Democratic Dysfunction May Get in the Way of Everything

Trump's election has been gravely concerning to me for a while now, and as a Bay Area resident the repeated clashes between antifas on the one hand and Milo and friends on the other hand are an additional alarm. As a believer in Enlightenment values who, perhaps conveniently, thinks that widespread belief in and consensus around those values leads to good things (such as economic prosperity and peace ), I'm disturbed by what seems like an assault on reason from all sides. On the right, there's the rise of nativism, and on the left, there's an identity-politics reaction that risks en abling the right. 12 This has me starting to worry that maybe democratic dysfunction could be an issue above all issues. This piece got me thinking recently, and this blog helped me sort through my thoughts. I tend to think of the most pressing issues in the world as those directly affecting various generally ignored or in some cases inherently disenfranchised groups, including non

Yesterday's Nobel Prize Winner's Work Has More Radical Implications than Most Admit

Richard Thaler won the Nobel prize yesterday for his work in developing behavioral economics. Thaler led the way in unraveling the traditional view in economics that humans are rational decision makers who  at least on average  will satisfy their goals if left to their own devices. In fact, humans systematically deviate from rationality in ways that give rise to policy prescriptions. I wrote my college thesis on Nudge , the book he co-authored with Cass Sunstein to collect these ideas, and I think behavioral economics is one of the greatest recent inventions. I think that  the implications of Thaler's and others' work in behavioral economics goes deeper than what he and others admit. Experiments show that humans systematically deviate from rationality by being present-biased, prone to temptation, unfocused, and inordinately susceptible to social influence. Thaler points out that these are all things that can systematically stop us from achieving our goals. They also ra

The Hidden Cost of Shifting Away from Poverty

The Center for Effective Altruism and effective altruists active in online spaces have for a while now been shifting away from a focus on poverty toward a focus on the far future and meta-level work (and if not that, animal advocacy). Interestingly, the rank and file of effective altruism does not seem to have made this shift  (or at least completed it). I generally agree with CEA and the online community on this. I think it's a shift with solid reasoning behind it. I think there's reason to pause, though, and appreciate some of what EA loses by making this shift. Much of what EA loses by making this shift has been discussed: things become very abstract in a way that may not be compelling to as many people, and there are concerns about an overly speculative cause . I believe there are other concerns to be had, though. In particular, there is an immense amount that EAs can learn from the global poverty space and apply to other spaces, and I see very few EAs doing that. The t

Another Reading of the Historical Record on Civil Rights

I wrote a blog post a week ago positing that civil rights era protests may not have been as effective as I'd previously thought. My basic claim was that confrontation seemed to kick up a storm, and it might have been possible to kick up less of a storm. I still think it probably would not have been possible, but the strength of my confidence was weakened. There's an alternative reading, or at least an additional issue, that might be at play in the history of the civil rights movement: that the civil rights movement made serious strategic miscalculations in the specific changes it pushed for and accepted. The story of racial justice since the civil rights movement is chronicled in a number of places, my favorite of which is Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Case for Reparations . Basically, while legally ordained segregation ended, a number of systems popped up that sustained nearly the same degree of racial segregation in the most intimate and important places: mass incarcerati

Did Confrontation Really Work in the Civil Rights Movement?

I've recently wrapped up reading Taylor Branch's Pillar of Fire , the book covering 1963-1965 in a three-part series on the civil rights movement. I've been reading through the series in large part for its insights for animal advocacy in particular and social and political dynamics in general. The civil rights movement is one of the most commonly cited pieces of evidence for why protests and grassroots activism work. (It's certainly overly cited in the animal advocacy context.) Despite that, I'm ending the book with doubts about whether confrontational activism worked even in the civil rights movement. To be clear, Pillar of Fire and its prequel Parting the Waters document short-run nonviolent triumph over the forces of segregation: children pushing through firehoses in Birmingham and marches to the Selma voting registrar's office. The civil rights movement's discipline yields political rewards. The political party most allied to them, the Democrats, win a

Locals Thwart New Kansas Tyson Plant—Why Doesn't This Happen More Often?

Image In the annals of social movements, one of the ones that most clearly achieved its objectives was the wave of U.S. anti-nuclear protests in the 1970s. Across the U.S., those who lived near nuclear power plants picketed, blockaded, and disrupted construction of plants, including taking strategic advantage of the Three Mile Island incident to effectively end nuclear power across the U.S. Nuclear power in the U.S. now has a monumental stigma against it quite unlike other developed countries—nuclear power is even a primary source for France's energy infrastructure . (U.S. policy is likely mistaken, as nuclear power is relatively safe ). This week, Kansas offers some inspiration for animal advocates on a model we should consider. Tyson is being forced to back out of a huge new chicken facility after 2,000 out of 5,000 residents of neighboring town Tonganoxie protested last Friday over environmental concern

How Sharp a Turn Did Humans Take in the Industrial Revolution?

Image from-amateur-quantitative-macrohistory/ Luke Muelhauser at the Open Philanthropy Project has a thought-provoking post  arguing that  most of human history is roughly the same plodding along in boring conditions until the industrial revolution, in which productivity exploded, countering what people have gotten in history. You can see a visual illustration of this in the graph on the right. I think this gets a whole lot right about the way history has gone. It irrefutably gets a lot right when you talk in terms of sheer magnitude of living conditions: the amount of good things multiplied many times over in a short period of time. FunctionGraphs/expgaphtrans3.jpg As one of the commenters pointed out, there could still be importance to earlier eras of history–potentially as much importance as in post-Industrial Revolution history. The reason is this:  if our interest is in relative pr