Showing posts from 2020

Democracy and Altruism (Toward Non-Voters)

Does democracy help people who don't get to vote? Democracy has a strong track record of peace and prosperity, but it's not obvious that it would help those who, as a class, do not participate in the political process, such as future generations and nonhuman animals. Two nice economics experiments suggest that democracy may help those who don't vote. (Specifically, elections help relative to everyone deciding for themselves.) The first is Hauser et al. (2014), "Cooperating with the Future" (I'm working with the first author on a new project): What mechanisms can maintain cooperation with the future? To answer this question, we devise a new experimental paradigm, the ‘Intergenerational Goods Game’. A line-up of successive groups (generations) can each either extract a resource to exhaustion or leave something for the next group. Exhausting the resource maximizes the payoff for the present generation, but leaves all future generations empty-handed. Here we show

Expected Utility and the Case Against Strong Longtermism [Technical]

For my readers who are particularly interested in effective altruism and longtermism , Vaden Masrani makes "A Case Against Strong Longtermism" : Mathematicians tend to think of expected values the way they think of the pythagorean theorem - i.e. as a mathematical identity which can be useful in some circumstances. But within the EA community, expected values are taken very seriously indeed. 4 One reason for this is the link between expected values and decision making, namely that “under some assumptions about rational decision making, people should always pick the project with the highest expected value”. Now, if my assumptions about rational decision making lead to fanaticism , paradoxes , and cluelessness , I might revisit the assumptions. and Near the end of Conjectures and Refutations, Popper criticizes the Utopianist attitude of those who claim to be able to see far into future, who claim to see distant far away evils and ideals, and who claim to have knowledge that ca


Why did Lucas and I split our donations, as I discussed in my post last week ? To some people this might be a dumb question—why not split? In fact I think it's generally best to allocate everything to the highest-impact option. See here , here , and  here  for arguments as to why, but essentially you can think of it in this way. If you're donating for altruistic reasons, you're trying to improve others' wellbeing. The first dollar and the last dollar you donate shouldn't have different effects unless you give a large amount of money, so large that the organization receiving it has less use for the last dollar than the first. Nevertheless, we split our donations this year, as he and I have in the past. I think in the past my donation-splitting was somewhat driven by making myself feel good. This year, though, I thought through it more, and I figured my reasoning could be helpful to others. 1. We donated to Animal Charity Evaluators and Mercy for Animals in the spir

Donor-Advised Fund: First Donations!

When we got married, Lucas and I set up a donor-advised fund. We did this because we plan to donate a large portion of our lifetime earnings, and we think that to a first-order approximation, it's best to save and donate later. (See Phil Trammell's persuasive argument for this in paper form  or on the 80,000 Hours podcast .) Nevertheless, we plan to donate a portion of our projected lifetime earnings each year, around 1% or so. This is essentially because of a mix of diminishing returns and the small chance that now could be an exceptionally important time. In line with that, we made our first grants from our donor-advised fund this year, and some donations that would have come from it except that we donated directly on Facebook to try to get matched. (We'll see what happens on that score.) I'm excited to announce our donations and encourage others to support these excellent organizations! First, we made an unusual donation for us to the Register 2 Vote fund at Block Po

Do Trump rallies spread COVID-19?

It looks like the answer is yes. It's been a while, but I'm back, and with a new paper with Doug Bernheim, Nina Buchmann, and Seba Otero : We investigate the effects of large group meetings on the spread of COVID-19 by studying the impact of eighteen Trump campaign rallies. To capture the effects of subsequent contagion within the pertinent communities, our analysis encompasses up to ten post-rally weeks for each event. Our method is based on a collection of regression models, one for each event, that capture the relationships between post-event outcomes and pre-event characteristics, including demographics and the trajectory of COVID-19 cases, in similar counties. We explore a total of 24 procedures for identifying sets of matched counties. For the vast majority of these variants, our estimate of the average treatment effect across the eighteen events implies that they increased subsequent confirmed cases of COVID-19 by more than 250 per 100,000 residents. Extrapolating this f

The Groffscars ("Oscars") of 2019

It's time for my annual picks for Best Picture. This year (unlike in previous years), two of my picks are nominated, but my top one is not: The Farewell was in my view the best film of the year. The story was riveting, touching on hu man relations with a complexity that goes beyond words. It was provocative, sad, even funny at times, but what I think some may miss is that the camerawork was gorgeous too. (The beautifully-composed closing shot, above, is far from the most remarkable. Staircases, even medical machines receive a visually poetic treatment throughout.) My next-two favorites are, luckily, apparently top Best Picture contenders. First is 1917 . Some people thought the (illusory) one-shot visuals were a gimmick, but for my money they fit the story very well and captured the unrelenting intensity of trench warfare.  The actors and script did a solid job sustaining attention over that length of time. That's basically tied in my mind with Parasite , which had an