt the journey were not increased, and European voters should also be happier.
I didn’t downvote it, though probably I should have. But it seems a stretch to say ‘one guy who works for a weird organization that is supposedly EA’ implies ‘congregation’. I think that would have to imply a large number of people. I would be very disappointed if I had a congregation of less than ten people.
JoshYou also ignores important hedging in the linked comment:
Bennett denies this connection; he says he was trying to make friends with these white nationalists in order to get information on them and white nationalism. I think it’s plausible that this is somewhat true.
So instead of saying
We’ve already seen white nationalists congregate in some EA-adjacent spaces.
It would be more fair to say
We’ve already seen one guy with some evidence he is a white nationalist (though he somewhat plausibly denies it) work for a weird organization that has some EA links.
Which is clearly much less worrying. There are lots of weird ideologies and a lot of weird people in California, who believe a lot of very incorrect things. I would be surprised if ‘white nationalists’ were really high up on the list of threats to EA, especially given how extremely left wing EA is and how low status they are. We probably have a lot more communists! Rather, I think the highlighting of ‘White Nationalists’ is being done for ideological reasons—i.e. to cast shade on more moderate right wing people by using a term that is practically a slur. I think the grandparent would not have made such a sloppy comment had it not been about the hated outgroup.
I’ve seen a few cases where EAs online say things that are pretty racist or sexist. They’ll be defended with comments like “we need to be free to break be intellectual ground and find the truth”, but I don’t understand how telling me I’m less likely to be a genius because I’m a woman at a social event makes anyone any better at improving the world. It certainly doesn’t make me better at improving the world.
I realize this is probably not what you were looking for, but I think I can think of what they might have been thinking of, or at least times when it would be relevant (though obviously the actual conversation you were is was probably different!). Specifically I can imagine a conversation going something like this:
Alice: Economic growth is very important because it is exponential and helps people all over the world and in the future.
Bob: That’s true. We should discuss ways to help speed up economic growth.
Carol: One thing that might help is promoting free trade with the developing world.
David: Economic growth is strongly driven by a small number of geniuses, who do things like invent electricity or semiconductors. We should try to help identify more geniuses and give them the right opportunities.
Eve: Interesting idea. Maybe we could look at the list of science nobel prize winners to get some ideas.
Frank: It seems that women are very under-represented on this list, probably because of the patriarchy. We could focus specifically on things like Women in STEM to help address this and find the ‘missing’ geniuses. That could almost double the total number.
Grace: I don’t think that’s true. The male variability hypothesis states that men tend to be more extreme than women—both more dysfunctional criminals and more super geniuses. This is a pretty well established theory, and it predicts we’d see more male geniuses even if there was no discrimination. We should focus on other ideas, like looking for potential in very poor parts of India and China.
You’re right that telling you personally about your probabilities of being a genius isn’t super helpful, because you already have a lot of other pieces of evidence (like your SAT scores) that mean the base rate isn’t very useful. And I can certainly imagine people introducing this subject in an awkward way! But when we are considering a potential policy to improve the world, it’s important to consider all the evidence. I don’t know if you’d consider the male variability hypothesis to be sexist—I think it’s best to taboo the term personally—but whether or not it is sexist it is probably true, and relevant to this EA discussion about improving the world.
Surely there exists a line at which we agree on principle. Imagine that, for example, our EA spaces were littered with people making cogent arguments that steel manned holocaust denial, and we were approached by a group of Jewish people saying “We want to become effective altruists because we believe in the stated ideals, but we don’t feel safe participating in a space where so many people commonly and openly argue that the holocaust did not happen.”
In this scenario, I hope that we’d both agree that it would be appropriate for us to tell our fellow EAs to cut it out.
I agree with your conclusion about this instance, but for very different reasons, and I don’t think it supports your wider point of view. It would be bad if EAs spent all the time discussing the holocaust, because the holocaust happened in the past, and so there is nothing we can possible do to prevent it. As such the discussion is likely to be a purely academic exercise that does not help improve the world.
It would be very different to discuss a currently occurring genocide. If EAs were considering investing resources in fighting the Uighur genocide, for example, it would be very valuable to hear contrary evidence. If, for example, we learnt that far fewer people were being killed than we thought, or that the CCP’s explanations about terrorism were correct, this would be useful information that would help us prioritize our work. Equally, it would be valuable to hear if we had actually under-estimated the death toll, for exactly the same reasons.
Similarly, Animal Rights EAs consider our use of factory farming to be a modern holocaust, far larger than any prior. But debate about this is a perfectly acceptable EA topic—even on debate around subjects like ‘but do the victims (animals) have moral value?’
Or again, pro-life activists consider our use of abortion to be a modern holocaust, far larger than any prior. But debate about this is a perfectly acceptable EA topic—even on debate around subjects like ‘but do the victims (fetuses) have moral value?’
It might be the case that people make a dedicated ‘Effective Liberation for Xinjiang’ group, and intend to discuss only methods there, not the fundamental premise. But if they started posting about the Uighurs in other EA groups, criticism of their project, including its fundamental premises, would be entirely legitimate.
I think this is true even if it made some hypothetical Uighur diaspora members of the group feel ‘unsafe’. People have a right to actual safety—clearly no-one should be beating each other up at EA events. But an unlimited right to ‘feel safe’, even when this can only be achieved by imposing strict (and contrary to EA) restrictions on others is clearly tyrannical. If you feel literally unsafe when someone makes an argument on the internet you have a serious problem and it is not our responsibility (or even within our power) to accommodate this. You should feel unsafe while near cliff edges, or around strange men in dark allys—not in a debate. Indeed, if feeling ‘unsafe’ is a trump card then I will simply claim that I feel unsafe when people discuss BLM positively, due to the (from my perspective) implied threat of riots.
The analogy here I think is clear. I think it is legitimate to say we will not discuss the Uighur genocide (or animal rights, or racism) in a given group because they are off-topic. What is not at all legitimate is to say that one side, but not the other, is forbidden.
Finally, I also think your strategy is potentially a bit dishonest. We should not hide the true nature of EA, whatever that is, from newcomers in an attempt to seduce them into the movement.
I have friends who I have watched first hand having to read through a racist Facebook thread who were subsequently unable to focus for hours afterward.
Wow, that’s a shocking thread. This will definitely put off newcomers! I can understand why you might want to ban discussion of woke topics from introductory spaces if that sort of thing will be the result!
To be honest I’m surprised the moderators didn’t block Blasian Diezo for being such a bully. It seems like he is clearly violating the group rules:
1) Be civil (e.g. don’t insult other advocates, especially other group members)
for responding to perfectly reasonable advocacy for a colorblind society from Joachim with this sort of nasty vitriol:
you’re a part of the problem if this is your mentality
you love white supremacy like that?
that’s a white supremacist goal
if the only black person you know about who worked for anti-racism movements is mlk, you’re worthless. … if what you gathered from a snippet of his quotes is that he was trying to achieve a “color blind” society, you’re worthless.
if you don’t like being called a white supremacist, stop saying/doing white supremacist shit.
so fuck you and stop trying to police how oppressed ppl address the shit we have to deal with from you
However, while I understand your view, I don’t think I agree with it. I think it is best to tolerate Blasian-style opinions and let them be discussed rationally; we should just make sure that people are civil and reasonable, without unnecessarily insulting other people. Just because he is behaving badly doesn’t mean the same conversation couldn’t be beneficial otherwise.
That said, my impression is that, over time, the EA movement has become more attentive to various kinds of diversity, and more cautious about avoiding public discussion of ideas likely to cause offense. This involves trade-offs with other values.
I am skeptical of this. The EA survey shows that one of the most under-represented group in EA is conservatives, and I have seen little sign that EAs in general, and CEA in particular, have become more cautious about public discussion that will offend conservatives.
Similarly, I don’t think there is much evidence of people suppressing ideas offensive to older people, or religious people, even though these are also dramatically under-represented groups.
I think a more accurate summary would be that as EA has grown, it has become subject to Conquest’s Second Law, and this has made it less tolerant of various views and people currently judged to be unacceptable by SJWs. Specifically, I would be surprised if there was much evidence of EAs/CEA being more cautious about publicly discussing ‘woke’ views out of fear of offending liberals or conservatives.
you implicitly assume that the average effective altruist is a heterosexual man
Over 70% of EAs are men (according to the 2019 survey), and probably most of those are heterosexual (though I don’t have the statistics to hand), so that would be an accurate assumption.
More importantly, I think the meaning would likely be altered by changing the sex. The gender imbalance probably means that men have a much harder time finding a girlfriend at EAG than women would finding a boyfriend. Also, my impression is that male EAs have, on average, worse social skills than female EAs.
Rather than sacrificing accuracy, I think a better approach would be to include an explicit note about the different issues facing women. But as this is a casual, spitballing type of post, I think that even this suggestion might be over the top.