THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Practically-A-Book Review: EA Hotel

Effective altruism (“EA”) is a movement dedicated to redirecting charity-related resources to the most important and successful charities. In practice this involves a lot of research into how important various problems are, and how well various charities work. Some of this research is done by well-funded official institutions. Other research, maybe exploring more unlikely scenarios or starting from weirder assumptions, is done as individual labors of love. These smaller-scale efforts might be self-funded, or supported by a few small donors. For example, Wild Animal Suffering Research, which investigates ways to improve the lives of animals in the wild, has yet to catch the attention of any hedge fund managers.

Like everything else, effective altruism is centered around San Francisco. San Francisco is the most expensive city in the world, so this isn’t very efficient; most of the relevant research can be done online from anywhere in the world. The official institutional charities eat the expense in exchange for the extra access to funders and other resources, but it’s a problem for small independent organizations. There’s been lots of research into possible solutions, but only if “let’s see how many people we can cram into one house in Berkeley” counts as “research”.

Blackpool is a beach resort in northern England. “Beach resort in northern England” is exactly as fun as it sounds, so nobody goes there. Everything is really cheap, and you can buy a whole hotel for the cost of a parking spot in San Francisco. Enter Greg Colbourn, an effective altruist and successful cryptocurrency investor. He bought the 17-bedroom Hotel Athena and wants to offer free room and board to researchers working on effective altruist projects

The plan is to make the E and A different colors than the rest of the word, eg ATHENA, for a double meaning.

Colbourn writes::

Do you long to be free from material needs and be able to focus on the real work you want to do? I know I’ve certainly been in that situation a few times in the past, but instead have lost time doing unimportant and menial jobs in order to be able to get by financially. Talented effective altruists losing time like this is especially tragic given that a lot of cause areas are currently constrained by the amount of quality direct work being done in them.

Buildings in the run-down seaside holiday resort of Blackpool (UK) are really cheap. I’ve bought a 17 bedroom hotel with dining room, lounge and bar for £130k. Assuming a 7% rental yield (which is reasonably high), this works out at about £45 per person per month rent. Factoring in bills, catering, and a modest stipend/entertainment budget, living costs could be as low as £5700/person/year (or lower for people sharing rooms, see budget). This is amazing value for hotel living with all basic services provided.

The idea is to invite people to live there, with all their expenses covered by donors, for up to two years. Funding is already in place (via me) for the first year of operations. The project will be managed by someone who lives on site and deals with all the admin/finances, shopping/cooking/cleaning/laundry, socials/events and morale – they will also have free living expenses, and be paid a modest salary. Note that this should be considered as a potential high impact, high prestige supporting role, for those excited to be involved in such a capacity on an EA mission. Guests will be free from concerns of material survival, and be able to have prolonged and uninterrupted focus on whatever projects they are working on. Obviously these will be largely limited to purely desk-based, or remote work.

Is this really more effective than just spending the money on grants that allow researchers to support themselves? If you know anything about effective altruism, you’ll have guessed that someone has already done the math on this. The hotel expects to be able to support people for £5700 (= $7300) / year, so:

For [giving people grants] to be equivalent, they would have to be living (or go to live) somewhere where the costs of living are comparable, otherwise I would effectively be buying them time at a much higher cost. For example, someone frugal living in London might be able to get by on £15,000 a year. So for the same costs they would get about a third of the time; and this is before factoring in the free time-saving services (cooking, laundry, cleaning etc). So unless they were ~4x as productive as the average hotel guest, this would be a bad deal for me as a donor. Also, the community aspect of having a significant number of EAs in the same place is probably worth something too in terms of increased focus, collaboration and morale boosting productivity. Community building via deeper in-person ties is becoming increasingly important to the further development of the EA movement.

Also, and in considerations I have to admit did not occur to me:

Blackpool might be hard to get to in the event of a catastrophe, but the flip side of this is that there would be a lower risk from hostile actors (mercenaries, milita), as well as lower direct damage from nukes and fallout…the cellars could serve as a nuclear bunker of moderate protection. It will be relatively low cost to keep a stockpile of long lasting food down there, which could be slowly used and replenished by the kitchen over a 2-5 year cycle. There is already bathroom plumbing down there, and other essentials could be easily added.

The hotel has another advantage, harder to explain. There’s a lot of concern in the EA community about Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it stops being a good measure”. Think of it as “teaching to the test”, but for a broad and metaphorical definition of “test”. Or as cancer researchers who can’t research the most promising fields because they’re busy researching the fields that sound the best on a grant application, or the ones that will produce some small payoff in a year so that grantmakers classify them in the “productive” category and renew their funding. Or as the CEO who can’t pursue the most promising strategy because he’s busy pursuing the strategy that will maximize shareholder value next quarter. Effective altruism wants to avoid that failure mode. But as long as you’re in the business of distributing scarce resources to the people who seem to be able to use them best, you’re at risk.

It looks like the hotel wants to accept all comers who are making a good-faith effort to work on effective altruist ideas. I don’t know their exact plan or whether it will work. But having a low-barrier-to-entry hotel in an abandoned beach resort at least sounds less exploitable than giving people low-barrier-to-entry multi-thousand-dollar grants. The white paper says:

Scammers can be avoided, at least in the first instance, by requiring a prior history of involvement in EA and references from people with standing in the community. The bigger risk is well intentioned but ineffective grant recipients (/hotel guests) just not delivering. However, we are likely already in a situation where EAs frequently go off on their own to work on individual projects that don’t deliver, but we don’t hear much about it because of selection effects/social desirability bias

And:

Communal mealtimes will be encouraged though, as a way for camaraderie and a sense of community to develop amongst guests. Friendships will be formed, problems, and their solutions, discussed, and some amount of fun and laughter will be had too hopefully! Also, some people may find that the inevitable discussion of work that will arise will lead to some amount of peer pressure that will aid in keeping them productive […]

In terms of guarding against people becoming freeloaders (or effectively squatters), perhaps there could be a mandatory minimum of very brief (one page) reports on progress to be filed every three months. There would also be some indirect self-generated pressure from guests worrying about donors getting their money’s worth (although perhaps this will only be applicable for the more highly scrupulous). But then there would have to be a mechanism for chucking people out if they are achieving very little. The hard cap of two years on length of free stays per person will be an ultimate limiter, but it might be prudent to proceed with caution regarding taking on long term residents (perhaps a three month probation period would be useful).

Would people really want to live here? Apparently. In the month or two it’s been open, it’s already picked up three residents. The Facebook poll shows 115 expressions of interest, so if even a fraction convert to real bookings, they can keep their seventeen rooms full for a long time.

I have no idea if this project is a good use of anyone’s time or money, but I find it endearing. Part of this is of course the giant middle finger raised at Henry VIII – undissolution of the English monasteries and all that. But it’s also how I picture a near-term future where everything goes better than expected. A modest basic income could give everyone the opportunity to live a spartan but generally pleasant lifestyle in a friendly and meaningful community of intellectually-aligned people. As the old saying goes: “If it happens, it’s possible”.

Further links:

1. EA Hotel “white paper”

2. EA Hotel website

3. EA Hotel Facebook group

4. Apply to stay at the EA Hotel. Effective altruists are welcome to apply to live there for free; others are invited to pay for rooms at the usual rate if they want to go there on holiday / gawk at the interesting social experiment.

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124 Responses to Practically-A-Book Review: EA Hotel

  1. dacimpielitat says:

    sorry but I could not stop laughing, “everything is really cheap”… in England (whatever small city or village that is)? 🙂

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Well, northern England is about as cheap as you can get for an English speaking, reasonably civilized and safe country. For example I live in Romania – it has quite a few advantages, including probably half the costs, but the language is unlearnable and has a “no go” immigration policy for those outside EU.

      • Tarpitz says:

        Yeah, England is probably a natural fit for this kind of concept in part because of its small area and high population density, qua country. The hollowed-out Victorian boom towns where buildings are cheap are still close enough to everything else that infrastructure still works, food is also cheap, etc. As you say, there are far cheaper places in less developed countries, but those have their own problems.

      • a reader says:

        @Radu Floricica:

        Why do you think Romanian language is that “unlearnable” for them? I don’t see why should it be more difficult than other Romance languages like Spanish or French – and it is probably easier than Hungarian and Japanese. They can pronounce “ă” – they use a lot a similar sound in English; only “î” will be difficult for them, I suppose. If they already know some Spanish, that could help them in learning Romanian.

        Regarding “reasonably civilized and safe country”, I think we have lower murder rate than US, especially than US cities. We have bad roads, underfunded health and corrupt politicians, but we have fast and cheap internet (and of course electricity quite everywhere and running water and mobile acces in towns) and most young college educated people know some English. So maybe for a group of committed effective altruists, moving to a Romania to reduce the cost of living wouldn’t be such a bad deal. Or if not Romania, maybe some other, somewhat more developed Central-Eastern European country, like Czech Republic or Slovacia or Poland (in Hungary the language may be too difficult to learn).

        Off topic: Glad to see there are at least 3 Romanian SSC readers.

        • Aapje says:

          I think that he meant “unlearnable” relative to the amount of time that non-Romanians are willing to spend on learning the language, which I would expect to be minimal.

        • dacimpielitat says:

          hardest sound Romanian language has is the “â” from word “pâine” (bread).
          this sound, most of the English speaker can’t pronounce without really good training.

          other than that it is not really harder than the other Latin based languages.

          • Nootropic cormorant says:

            Sounds are less important, the bigger hurdle is that there will be more unfamiliar lexicon (to a native English speaker) than in a Western European language, but ultimately even that doesn’t matter because learning a language no matter how easy is far harder than not learning a new language at all.

    • Lambert says:

      ‘Whatever small city or village that is’

      While it has declined since the 60s or so, it’s still a pretty famous seaside resort. The switching on of the Christmas illuminations always makes the news.
      Blackpool was the holiday destination for the industrialising North West. Workers at the woolen mills in Manchester would take the train, than later drive there.

      • seladore says:

        I enjoyed how Blackpool became more and more post-apocalyptic as the article progressed.

        Introduced as a “beach resort in northern England”, it later gets described as a “run-down seaside holiday resort”, and finally as an “abandoned beach resort”.

        • John Maxwell says:

          The consensus among hotel residents is that the town of Blackpool is nicer than we expected it to be. It certainly doesn’t feel abandoned if you are downtown on a Saturday night.

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s a relative comparison; by comparison with trying to live in the Bay Area, living in Blackpool is really cheap. As Scott says, it’s in the North of England (part of the area which voted Leave in Brexit for reasons similar to why the Rust Belt voted in Trump – the perception that all the people booming the advantages of being in the EU were living in the south of England, particularly London, and were high-earning elite; meanwhile the formerly industrialised North had seen a slow decline and decay as manufacturing and mining closed down and nothing much came to replace it) so yeah, once-popular and thriving working class resort city reliant on the large staffs of factories coming there for the summer holidays stranded by the March of History and Progress as alternatives became available and habits changed, becoming old-fashioned, unpopular, and lagging behind nowadays.

      Which means cost of living, including rent, is lower. I don’t know if the hotel idea will work – for a start, I think he’s going to need more than one person as manager/chief cook and bottle washer; if they expect to have group meals for seventeen, they’ll need at least one person in the kitchen more or less full-time, unless it’s going to be some kind of group rota that everyone helps set up and clean away before and after meals. Ditto for keeping on top of laundry, maintenance, repairs, and paperwork – one person responsible for everything is going to be overwhelmed once it goes past three or four people, like the Dragon House experiment showed.

      It’s certainly an interesting idea, though!

      • JulieK says:

        I don’t know if the hotel idea will work – for a start, I think he’s going to need more than one person as manager/chief cook and bottle washer

        I wonder if they’ve looked for comparison at the budgets of other hotels or youth hostels.

      • Robert Jones says:

        I think he’s going to need more than one person as manager/chief cook and bottle washer

        I assume that when he says “deals with”, he means “organises” rather than “does”. I lived in a communal house with a similar number of people and one warden, and that part worked fine: you just have a rota for cooking in pairs, so it works out about once a week.

        I would say the problem we had was that great people tended to find new opportunities and move on fairly quickly, whereas less great people tended to hang about as long as they could. Good money drives out bad so to speak. It sounds like he’s intending to be strict about people leaving, but in practice these things tend to slip, for very human reasons.

    • robertskmiles says:

      Some estimated data according to this site:

      “You would need around £2,602.66 in Blackpool to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with £4,500.00 in London”

      “Consumer Prices in Blackpool are 20.23% lower than in London
      Consumer Prices Including Rent in Blackpool are 42.16% lower than in London
      Rent Prices in Blackpool are 70.71% lower than in London
      Restaurant Prices in Blackpool are 14.50% lower than in London
      Groceries Prices in Blackpool are 16.46% lower than in London
      Local Purchasing Power in Blackpool is 15.58% higher than in London

      • silver_swift says:

        That’s if you compare it to London though. Living anywhere in Europe is going to be less expensive than living in London. If you compare it to Romania, as one other poster did, the comparison looks less positive:

        “You would need around 1,620.07£ (8,389.29lei) in Bucharest to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with 2,600.00£ in Blackpool”

        “Consumer Prices in Bucharest are 37.79% lower than in Blackpool
        Consumer Prices Including Rent in Bucharest are 37.69% lower than in Blackpool
        Rent Prices in Bucharest are 37.33% lower than in Blackpool
        Restaurant Prices in Bucharest are 47.30% lower than in Blackpool
        Groceries Prices in Bucharest are 35.83% lower than in Blackpool
        Local Purchasing Power in Bucharest is 48.56% lower than in Blackpool”

        Of course then into things like language barriers and cultural differences start playing a role, but it will be cheaper.

    • pansnarrans says:

      They bought a 17-bed hotel for less than £200k, dude.

      • Aapje says:

        That is just one part of the cost. You can buy some old luxury & performance cars fairly cheaply, but the running costs of these cars is usually very high.

  2. Jack V says:

    “there would be a lower risk from hostile actors”

    Although you have to be careful, you might think no-one would to bomb slough, but there was a whole poem about it 🙂

    • Tarpitz says:

      Actors wouldn’t bomb Blackpool; actors semi-ironically love run-down seaside resorts, unless they’re too UKIP, which Blackpool isn’t.

      A lot of them did go to Betjeman’s school, though, so Slough should probably be on alert.

  3. Lexie says:

    “the cellars could serve as a nuclear bunker of moderate protection. […] There is already bathroom plumbing down there”

    Does that seem likely to stay working in a situation where a nuclear bunker is useful? How many honey buckets do twenty or thirty people need for two or three weeks? I am concerned this may not have been thought through!

    I hope the rest of it has.

    (Also, the mobile experience for commenting here is…not great? Is that on anyone’s radar to fix? Would the services of a software engineer with WordPress experience be of use in correcting that? Call it an act of effective altruism, constituting a donation of labor resource to improve the site’s ability to sustain worthwhile discussion among its rather nonpareil commentariat…)

    • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

      Would the services of a software engineer with WordPress experience be of use in correcting that?

      Scott asked a few days ago if anyone wanted to help with the site, so quite possibly, yes. 🙂

    • Plumber says:

      I find that if I copy and paste to and from my phone’s e-mail screen it works better than trying to write everything at SSC, though when they aren’t many comments on a thread yet SSC isn’t too bad, as somehow a full thread makes it “jumpy”.

      • Lexie says:

        Sure. But there’s no good reason I can see for the JS underlying the comment box to behave that way, and once I find a chance to tether my phone so I can profile i, I expect to find that fixable in short order.

    • Having a bathroom puts them way ahead of most fallout shelters. I can understand putting in a bit of effort to make sure you survive a nuclear war but working to make the experience pleasant seems excessive.

      • elephantower says:

        There isn’t actually a bathroom, just a room with some holes in the wall where plumbing used to go (source: painted the “fallout shelter”)

  4. Bugmaster says:

    I don’t understand… what is the purpose of this venture ? Just to create a commune of EA-oriented people ? Nothing wrong with that, of course; you can create a commune of any kind of people, be they EA activists, Python programmers, or Furries. But how does this make Altruism more Effective — especially by contrast with staying at home, holding meetings over Skype, and donating the money you save to charity ?

    • sohois says:

      It’s testing whether it can be more efficient to fund research into effective altruism causes. As mentioned, currently charities and researchers cluster into very expensive areas with high costs of living. Most EA connected people end up in San Francisco, due to network effects/sources of fund/status quo bias/universities. To perform research in San Fran, you’ll need to pay high salaries to researchers so they can afford housing and daily necessities. However, theoretical utilitarianism research does not need to be tied to high cost urban areas, and so Mr Colbourn has purchased living space for 17 researchers in the hopes that this model can prove to be a far better way of funding this research

      • Bugmaster says:

        Right, I get that, but like I said — what problem does this British hotel solve ? It’s supposed to alleviate high costs of living, but like you said, these are mostly due to people clustering together in San Francisco in order to exploit:
        * Network Effects: Seems like people can network nearly as well online as they can in the British countryside. British countryside is undoubtedly more pleasant, but is it really more effective ?
        * Sources of Funding: There probably aren’t as many of those anywhere near the hotel.
        * Status quo bias: You might be able to eventually solve this via propaganda; but again, why not propagandize in favor of online networking ?
        * Universities: Nothing you can do here, moving to rural hotels doesn’t help.

        • Tarpitz says:

          I am amused by the description of a site 200 yards from Blackpool Pier as being in the “British countryside”.

          Slightly more seriously, after a short walk through the middle of a town of 140,000 people, you could get a train to Manchester in about 1h20, London in less than 3 hours, Oxford in about 3h30 or Cambridge in about 4h30. It’s not the same as living in any of those places, but if you need to go to one of them for a meeting or something that is certainly a thing you can do.

          • Aapje says:

            Realistically, it is going to be a full-day or two-day round-trip to London, Oxford and Cambridge, assuming that the meeting is not at the railway station, takes more than zero minutes, may not be perfectly timed in the middle of the day and such.

            That pushes it well beyond of the travel time that allows you to have those meetings regularly, into the category of ‘occasionally’ or ‘rarely,’ which are far less network effective.

          • Lambert says:

            @Aapje

            Yeah, I’m not sure why they didn’t find some nasty place a couple of hours away from London and Oxbridge.
            There are plenty of hellholes in the Midlands to live in.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Fair enough, it’s just that the article makes the place sound rather post-apocalyptic. I was imagining it as similar to James Bond’s ancestral holdings in Skyfall.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Doncaster immediately springs to mind as having good rail links and being a hole.

        • SamChevre says:

          I think it’s solving the Schelling Point problem.

          The current equilibrium is that if you want to work on EA, you end up in a very-expensive city, because that’s where everyone else working on EA is. But there’s no reason to have EA research in an expensive city.

          The goal here is to get a sufficient community of EA researchers somewhere that ISN’T an expensive city, so that EA researchers aren’t stuck in the “expensive city” Schelling Point.

          • [Thing] says:

            If there’s no reason to have EA research in an expensive city, why do EAs keep clustering in expensive cities? One could ask the same question about any occupation that clusters in expensive cities—after all, “expensive” is a pretty effective, decentralized, adaptive, hard-to-game incentive to not do something, so I wouldn’t expect it to require all that much coordination to break free of, if there isn’t some large countervailing benefit to doing the expensive thing.

            From what little I’ve read about this question, the answer seems to be that big cities make workers much more productive, in lots of subtle ways that are hard to quantify. Some actors have enough power to try to manipulate the relevant incentives by fiat—public universities located in out-of-the-way places seem like a good example of this, and they work well enough that we have some damn fine public universities in some pretty out-of-the-way places, but you don’t see tech corporations, for example, jumping at the chance to cut costs by following suit and relocating their corporate headquarters in the middle of nowhere.

            Maybe the EA Hotel can still be cost-effective by targeting people who already have well-defined plans and just need some breathing room to execute them. Certainly, the two-year time limit renders questions like “Am I likely to meet a suitable spouse there,” “Do I want to raise my kids there,” “How long of a trip is it to visit people from my existing social network,” etc. much less important than when one is making long-term relocation plans. And that’s good, because those issues don’t really affect EA researcher productivity except via the indirect channel of “overall personal well-being.” So I hope the EA Hotel succeeds. But I still expect there to be some opportunity cost at least partially offsetting the cost-of-living reduction, in the form social connections not made, seminars not attended, etc. that could have serendipitously made a big impact.

        • John Schilling says:

          Seems like people can network nearly as well online as they can in the British countryside.

          And yet EA consists primarily of people who live in San Francisco and network in meatspace, not people living in places like Barstow and networking online. Either A: the sort of networking required to do EA, can’t actually be done very well online, or B: EA is really just about virtue-signalling and the signals need to be seen. Or, more likely, some combination of the two. But like it or not, meatspace matters.

          That being the case, “here’s a cheap place to live that has reliable internet, so you can do EA with even more money left over for charity”, is not a winning proposition. “Here’s a cheap place to live that has reliable internet and sixteen other devout EAists available for full-time meatspace networking”, might be. Worth a try, at least, and I’d be interested in a follow-up with the results.

          • sohois says:

            I’m assuming this is partly intended as an experiment, and it’s not the case that success for the project will just mean everyone involved has more money to give directly to charity. Rather, if it is successful then it functions as evidence against benefits from big city living, and future research, whether EA based or not, can start to move to lower cost of living areas. Thus, the long run benefits in saving terms could prove to be very large.

          • John Schilling says:

            Regardless of the intent, you’re right that the bulk of the value from this instance will be as a proof-of-concept experiment. But it still has to be a positive value proposition for the seventeen first-round volunteers or A: they won’t volunteer and B: if they did volunteer on I-support-this-test grounds that wouldn’t be a representative sample and the test wouldn’t actually prove the concept.

          • Mary says:

            Or C: the traditional means are being used because no one’s been bold enough to try this sort of innovation.

        • Ketil says:

          Right, I get that, but like I said — what problem does this British hotel solve ?

          Well, it did get me interested. Previously, I’ve viewed EA as a Good Thing, but also as something Somebody Else is doing. My involvement has been a bit of advertising and a few donations. Now it just became concrete: I could take a couple of weeks off, go to Blackpool, and contribute in some way. Or maybe just go on vacation to actually meet these people. Now I just need to find some purpose where a middle-aged, disillusioned bioinformatician/scientist/engineer can be made useful. Suggestions? 🙂

    • Deiseach says:

      But how does this make Altruism more Effective — especially by contrast with staying at home, holding meetings over Skype, and donating the money you save to charity ?

      I think it’s an experiment to form an intentional community; is there a synergy you get where there is a group of people all espousing the same principles and working to common goals that will spur greater progress than having those same people scattered and separate?

      Think of it like writers’/artists’ workshops where philanthropic foundations host residencies for creative types where all the living expenses are taken care of and they get a small stipend so they can work uninterrupted and in peace on a project. Potential EAs with great ideas will get bed and board so they haven’t the hassle of trying to find someplace to live and pay rent etc. which will free them up to concentrate fully on their projects.

      It may work well, it may fall apart due to the guy not being able to continue funding it, it may be tried and fail, but it is an intriguing idea.

  5. Rynak says:

    I don’t know much about effective altruism, why do you (or “they”) put this value on protection against risks like “there would be a lower risk from hostile actors (mercenaries, milita), as well as lower direct damage from nukes and fallout…the cellars could serve as a nuclear bunker of moderate protection”?

    Do you think effective altruists have a higher risk of e.g. being attacked by mercenaries or do you think one should in general pay more attention to these risks?
    This is not meant to be a reproach, I was just surprised and now I’m curious 😉

    • bbqturtle says:

      I think the reason he highlighted that portion is because he thought it was funny to mention, but also technically true.

    • elephantower says:

      Probably because EAs have done a lot more research into societal/existential threats than most people, we’re more worried about said threats.

  6. zzzzort says:

    Color me skeptical. It certainly doesn’t seem like EA research needs to be done in SF, but then very little of what is done in SF needs to be done there. In some sense it’s network effects all the way down. Maybe the EA network is sufficiently separable from the other SF networks that the effect isn’t strong, but given that this is being posted on blog that talks about several other SF communities that seems doubtful. Maybe 17 researchers represents enough of a nucleus to constitute something like an academic department, but 17 is on the small side for the number of faculty in one department, and that’s not counting students/postdocs and collaborators in other departments. Asking researchers to forgo not just two years of salary but two years of network building seems like a big ask.

    • Deiseach says:

      Maybe the EA network is sufficiently separable from the other SF networks that the effect isn’t strong, but given that this is being posted on blog that talks about several other SF communities that seems doubtful.

      I think this kind of idea (moving outside of the few big centres) might be very useful, because as a complete outsider glancing at the situation, it seems to be very incestuous: everyone knows everyone else and is trying to get jobs at places from people they’ve met at conferences where they’re networking. I see a lot of “come work for us” but not so much “and this is what we’ve achieved”. The scene looks, to my ignorant eyes, like a lot of people taking in one another’s washing: Jo needs a good job to afford to live in San Fran or London, they go to a conference or annual meet-up they heard about from Stan where they network hard to sell themselves as a potential employee and maybe get hired on by Luce, and then next year Bil lobbies Jo to help them get a job and so on and so forth. Plus there is a shift in emphasis to “what will attract funding/get investors interested” rather than “what is the most urgent need to be addressed right now?” They don’t do very much of that, but when everyone is jostling for a piece of the financial pie from the same sources, that will have a subtle distorting effect.

      When everything is clustered in the one place, it gets very insidery and inevitably there is more energy expended on keeping the whole affair going than on the good works. Breaking that up by moving little nodes or potential seed beds out to smaller areas might help.

  7. Freddie deBoer says:

    I am once again struck by the EA attitude that they are the first people in the millennia-old history of philanthropy to say “let’s try to do a better job of doing good.”

    • ana53294 says:

      There are a lot more tools to measure effectiveness than in the past.

      • Freddie deBoer says:

        I am open to the possibility that they will succeed where others have failed. Inductively I have to put my money against it, but we’ll see.

        • Lexie says:

          Not that you know me from Eve, but for what it’s worth, I’m glad you’re back.

        • christianschwalbach says:

          I dunno. As I read the history books, I am continually amazed at how certain policy and decisions were made in the past based off very little or inexact information. Any effort to improve this, and increase targeting of efforts into more effective measures is a win in my book

      • HeelBearCub says:

        …. and yet this project is entirely predicated on the value of the absence of measurement.

        Really odd when you think about it.

    • Inty says:

      Certain concepts so central to EA that they’re taken for granted are extremely young compared to millenia. Utilitarianism is less than 300 years old. The idea of a Nash equilibrium less than 100. The word ‘vegan’ less than 75. The idea of quantifying quality adjusted life years less than 50. Intuitively to me it seems likely that there are many more important ideas yet to be discovered, and it shouldn’t be surprising if a large percentage of the progress in this area is in the past few years, regardless of what point in history you pick.

      • Jaskologist says:

        But half of those ideas are actually bad.

        • silver_swift says:

          Which half?

          I can kinda see vegan being considered a bad thing, though most of that is sloppy/inconsistent execution (though even then the concept of a more thorough vegetarian should still be a useful one to have in discussions, I would think).

          The other three seem to me to be very useful concepts to have when you are trying to evaluate how effective your attempts at Altruism are. Yes, (bad) Nash Equilibria are a bad thing, but knowing about them certainly isn’t and thinking about not just the number of lives saved, but also about the number of years of life and the quality of those lives seems like a very valuable metric.

      • deluks917 says:

        +1

      • JulieK says:

        EA also requires modern communications – without that, the argument that the best charity is local is much stronger.

    • Deiseach says:

      Ah, God bless ’em, it’s a combination of being young (so naturally nobody else ever in the history of anything ever thought or felt like this before) and “pshaw, plainly we can do this better than the religious types, we have REAL SCIENCE” 😀

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not sure anyone’s saying that. But it does seem to me like they’re filling a hole that was previously unfilled. Where exactly was the place people went for really good effectiveness estimates of charities before GiveWell?

      • Said Achmiz says:

        They went to their priest / pastor / rabbi, who told them to give money to whatever charity was endorsed by their religion. In this, GiveWell is nothing new. (The idea that what GiveWell provides is effectiveness estimates is somewhat silly, truth be told.)

        • Evan Þ says:

          What makes you call it “somewhat silly”? I agree they don’t have unambiguous evidence and a lot of what they do have involves probability estimates, but that seems more “our best guess” than “silly.”

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Evan, “they don’t have unambiguous evidence and a lot of what they do have involves probability estimates” is not my objection. (I think that credible objections may be made concerning their methods, but that was not what my earlier comment referred to.)

            Rather, what I meant was simply the fact that, in a broader sense of selecting charities from the set of all possible charities, most of what GiveWell tells you is which charities most closely conform to the values which GiveWell takes as given.

            After all, speaking of “effectiveness” is obviously complete nonsense unless we first specify what our goal is!

            Now, we could imagine a hypothetical WellGive which surveys all charities, classifies them into categories (grouped by what their goal is—to whatever level of specificity we judge appropriate), and then publishes tables of effectiveness rankings in each category. (We might also ask whether “effectiveness” can truly be measured unidimensionally; the measures of effectiveness would certainly vary from category to category of charity, and in some cases may well be irreducibly multidimensional.)

            But the actual GiveWell is nothing like this fictional WellGive. GiveWell, in fact, does not really even acknowledge this disconnect; they, more or less, simply assume that their particular values and their particular evaluative criteria simply correspond to “goodness”. From that perspective, claiming some charity or other to be the “most effective” makes sense, of course.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Okay, and the priest’s values are things like religion and community, and he determines which charities fit them by checking the Bible and so on.

          What are GiveWell’s values, and how do they determine if a charity meets them?

          And if the answer is “saving lives and increasing utility” and “by studying them” respectively, how is your view of GiveWell and EA any different than mine? Wouldn’t “We should care most about the charities that save the most lives / increase utility the most, and we should study really hard to see which ones they are” a friendly description of effective altruism? Is the priest also doing that?

          • Bugmaster says:

            The priest is absolutely “increasing utility” (or at least he thinks he is, to the best of his ability), it’s just that he has a different utility function. As Said Achmiz says above, it would be nice if we could build a catalogue of all the charities, grouped by their utility function. This way, I could just look up my preferred utility function in the catalogue, and pick a charity that most efficiently maximizes my utility (be it “save souls for Christ”, “stop UFAI” or “unleash the rule of Satan”). But, as Said Achmiz also correctly points out, this may not be even theoretically possible.

          • Aapje says:

            @Scott Alexander

            If the priest thinks that people who live according to the gospel are better off, even if only concerning the well-being of their soul, then he may prefer charities that are good at converting people to Christianity/Catholicism and/or getting them to live according to Catholic rules.

            These are presumably very different charities than those that fight malaria.

      • Matt M says:

        Well, there was charity navigator right? Although I think that was intended simply as a measure of “how much administrative overhead do they have” rather than effectiveness specifically.

        But it was a somewhat similar attempt, taking for granted the subjective nature of causes making it difficult to engage in like-for-like comparisons (and that most people don’t even want to make such comparisons)

    • Ketil says:

      I am once again struck by the EA attitude that they are the first people in the millennia-old history of philanthropy to say “let’s try to do a better job of doing good.”

      I don’t think that’s true. I used to subscribe to a free newsletter (on paper) about development aid, and they were concerned about effectiveness and efficiency. But what’s important to the giver is overwhelmingly the perception of doing good. NGOs care about members, support, income. Politicians care about voters seeing them as compassionate and generous. And, incidentally, helping local industry and all that, so funds allocated to aid are almost immediately subverted into hidden subsidies for one’s own voters. Give a few million to some developing country, conditioned on them using all of that and some to buy products from us.

      Virtue Signaling, meet Ulterior Motives. Ulterior Motives, meet Virtue Signaling.

      What’s different about EA is that – I hope – it is only about effectiveness and efficiency. Nobody on the top needs to get reelected or shift their merchandise. Having a utilitarian/empiricistt¹ ideology helps, but it remains to be seen if this organization, like every other, will fall into the usual trap of adopting perpetuation of the organization itself as its prime directive.

      ¹ I don’t like the word “rationalist”, most other places it means deriving knowledge from thought alone, as opposed to empiricism.

      • AG says:

        Well, some of them gotta make a living. Ulterior motive: fudge the results/make claims about morality so that this EA initiative that is paying my bills keeps doing so.

  8. sclmlw says:

    There was a recent McKinsey podcast about the problem of making long-term decisions given quarterly profits. It turns out about 80% of stock holder investment money is coming from long-term investors such as hedge funds and retirement accounts. They don’t see a dip in quarterly profits as necessarily a bad thing, and will not flee at this kind of thing.

    What they will do is require both a long-term plan and regular updates that follow this long-term plan. A quarterly loss that is expected because the CEO stated the company is investing heavily in R&D to realize a payoff 2 years down the road is entirely acceptable. A quarterly loss that is unexpected – and unexplained – will likely spook investors who may see evidence that the firm is not being competently run.

    Meanwhile, if you’re looking at a privately-held company, with private investors looking to sell the company in 5 years, you would think this would cause a 5-year time horizon that sunsets after this point. This, too, is a little unrealistic. If you want to sell the company in 5 years, you need to have a company that investors looking to do the same buy-hold-sell 5-year cycle are interested in buying. Therefore, you have to have a 10-year time horizon in your planning.

    This isn’t my field, I just listen to the McKinsey podcast. Anyone have direct experience in this space?

    • Matt M says:

      I once worked for a competitor of McKinsey. We did a decent amount of business with private equity firms who would buy companies and look to sell in a 3-5 year horizon.

      A lot of the time, the previous employees of the company would actually get annoyed with the PE fund for thinking too long-term. Contra popular wisdom, when the PE fund goes to sell the company, they’re looking for a “multiplier” on projected future earnings. Therefore, most of their efforts are not necessarily spent on increasing earnings within their 3-5 year window, but with doing things that will cause potential buyers to increase the multiplier. Typically this means acquisitions, or other growth-focused initiatives, while existing problems or inefficiencies with the company that should be addressed immediately get ignored or de-prioritized.

      • slightlylesshairyape says:

        Indeed wasn’t a large part of the dot-com bubble (or South Park’s underwear gnomes) based on exactly the opposite error — of not having a concrete timeline for profit?

        • Matt M says:

          You don’t have to look back to 1999. All of today’s current hot tech companies (FANG and more) started with a pretty explicit model of “let’s get as many customers as we possibly can, and we’ll figure out how to actually make some money off of them later.”

          As you say, it’s basically the opposite of the supposed “pursing short-term profitability while not considering the long-term” problem.

      • sclmlw says:

        And yet all I ever hear about colloquially is how companies are only interested in quarterly profits. How does this translate to the regulatory scene? Is it y’all’s sense that there’s a disconnect between regulators trying to keep companies from focusing on short-term, and investors ignoring short-term issues in favor of long-term growth targets?

        It certainly seems there is a political disconnect, but it’s unclear to me how much this translates into perverse incentives and whatnot on the ground.

        • slightlylesshairyape says:

          Regulators do not care at all whether a company is focused on the short or long term. They care to ensure they don’t violate the relevant laws in their market and, if public, they care that they provide accurate disclosure (e.g. if they are burning cash).

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            @slightlyless — That’s not really true of insurance companies, or of large financial firms.

        • SEE says:

          You hear about it because it was a meme spread by advocates of increased central planning to attack American capitalism in the Reagan era, usually accompanied by denunciations of corporate raiders and junk bonds, repeated by the media until it became conventional wisdom.

          The sort of central planning the spreaders favored differed, of course. The out-and-out socialists wanted Soviet-style; the US labor movement and its allies wanted West European-style tripartite corporatism; corporate management barons like Lee Iaccoca wanted to copy the model of the Japanese MITI coordinating keiretsu.

          But all of them were people who thought they should be making the decisions instead of the people who actually owned the companies, so they all found it convenient to denounce Wall Street as short-sighted. And it’s not like your average journalist was a fan of capitalists, eager to point out how self-serving the claims were and how the underlying reality contradicted them.

        • sharper13 says:

          One of the regulatory mechanisms for short-term outlooks is that quarterly reporting is done by companies because it’s required by the SEC to be publicly traded. Privately held companies don’t typically do public quarterly reporting, so they have much less incentive to attempt to make their next quarter’s numbers looks good at the expense of something which may be more profitable longer term.

          So you have the SEC requiring more frequent accurate information about companies to inform investors better about the status of the company also partially hurting those same investors because now the company has to always be worried about what that quarterly information is going to show instead of what the longer term prospects are.

    • AG says:

      On the other hand, the window of “acceptable and expected/explained” can certainly be rather narrow. See the lowering of Walmart’s stock when they announced employee pay increases, when plenty of other franchises have proven that better paid employees return in a long term value.

      • sclmlw says:

        How large of a hit did they take, and for how long did it last before the stock price rebounded? If it was a momentary blip that lasted less than a day or two, I can’t see too many CEOs making decisions based on that kind of stock price noise.

        If, instead, it was a relatively permanent change then that’s a stronger case for stock price influencing decision making.

      • SEE says:

        Proven?

        Well, yeah, sure, in the same sense that it’s “proven” that lowering tax rates increases tax revenue. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, based on the specific conditions in a specific case, and it is not a universal rule that can be applied blindly, however much partisans of [higher wages|lower taxes] might like to pretend otherwise.

  9. Nate the Albatross says:

    It has been a pipe dream of mine to buy land in France. If this works maybe I’ll kickstarter an effective altruism campus in Bretagne. I might go for a cabins model instead of a hotel though… still I like the group dining and laundry service idea. I would also put in a coffee shop and office space. Post Brexit mine could be the EU campus I guess.

  10. John Schilling says:

    Not being a member of the EA community, I have to ask: What sort of things do the target audience for this project, normally do for a living? Presumably they have paying jobs that cover the rent for at least spartan Bay Area (or London, etc) living, and I’m guessing that means either an academic or tech-adjacent career.

    Which will be substantially handicapped by spending two years in Blackpool. An academic can research and publish papers, but they can’t teach or hold an active faculty post. A techie can write code from a distance, but there’s more money and career development in the sort of jobs/projects that involve regular face time with one’s boss, teammates, etc. So if this doesn’t work out, they’ll be moving back to an expensive living arrangement with a two-year gap in their career.

    If this does work out, it will be because it attracted the sort of high-quality people that spending two years with them in Blackpool will do as much for one’s career (either in terms of productivity or networking) as spending two years in a middling academic or tech job. If it doesn’t work out, it may be because they got seventeen members who wanted to hang out with that sort of people and nobody who actually was that sort of people.

  11. HeelBearCub says:

    In terms of guarding against people becoming freeloaders (or effectively squatters), perhaps there could be a mandatory minimum of very brief (one page) reports on progress to be filed every three months.

    I’m not sure how to categorize this quote.

    “Antithetical to the fundamental concept of EA” seems like the most appropriate. I’d say “hopelessly naive”, but I’m not sure that the person in question actually expects the project to be all that efficacious. Scott’s further comment about how “nice” it is that these budding altruists will be able to live in modest comfort, that this is perhaps the best thing about the place, also seems non-EA in nature.

  12. JulieK says:

    A modest basic income could give everyone the opportunity to live a spartan but generally pleasant lifestyle in a friendly and meaningful community of intellectually-aligned people. [emphasis added]

    Anyone, perhaps, but not everyone, anymore than it was possible for everyone to live in monasteries. (What proportion of the people currently needing public assistance would want to move to the middle of nowhere is a different question.)

    • Plumber says:

      “A modest basic income could give everyone the opportunity to live a spartan but generally pleasant lifestyle in a friendly and meaningful community of intellectually-aligned people.

      Anyone, perhaps, but not everyone, anymore than it was possible for everyone to live in monasteries. (What proportion of the people currently needing public assistance would want to move to the middle of nowhere is a different question”

      @JulieK

      As location makes a noticeable difference on  whether you may rise out of poverty it may be cogent to ask what public assistance (the little that remains) is for?

      If it’s just for survival (food stamps) then yes shipping the poor to Stockton is cheaper, but if you want people to rise out of poverty and be able to earn a living where the jobs are isn’t cheap.

      Scott Alexander painted compelling reasons why “Basic Jobs” instead of “Basic Income” isn’t a wise choice, but my own utopian “King of California” dream is for there to be both “Basic Income” and “Basic Jobs”, just as there was both “relief” and the W.P.A., which built my local library branch, and most of my high school, and part of a sidewalk near my house, as well as beautiful murals inside my local post office (which is due to be closed because apparently “government for the people” isn’t allowed in the 21st century!).

      Some people want more than just watching television (I see this in that being an inmate worker or “trustee” is something that is a reward), I’d actually say most people want to feel useful, and the thing is folks in the WPA earned about the same as those on “relief” (as the dole/welfare was called then).

      Besides the long shuttered local military bases there’s archeological evidence all around that there once was a Federal Government that did more than pay bondholders, pay old people’s hospital and nursing home bills, and pay for some soldiers overseas, just look at the bridges!
      Even in my lifetime some highways have been built, and Americans walked on the Moon!

      I’m tired of plutocracy, I want the 20th century back, start with bringing back “welfare as we know it” (back then) and the WPA please!

  13. JulieK says:

    By the way, this could be a great premise for a novel or stage play. 🙂

    • Aapje says:

      Or a reality show…

      • eyeballfrog says:

        Hmm, now there’s an interesting funding model. And it can even raise awareness of EA. Maybe not *positive* awareness, but all publicity is good publicity, right?

      • JulieK says:

        Sssshhhh, the hotel guests aren’t supposed to know…

      • AG says:

        Say YEAs to the DrEAss
        The AIpprentice
        The Real Rationalists of Blackpool
        Blackpool Shore
        The Effective Bachelor (The Altruistette?)
        Charity Swap
        The Effective Eye for the Altruist Guy
        Extreme Makeover: Charity Edition
        Keeping Up with The EArdashions
        Big FAI Brother
        Dancing with the StEArs
        Iron ChEAf
        YudPaul’s AI Race
        AmericaUK’s Next Top Metric
        AmericanUK AIdol
        X Factor (where X = utils)

  14. slightlylesshairyape says:

    Or as the CEO who can’t pursue the most promising strategy because he’s busy pursuing the strategy that will maximize shareholder value next quarter.

    I wish this would stop being a thing, since scholarly research on the supposed ‘next quarter’ effect is quite inconclusive. See, e.g. Cowen in Bloomberg or his link to some way-too-dense-for-right-after-lunch papers.

    At the very least, Tyler’s admonition seems about right

    There is more evidence to consider, but I will start by introducing the idea that the standard anti-publicly traded company tropes are not self-evidently true, or at the very least we do not know them to be true.

    • ChrisA says:

      Indeed – it is one of the silliest ideas around – just think how many multi-decade projects are being managed and funded by private industry, just one example – an offshore oil exploration project might take 20 years from initial access to the point where it is actually generating positive cash flow, then another 20 to payback. Of course the argument is usually made by statist politicians who are offering to provide wise leadership to resolve the short term thinking problem so it probably won’t disappear.

      • sty_silver says:

        That’s a super uncompelling argument for why the effect doesn’t exist. You have no idea how much better it would be if CEOs didn’t have to worry about quarterly profits. (To be clear, this doesn’t mean the effect does exist.)

        • gbdub says:

          I think the fallacy is not, “CEOs care about quarterly profits”. The fallacy is that “CEOs only care about profits for the current quarter“.

          I think CEOs clearly do care about quarterly profits, and those really are a metric by which they are judged. However, it’s a mistake to think they aren’t thinking about quarterly profits several quarters down the road.

          For mature companies, I think the net effect of “quarterly profits” is a bit of gaming the granularity of that measurement, but ultimately if you goose your profits this quarter you’re going to be short next quarter, and that’s going to catch up with you quickly.

          • sclmlw says:

            That’s a great point! The problem with the theory of the short-sighted quarterly profits-monger is that they presumably will still be CEO next quarter. Viewed quarter-by-quarter being a CEO is an iterative game, and you’d have to be a really dumb (or desperate) CEO not to see that. (Maybe desperate CEOs established the origin of this myth?)

            Plus, being a CEO itself is an iterative game, where you will want to be leading a successful company when you move to a new position. That kind of long-term resume planning requires long-term performance-based thinking.

            The more you look at it (whether from a theoretical or empirical angle) the standard tripe about quarterly profits breaks down on many levels.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            For mature companies, I think the net effect of “quarterly profits” is a bit of gaming the granularity of that measurement, but ultimately if you goose your profits this quarter you’re going to be short next quarter, and that’s going to catch up with you quickly.

            Well yes, the idea that management is only worried about the current quarter is very un-nuanced even for those who really hate corporations.
            As gbdub says, no one is concerned about current profits to the exclusion of all future profits.

            CEOs who are very concerned about showing good financial results instead concentrate on steadily increasing profits. Indeed, when a new CEO starts out, their first thought is usually to greatly reduce profits the first quarter and year they are running things, so they can be a hero and show how they increased profits in later years. The SEC is greatly concerned about companies managing earnings, not pumping up the current profits. There is a string incentive to set up a bunch of reserves in quarters that have great profits, so these reserves can then be released in weak quarters. That definitely happens — when I was more involved in general accounting in the ’80’s — and before the SEC started harping on the management of earnings — we often adjusted reserves for that very reason.

            So companies do work hard on making earnings look good, but high profits in the current quarter are not how they do it.

  15. John Maxwell says:

    (EA hotel resident and longtime SSC reader/advertiser here)

    In the month or two it’s been open, it’s already picked up three residents.

    Those are just the residents who gave Greg bios for the website when he asked a few weeks ago. The real number is around six, with considerable fluctuation and a slow upward trend. There are a lot of people who have just passed through for a week or two, which surprised me. (An ironic result of this is that my EA social life is more active now than it was when I was living in the Bay Area.)

    • HeelBearCub says:

      There are a lot of people who have just passed through for a week or two

      Are they actually doing EA work while they are in the hotel? Or are they treating sort of as a hostel?

      How much meaningful work can you get done in a week or two? How is it possible that this would in any way be “Effective” on a comparison basis to doing the work from home?

      • John Maxwell says:

        Some are paying guests on vacation, some are working. I don’t know the details of everyone’s situation.

  16. peter.riboprotein says:

    Is it ironic that Blackpool is the most unhealthy city in England?

    https://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/jul/27/blackpool-most-unhealthy-place-england

    • JulieK says:

      Well, it seems to be due to high levels of drinking, smoking and drug use, rather than an unavoidable local factor like pollution.
      From your link:

      Poor housing is also at the crux of Blackpool’s poor health. Defunct guesthouses have been bought up by landlords to profit from housing benefit claimants piled into “HMOs” – houses of multiple occupation.

      Sounds familiar!

      “To improve Blackpool’s health figures, first of all we need to sort out housing and the supply of HMOs,” Rajpura says.

      Meaning, because housing is cheap and welfare benefits are generous relative to the cost of living, a lot of poor people (who tend to be unhealthy) are moving to Blackpool and pulling down its health statistics.

      Maybe some of you EA types could have a talk with this guy about metrics versus outcomes.

  17. deluks917 says:

    I wish my life plans let me try out the hotel. The amount of money being eaten by landlords in places like the Bay and NYC is really crazy.

  18. eightieshair says:

    there would be a lower risk from hostile actors (mercenaries, milita), as well as lower direct damage from nukes and fallout

    Depends. Are you sure that Blackpool isn’t the sea side town that Morrissey wants to bomb? I wouldn’t mess with that guy, he seems pretty serious…

  19. Scott Aaronson says:

    It seems to me that research on wild animal suffering is actually 100% mainstream—as long as we’re talking about wild animal suffering caused by humans. The latter is not merely about individuals but about entire populations, which conceivably justifies even greater concern with it from certain moral standpoints?

    • [Thing] says:

      I would say that preserving biodiversity is a 100% mainstream cause, but that goal doesn’t have a neat, simple correlation with the goal of improving the net subjective hedonic well-being of animals collectively, because the baseline rate of suffering in the wild appears to be pretty high, and non-human animals aren’t smart enough for thoughts like “I want my species to go on flourishing, but I’m afraid we might go extinct instead” to affect their well-being. So if a species does go extinct, that’s not obviously a bad thing for animal welfare in the utilitarian sense. E.g. here’s a quote that stood out in my mind from one of Ozy’s posts on wild animal welfare:

      Unlike many anti-wild-animal-suffering advocates, I currently do not support destroying habitat. Partially, this is because I am not sure whether I care about insects. If you think insects are sufficiently morally important, there is an open-and-shut case for habitat destruction, because insect lives suck a lot and they are too tiny and numerous to manage.

      I think there are adequate other reasons to try to preserve species and ecosystems, even at the cost of allowing avoidable animal suffering, such as that we might learn all sorts of useful and interesting stuff from studying how various biological systems work, but I do sometimes like to speculate about what would be the morally correct way to be the stewards of nature in a hypothetical glorious post-Singularity transhumanist future where we have God-like power to intervene. The best compromise I can come up with between preserving nature and hedonic utilitarianism for wild animals would be that we replace all sentient organisms in the wild with non-sentient cyborg doppelgängers that approximate the originals’ behavior well enough to keep the ecosystems they inhabited from collapsing, so that we can still have nature preserves and watch plant life etc. evolving; meanwhile, we mind-upload all the sentient organisms into virtual reality simulations (or just put them in really elaborate zoos), in which they live lives optimized for whatever we decide constitutes eudaimonia for each species, and if one animal being happy requires another animal to suffer (e.g. predators and prey), then the latter role would again be played by non-sentient doppelgängers.

  20. pontifex says:

    If this isn’t Harry Potter themed, I’ll be very disappointed.

  21. AndrewB says:

    Interesting. Blackpool’s economic problems are of a type with other traditional seaside resorts in the UK (not just northern England: see also Weston-Super-Mare, Great Yarmouth). They grew up offering holiday accommodation for people coming from the big cities and towns: middle class as well as working class, with subtle gradations in quality. This has now largely died off for obvious reasons (rising incomes; cheaper flights; cultural change (my parents first went abroad aged 62). The economic purpose has died away.

    Meanwhile, on the supply side there is accommodation designed for the holiday “bed and breakfast” market which either rots; is available to very low income and low spending holiday makers including coach trips of old age pensioners; or increasingly is used by local authorities to provide social housing, generally to workless families with multiple social issues. Levels of substance abuse are off the scale. Blackpool is also famously popular as a destination for long-term prisoners on release, and the officially-sanctioned magazine distributed to inmates in UK prisons carries advertisements of cheap rental accommodation in Blackpool.

    Nowhere that is by the sea can ever be an entirely bad place to live, and you can be in gorgeous walking countryside (the Yorkshire Dales, the Lakes) in a hour

  22. Richard says:

    “Effective altruism (“EA”) is a movement dedicated to redirecting charitable spending to the most important and successful charities.”

    EA has spent the past several years pushing back on the idea that it’s focused just on charitable spending; it’s now emphasizing a much more wide-ranging approach. As per https://www.effectivealtruism.org/ (site is generally accepted within the EA community, not just someone squatting on the domain): “Effective altruism is about answering one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most?”. Likewise, the Effective Altruism facebook group (15.6k members, the main group): “Effective altruism is about using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis.” 80,000 Hours (sidebar advertiser) is all about helping people use their career choice to do the most good in the world, which in most cases is not about just them maximizing their giving (or redirecting giving, or being the recipient of other people’s giving), and they definitely count as an EA org. A few broad categorical examples of things that are not related to charitable giving that completely count as EA:

    – Working with a government to make programs more efficient or reduce the risk of war
    – Working towards scientific discoveries that would do a lot of good in the world
    – Developing consumer products that greatly improve the lives of their users or others (meat substitutes or low-fee remittances come to mind as prominent examples)
    – Working to mitigate major global catastrophic risks

    All of these can be done or supported by a charity, but that may or may not be the best way to do them. Plenty of people are working on those causes for a government or a for-profit company, and they are still effective altruists if they’re rigorously working to optimize the amount of good they do in the world. (You can also do effective altruism through things that are neither financial nor professional choices, but I focused on professional choices because it’s the most obvious example).

  23. ownshoes says:

    I can’t believe nobody has mentioned “Blackpool Pleasure Beach”, the UK’s finest theme park. It contains the UK’s tallest rollercoaster, briefly the tallest rollercoaster in the world, which gives you lovely sea views on the climb upwards and right before the drop. And because space is at a premium in the park you’re never more than a few yards from a ride, which means even as you’re queueing there’s this frenetic energy to the place which is hard to beat.

  24. Do communal living projects like this ever work? I only hear about their failures, so it’s a little hard to be objective, but something about the character of this sort of thing raises the red flag (!) of suspicion immediately. Piling into a communal house to eat together and peer pressure each other into EA’ing harder can’t help but draw comparisons to the utopian socialist communes of the late 19th Century. I think there’s a common set of movements that are good at getting people fired up enough to throw themselves into a whole new life, but ultimately lack the practical content to sustain themselves through all the interpersonal struggles that inevitably come to the fore in a communal living situation.

    I wish them the luck to overcome my entirely ignorant and vague feelings of unease, however! They are at least trying to address the freeloader problem, which is a start, but I wonder whether following the logic of vetting and financial incentives through to their limit won’t reproduce the University grant system anyway.

  25. Comrade Strelka says:

    This sounds cool, and I think you could do similar things at similar or lower cost in pleasant areas of the Southwestern U.S.

    All the same, it caused me to flash on Richard Feynman’s criticism of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study:

    When I was at Princeton in the 1940s I could see what happened to those great minds at the Institute for Advanced Study, who had been specially selected for their tremendous brains and were now given this opportunity to sit in this lovely house by the woods there, with no classes to teach, with no obligations whatsoever. These poor bastards could now sit and think clearly all by themselves, OK? So they don’t get any ideas for a while: They have every opportunity to do something, and they’re not getting any ideas. I believe that in a situation like this a kind of guilt or depression worms inside of you, and you begin to worry about not getting any ideas. And nothing happens. Still no ideas come. Nothing happens because there’s not enough real activity and challenge: You’re not in contact with the experimental guys. You don’t have to think how to answer questions from the students. Nothing!

  26. maksimm says:

    How are visas supposed to be handled (especially post-brexit)?

  27. pansnarrans says:

    I’ve bought a 17 bedroom hotel with dining room, lounge and bar for £130k.

    OK, I’m impressed. My small flat cost more than that, somewhere on the outskirts of London. And Blackpool may be run down but it’s not exactly a hellhole.

  28. marchemars says:

    what’s the Dunbar number on this kind of community?

  29. thomasthethinkengine says:

    Please permit me to be scathing. But let’s consider who might be willing to uproot themselves to Blackpool.

    – People without good jobs.
    – People with weak social and family ties in their current milieu.
    – People who are not already funded to work on Effective Altruism projects.
    – People for whom free room and board in a cold rainy city is a good option compared to their best alternative.

    So it’s like Google X for EA, if Google X hired lonely people with few prospects and weak employment options.

    Sounds like a good reality TV show rather than a good idea.

  30. thomasthethinkengine says:

    The presumption that EA problems are solved in the HQ rather than the field is a bad one.

    As though the problem of EA were a matter of getting enough smart people abstractly thinking about things together.

    I suggest this is just a guy with a bunch of money, an interest in EA and an interest in hotels in Blackpool, who is excited about hanging out with like-minded people. And can’t find anyone to tell him his idea is in fact the antithesis of the kind of rational thinking EA is supposed to be about.