weeatquince comments on Policy prioritization in a developed country - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: weeatquince  (EA Profile) 11 March 2018 11:06:31PM *  2 points [-]

This sounds like a really good project. You clearly have a decent understanding of the local political issues, a clear ideas of how this project can map to other countries and prove beneficial globally. And a good understanding of how this plays a role in the wider EA community (I think it is good that this project is not branded as 'EA').

Here are a number of hopefully constructive thoughts I have to help you fine tune this work. These maybe things you thought about that did not make the post. I hope they help.




As far as I can tell the CCC seems to not care much about scenarios with a small chance of a very high impact. On the whole the EA community does care about these scenarios. My evidence for this comes from the EA communities concern for the extreme risks of climate change (https://80000hours.org/problem-profiles/climate-change/) and x-risks whereas the CCC work on climate change that I have seen seems to have ignored these extreme risks. I am unsure why the discrepancy (Many EA researchers do not use a future discount rate for utility, does CCC?)

This could be problematic in terms of the cause prioritisation research being useful for EAs, for building a relationship with this project and EA advocacy work, EA funding, etc, etc.




Sometimes the most important priorities will not be the ones that public will latch onto. It is unclear from the post:

2.1 how you intend to find a balance between delivering the messages that are most likely to create change verses saying the things you most believe to be true. And

2.2 how the advocacy part of this work might differ from work that CCC has done in the past. My understanding is that to date the CCC has mostly tried to deliver true messages to an international policy maker audience. Your post however points to the public sentiment as a key driving factor for change. The advocacy methods and expertise used in CCC's international work are not obviously the best methods for this work.




For a prioritization research piece like I could imagine the researcher might dive straight into looking at the existing issues on the political agenda and prioritising between those based on some form of social rate of return. However I think there are a lot of very high level questions that I could be asked first like: • Is it more important to prevent the government making really bad decisions in some areas or to improve the quality of the good decisions • Is it more important to improve policy or to prevent a shift to harmful authoritarianism • How important is it to set policy that future political trends will not undo • How important is the acceptability among policy makers . public of the policy being suggested Are these covered in the research?

Also to what event will the research be looking at improving institutional decision making? To be honest I would genuinely be surprised if the conclusion of this project was that the most high impact policies were those designed to improve the functioning / decision making / checks and balances of the government. If you can cut corruption and change how government works for the better then the government will get more policies correct across the board in future. Is this your intuition too?


Finally to say I would be interested to be kept up-to-date with this project as it progresses. Is there a good way to do this? Looking forward to hearing more.

Comment author: janklenha 18 March 2018 01:43:33PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for the feedback, this is very helpful!

EA vs. CCC values: I think about prioritization as a 3-step process of choosing a cause, an intervention, and then a specific organization. EA, 80k Hours or Global priorities are focused especially on choosing causes (the most „meta“ activity), GiveWell and charity evaluators are focusing on the third step – recommending organizations. Copenhagen Consensus´ approach can be seen as a compatible middle step in this process – prioritizing between possible interventions and solutions (hopefully more and more in the most high-impact areas, being increasingly compatible with EA).

Discount rates: Yes, Copenhagen Consensus uses discount rates (3% and 5% in previous projects) I would argue especially because of the uncertainty about the future, and our comparative advantage in solving current issues. We are always open to discuss this with EA, especially considering projects in more developed countries.

X-risks: Our projects are done in three steps, that we value more or less equally: 1) stakeholder research (gathering 1000+ policy ideas and choosing the top 60-80 interventions to analyse), 2) cost benefit analyses on those interventions, and 3) media dissemination and public advocacy for the top priorities. I would expect x-risks to be considered in the research in developed country rather that in Bagladesh, Haiti or India. Interventions reducing x-risks will definitely be among the 1000+ policy ideas, and even if they don´t make it into the 60-80 intervention analysed, thinking about low-chance, extreme-impact effects is certainly something that should be included in all relevant cost-benefit analyses.

Meta: There is a substantial difficulty to reasonably calculate very broad long-term benefits. Cost-benefit ratio of “Improving institutional decision-making” would be almost impossible to calculate, but we will assess our own impact, and since this is exactly our goal, some interesting data might come up. It would be also helpful to analyse partial interventions such as anti-corruption or transparency, that should lead to better institutional decision-making as a result. There are other interventions with long-term effects, that might make it to the final round and EA would probably agree on, such as programs in mental health, giving homes, consumption of animal products (e.g. removing subsidies for factory farms), antibiotic resistance etc.

Advocacy challenges: The project intends to, of course, say the most true things. If some of the top priorities will be difficult to implement, politicians will simply choose not pay attention to them, but at least public awareness will be created. I don’t think there will be any extremely controversial interventions (in AI Safety, for example), that would make us consider not publishing it to protect the whole project from being ridiculed and discredited.

Public sentiment and preventing authoritarianism: Yes, we expect public sentiment to be a key driving factor for change (along with roundtables and presentations to politicians, political parties and members of budget committee), more so than in third-world countries. We are in touch with local media, that are influential in shaping public opinion. Implementing the best interventions would have great effects, but even if not implemented, we hope to move public discussion (that is always in conflict between different world-views) to a little bit more rational level, and open up as many eyes and educate as many minds as possible to think in bigger picture. That seems to be a good way to fight irrational populism, which has all sorts of bad impacts on the society.

Importance of robust policies vs. acceptable policies: This possible trade-off should be made in each analysis, the researcher should think if the specific intervention would make the most impact by making the connected policies more robust, or if the most impact can be done by, for example, increasing the funding for this intervention slowly, so that it´s acceptable by all sides and works best in the long run. This should ideally be encompassed in each cost-benefit ratio.

Preventing bad policies vs. improving good ones: We will look for policies that can have any of these effects, but we are not specifically looking for the existing bad policies. Improving good ones is not the goal either, we want to find policies that have great effects per each Koruna, but occupy unfairly bad position in the current equilibria - might be unpopular, underfunded, not yet well understood or not known by the public.

Sure, you can follow our web www.ceskepriority.cz or hit me up via email at jan@copenhagenconsensus.com

Comment author: Denkenberger 20 March 2018 01:43:16AM 1 point [-]

I assume this is 3% real (adjusted for inflation) discount rate. This is actually similar to global per capita income growth. Since a dollar is worth less to a rich person (logarithmic utility), EAs are generally ok with discounting at the economic growth rate. This means we are valuing the utility of future generations the same as present generations.

Comment author: janklenha 19 March 2018 10:09:44AM 0 points [-]

And I would be happy if our prioritization research discusses other heuristics such as the ones that Denis (http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1lu/current_thinking_on_prioritization_2018/#interventions_1) or Michael (http://effective-altruism.com/ea/yp/evaluation_frameworks_or_when_importance/) propose.