Review

“My own heuristics for working in politics are: focus, ‘know yourself’ (don’t fool yourself), think operationally, work extremely hard, ... and ask yourself ‘to be or to do?’” - DC

Dominic Cummings is fascinating for four reasons. One, he is extremely committed to truth-seeking but from a different perspective than most of LW. Two, he has a shocking amount of real-world “success”, especially for a truth-seeker. Three, he fills the missing niche of trying to describe what government is actually like, to great effect. Four, he has uniquely powerful ideas about how to do project management well and how to fix government. 

At the very least, he is extremely thought-provoking, and provides tons of value to >30% of people around me who try reading or listening to him.

However, most people get rebuffed by the sheer number of words and posts he’s written (or included as block quotes...). This post is to help people get a foothold in reading him, triage his work, and understand the basics of his perspective.

(Pitch: If you end up liking what he has written or even just my summary, consider subscribing to his Substack, even if only for a month and $10. It’s long been hard to capture much of the value from public goods like good opinions/models/writing, leaving them under-incentivized. Now that Substack allows us a convenient way to reward and incentivize good online writers, I want us to do an about-face on our expectations, and not confuse the previous fully-free status quo “is” with the “ought” of a real remuneration scheme. If you really like his writing but are short on cash, reach out to me and I may gift you a subscription.)

If you read nothing else… 

The Brexit Story (20k words = ~1.5 hrs, anecdotally 2.5): 

This piece is most him. It touches on many of the themes that come up throughout his writing but in a concrete story. (Warning: you might have to do a bit of research into UK politics to understand what’s going on, or just skip the hard parts. You don’t need to understand everything.)

Highlights:

  • He worked ~18 hours a day for 10 months, and really missed his comfortable life
  • “Discussing politics with people almost never accomplishes anything proximally, but in public debate it can be like “throwing seeds to the wind” and you can be happily surprised down the road”
  • A long meditation on how difficult it is to tease apart “why did X win/lose”, it’s almost always misleading and people tend to make up all sorts of stories that help tie the narrative together and make them look “right all along” when it doesn’t work like that; that’s why this post is named “branching histories” and has a heavy emphasis on how things could very nearly have gone much differently in a zillion ways
  • A diatribe on how politics is like fashion and why almost no one in Remain was voting on the basis of actual understanding of the EU
  • An explanation of how they got the media to still cover their message even though they couldn’t get it to cover serious policy arguments
  • A short fantasy about what better political media (esp TV shows) could look like, involving prediction markets
  • A diatribe on the “delusion of the centre” and how both Tories and Libs think the centre has central views on most things and encourage them a little further toward their side, but actually swing voters tend to side with Libs strongly on some things like health care, white collar crime, and higher taxes on the rich and Tories strongly on some things like violent crime, anti-terrorism, and immigration
  • Politics as a field doesn’t meet the two criteria for true expertise (enough informational structure that real predictions can be made despite complexity, and feedback loops for actual learning), so take everything here with a grain of salt
  • They had such infighting issues that they had to make Potemkin committees to keep all the loitering “political” types tied up in meetings while the core team did the actual work

My next 10 favorite blog posts, not particularly in order:

Hollow Men II

The Hollow Men II: Some reflections on Westminster and Whitehall dysfunction

Four great stories about working in government: at one point they couldn’t fix their own elevator. At all points it was an extraordinary mess. Extremely long, you can ctrl+f “Part II” for the stories and don’t need to finish.

 

Effective action intro

Unrecognised simplicities of effective action #1: expertise and a quadrillion dollar business

“Plenty of room at the top”—there’s no cap on effectiveness and good management and startup skills, so we might be able to do vastly more impressive things with the right skills and teams. Most concrete points about how to do this are later in the series, but this starts the series that feels to me like it could kick-start a paradigm change.

 

Systems management and lessons from Mueller

Unrecognised simplicities of effective action #2(b): the Apollo programme, the Tory train wreck, and advice to spads starting work today

A bunch of advice on what he actually means by there being room to be better at systems management, for example matrix management, focusing on people first, Black Saturdays and focus on error-correction, having clear goals set by the top of the org but extreme decentralization of decisions made for how to achieve that, etc. This was better than I had gotten from reading the top management books.

 

Expertise

Effective action #4a: ‘Expertise’ from fighting and physics to economics, politics and government 

“Fundamental to real expertise is 1) whether the informational structure of the environment is sufficiently regular that it’s possible to make good predictions and 2) does it allow high quality feedback and therefore error-correction. Physics and fighting: Yes. Predicting recessions, forex trading and politics: not so much.”

Somewhat old-hat but I still found it surprisingly clarifying.

 

Expertise and Government

Effective action #4b: ‘Expertise’, prediction and noise, from the NHS killing people to Brexit

When do fields exhibit true expertise? Why doesn’t government? And some thoughts on the failure to learn from the simplest and biggest successes (e.g. ARPA/PARC).

 

Odyssean education: 

Some thoughts on education and political priorities

The big essay. The first 5 pages of this are a great summary of his worldview: focused on how scitech is making things move faster and bigger; no one has the knowledge for how to stop or control this; we do have some examples of teams who were effective enough they could plausibly keep up; to get those teams we need a better system of governance and that will require better education for people to meet the requirements; specifically understanding the big pieces from many fields. Skip after page 5 unless you want a deep-dive into tech predictions from 2013 or a re-hash of the scientific worldview.

 

Seeing Rooms

https://dominiccummings.com/2019/06/26/on-the-referendum-33-high-performance-government-cognitive-technologies-michael-nielsen-bret-victor-seeing-rooms/

A cool off-brand essay about the importance of being able to see the important information while you’re working. Gave me some ideas about how to better set-up my own office.

 

(Paywalled from here down)
 

Bureaucracy

Afghanistan SNAFU (situation normal all fucked up): 'normal' politics,'normal' results

Finally gets further on-message! Explains how “The government does not control the government”, some laws of bureaucracies, and why most things should just be dismantled and rebuilt rather than reformed.

 

Regime Change

Regime Change #2: A plea to Silicon Valley - start a project NOW to write the plan for the next GOP candidate 

Further explains how the goal is “a government that controls the government” and calls for a bold project of ~10 people to make substantial progress here. 

 

Startup government

Startup government: notes on Lee Kuan Yew #3

Really good look at a very different type of government. Goes pretty in-depth on the ramifications of different ideas like {the press should not actually be totally "free", because ideas/memes spread based not on truth but on how they strike emotional chords within us, and an unfettered press will use this to gradually accumulate power of an odd sort}, or {a serious government should strongly empower standing anti-corruption investigations into itself}, etc. The other LKY notes (1,2,4) are also similarly good.


You can find his index of blog posts here, broken into topic. In general the three areas he blogs about that I find most interesting are:

  • Unrecognized simplicities of effective action
  • How to run governments
  • Many boots-on-the-ground stories about how politics actually went during the Brexit referendum, his stint as Chief Advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson 2019-2020, his time in the Department for Education, and other selections.

I don’t get as much out of:

  • Complexity and politics
  • Cutting-edge science summaries

I haven't read the Education section but it looks interesting as more boots-on-the-ground experience-fodder.

Regarding my biases: the cutting-edge science is well-understood by those around me, so it’s just old-hat. The Complexity series also feels a bit old-hat and just doesn’t capture me that well. So know that those are my biases here, and I’m foisting them onto you because I expect you’re similar to me.
 

117

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Hey Connor, I'm really happy to see someone else trying to help extract the value from Dominic Cummings work. Here's a link to a summary of wrote of his ideas.

most people get rebuffed by the sheer number of words and posts he’s written


I think most people are far more put off by his close association with Vote Leave, and the damage it caused. He's clearly brilliant and insightful, but I'm very wary about promoting rationality "dark arts" like how to manipulate the public, especially when coming from someone whose primary claim to fame is that they hurt their own country, further destabilized the European Union, and worsened the world economy.

What's the empirical basis for this attitude, though? Why did you associate him with "dark arts"? What makes you think he made the world economy worse, and how would one even quantify long-term effects of something like that?

In any case, he would not agree with any of those propositions. Among other things, in his ridiculously long Brexit essay he claims:

  • that the pro-EU side was no more honest than the anti-EU side;
  • that both pro-EU and anti-EU sentiment among most voters (even the well-educated ones) are in any case more like fashion than stemming from serious analysis (‘the thing is Dominic, we like foreigners and cappuccinos and we hate racists’), and basically no-one on either side actually understands how the EU-UK relationship actually functions in terms of laws, treaties, etc.; and
  • he's pro free-trade and therefore favors "limiting free movement which is the biggest threat to continued free trade" (because it sours voters on free trade; for instance from my understanding the rise of the far-right and euroskeptic party AfD in Germany happened as a protest to Merkel's refugee policy); relevant quote:

I will go into the problems of the EU another time. I will just make one importa

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Thanks for the response. First, economists and experts seem pretty unified in thinking that Brexit will be bad for the UK, and somewhat less bad but still negative for the EU.  That's not proof, but it's fairly convincing data, and I haven't seen plausible claims to the contrary.

Regarding the rest, I think you've just admitted that there were places where lies were used in service of a supposed greater truth, and that the claims used to promote Brexit were willfully inconsistent - but that's exactly what we mean by dark arts, and no additional empirical data is needed to support the claim. Of course I agree that neither side was honest - but a policy of getting involved in (epistemic) mud fights isn't about relative muddiness, it's about actually staying clean. If we care about our epistemic health, there are lots of things we might want to avoid, and dishonesty in service of our prior (debatably effective / correct) ideas seems like a great candidate.

7Rob Bensinger1y
This might not be a crux, since someone could object to misleading rhetoric even if both sides in a political dispute are doing it.

Mostly agreed, but one lesson I took from the pandemic was that far more of public communication seemed to be outright explicit manipulation than I could've previously imagined. Examples include the initial policy on masks, as well as the endless asymmetric claims that "there is no evidence for <thing we don't like>".

So insofar as politics appears to me to be inherently manipulative, it does not make much sense to me to single out a specific person for using misleading rhetoric in a political campaign. And conversely I can't quite envision a successful political campaign that no-one would accuse of misleading rhetoric.

For instance, we just had the German federal elections, and our election posters are full of slogans I'd describe as both empty and misleading. <10-word slogans are just too short for nuance. A similar problem applies to Twitter discourse, too.

6Rob Bensinger1y
Let's suppose that you need to be at least (say) 5/10 manipulative in order to get anything ambitious done in national politics. And let's further say that the Leave and Remain campaigns were equally manipulative* -- say, maybe both were 8/10 manipulative. Given those assumptions, it could still be perfectly sensible to say '5/10 is OK, but 8/10 is beyond the pale, and it's no excuse that the other side was doing beyond-the-pale stuff too'. (Or you could just say that any successful political strategist should be shunned on LW, because 5/10 manipulativeness is already too high and LW's rationality, research, and cooperation goals would be compromised if we absorbed too many memes from that kind of person.) ___________________________________________ *I have no idea whether this is true -- I'd be pretty surprised if any two sides in a dispute are equally bad on a given dimension, since I expect there to be lots of idiosyncratic decisions in a political campaign that come down to the personalities of a few people running the campaigns.)
7Davidmanheim1y
I intended to make something like the last claim here. I don't need to shun political strategists, but I do think we should shun their methods. Yes, perhaps current politics requires a level of dishonesty and manipulation (but I'd agree wuth your supposition that it is not usually at the level seen in Brexit,) and even if it's critical for some people to engage in these dark arts for laudable goals (which is unclear, and certainly contrary to the goal of raising the sanity waterline,) Lesswrong will be worse off for trying to communally learn the lessons of how to lie to the public. To use an analogy, learning how to be a pickpocket might be useful, and might even have benefits aside from theft, but I don't want to need to guard my wallet, so if some of the people I knew started saying we should all learn to be better pickpockets, I'd want to spend less time with them. My unease with studying Cumming's ideas is not just because it's horrific PR - though I think it is - and definitely not just because I don't think it could teach anything, but because it is geared towards learning things which enhance distrust among people. Given that we're otherwise involved in honest and truth-seeking conversations, this seems particularly bad. Otherwise, every conversation that even potentially relates to the real world becomes subject to lots of really bad epistemological pressures, with LWers trying to operate on simulacra level 2, or even worse, playing levels 3 and 4. In my view, that would be a tragic loss - so maybe we should avoid trying to get better.
8ChristianKl1y
You could say the same thing about learning about the discourse that lead to the replication crisis. It's a discourse about creating distrust among people. Improving existing institutions is inherently about distrusting how they operate.
5Davidmanheim1y
That's true, and a fair criticism, but the replication crisis was about object-level criticisms of the science - it certainly did not start with strategizing about convincing people to take political action.
3MondSemmel1y
You've replied several times in this thread and I still don't know where your criticism and specifically the "dark arts" accusation (and now the analogy to theft) is coming from. Is it from reading Cummings, from reading Cummings' critics, from guilt-by-association with the Brexit campaign, from following media coverage of Cummings, or what? What makes him uniquely bad? EDIT: I saw this comment [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/doPejjd84w8BmERqj/choice-writings-of-dominic-cummings?commentId=MLuMDxgywmce72cNL] of yours, but I didn't find it a satisfying answer - unless you're willing to accuse all political strategists, and politicians of all political persuasions, of dark arts.
5Davidmanheim1y
First, yes, I've read a fair amount of his writing, albeit only up to a couple years ago. And no, he's not "uniquely bad" - quite the opposite. But I wouldn't advise people interested in rationality to read about political strategy generally. Even though Cummings is significantly better than most - which I think he is, to clarify - that doesn't mean it's worth reading his material. For those familiar with LW, I thought the distaste for politics was obvious. And yes, I think it's rare for political strategists not to almost exclusively play level 3 and 4 simulacra games, and engage in what has been called dark arts of rationality on this blog for years.
5MondSemmel1y
Thanks, that clarifies things. I agree that frontpaged politics stuff has a good chance of doing more harm than good on LW. (EDIT: I originally had a typo saying "more good than harm" despite meaning the opposite.) That said, do you think his writing on policy, rather than political strategy, has the same problem? I've read <5-ish essays from him, and while the Brexit stuff mostly seemed to be about political strategy, e.g. the Hollow Men essay was mostly about stories of ludiscrously dysfunctional institutions, terrible incentives throughout government, a systematic inability to fire incompetent people, people getting promoted to organisations with budgets and responsibilities which are far out of proportion to their own expertise, and so on. These stories were surprising to me (and yet they seem quite plausible after following Covid policy in the last year), so I was in turn surprised when you said elsewhere that there was nothing to learn from him. Was that stuff obvious to you beforehand, or do you think he's misrepresenting things, or what? Or put differently, suppose I want my map to not have a blind spot around policy. Who or what could I read instead?
8Davidmanheim1y
I'm happy to make more specific recommendations on how to think about policy, depending on what you're looking for - but I'm generally happy recommending James Q. Wilson's "Bureaucracy" and Eugene Bardach's "A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis" - he former largely explains why things would be so dysfunctional, and the latter is a generally great introduction to understanding what policy analysis and interventions can do.
3MondSemmel1y
Taking a step back, I thought Less Wrong had a no-frontpaged-politics rule and Zvi's Covid posts were specifically whitelisted. So now I'm a bit confused why this post on Cummings was frontpaged (though I appreciated OP making the significant effort of summarizing Cummings' ridiculously verbose writings). On the other hand, Cummings' perspective on making policy and working in governmental institutions is so different from how I usually see this stuff described that not having this kind of perspective around seems like it would diminish our maps. A conundrum.
9Ruby1y
I made the decision to frontpage it, probably a mistake so I've changed it. My interpretation (which is maybe a bad one) about the frontpage ban on politics is it's to avoid hot-button topics that people get riled up. I was thinking of Cummings having a lot of general dry/abstract policy models more akin to economics than right/left issues.
4Rob Bensinger1y
I haven't read the posts Connor linked -- if those posts are generally about hot-button topics, I'd treat this post as a hot-button political thing. If the posts themselves are fine, I wouldn't de-frontpage just because the author (Cummings) is controversial.
8Rob Bensinger1y
E.g., if Cummings himself posted on LW I assume we wouldn't de-frontpage his stuff just because of who he is; it would depend on the contents.
6Ruby1y
The links contain the Brexit campaign story.
1MondSemmel1y
One problem here is that Cummings writes ridiculously long essays instead of sequences split up into separate short essays, so it seems likely to me that most of his essays will include both controversial politics and his idiosyncratic perspective of policy. Which makes it much harder to share any of his specific insights without giving the impression that one endorses the whole package.
-12ChristianKl1y
6TAG1y
The issues in the leave (ie Brexit) campaign were 1. the misleading claim about extra funding for the NHS, 2. and the claim about the entire population of Turkey settling in the UK, which was both misleading and racist 3. The use of personal data by a company he hired, which has now folded under legal issues. So what were the specific lies of the remain campaign.
9MondSemmel1y
I haven't followed the Brexit campaign myself, but here are the quotes from the essay. On lies and on the NHS: And elsewhere: A tangential quote on data: Finally, if you want to see his overall views of the IN campaign, it's the section "Rough balance of forces" of the essay [https://dominiccummings.com/2017/01/09/on-the-referendum-21-branching-histories-of-the-2016-referendum-and-the-frogs-before-the-storm-2/] . He mentions having to go up against numerous enormous structural disadvantages (which isn't surprising, since the government was pro-IN). For example: There's no quote on Turkey.
2TAG1y
The Dome was questioned about that a few months ago. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thelondoneconomic.com/politics/cummings-smirks-when-confronted-with-vote-leaves-turkey-claim-282324/amp/ [https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thelondoneconomic.com/politics/cummings-smirks-when-confronted-with-vote-leaves-turkey-claim-282324/amp/] Of course, Turkey does want to join the EU...they have been trying to get in for decades. But they never did get in, and it's not like Erdogan is a particularly EU friendly figure,so it's not like it's suddenly likely.
-7TAG1y

Is there a good cost-benefit analysis of Brexit in the post-COVID era? The last conversation I saw about this was in February 4 2021:

Rob Wiblin:

The UK vaccination program has been so good — from planning to strategy to implementation.

Mad respect for these folks.

Jai Dhyani:

The UK's vaccination campaign has been so good and the EU 's so bad that I'm seriously reconsidering my position on Brexit. I don't know how things went in the universe where Brexit didn't happen, but the contrast is so stark it's hard to imagine that getting the EU out of the way didn't help a lot.

Chris Watkins:

This is one of the few things they've done well, though.

Jai Dhyani:

It's a really big thing though! Ending a pandemic faster, and consequently saving hundreds of thousands of QALYs *and* spinning up the economy months earlier than they counterfactually could have probably outweighs even a pretty long list of Brexit downsides.

Robert Rand:

Also, probably slowed the spread of the UK variant.

But yeah, looking at the EU beaurocracy trying to deal with the desperate need for vaccines had left me flabbergasted and way more pro-brexit. (Though equally anti the brexiteers.)

Jeffrey Eldred:

My understanding is that EU n

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I think it's somewhere between very early and unreasonable to ask about "post-COVID" impacts when we're probably a year away from returning to any semblance of normal globally. At the same time, while I don't think there is a clear answer, the consensus of economists seems to be that overall Brexit was clearly bad, as of January this year, i.e. mid-pandemic.

Next, the UK going alone on vaccination, which probably would have been possible even without Brexit, seems to contrast with them going alone on pushing for herd immunity, in what was both in retrospect bad, and predictably so according to economists and epidemiologists who were shouting about it at the time.

Second, my understanding is that the stated reasoning for why to do Brexit had little or nothing to do with this type of policy freedom. But even if it was mentioned, I think it's strange to defend the impacts of Brexit on the basis of a difficult to explore counterfactual understanding of how the UK would have behaved differently during this tail event, ignoring the consensus that the impact on the economic situation was very negative. 

I think it's somewhere between very early and unreasonable to ask about "post-COVID" impacts when we're probably a year away from returning to any semblance of normal globally.

I was actually thinking that this is mostly normality -- by "post-COVID" I meant "the world after COVID first shows up" rather than "the world after COVID goes away". :)

seems to contrast with them going alone on pushing for herd immunity, in what was both in retrospect bad, and predictably so according to economists and epidemiologists who were shouting about it at the time.

Would this have gone any differently if they'd been in the EU? I'm mostly asking whether Brexit itself was a good idea, not whether the UK's overall policies are good. (Though I guess a bunch of that other stuff is also relevant to evaluating Cummings' track record! I guess I'd just want to note the change in scope.)

Second, my understanding is that the stated reasoning for why to do Brexit had little or nothing to do with this type of policy freedom.

What was Cummings' stated reasoning? Googling around, the first source I could find explaining this was in this Economist interview:

BAGEHOT: Turning to the case for Brexit, what is it about the

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2Davidmanheim1y
First, I think that even understanding "post-covid" as now, it's early to look at the overall impacts - and again, see the linked survey. Economists still think this was overall a mistake, from that perspective at least. Second, as I said in a different response, the reasoning seems to be the claim that they wanted to take back, to slightly paraphrase from memory, "their money, their borders, and their laws" - and yes, laws definitely includes the sort of policy choice he's pointing to, but it wouldn't have needed to slow their early purchase nor their excellent distribution system (which would perhaps have been a couple weeks later due to the vaccine approval delay, which they likely could have pushed forward, but given how slowly they started to arrive, this would have made at most a small difference in vaccine timing for most people,) but the other two claims came first, and seemed like the central parts of the question.
7ChristianKl1y
To the extend that this is unreasonable it's very unreasonable to say that you know the post-Brexit effects yourself. What do you think "take back control" means when it's not about policy freedom and escaping bureaucracy from Brussels?
4Davidmanheim1y
I didn't claim to know all of the post Brexit effects, I linked to a survey of economists. But I don't think I need to defend the claim that Brexit was damaging. And when asked about what they were taking back control of, I recall that the leaders pushing for Brexit said they wanted control of their money, their borders, and their laws. Only the last of those is plausibly what you meant - the first is a weird misunderstanding about where money came from and went, and the second is about disliking immigration.
8ChristianKl1y
A good portion of EU money gets spend back in the countries but that money often gets spend poorly. To give one example from where I live in Berlin, Spandau is one of the districts of Berlin. Out of one EU fund Spandau got money to make a tourism plan and now calls itself Zitadellenstadt Spandau. The name refers to the Zitadelle which is a castle in Spandau that wasn't bombed during WWII likely because it stored chemical weapons that the allies fortunately didn't want to have released. Without the EU we would have never spent that money for that tourism marketing exercise. It happens frequently that EU-funded projects are those that local don't really think they need. Taking control over EU money means being able to direct such money better to our priorities. Grain-subsidies are similar. Most UK or German citizens would want an agricultural policy that actually promotes healthy food and not the crap we are having. The EU is setup that it's nearly impossible to update the agricultural policy in a sensible way. Control about money means actually being able to spend that more wisely. A good portion of politically informed people in the UK will know stories about how EU money that flows back to the UK is spent in pointless ways. On a topic like animal rights, we Germans don't want male chickens to be shreddered. Without the EU we would simply outlaw it and be okay with our eggs costing 5% more. We didn't do that because in our supermarket German produced eggs would have to compete with Polnish eggs and we think that it would be unfair for our farmers to increase their production cost by 5%. If we could do that then the technology to identify the gender of the eggs would be developed much faster then it currently happens. Instead of just outlawing it, we said that some years into the future we will outlaw it when hopefully the cost came down. The EU rules also prevent US from simply paying our farmers the 5% as a subsidy. In practice the single market rules mean tha
5Davidmanheim1y
Yes, there are downsides to bureaucracy - but I'm entirely unconvinced that the UK has reduced the number of downsides via Brexit. It seems more like they traded one set for a larger and more expensive set of bureaucratic problems both internally, and interacting with the EU. Finding a single example which turned out (very) well, like vaccine distribution - which would likely have been possible even if they had been EU members - doesn't really seem like a convincing pitch, even if it's true that it was only possible because they left.
4Connor_Flexman1y
FWIW, I personally don't have much evidence to determine whether Brexit was good. Seems plausible to me that you're right that they now just have different bureaucratic downsides. I've read a few things about being able to make ARIA (UK version of ARPA) and some other things from 2019 that make me lean somewhat positive, but I'm extremely agnostic. I have a bunch of thoughts on quality of evidence here, but suffice it to say I am not sure whether we will ever get much Bayesian evidence on goodness or badness. So my interest in DC is relatively orthogonal to whether Brexit turns out to be object-level good or bad (even though ideally I would know this and be able to include it in my model of how much to believe his beliefs).
2Davidmanheim1y
I agree that evidence is weak, but I think it will be much clearer in the future whether it was a mistake - and the pathways for it to have been good are different than for it to have been bad. Two concrete things that would be strong evidence either way which we'd see in the next 5 years: - Significant divergence from previous economic trajectory that differs from changes in the EU. - UK choosing to rejoin the EU due to domestic pressure, or general public agreement that it was good. Perhaps more likely, we see a mix of evidence, and we conclude that like most complex policy decisions, it will take an additional decade or two for a consensus of economists and historians to emerge so we clearly see what the impact was. That said, I would be very happy to bet at even odds about it resolving as a clear negative - albeit with a very long resolution time frame, needing a somewhat qualitative resolution criteria.
4Connor_Flexman1y
Not sure why you think domestic pressure / public agreement is strong evidence. Public pressure for all sorts of things seems hardly correlated with whether they're beneficial. I think the strongest arguments for Brexit are pretty orthogonal to the economy. Things like "can the government react to crises on the order of weeks instead of months". I do think enough crises would give us data on this but I'm not even sure it will be reasonable to extract counterfactuals from several. Other reasons to do Brexit seem similarly hard to measure compared to myopic economic impact.
2Davidmanheim1y
I didn't say "domestic pressure / public agreement is strong evidence," I said that a reversal of the decision for those reasons would be strong evidence. And yes, I think that a majority of voters agreeing it was so much of a mistake that it is worth it to re-enter on materially worse terms, which it would need to be, would be a clear indication that the original decision was a bad one. And I'm not sure why you say that a change in the long term trajectory of growth is a myopic criteria. If the principal benefit is better ability to react to crises, given the variety of crises that occur and their frequency, that should be obvious over the course of years, not centuries, and would absolutely affect economic growth over the long term.
2Connor_Flexman1y
Ah yeah, I should have thought more about what you meant there. Sorry. I'm still not sure I agree though—I feel like the public can be convinced of all sorts of things. I do think growth may end up being decent evidence. I guess I'm trying to point at why I might be so agnostic without going through a 10-paragraph essay explicitly stating a bunch of scenarios. So for example, I think people are fairly unconcerned about whether they have a 20% versus a 30% GDP growth over the next 15 years, but rightly concerned about whether there's then a pandemic that kills a bunch of people and curtails quality of life drastically (just outside the bounds of our growth measurement, arguendo). So, especially as the world gets more and more crazy and plausibly near end-game, I'm willing to trade off increasingly more GDP growth for other things like liberties, nimble government, less-partisan politics, literal political experimentation, etc, that increase quality of life and general or political sanity and decrease likelihood of disasters. I could imagine a world where those things also cashed out immediately in enough economic growth to pay for themselves, but I could also imagine a world where there were ways to get some of these that required real economic sacrifices.
2Heron1y
Being first to roll out vaccines is not enough, other European countries have managed to keep more people alive, and created safe environments - mitigations such as masks and clean air being the norm. Covid cases yesterday 13th October, 2021. France: 1,120 Spain: 1,277 Italy: 1,561 Germany: 4,872 UK: 40,224
2ChristianKl1y
Which country do you think has sane clean air policies? To me it feels like one of the most annoying features of German policy making regarding COVID that clean air isn't given much weight. Moving to the actual point, there are policies where EU rules interfer and there are policies where EU rules don't have much of an effect. The way drugs get licensed is one where EU rules matter a lot and thus it relates to the Brexit. On the other hand I'm not seeing how Brexit has an effect on masks or clean air.
1Heron1y
I was responding to an assertion that the UK had done well in dealing with COVID because of the speed of vaccination roll out. The head of the UK's medicines regulator said that the authorisation for the COVID vaccine was actually permitted under EU law. I believe him. It is the case that the UK has a very high rate of infection and deaths compared to other similar European countries. Calls for proven, effective mitigations (repeated by Independent Sage) eg mask-wearing, providing safe ventilation in schools and workplaces, and having a Test, Track and Trace system fit for purpose, have been ignored in the UK. I do not know about Germany's mitigations in any detail. I am aware of a much lower death and infection rate there (and in France, Italy and Spain) compared to the UK. I saw this in 2020: Germany improves ventilation to chase away Covid - BBC News [https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-54599593] https://www.bbc.co.uk › news › world-europe-54599593 [https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-54599593]
2TAG1y
Well,not quite ignored...but there were a lot of problems. The first lockdown was too late , PPE wasn't available, the track and trace system was too late and not good enough..and so on. Attempts were made.

As a way to contextualize this, he describes the Vote Leave campaign as a pretty straightforward case of Working With Monsters.

7AppliedDivinityStudies1y
Chiming as someone who has consistently heard great things about his writing, but was personally put off by his politics. I think it's useful to understand: 1. How he's achieved this level of real-world influence, f it's conditional on engaging in "dark arts", and if so if those "dark arts" have to be used for nefarious aims. For example, I would feel much more favorable towards his ability to manipulate the public if he was using it for causes I agree with on the object-level. So either Dominic's abilities only work for "evil", which would be interesting to understand, or they're actually general purpose with potential good uses as well. 2. How rationality can be misused, and if so, if this implies the rationality community has a responsibility to prevent similar occurrences in the future. ...the upshot being: I still haven't read a lot of his stuff, but I feel somewhat guilty about this and plan to get around it eventually.
6Davidmanheim1y
That all seems fair - I was just surprised and disappointed to see one obviously important explanation of why people were put off by Cummings be completely ignored in the post.
6Connor_Flexman1y
Sorry, I deliberated for a while on whether to include it, but for a number of reasons decided I wanted to just ignore the politics-as-mindkiller and focus on everything else. Ideally I would have mentioned something about this, I just felt like addressing it in any respect would immediately lead to discussion about politics-as-mindkiller and not help. Also I didn't think this post would get much publicity. Still don't really regret it. I will say though, here, I think >90% of the value I got from his writings was orthogonal to ideology-level politics. I think operational-level politics is super interesting and with some effort we should be able to talk about it orthogonally to ideology-level politics, even if we are not yet at the level of being able to talk about ideology-level politics without being mind-killed.
2Davidmanheim1y
Thanks - that seems plausible. But again, I think not mentioning the obvious reason for people's distaste led to a clearly incorrect claim.
5ChristianKl1y
Generally, it's hard to judge whether someone does things for causes you agree with or don't agree with when you don't know what the causes are. It seesm to me that the only way to make that judgement is to actually read Cummings describe his cause.

It seesm to me that the only way to make that judgement is to actually read Cummings describe his cause.

What grounds do we have for taking that description at face value? I don't think that even his supporters believe his qualities include scrupulous honesty.

2Davidmanheim1y
One way to do this is to trust the people when they claim to tell you what their motives are. But Cummings spends his time talking about how politicians need to lie about that, and talking about how to do that type of manipulation well. And ceteris paribus, I will trust someone less if they say they study how to lie effectively. I'm not saying I don't trust Cummings - I think he's relatively honest, and extremely / unfortunately so for a political figure - I'm saying that I don't think encouraging people to learn the skills he wants to teach is a good thing for enhancing trust more generally.
3Heron1y
Cummings and honesty...I have a real problem with this idea; Cummings presents as the archetypal, self-serving liar. The repetition of denial regarding one's words or behaviour, with frequent changes in the actual substance of that denial, does not make it true. Is Cumming's ability to obfuscate so exceptional? I remain a Remainer (never thought Brexit a good idea, its popularity was largely dependent on misinformation and xenophobic rallying, combined with disadvantaged, ignored swathes of the least advantaged drawing attention to their plight by flexing a weakened muscle). Here in Northern Ireland one may still watch how the unfinished business of Brexit, in terms of the NI Protocol, sold by Cummings & his Conservative friends, is working out. As in the rest of the UK, Brexit has been handled in such a way that there are serious shortages of workers (eg abattoir operators, careworkers, nurses, lorry drivers, fruit pickers etc the lists go on exacerbated by years of austerity and Tory rule) and goods; the decimation of freedom of movement means no more opportunities for ease of working/studying /research/expertise or collaboration with our EU neighbours, and there's also the matter of excessive import and export paperwork which has resulted in businesses going to the wall. All of these problems are a direct result of Brexit: all economic research predicted the deterioration of economic well-being and industrial growth, and yet such prospects were ridiculed as 'fear mongering' by Tories, specifically Cummings in his role as advisor to Johnson et al. When one considers Cumming's own behaviour, in both words and actions, as he sold the UK public the myth of 'Brexit benefits,' there appear to be multiple irregularities.* [*https://www.politico.eu/article/15-things-uk-vote-leave-promised-on-brexit-and-what-it-got/] Nowhere more clearly can one see the truth of Cumming's character than through his own behaviour, and the subsequent manipulation, and obfuscation, he e
4ESRogs1y
I would like to humbly suggest that you break blocks of text that are this big into multiple paragraphs.
3Heron1y
Thanks. Good point.
-6ChristianKl1y

Four, he has uniquely powerful ideas about how to do project management well...

I am interested in this. Any suggestions for posts that focus on project management specifically?

3ryan_b1y
The unrecognized simplicities of effective action series of posts; in particular #2(b) linked above. The dominant examples are the Manhattan Project, Atlas, and Apollo. He also spends quite a bit of time on ARPA and Xerox/PARC. Included in the blog posts are the relevant books he was reading at the time, if I recall.

but actually swing voters tend to side with Libs strongly on some things like health care, white collar crime, and higher taxes on the rich and Tories strongly on some things like violent crime, anti-terrorism, and immigration

Having just read the (ridiculously long) post, his position even seemed to be that these voters are (often?) to the left of the left parties (or their leadership) on some issues, and to the right of the right parties (or their leadership) on the others.

9ryan_b1y
The findings are similar in the US; the story I have pulled from it so far is that this basically boils down to tallying responses wrongly in political science research. The popular example from the US is that you might have a survey with multiple responses, and one person responds: Q1. How do you feel about gay marriage? A1. Gay people should have civil unions rather than marriage Q2. How involved should the government be in the economy? A2. Government should keep taxes low But another person responds with: A1. Gay people should not be allowed to get married, or adopt, or teach children A2. Government should heavily tax the rich and important industries should be nationalized Since both answers for the first person were conservative, the surveys marked that person as "very conservative." The second person, with one extremely conservative answer and one extremely liberal answer, got marked as a moderate. This distinction flew under the radar for a long time because in the US there are only two political parties (which can realistically hold seats in the legislature), so it the question of which way a given voter would go was a matter of salience, which in political terms means which issues are top of mind at election time. When looking for an older article I read on the subject, I came across a better one from 538 [https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-moderate-middle-is-a-myth/], wherein they take some of these older survey questions and graph the outputs.

"Extremely committed to truth-seeking". Hmm. https://fullfact.org/health/cummings-blog-coronavirus/ and  https://www.wired.co.uk/article/dominic-cummings-blog-pandemic would suggest that he has a penchant for telling fibs. 

Many people have brought this up to me and I think it's extremely misleading. Basically, he wrote this blog post about the dangers of possible pandemics that governments weren't taking seriously, and heavily rested on giant block quotes from a good source, as he often does. In the block quote he included sections on like 4/8 of the pathogens they warned about, separated by ellipses. After the pandemic he went back and added to his block quote the section on coronaviruses specifically, to show that bio-risk people were already warning about this BEFORE it happened and the government was completely failing to act on it.

This seems like an extremely reasonable action to me—he probably should have used ETA or something, which is the only "dishonesty" I fault him for, but even that phrase is a little weird in a block quote. I can see how some people would be like "you changed it!" but absent political anger, I don't really imagine getting mad at a friend or acquaintance for this. If I myself had a block quote that cut some things for length but was warning of essentially the exact thing that happened, I probably wouldn't just add the section without an ETA, but I expect I would just say in an interview "I specifically warned about coronaviruses amongst other things".

In a press conference, he claims. "Last year I wrote about the possible threat of coronaviruses and the urgent need for planning," I am failing to find mention of coronavirus in that original. I also note https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/may/26/dominic-cummings-says-he-did-not-tell-whole-truth-about-journeys-to-durham-barnard-castle.

I remain unconvinced that he is "extremely committed to truth-seeking".

First, I already agreed this was true. But if you write about the urgent need for planning for biosecurity a year before a pandemic, quote a biosecurity report that mentions 8ish diseases, you cut a few from your block quote for concision, and then one of the 8 that you didn't specific use in your block quote (but which you were definitely writing about!) occurs in a global pandemic... I just think it's pretty reasonable to say "I wrote about this". I might not do it per se, but if a friend of mine did it, I wouldn't bat an eyelid. If a random acquaintance did it, I would stop for a second, think about it, decide it seemed fine. If you write a fair amount about a report warning of some things, and then one of those things happens, you get to say "you wrote about that". 

Second, I think there's a very important distinction between truth-seeking and truth-telling, as comes up regarding Cummings. I understand this is a pretty apologist stance but I think it's super important here. Normally people have neither, and sometimes people have both. But I think it's pretty consistent to have a model of him where he is truth-seeking but not always truth-telling.

For example, he talks about ... (read more)

4ChristianKl1y
Besides that, there's the aspect that Cummings is a person who's heavily investigated by journalists. If that's one of the worst things someone can find, that shows good things.
7Phil Scadden1y
And more: Kuenssberg challenged him on Vote Leave’s central promise – a £350m Brexit dividend [https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2018/01/everything-wrong-boris-johnson-s-claim-350m-brexit-promise-was-too-low] for the NHS. “You knew very well then, and you know very well now, that that figure didn’t include the so-called rebate, the money that the UK got to keep,” she said. “Yes,” Cummings replied. He explained that he used the figure to focus the debate on the “balance sheet” of Britain’s EU membership, and to “drive the Remain campaign and the people running it crazy”. “So it was a deliberate trap for the other side?” asked Kuenssberg. “Yeah,” Cummings replied. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2021/07/dominic-cummings-has-admitted-leave-campaign-won-lying-we-should-never-forgive-him [https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2021/07/dominic-cummings-has-admitted-leave-campaign-won-lying-we-should-never-forgive-him] Looks to me like your average political animal, focussed mainly on winning rather than truth.

It's important to distinguish seeking the truth from speaking the truth. The truth-seeking credential here is that the Vote Leave campaign applied basic epistemics, at his direction: review the literature to determine what methods actually work; gather as much data as possible; update methods according to feedback; aggressively ignore recommendations from high-status-but-wrong people who are nominally on the same side.

6Connor_Flexman1y
Oh awesome, you already made the important argument here. Thanks. I'll leave up my comment above saying similarly, though.

Cummings' accomplishments are kinda pathetic, actually? He was associated with the successful Brexit effort. OK. So were lots of other people. Cameron was lukewarm on remain and Labour was basically pro-brexit but couldn't talk about it. In retrospect it's not that shocking Remain lost when neither major party was fully campaigning for it. Also this is literally his only meaningful accomplishment.

Then he later gets into government as Johnson's fixer, which given that Johnson is averse to actual work means he can basically do whatever he wants. He then fail... (read more)

1ChristianKl1y
Given that they said we'll spend the money on the NHS instead of on EU, I don't see how that was what Cummings campaign implied. The EU development funds to poor regions are badly thought out systems and part of the point of Brexit was money not flowing that way and instead to priorities like the NHS. There's no point to have farming subsidies for pig farmers. In a society where people on average eat too much meat, pork should cost at the supermarket the economic price it costs to produce pork and not less because of government subsidies. Brexit allowed to get rid of bad policy like that.
1spkoc1y
http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/leave_ministers_commit_to_maintain_eu_funding.html [http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/leave_ministers_commit_to_maintain_eu_funding.html] The cynic in me finds turkeys voting for christmas endlessly entertaining, but this sort of blatant lying is why western societies' trust in government is evaporating. "Farm subsidies are bad" is literally the type of elitist white collar values attitude that vote leave campaigned against. They tricked tons of working class people to vote for them under the assumption that the tory party would then take care of them. And of course because labour and the lib dems haven't represented the working class since the Blair era. Oh but they said 'we can' not 'we will'. This isn't a court of law. What was implied is very clear. Rhetoric about Project Fear was meant to explicitly make all warnings about brexit downsides seem ridiculous and overblown. And tons of people actually believed that they would kinda sorta trundle along and be ok. Well, most of us are gonna be ok, but some turkeys definitely got plucked hard.
0ChristianKl1y
I looked a bit into the actual policy. It's not a question about whether or not there are farming subsidies but for what subsidies are paid. As the forward for the 2021 document [https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1003924/farming-changing.pdf] says: The way the money was distributed with the EU rules was having stupid affects on making unheathly food cheaper compared to healthy food. Insteadly, thinking about how farming can happen in a way that produces public goods and organizing subsidy payments to further public goods is much smarter then existing policy. This likely means that some farmers who don't want to change their practices will lose money relatively to what they had before while other farmers gain money.

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