It’s a little frightening, but I appreciate the time you’ve devoted to EconTalk. I have an idea. I don’t accept the argument that we can then aggregate across people in cases where it’s more complicated. Russ Roberts: I’m not sure. Poverty, clean water, clean air, climate, inequality, things that most people, not everybody, but most people would agree are things we wish were different than they are. So it could be that at some point it would go so far that this would then undermine people’s motivations to be good and then make the world worse. Although it’s true that many political movements and political changes have outcomes that are difficult to measure, I don’t think the two distinctions line up quite so neatly. And all those will be exciting, but today I want to kind of focus first on three more fundamental topics. None 53 comments. Russ Roberts: That’s a reasonable argument, and I think most people throughout human history lived their life that way, “Oh, that problem, the experts, the elite, they’ll fix it. And the third is the ethical theory of utilitarianism and weighing up welfare between different people which I’m pretty enthusiastic about, but I think both of which you’re not so keen on. Yeah. Please consult our full legal disclaimer and privacy policy. And I think that could help me give me some idea of what reference class am I in? I want to come back to the part that I know you’re very focused on, which is career change and career path and thinking about how analytically or not we should think about our careers. That would be easily their first, most pressing problem. So I’m probably making a fool of myself, but the point is is that until you’ve made the leap, you can’t know what it’s like, and therefore you are in the darkness. What other interventions does it justify? Are you already enjoying your life? And I think that’s important to keep in mind in the background. Modern utilitarian thought, I am told that I should be ashamed of having a fancy birthday party for my four-year-old because that money would be better spent. And therefore each individual together combined with others could make some headway when combined. Most people do not have identical values. That’s lovely, but I don’t really know if I’ve helped educate anyone. I have four children. We do our best to provide useful information, but how you use the information is up to you. Sorry, you’re late.” But then the question is, what else beside that? Russ Roberts: Great to be with you, Rob. Do they really want to admit that it was a terrible mistake to have kids? Or am I in the class of people who have more of a mixed response. So here’s the problem. But the idea that we know the best way to have an impact, it’s kind of the opposite of what we think at 80,000 Hours. 2. But inevitably in a survey like that, it’s either often, not always, you can make it a little bit more nuanced, but it’s often a yes/no question. The person answering the questions, are they’re going to be honest with themselves? But if someone hasn’t really thought about that factor, I think that reflecting on it and thinking about what that might imply for their decisions will, on the margin, probably help make them more likely than not to make a better decision. The greatest good for the greatest number of people is one tenet of utilitarianism, and this way of thinking is alive and well under a new name: “effective altruism”. But I would never do that at the national level. After you’re a vampire, it looks fantastic. I had zero idea that was in my future, but it turned out that way. Robert Wiblin: Yeah. Now we’ve tried as humanity, we’ve tried to improve that. It’s not obvious to me that we should care or be encouraged to care equally about everyone. Some good things, mostly bad. Okay sorry, I shouldn’t… Yeah that’s true. The term Effective altruism is questionable at best; however, their message does make a lot of sense. People involved in 80,000 Hours or the effective altruism community would be comfortable recommending the latter. I could have gone to Wall Street. And then I was like, “Is it like having a good relationship?” I was like, “Well, kind of, but you actually do get more feedback about that than probably you do about career choice, and you can maybe have multiple gos at relationships over time and get a lot better at it.” I could imagine thinking someone is a master of their marriage, at least to some degree. Robert Wiblin: Yeah. I don’t believe in authority. Russ Roberts: So I think this whole human longevity generational thing is kind of nontrivial. Utilitarians are usually enthusiastic about effective altruism. Fantastic. And I don’t know how to think about that. You said given how much good we’ve achieved so far from broadening or moral calculus, how do you know that? If I thought a policy was going to lead to tyranny or oppression, I would stay away from it. And then maybe also just, we should trust microeconomic theory a little bit less. It’s not like physics. I think it’d be interesting to discuss the relationship between effective altruism and utilitarianism (or consequentialism more broadly). So I started to think, “I’m really good at this sniff thing. And I have to think about it some more. Then you have the glorious highs, the wondrous things, the deep satisfaction, the emotional joy that you feel and delight in having children. The problem I have with it, is that it can be summed up in the two words, “political science”. Then the second one might be kind of careful theorizing and reasoning about a problem: kind of microeconomic textbook reasoning. You can’t really do randomized controlled experiments on most of these topics, you have to use different methods to figure out what’s effective and what works. But since I worry that there aren’t going to be any saints in that position, in fact, the worst will rise to the top, I’m going to forego the right solution, which is this international government run by saints. “The Wire”, at least the first couple of seasons, especially the first season. I’ll just flip a coin even between the two. By the way, it used to be the case that people knew what was going on. You just have the cruelest punishments meted out to people for relatively minor infractions, just potentially not being Greek, or not being Roman, and being captured in war. The idea of effective altruism is deeply rooted in philosophy, hence to understand it better an attempt will be made to reconstruct and present the philosophical framework of Effective Altruism. Robert Wiblin: Yeah. Their pages really do lay out all of the evidence and they try to be very careful in how they word things. Are their parents not taking care of them? You won’t be surprised, Rob, I don’t think those people are right either. Now I have to say that as a non-interventionalist, generally, and a person who likes free markets. You’ll explore it and you become a new person.”. Russ Roberts: But many of us in modern times have said, “I don’t trek with that. They’re the subject of public policy issues. What do you do? So reasonable people could disagree about what the most pressing problems are, right? Your religion tells you to, your family, your parents.” We have unmoored a lot of our decisions from those traditional ways of thinking. It’s unfathomably a large problem for one person, but by the time you properly understood the issue and had any idea about what you should do next, your career would already be over. So let’s see. Disagreement from smart people who you otherwise often agree with tends to be especially valuable. I know you have a lot of thoughts on these issues, but I guess if you’re writing a book about it, you might have even more than I bargained for. I’m just going to make my own decisions for myself,” using those other three things that you mentioned. Or you could say the opposite. I just mentioned in passing, I try to give 10% of my after income to charity. It would be more accurate to label what goes on around here in the name of Effective Altruism as Effective Utilitarianism, as an equal weighting between people is usually baked into the analysis. But then that would seem to have this kind of crazy implication that say, “If I stubbed my toe and someone else was catastrophically injured in a car accident, we just couldn’t say which of these things, from a consequence or wellbeing point of view, was worse. So, if that person’s a stranger, if I meet a homeless person on the street with alcohol on their breath and who appears to be having a hard time, my ability to help that person is pretty small. Robert Wiblin: I think anyone who really understood statistics or social science would have looked at that and said, “Well, maybe that’s an interesting piece of evidence and it’s cool that they did that research and there’s a good reason to go out and try it again.” Or even, “This might be true that this might fall through.” Or especially, “Because this had such an unusually large positive effect, we would expect that if we did it again, the effect they would find will be a lot smaller. So there’s a famous study, which I’m not going to describe in exact detail, but it’s a test of perception. But above all, for me, anyway, he’s the creator and host of EconTalk, a weekly podcast featuring fairly academic hour-long interviews. I might be more forceful in my intervention with them besides giving them money. I think there’s not one reason. I would worry about that. You could say, “Well, I think religion’s actually a force for unkindness. I’m not at the top of my game right this minute. I think they’re both at risk right now. But I think I got maybe 10 good years left. The lessons you’ve learned from life and things that can’t be measured easily quantified and then facts are really important too. His wife’s left him. I have to confess, I hadn’t thought about your point. So that didn’t pass the sniff test for me. Even the very best people make lots of mistakes in those kinds of roles. How do we make decisions across individuals when utilitarianism comes into that? I think it’s a great point. But they said, “It’s so cheap, and if it does work, and it says that there’s 20% chance that it does work like this, and there’s another 20% chance that it has a smaller impact, if you do the expected value calculation, given how cheap it is and given that it doesn’t really have negative side effects, we think it’s good value in expectation. Don’t I have a moral imperative to be kind to her? But what about things that are at the more micro level, like kindness? Not like golf. I’m going to let you be autonomous, have agency and responsibility, even though you may not use it in a way that I think is good. Where good could mean satisfying to you or good could mean impact on the world at large. Russ Roberts: There’s a lot there and I’m going to try to remember a bunch of things I want to clarify, and then I’ll try to answer your question. Then you have the glorious highs, the wondrous things, the deep satisfaction, the emotional joy that you feel and delight in having children. You can find it online. Reply [-] drethelin 7y 1. Robert Wiblin: Yeah, okay. There’s also cool kinds of consequentialist arguments that one could give for why this is a bad path to go down even if in some narrow sense, it seems like it’s raising welfare just during the period of this television program. Russ Roberts: It was not science. Russ Roberts: I do want to emphasize that employment is not the only thing we care about. Yeah, exactly. And let’s say you think I’m making a mistake staying at the Hoover Institution and doing this EconTalk thing, or I’m worried I’m making a mistake and I come to you and I say, “Rob, I want to make sure that the last 10 years of my life have the greatest impact that they could possibly have. Second, Rachel Laudan giving a history of the ideologies people have had about food, since the beginning of civilization. I suppose I’m more hopeful than you that getting people to try to care more, at least in principle, about not harming all sentient beings would be good, on balance, in part just because it seems like expanding the moral circle so far has positive impacts. 55 comments Contents A classification of EA views Which categories do EA views fall into? You can get better at it through practice. And I guess sometimes you end up in a situation where you’re just like, “Well, common sense isn’t going to be very reliable here, and you know, theory probably won’t work either. On the point about the minimum wage and common sense, absolutely, the minimum wage can raise the wages of low income people. Assuming you don’t have to work a lot harder and assuming you’re not then giving up, say, training that was going to be given to you before. “Are you glad you had kids?” Or, “On a scale of one to 10, how happy are you if you had kids?” And I would argue that the sterility of reducing something as complicated as being a parent to a number, it’s not so much trying to measure, it’s that what you’re trying to measure is so much more complicated than a point estimate like that. If that’s your style, you can find it. But EA is at something of a crossroads. I think it’s… After that long story, which you enjoyed, all those things are important. I guess you also might think that a society that just randomly executes people… If you realize that or people are eventually going to figure out that their society is running in this capricious way, and that is going to reduce people’s welfare in the bigger picture. Robert Wiblin: Okay, it is like physics. And does that justify progressive taxation of a confiscatory sort? Or read the transcript below. But of course, happiness isn’t all we care about. But, I guess, you’re more inclined to say, at the macro level, the idea of talking about aggregate wellbeing at a country sounds crazy. Russ Roberts: Yeah, exactly. Deontologists hold that these rules have moral importance that is independent of their effect on the good (consequentialism) or our character (virtue ethics). Common sense is sometimes just completely off base. I agree with it. EconTalk is a very educational show which I’ve been listening to for 12 years. Well, not solve it, make progress on it. So some people would say climate change. Robert Wiblin: I think one of the most important things that we could do or potentially one of the most reliably valuable things that we could do is to continue expanding that circle so that all beings that are conscious and all beings that have welfare get considered, at least in policy, or ideally that we just care about the wellbeing of all and aren’t as selfish as we are now. Then they tend to fall back and say, “Well, but at least we can work on global health, say. Russ Roberts: This is a separate issue we haven’t talked about yet, but it is an interesting phenomenon that I think as human beings, we really like certainty. The whining, the wailing, the tragedy, the wounds, the stitches. Robert Wiblin: Yeah, kind of. But it seems like at the extremes, you can. Russ Roberts: I have a lot of thoughts on that. I could have been an economist for a car company. Not necessarily selfish, but self-interested and self-centered. “Are you glad you had kids?” Or, “On a scale of one to 10, how happy are you if you had kids?” And I would argue that the sterility of reducing something as complicated as being a parent to a number, it’s not so much trying to measure, it’s that what you’re trying to measure is so much more complicated than a point estimate like that. Robert Wiblin: So I guess, we do face this trade off between, we can do things for our family, I can do things for my housemates, that I can be pretty confident has made their life better. I think it’s because the data is not detailed enough, and I don’t think the aggregate ways that we look at the world using microeconomics are reliable enough. If I devoted my life to political science, which I think would be a mistake, even though I respect many of my friends in the field, but for me, it would be a mistake. But then there’s other groups that start pushing it and perhaps they care less about bringing in all of the caveats and all of the uncertainty, and so people hear that message. That’s called theory. I gave away some money. Russ Roberts: In excess. So I feel like my mom is still physically alive, but my dad is still alive in me. That that was thought to be a clear public health issue that maybe is more complicated. I have most of my senses about me. Russ Roberts: So those are harder to measure and tend to be ignored. I think I would completely agree with you in the case where you’re comparing helping a family member or a friend who’s struggling with alcoholism versus a stranger in your country who’s struggling with alcoholism. What if I said to you — and I think I could make the case — that kindness and the lack of kindness is the thing we ought to be focusing on to make the world a better place? How does that sound? Or worse, it turns out everybody had kids. What’s moving about it is how these small townsfolk rose to the occasion in taking care of these strangers, and in doing so, what was motivating them was a sense that as a Newfoundlander, somebody from Newfoundland, that’s what they did. We’d all agree that on many of those, maybe not every single one, but on many of those, some progress would be a good thing. It’s an experiment about counting. Or at least as the media used to portray. So it’s not the case that effective altruists focus exclusively on things that are easy to measure. But if you want to get a taste of it, instead of babysitting, which gives you a little bit of a taste, you’ll be better off reading books about people who are parents. You could argue, I shouldn’t even give him money. And I wonder whether you fully thought through about whether it’s consistent. Robert Wiblin: It’s interesting. That’s beyond the scope of human understanding to have a predictable influence. To give you a taste my top three episodes of all time are: First, Brendan O’Donohoe, who works at a potato crisp factory, on how the factory works to produce huge numbers of crisps at low cost, while avoiding allowing any bad ones through. So let me take another variant on my problem with this. That’s just too hard. Russ Roberts: And the sniff test is kind of like common sense, right? That’s the crucial question, right? Those are the negatives, okay? That wouldn’t be an easy thing for me to do as a classical liberal, but I might do that. Unlike utilitarianism, effective altruism doesn’t necessarily say that doing everything possible to help others is obligatory, and doesn’t advocate for violating people’s rights even if doing so would lead to the best consequences. We’ve spent quite a bit of time on effective altruism and I think we’ve reached… Well we found that we agree maybe more than we thought. One is the deworming example, which is a sobering example. It’s to be explored. Russ Roberts: If you’re listening and say, “Yeah, I kind of agree with that. Russ Roberts: I think it’s really good to help other people. That’s a case where that kind of evidence about how, say what motivates a firm or how firms respond to changes in the environment. And there, the overwhelming thrust is, as I understand, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that we know what is most effective. What do you think are the pros and cons of having kids?” And then 20 years later, you’d follow up and ask, “Did you have kids? Robert Wiblin: Yeah. I think that’s another part of this problem of information. Russ Roberts: I want to mention that there’s a short story called “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K Le. My job is to get you to shut down 80,000 Hours and become a gardener, because I think gardening is… No, I’m kidding. It gives you lots of experience in those areas. And it turns out that after you’ve done that, you may have missed something that also happened in the video besides basketball passes. Maybe you should go into religion, and you could argue that religion is one way in which kindness has been brought into the world. It’s so incredibly uncertain all of this stuff. I’ll sometimes have wine with dinner. I think it’s tempting and easy to give money to charity you’d say, “Well, I did a good deed. Robert Wiblin: I feel we’ll converge on the same view. And of course you’ll never pitch a 27 pitch perfect game in baseball, you’ll never have 18 holes in one, or at least it’s never been done on a normal golf course. Everyone is equal and if one person has utility above the lowest, then it becomes unethical.” Russ Roberts: I think that’s wrong. Want to tackle a pressing global problem with your career? By the way, so where we agree, which I love, is that we both agree it’s a craft. I guess I have a somewhat pessimistic take, which is that we should trust it less than most people think, but I think you have maybe an even more pessimistic take. They’re things that legislation gets passed to try to improve and make them better. And I understand that they’ll probably use it to drink. Obviously it’s a better world where women and people of different sexual orientation are respected rather than condemned or vilified or abused or oppressed, but it’s not obvious to me that the larger trends of human history are headed in the right direction. Reasonable people could disagree about what the most pressing problems are, right? I think that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the human enterprise. We’re just trying to make somewhat better decisions under massive uncertainty and not aim for perfection. I think there is a survey, it’s called ‘Literature’. In as much as trying to increase concern for everyone is actually going to result in people being more selfish or not doing more good, that would be a good reason not to pursue that. One on each side of the political divide. There are some glorious things about having children and some not so glorious things. They’re like, “Well, it made my life better in some ways and I really value my kids, but there was also some significant downsides.” But before we go to that, in the interview with L.A. Paul, you said this, “Not everyone should have children. It asks you… Many listeners would have read about this or actually seen it. So I think there are two parts. I have four children. It wasn’t truth. Now maybe I misread it. And it’s not obvious to me that that would have been possible in a world where we all were encouraged to think of ourselves as not being rooted, as not having an identity in, say, place. 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