Ryohei Watanabe


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"Progress" alternative to GiveWell?

I agree here that PS is more convincing, and that EA is more actionable. But EA is effective at creating institutions around action (giving time and money) such as 80000 hours/Givewell. I think EA also makes a stronger claim on individuals' duties compared to PS because PS is focused on long term economic growth -- a fluid goal we do not yet know how to achieve.

On the strength of EA.

“Let's go back to the EA principle: "Using evidence and careful reasoning to do the most good possible". Part of the attraction of the principle is that it takes away choice. One great achievement of modernity is to give people more and more choice, until they get to choose (seemingly) everything. But vast choice is also bewildering and challenging. Much of the power of EA (and of many ideologies) is to take away much of that choice, saying: no, you have a duty to do the most good you can in the world. Furthermore, EA provides institutions and a community which helps guide how you do that good. It thus provides orientation and meaning and a narrative for why you're doing what you're doing.” (Nielsen)

On the fluid, uncertain nature of achieving economic growth:

“Once we move beyond absolute human rights and work toward sustainable economic growth, most of the remaining morality will be practical in nature, prone to exception, dependent on context, and not exercising much of a tyranny over our lives. It won’t necessarily have much to do with rules at all, unless some other perspective, outside of the scope of the arguments at hand, establishes that rules are indeed the proper way to go. (Cowen, Stubborn Attachments)

I'm a relative newcomer to progress studies. My first impression is that Progress Studies is a research agenda aimed at academic researchers without much room for actions by non-wealthy (money), non-academic (time in the form of research). Perhaps knowledge production is an elite activity (with support by PS popularizers (time)). 

On knowledge production as an elite activity:

“But the Enlightenment was not a mass-movement. It was an elite phenomenon, largely confined to intellectuals, scholars, a literate and educated minority…New scientific insights, and invention of new techniques, their successful application to production—all were the result of the actions of a fairly small proportion of the population.” (Mokyr, Culture of Growth)

I think the non-rival, zero marginal cost nature of ideas indicates that PS could do a lot of good without needing the social participation of a great many people outside of academia. It would be unfortunate if this is the extent of the ecosystem though. I'm still looking for ways to donate my time to PS so if anybody has any good ideas, I would love to hear it.