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Denise_Melchin comments on Comparative advantage in the talent market - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: MichaelPlant 12 April 2018 10:16:26AM 14 points [-]

However, we can also err by thinking about a too narrow reference class

Just to pick up on this, a worry I've had for a while - which I'm don't think I'm going to do a very job explaining here - is that the reference class people use is "current EAs" not "current and future EAs". To explain, when I started to get involved in EA back in 2015, 80k's advice, in caricature, was that EAs should become software developers or management consultants and earn to give, whereas research roles, such as becoming a philosopher or historian, are low priority. Now the advice has, again in caricature, swung the other way: management consultancy looks very unpromising, and people are being recommended to do research. There's even occassion discussion (see MacAskill's 80k podcast) that, on the margin, philosophers might be useful. If you'd taken 80k's advice seriously and gone in consultancy, it seems you would have done the wrong thing. (Objection, imagining Wiblin's voice: but what about personal fit? We talked about that. Reply: if personal fit does all the work - i.e. "just do the thing that has greatest personal fit" - then there's no point making more substantive recommendations)

I'm concerned that people will funnel themselves into jobs that are high-priority now, in which they have a small comparative advice to other EAs, rather than jobs in which they will later have a much bigger comparative advantage to other EAs. At the present time, the conversation is about EA needing more operations roles. Suppose two EAs, C and D, are thinking about what to do. C realises he's 50% better than D at ops and 75% better at research, so C goes into Ops because that's higher priority. D goes into research. Time passes the movement grows. E now joins. E is better than C at Ops. The problem is that C has taken an ops role and it's much harder for C to transition to research. C only has a comparative advantage at ops in the first time period, thereafter he doesn't. Overall, it looks like C should just have gone into research, not ops.

In short, our comparative advantage is not fixed, but will change over time simply based on who else shows up. Hence we should think about comparative advantage over our lifetimes rather than the shorter term. This likely changes things.

Comment author: Denise_Melchin 12 April 2018 06:58:00PM 5 points [-]

I completely agree. I considered making the point in the post itself, but I didn't because I'm not sure about the practical implications myself!

Comment author: MichaelPlant 13 April 2018 11:18:07PM 0 points [-]

I agree it's really complicated, but merits some thinking. The one practical implication I take is "if 80k says I should be doing X, there's almost no chance X will be the best thing I could do by the time I'm in a position to do it"

Comment author: Ben_Todd 20 April 2018 06:24:03AM 3 points [-]

That seems very strong - you're saying all our recommendations are wrong, even though we're already trying to take account of this effect.