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comment by solipsist · 2014-08-13T12:39:46.109Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Alternatively, we could allow more immigration from poor countries to rich ones.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-08-14T01:22:32.245Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That would be an example of Growth.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-08-14T03:13:04.753Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think this would almost certainly be more cost-effective than Plus+Minus if you were a government, but I'm not sure how easy or hard it would be for an individual to influence their government's immigration policy.

comment by Vulture · 2014-08-14T20:51:11.466Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You wouldn't necessarily have to effect policy; you could just start smuggling people in.

comment by TallDave · 2014-09-08T15:41:36.116Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I realize this is a made-up scenario, but Westerners tend to assume it's irrational for those in poor countries to maximize their number of offspring. There's a number of factors (labor value tradeoffs, insurance against periods of inability to sustain sufficient income esp at end-of-life) that militate otherwise. Minus could result in a huge amounts of unintended disutility, particularly as populations age.

As pointed out above, the best option is to move the poor into situations where institutions are stronger, producing higher incomes. However, this is very difficult on any large scale. For instance, moving the entire population of Africa to Norway (ignoring space constraints) probably wouldn't increase overall incomes because local institutions would be overwhelmed by new voter preferences and cultural norms. Unfortunately, it's also extremely difficult to develop these institutions in poor countries (the incentives tend to point the wrong way, see Acemoglu on the "iron law of oligarchy").

So the best donation bet might be "meta-Growth" -- attempts to increase the value of Growth by researching more effective methods of intervention to increase Growth.

comment by Slider · 2014-08-13T18:59:50.633Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Say that the universe has Clippy the paperclip maximiser + 9 of his friends and Roger the ruberband maximiser with also 9 friends. Say also that the world is metal rich which makes paperclips easier. You have the options to:

Increase the production efficiency of paperclips increase the production efficiency of rubberbands Decrease the number of rubberband maximisers by 1 Increase the number of paperclip maximisers by 1

For plus+minus to win out you have to show that an individual would be "better off" converting than increasing efficiency. The upper two options raise the utility value of the world upwards within a single utility function/evaluator. The conversion must somehow make a utility conversion mapping. While I have assumed that paperclipping is easier I have not assumed paperclipping is more moral than rubberbanding. Yet the recommendation seems to be to either work for the paperclippers or try to convert everyone. The rubberbanders got utility-monstered. It's also dubious that converting people will only select the political direction of the world and doesn't impact the ability to purse that direction.

Thus suprisingly treating all values identically ended up favouring one of them over all others. You could have thought that the values would have a similar distribution as in the beginning. It also seems that a person that "wants to do most good for the world possible" is rather doing the thing that creates the world that owes it's existence to the benefactor the most. Thus easily accomplished values will have priority. This deviates from my understanding what it is to do good.

I think the ability to judge the values of others should not be hidden in an implict assumption that all values are equally duty generating. But being insensitive or overtly harsh seems also problematic. It should be recognised as a problem of choice rather than have theories makes such choices for us in an accidental manner.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2014-08-13T20:25:30.060Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thus surprisingly treating all values identically ended up favoring one of them over all others.

Interesting, this casts some light on the repugnant conclusion for me. A naive utilitarianism will favor creating lots of minds that have easily satisfied preferences, so that more of them can be created given a resource constraint. We can improve on this by noting that we value complex minds enjoying complex things. If a complex mind has more worth, then how do I evaluate a dyson sphere sized brain relative to my own utility?

comment by Slider · 2014-08-13T21:40:17.863Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We know that the kind of mind we value to have is complex which is a different thing than valuing it because it is complex. It doesn't strike me as intuitive that I would value a person that is maximally twisted up.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2014-08-14T07:42:27.760Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When i check my intuitions I seem to value simple minds less, and more complex minds more, robustly across the range of complexity in minds we observe. It does feel weird to try to imagine stretching this scale to include things more complex than me, but it feels weirder to make current humans the cutoff if that makes sense.

comment by Slider · 2014-08-14T11:21:02.370Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When I check for which minds I seem to appreciate among the minds we observe it seems those minds that have larger surface area are worth more. Extrapolating this is weird and it is unlikely that the human mind is the apex of surface area possible. But I am pretty sure that having a larger surface area would not be sufficient to make me care more. However it seems it would be more probable / there would be more resources to have something worthwhile with it, provided that it is not "wasted". I don't have a clear handle on what the "good" produced is but just having several acres of neurotissue around is not the finished stage.

comment by gjm · 2014-08-13T09:41:40.101Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that there's a simpler argument for the same conclusion with the same premises. Consider any small population-changing intervention. If it's small then it's approximately reversible. Either it or its reverse will have positive rather than negative impact. It such interventions are cheap enough, the impact will still be positive after accounting for cost. If you got staggeringly unlucky and picked an intervention of near-zero net impact, pick a different one instead.

Of course all the premises are somewhat questionable, but that's true whichever formulation of the argument one uses.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-08-13T16:02:00.882Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's not obvious to me why small interventions should be reversible - can you explain? The fact that lives of type X (e.g. people born in a particular place) are cheap to create and prevent doesn't mean it should be done independent of your population ethics: if you think X-type lives are neutral, it's not worth changing the number of them. It needs to be cheap to create/prevent at least two different types of lives which are clearly different in expected utility. That way, someone who thinks that one type is neutral will find the other type highly non-neutral and be in favor of changing its population size.

For example, even if it's cheap to change the number of people living on $500 per year, someone who thinks those lives are barely worth living wouldn't do it. But if it's also cheap to change the number living on $50,000 per year, then the same person would be in favor of increasing that number. The idea is that nobody should view both types of lives as neutral, since they are very different and most people think it's very good to improve an existing person's income by 100-fold.

comment by gjm · 2014-08-14T16:40:49.509Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not obvious to me why small interventions should be reversible

Because it seems like it would be an awful coincidence if the current situation were right at the end of the range of the available possibilities. That would mean, e.g., that there's a small gap between where we are now and one more child being born in Bhutan, but a really big gap between where we are now and one fewer child being born in Bhutan.

That's by no means a watertight argument. It could be, e.g., that for some reason it's really easy to get people to have more children and really hard to get them to have fewer, or vice versa. But it seems really unlikely.

The fact that lives of type X [...] are cheap to create and prevent doesn't mean it should be done independent of your population ethics

For the avoidance of doubt: I didn't think it does, nor did I think you think it does.

[...] at least two different types of lives which are clearly different in expected utility.

That's pretty much exactly what I meant by "If you got staggeringly unlucky ... pick a different one instead". My apologies if that was too cryptic.

comment by Jiro · 2014-08-15T21:36:47.542Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It could be, e.g., that for some reason it's really easy to get people to have more children and really hard to get them to have fewer, or vice versa. But it seems really unlikely.

Seems really likely to me. For instance, having more children is associated with poverty. It's a lot easier to make many people poor than to make many people rich.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-08-13T04:10:00.371Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For a plus charity, you could donate sperm. I've heard that the price for sperm is far below the market clearing price. I'm not sure what would cause that. According to Wikipedia, if you freeze your sperm yourself and sell it on the internet, you can make a lot more, which suggests that that's true. There's also places where you're not allowed to make money or the pay is strictly limited.

If the price really is below the market clearing price, then the market is limited by the number of donors, so donating enough sperm to have a child results in one more child being born. You're not just causing one fewer person to donate sperm, or that much more sperm to be wasted, or something like that.

comment by Jiro · 2014-08-17T22:10:07.113Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But unless your population ethics are "fine-tuned" to make Plus and Minus equally cost-effective, one of them will be clearly better (more cost-effective) than the other. If you think Minus is better than Plus, then Minus is better than Plus+Minus, which is better than Growth, so you should donate exclusively to Minus.

I don't think this follows. If you think that Minus is better than Plus, it does not follow that Minus is better than Plus+Minus. Likewise, if you think that Plus is better than Minus, it does not follow that Plus is better than Plus+Minus. The key is that with certain population ethics, the change caused by Plus or Minus is context-dependent.

For instance, suppose you have average utilitarianism and utility is proportional to income per year. Also assume an existing population of two people each earning $500 in a poor country.

Minus causes one less person to be born in the poor country. This doesn't change the average, so with Minus you have spent $1000 for no change in utility at all.

Plus costs $6000 and causes there to now be 3 people. Overall utility is (5000 + 500 + 500)/3 = 2000

Minus + plus costs $7000 and causes there to be 2 people with overall utility of (5000 + 500)/2 = 2750

Plus has a cost per added utilon of 6000 / (2000 - 500) = 4. Minus+plus has a cost per added utilon of 7000 / (2750 - 500) = 3 + change

Therefore plus+minus is better than plus which is better than minus.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-08-17T22:57:13.377Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I assumed that the effect of the intervention is "small enough relative to the world" for your population ethics to be smooth. For average utilitarianism in particular, this corresponds to the percentage change in population being small. In your scenario, this isn't true, since there are only 2 people, but in the real world it holds up very well. Just 1% of the world population is 70 million people, and virtually no intervention (except for things like existential risk reduction) could cause such a large population change.

comment by Lalartu · 2014-08-14T08:49:22.628Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Have people made estimates of how cost-effective these are?

Yes, they did. In real world, "Plus" option means "one more person born in a middle-income country, in a poor and uneducated family". And even that is expensive.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-08-14T21:42:10.083Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That might be the most cost-effective Plus option, actually - if you crudely model the cost of one extra birth as proportional to the child's future income, then diminishing marginal utility of income means that it's better to promote births in poorer countries (up to a point). The optimal income level at which to do a Plus intervention (in terms of maximizing the cost-effectiveness of Plus+Minus) depends on the cost of preventing a birth in a poor country. If the cost is high, you'd want Plus to be in a richer country due to the "overhead" of the Minus intervention, but if Minus costs almost nothing, you'd want Plus to be in a country only slightly richer than the Minus country.