4

ea247 comments on Drug liberalization ballot initiative cost-effective at $460/DALY - Effective Altruism Forum

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (23)

You are viewing a single comment's thread.

Comment author: ea247 15 January 2018 01:33:10AM 4 points [-]

I echo Michael Plant's sentiments. I'm glad you're quantifying the benefits of this potential intervention.

I started looking through the CEA and thought it seemed optimistic in various ways, but then I realized I could just look at the end number and see if, even without adjustments, it beat GiveWell recommended charities. Unfortunately it doesn't. You said that GiveWell's charities are in the range of hundreds of dollars per DALY and that didn't gel with my memory. I looked it up and AMF is around $1,965 per life saved, equivalent to 36 DALYs, so 1,965/36 = ~$54/DALY. SCI was $1,080 per life saved, so $1,080/36 = $30/DALY. GiveDirectly is $11,663/36=~$323/DALY, but the reason they recommend GiveDirectly is in part because it has a lower barrier to prove itself in evidence because it is a very "direct" intervention. (source: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/13b_qt-G_TQtoYNznNak3_5dzvzgCSUPJnk3l5dMisJo/edit#gid=1034883018) These numbers hold up roughly when you look at estimates from 2012 when they were still using DALYs.

Nevertheless, if you are considering where to donate, your best guess estimate is less cost-effective than GiveWell interventions. This is before it goes through the rigors of a GiveWell CEA as well, which would definitely have less optimistic numbers, especially given the low evidence base.

I'd like to end on a note that I think that posting new cause areas to the EA movement is scary because it's a critical minded bunch, so hats off to you for having the courage to do so. Keep trying; I commend you for it. Unfortunately, even if you defend it as well as it can be defended, it might not win compared to the existing top charities. However, if nobody does this work, no new causes will be "discovered", and so even if it doesn't win, this sort of work is very likely to be net good in expectation.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 15 January 2018 03:40:21AM *  2 points [-]

Thanks for the thoughts.

I started looking through the CEA and thought it seemed optimistic in various ways

It would be helpful if you could point out places where our best-guess value seems optimistic. The model does include a pretty steep evidence discount – best-guess assumes just a 20% chance that each effect replicates.

I looked it up and AMF is around $1,965 per life saved, equivalent to 36 DALYs, so 1,965/36 = ~$54/DALY

As mentioned in our post, GiveWell has moved away from the DALY framework, so it's not clear that a simple conversion like this is the way to convert its model outputs into DALYs. (We've asked GiveWell for clarification on this.)

the rigors of a GiveWell CEA as well, which would definitely have less optimistic numbers, especially given the low evidence base.

Why do you think a GiveWell CEA would definitely yield less optimistic numbers?

... it might not win compared to the existing top charities.

I don't think this is a great way to think about comparing charities. Quantitative models are complicated & very sensitive to their input parameters, so a "winning" charity may only be winning because of the way a model is structured.

This isn't to say that quantitative comparisons aren't useful. Instead, I think quantitative comparisons are useful for winnowing out interventions whose cost-effect falls orders of magnitude below that of top charities. But I don't think the fidelity of any quantitative model we use today is sufficient to discern the best intervention between interventions on the same order of magnitude.

It becomes even trickier to think about when comparing interventions across very different domains. For example, x-risk interventions either dominate global health interventions (if you take cost-effectiveness estimates literally & are a total utilitarian), or aren't competitive at all (if you only believe cost-effectiveness estimates above some threshold of rigor, so aren't compelled by back-of-the-envelope estimates that massively favor x-risk).

In practice, it seems like the EA community gets by without making direct effectiveness comparisons between x-risk & global health interventions, and instead houses both as priority cause areas.

Something like this is my hope for drug policy reform – a sufficiently compelling case is articulated such that EA decides to house it as a priority cause area (already done to some extent, see Open Phil's grants to the Drug Policy Alliance: https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/us-policy/criminal-justice-reform/drug-policy-alliance-drug-decriminalization). It doesn't seem necessary to "win" the cost-effectiveness comparisons, only demonstrate that its cost-effect is competitive under plausible assumptions.

Comment author: ea247 16 January 2018 06:38:00PM 2 points [-]

The reason why interventions like AR or x-risk are accepted by the EA movement (although not by all EAs) is that from a CEA perspective they do better than GiveWell top charities. The reason a lot of people still don't accept them as interventions though is because people discount based on evidence base differently, with some people taking non-evidence based CEAs more seriously than others. If drug policy does worse from a CEA perspective than GiveWell, AR and x-risk, and is worse from an evidence perspective than GiveWell charities, where is its advantage?

You could make a case that it's better from a metric perspective (ie preventing unhappiness through depression rather than DALYs which has issues with it, like over-valuing preventing death according to a lot of value systems), but deworming improves lives; it doesn't prevent death. Same with GiveDirectly.

For giving detailed feedback on the CEA, I unfortunately just don't have the energy to do the full thing, but if the final number still isn't enough to make me switch from GiveWell charities, it doesn't make sense to look more into the details. However, one thing that jumped out to me that others mentioned was the chance of the ballot coming through. I think looking up the historical rate of ballot initiatives being passed would be a good thing to look into.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 16 January 2018 11:14:25PM 2 points [-]

On your original comparison to GW charities, I wouldn't just take GW's analysis as the canonic truth on the matter. Their CEA is pretty complicated, but ultimately they value charities based on how well they either 1. save lives or 2. increase consumption.

What you think about the value of saving lives is a philosophical question. I've written about this elsewhere so won't repeat myself. What you think about the value of increase consumption (SCI and GD) is probably an empirical question. If you value happiness then increasing consumption is a really bad way to increase aggregate happiness because of adaption and comparison effects (I discuss this in my EAG talk).

When I think about GW charities, I'm am highly sceptical they do much good at all. I know, highly controversial....

I say this because it opens the space to look at other things, like mental health and pain, both of which drug policy reform help.

However, even if you take GW's calcs at face value (I'm not sure exactly what that is) I think it would still be possible to build an EV calc for drug policy reform that rivals them. In this post I suggest a campaign for rescheduling psychedelics could spend £250 billion and be competitive with AMF. Milan's calcs are really helpful because it's important to start filling in the details of this analysis. In many ways, Milan's is more complete than mine, which is quite simple.

Comment author: ea247 17 January 2018 12:53:00AM *  2 points [-]

Fair point, that deworming and cash transfers increase consumption instead of directly increase well being, or at least that's what GiveWell's main analysis rests on. I do recall that the GD study actually did look at SWB and on page 4 (bit.ly/2B97A1Y) it says that it increased a bunch of different happiness metrics as well (depression, stress, happiness and life satisfaction). However, if you only looked at that effect, GiveDirectly may not be that cost-effective. I haven't investigated it that much from that angle.

In terms of preventing infant mortality, it seems unlikely that losing a child wouldn't cause immense suffering to the parents, especially the mother. People often think that this wouldn't happen because people just "get used to" babies dying, but the odds that a child will die is actually quite low nowadays, even in the developing world. In India, where I have the most experience, it's measured in deaths per 1,000 live births, not 100, because it's that's rare. Additionally, because I don't think death is nearly as bad as DALYs would have it, I looked a lot into parental mourning before choosing SMS reminders. I don't have anything formal I wrote up I can point to (though I might at some point), but my research found that most parents, after the loss of a child, are depressed for around a year, with some tail ends of people who never appear to recover.

If it's the metrics issue that's leading to drug policy reform, I would recommend looking into preventing iron deficiency (through supplements or fortification) as an alternative. It's more evidence based and iron deficiency causes massive unhappiness. Anecdotally I've had friends who transformed from sad grumpy monsters into happy productive members of society after realizing they were deficient. Additionally there's evidence it increases income, increases IQ if taken during pregnancy, and decreases mortality in certain circumstances, so it's pretty robust no matter the metrics you care about.

Lastly, I'll admit that I haven't read all of your posts / critiques of AMF's effectiveness, so I'll have to go and do that :)

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 17 January 2018 01:52:20AM *  0 points [-]

If drug policy does worse from a CEA perspective than GiveWell, AR and x-risk, and is worse from an evidence perspective than GiveWell charities, where is its advantage?

My view here relies on some background that isn't fully articulated yet. (I'm in the process of doing so with this series on consequentialist cluelessness: 1, 2, 3)

The basic thrust is that psychedelic experiences can function as a catalytic engine for social change, both by improving the motivations of highly capable but insufficiently reflective people, and by improving the capabilities of well-intentioned people who struggle with internal blockers.

Given cluelessness, this approach seems promising because increasing the number of highly motivated, well-intentioned people has more error correction baked in than interventions where the case for their effectiveness is driven by their proximate impacts.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 17 January 2018 12:40:35PM 4 points [-]

The basic thrust is that psychedelic experiences can function as a catalytic engine for social change, both by improving the motivations of highly capable but insufficiently reflective people, and by improving the capabilities of well-intentioned people who struggle with internal blockers.

If that's what you think does the real work of drug liberalisation, you should probably state that and build a cost-effectiveness model on that basis, rather than try to justify drug reform on other terms but with that as the true motivation. I, for one, am pretty sceptical, because I can't imagine loads more people would, counterfactually, start taking drugs recreationally and that, for those that do, this will have much impact on their cognitive powers.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 17 January 2018 03:33:54PM *  0 points [-]

I, for one, am pretty sceptical, because I can't imagine loads more people would, counterfactually, start taking drugs recreationally and that, for those that do, this will have much impact on their cognitive powers.

There have been many historical examples of norms around drug use in the US changing quickly (e.g. 19th century teetotalism, 1960s psychedelia). What makes you skeptical about another change in norms?

If by "cognitive powers" you mean adding IQ points, I agree that psychedelic experiences won't help much with that. Psychedelics can cause pretty powerful shifts in a person's motivations & worldview (this is strongly supported by anecdote; see also Griffiths et al. 2008). I think poor motivations and problematic worldviews are more often blockers than someone's IQ.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 17 January 2018 04:14:32PM 1 point [-]

Hmm. Yes, I agree cognitive shifts could be pretty powerful from psychedelics and that IQ points probably won't change. I think I misread you.

The larger part of my scepticism is my intuitive hunch that loads of people wont suddenly start taking psychedelics if they're legal/decrimed. This isn't a strongly informed judgement and I could probably change my mind if presented with compelling reasons.

On the worldview stuff, if the idea is something like "people take drugs and this changes how they think for the better", which I actually think is pretty plausible, a particular challenge is that those who you, I expect, would most like to take such drugs, i.e. the very close-minded, are probably going to be the least likely to take them anyway.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 22 January 2018 10:33:04PM *  0 points [-]

loads of people wont suddenly start taking psychedelics if they're legal/decrimed

I agree that liberalized drug policy is not sufficient to increase the number of people having psychedelic experiences, but it's a prerequisite of many promising interventions in this area (e.g. setting up US-based psychedelic retreat centers).

Comment author: Lila 18 January 2018 04:33:00AM 0 points [-]

I'm not sure how the beliefs in Table 3 would lead to positive social change. Mostly just seems like an increase in some vague theism, along with acceptance/complacency/indifference/nihilism. The former is epistemically shaky, and the latter doesn't seem like an engine for social change.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 18 January 2018 06:34:24PM 0 points [-]

I think the more interesting results are in Figure 2, which show increases in life-satisfaction & positive behavior change that endured 14 months after the intervention.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 17 January 2018 03:16:19PM *  0 points [-]

If that's what you think does the real work of drug liberalisation...

I think both the proximate mental health benefits & the speculative catalytic engine benefit do work. The case for the mental health benefits has more empirical basis & is easier to model, so I started with that.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 22 January 2018 10:30:40PM 0 points [-]

Update on how to convert GiveWell's model outputs to DALYs: we asked someone familiar with GiveWell's 2018 cost-effectiveness model about this.

They weren't comfortable being quoted; the gist of their reply is they can't think of a straightforward way to convert from GW model outputs to DALYs that they'd be comfortable using formally.