Iterated Amplification


It’s not economically inefficient for a UBI to reduce recipient’s employment

Many people's view of a UBI depends on whether recipients in fact stop working. For example, people are interested in running studies on that question, often with a clear indication that they would support a UBI if and only if recipients don't significantly decrease hours worked.

What are we to make of this concern?

A natural way to understand it is to separate the effects of UBI into {recipients may decide to reduce hours worked} from {all other effects}. Then the concern could be understood as a suggestion that this change in hours worked is bad even if the the other effects of a UBI would be good. Put differently, people who express this concern may believe that a UBI would be good if we magically causally intervened to ensure that people continued working the same amount, while the effects of UBI alone are more uncertain.

The reason to respond to this view, rather than directly analyzing all the effects of a UBI together, is that it seemed to me to indicate a moral error that could be separated from the other complex empirical questions at stake.

(Given that this seems like a kind of unenlightening thread about a topic that's not super important to me, I'll probably drop it.)

It’s not economically inefficient for a UBI to reduce recipient’s employment

Capital costs in food production are significant. Land will still cost money, materials will still cost money, and machines will still cost money (though the cost of machines above and beyond the raw material cost could rapidly fall).

It’s not economically inefficient for a UBI to reduce recipient’s employment

You could argue that people don't take that into account when deciding not to work (so that I can make the world better by forcing people to work for their own benefit).

The first step would be believing that people who stop working because they don't have to end up being less healthy, I have no idea if that's true. It's a bit hard to study, since interventions like "inherit a bunch of money" and "receive a UBI" mostly affect health via the channel of "now you have a bunch of money," and that obscures any negative effect from not having to work.

(And on the other hand, comparing the employed to the unemployed is extremely confounded and I'm skeptical it gives any evidence on this question. It would be pretty surprising if people who had a harder time finding work weren't less healthy and happy.)

The best would be to compare people receiving an unconditional transfer to people receiving a transfer with a work requirement, but I'm not aware of studies on that.

You could also have some anecdotal evidence about that. People I know who are voluntarily unemployed seem to eat and exercise better, but they are probably not representative of the people affected by a welfare work requirement.

It’s not economically inefficient for a UBI to reduce recipient’s employment

If we're talking economic efficiency, then your own utility should be included.

My starting assumption is that I decided not to work because I believe I am better off. We are wondering if my decision to stop working was inefficient, i.e. if it makes the world worse off despite me voluntarily choosing to do it. So the salient questions are (i) how does this affect everyone else? Does it cause harms to the rest of the world? (ii) am I predictably making a mistake (e.g. by not adequately accounting for the ways in which working benefits my future self)?

In a UBI scenario, you should be able to stop working while still consuming

Yes, I'm talking about the additional consumption if you earn+spend more money.

It’s not economically inefficient for a UBI to reduce recipient’s employment

Basically the whole case comes down to the externalities of working+consuming though (both the case in favor and the case against). It seems the point stands that the externalities of working and consuming are both relevant, there's not really an asymmetry there, and I don't see how this is related to "getting distracted by the money flows."

Like, I might produce value because some gets more surplus from hiring me than they would have gotten from hiring someone else (in the competitive limit that gap converges to 0 and they are indifferent, but presumably it won't be 0 in the real world). And similarly I might produce value because someone gets more surplus from selling to me than they would have gotten from selling to me. But those things seem symmetrical.

It’s not economically inefficient for a UBI to reduce recipient’s employment

I may still be misunderstanding.

When I work I create value for the world, which is ultimately measured in benefits to other humans. And when I go spend my money I impose a cost on the world which is ultimately measured in the effort those people put in to give me what I bought, or the other people who could have had the thing that did not, or whatever.

It seems like the question is about the balance between the value I create by working, and the value others lose when I consume, isn't it? It's relevant both how much other people value what I do for them, and how much other people value the effort they put in for me.

It’s not economically inefficient for a UBI to reduce recipient’s employment

If I earn less money than I spend less money. The question is whether the combination of {me working} + {me consuming} is better or worse for the rest of the world than {me relaxing}, since what's at issue is precisely whether individuals who decide not to work are a sign of social inefficiency.

For the purpose of that comparison, the consumption seems just as relevant as the production. You seem to be disagreeing, but I'm not sure why. Yes, it's true that if I give someone a UBI they will also spend the UBI, and that's the same as any redistribution, but that's not relevant to analyzing whether their decision to not work is socially inefficient.

It’s not economically inefficient for a UBI to reduce recipient’s employment

It seems like their problem is that they can't pay for a UBI without crazy distortions (and likely can't raise enough money for a large UBI regardless).

I'm not sure what exactly the reductio is for the medieval society. Giving low-income workers money will generally raise the price of goods produced by low-income workers but that doesn't generally indicate any efficiency loss.

I do definitely agree that paying someone a $100 UBI causes a loss of $100 to the taxpayers who paid for it. But that happens regardless of whether the recipients stop working.

It’s not economically inefficient for a UBI to reduce recipient’s employment

That society might gain additional benefit from how you spend your money is merely coincidental.

I'm not sure what "coincidental" means here. The question is how much more or less than $100 of value you create by working, and that seems to depend about as much on how you spend your money as it does on how you earn your money.

Some AI research areas and their relevance to existential safety

A number of blogs seem to treat [AI existential safety, AI alignment, and AI safety] as near-synonyms (e.g., LessWrong, the Alignment Forum), and I think that is a mistake, at least when it comes to guiding technical work for existential safety.

I strongly agree with the benefits of having separate terms and generally like your definitions.

In this post, AI existential safety means “preventing AI technology from posing risks to humanity that are comparable or greater than human extinction in terms of their moral significance.”  

I like "existential AI safety" as a term to distinguish from "AI safety" and agree that it seems to be clearer and have more staying power. (That said, it's a bummer that "AI existential safety forum" is a bit of a mouthful.)

If I read that term without a definition I would assume it meant "reducing the existential risk posed by AI." Hopefully you'd be OK with that reading. I'm not sure if you are trying to subtly distinguish it from Nick's definition of existential risk or if the definition you give is just intended to be somewhere in that space of what people mean when they say "existential risk" (e.g. the LW definition is like yours).

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