Not posting this because I agree with it but rather because I think it’s one of the more influential econ papers actually dealing with the reality of addiction: Bernheim and Rangel 2004 those suffering from addiction have no control and are poorer (even then people of the same ex ante income), and for those not suffering from addiction it’s not obvious why they are irrational.
I think the conclusion is almost certainly wrong, but why it’s wrong is a bit subtle and hard to pin down, so I thought it might be a helpful thing to be aware of going into this. It’s published in the AER so it’s sort of an influential enhancement of Larks’s comment.
(Also full disclosure that Bernheim is my advisor. That mostly just makes me more perplexed by this paper.)
A nice, similar writeup along these lines is the book Portfolios of the Poor. Check it out if you want to go a bit more in-depth specifically on finances and how they affect daily life.
I obviously am a fan of this post! A few thoughts.
I don’t think sin taxes is the best phrase here. Sin taxes usually refer to internalities like cigarettes, but this is an externality more like a climate tax.
I like the soft institutions like research commissions and cabinet members but suspect the harder institutions like a veto or additional legislator or even a court will get captured and perverted. Almost all of these institutions rely on norms to actually care about future generations, and norms collapse every so often when there’s a reason to subvert them. Maybe this is just me looking at the current political moment, bit since we are talking about long time horizons, moments like this will recur, and I think it takes longer to salvage norms than it does to erode them. For example, claims I could see being made to justify any particular political agenda:
“We need to preserve our religious values for the sake of future generations”
“We need to do [insert radical policy] to address the present crisis so that our civilization survives for future generations”
“We must completely halt resource usage to preserve the earth for future generations”
“We must maximize resource usage so that we grow as much as possible for future generations”
For things like term lengths there’s a real literature on things like that in political economy that could help get a pretty good sense of expected impact.
Thanks for writing this! I was curious if you had research or particular observations that led you to the above approach. Last year I researched evidence-based policy somewhat, and I came away thinking that the focus on crafting research for what decision-makers wanted is in general over-rated. That may not always be the case, granted, and when research is already aimed at a specific decision-maker, it’s worth doing it right, but I guess I would highlight that I think a lot of especially foundational research has an impact in a more indirect way.
I think this is an extremely impressive piece of work in economics proper not to mention a substantial contribution to longtermism research. Nice going.
Thanks for sharing this! This is good to see and somewhat dispiriting. A few things about this piece that are raise questions for me:
1) The consumers opposing use of the word “beef” for non-cow-based products seems presumably intended to yield evidence on the labeling laws in several states, but I would guess consumers would react differently to, e.g., “burger” or “nugget.”
2) The labels on products seem to involve more than just the brand recognition because the farm-raised beef label has an image of a cow seemingly out on pasture. (This may not be inaccurate in the case of cows, but if applied to the case of chickens, pigs, or fish, such an image would be misleading.)
3) I’d be curious for the results with a term other than lab-grown.
4) The result that males prefer plant-based or clean meat is surprising and out of line with every other data source I’ve seen, e.g. https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/hiFMdBjkTxH4hEx8B/who-supports-animal-rights
The wealth thing matches other data I’ve seen. I think Veganomics mentioned that. Not sure where else I’ve seen it but I think the result is fairly robust.
This post suggested the rather alarming idea that EA’s growth is petering out in a sort of logistic curve.
Is this the right link? I don’t see that claim in the post, but maybe I’m missing it.
As I’ve been doing research this summer, I’ve become a bit more tentative and wary of acting like we know much, but my general intuition is that (a) our focus should not be on saving animals now but on securing whatever changes save future animals, so ethical changes and institutional changes; (b) I think institutional changes are the most promising avenue for this, and the question is which institutional changes last longest; (c) we should look for path dependencies.
It’s unclear to me what advocacy changes this means, but I think it makes the case for, e.g., the Nonhuman Rights Project or circus bans stronger than they are in the short term. I think this is a crucial area of research though.
For path dependencies, the biggest one right now I think is whether clean and plant-based meat succeed. The shift from longtermism here I think is that rather than trying to get products to market the fastest, we should ask what in general makes industries most likely to succeed or fail and just optimize for the probability of success. As an example, this makes me inclined to favor clean meat companies supporting regulations and transparency.
I’m so impressed and excited by all that you are up to, and I’m really glad about the Executive Director decision. Keep up the good work.
I really applaud this! Longtermism seems to me a compelling idea across cause areas. I’ve thought about what it means in the context of animal advocacy, and I think there too it would recommend a shift of focus. I’m glad to see someone bring this up in the context of poverty. I’ve seen many people over the years support development after hearing arguments for longtermism because of vague long-term flow-through effects, and actually researching long-term poverty alleviation is important if we want to actually support it.
This is all really interesting, and thank you all for chiming in. Liam, I’m curious—do you adopt EA tools within a Catholic moral framework, or do you practice Catholicism while adopting a different moral framework? I figure your participation in EA is some sort of anecdata.
The explainer doesn’t seem to imply the choice is equivalent to a quantum split unless I’m missing something? I’ve had Jeff’s reservation every time I’ve heard this argument. It seems like it would just be a huge coincidence for our decisions to actually correspond to splits. Subjective senses of uncertainty may not equal actual lack of determinism at the atomic level.
I think a big part of what makes reaching out to religious groups at least somewhat promising is that a lot of them are already trying to do good.
Really interesting point. I hadn’t thought of this, but I agree. In college I lived with seven guys who I in some ways really struggle to relate to for the most part because they don’t have a sense of purpose that drives them. I always related well to one of them who was a devout Christian, because even though our religious views were wildly distinct, we both had some rich view about what we ought to do.
Also, from anecdotal experiences from friends and ex-colleagues as well as my own personal experience, I know a lot of agnostic/atheists who are involved in religious groups
This is interesting. I know in many Jewish congregations atheists and agnostics are common, although still usually not overt (although I had a Rabbi once who described himself as an “agnostic on a good day”). I participate in Buddhist and Jewish events as an agnostic atheist. I guess I would still be surprised if this was that common in religions that emphasize faith more, but then again, I’m not as familiar with the actual practice there.
I used to be an organizer with an animal rights group (Direct Action Everywhere) that had a lot of unattractive qualities, but one thing I think that they did for some people was offer a lot of what religion can offer: community, sense of purpose, regular events. I think there is an opening to fill a gap in a lot of non-religious people’s lives. It makes me think of the book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam about the decline in social life in America.
Thanks for this comment. I think the model equally yields predictions on both. In no way does the model give any sense of scale or units. The only thing it’s useful for at this stage is saying whether suffering exceeds enjoyment or vice versa, and that should be true on average if and only if it’s true on the whole, unless I’m missing something.
I lean toward effective altruism moving in the direction of “justice” for a few reasons.
1) I think Aaron is right that “justice-oriented arguments seem to have had a much greater chance of going “viral” than altruistic arguments”, and I think the academic literature supports him. Van Zomeren and Postumes (2008) is, from what I understand, one of the better syntheses/reviews on the psychology of collective action, and it finds that an injustice framing promotes more participation.
2) I think the effect of the different terms on moral attitudes is ambiguous at worst. Most of your examples above seem to be on the fence. In the animal welfare case, you ask for help resolving this. I can’t claim to be decisive and have a lot more doubt here than I used to, but I think “justice” is a better way to build alliances with other advocacy groups, the most promising of which are on the left, but possibly even on the right if part of a Christian justice view. (In Poland, there’s major conservative support for animal welfare because of a kind of fondness for rural life that seems more in line with justice than altruism.) I think altruism calls to mind dietary change and leafleting sorts of approaches, which have somewhat fallen out of favor in animal advocacy. To my mind, the current tactics with the most EA support, namely corporate campaigns, undercover investigations, and clean and plant-based meat, are somewhat orthogonal to the altruism-justice consideration.
3) Trends in the EA movement over time suggest to me that the term altruism is more likely to bias us in the wrong direction than justice. Initially EAs focused substantially on earning to give, donating to poverty charities, and dietary change as I note above. Over time, there has been much more interest in policy (even for poverty, where immigration and climate policy seem to have more support in EA now). AI strategy and policy, for example, seems very pressing, and most EA animal advocates I know favor institutional change over individual change. Many of the judgments we have moved away from since the earlier days of EA seem to be cases where we did the sort of things “altruism” is evocative of, and increasingly we find ourselves doing the “justice” things.
I do worry, as someone in animal advocacy who has seen all the conflict in that movement, that the “justice” framing could have a perverse impact on discourse and civility. I think at the margin we could afford to move a bit more in that direction, though.