The option value of civilization

Hi Tyler, I’m a longtime reader of MR and your more recent books.  I enjoyed Stubborn Attachments and was particularly interested in your discussion of the social discount rate.  Like you, I’m inclined to think that this rate should be very low, if not zero.  But more importantly, I think discounting is the wrong financial metaphor to use when discussing the moral worth of the present vs. the future.  Instead, we should look to option pricing theory.  As strange as it seems, option theory provides a neat way to unify many of the claims in Stubborn Attachments, and it gives us arguments for other important claims.  I’m a mortgage-backed securities trader, so embedded mispriced (or unpriced) optionality is always on my mind.

The key idea is that the total moral worth of the universe has some positively skewed distribution: there are more ways for things to be good than there are for it to be bad.  Let’s take this as a given for now; towards the end of this message I explore the consequences of relaxing this assumption.  If the moral worth of the universe has a distribution like this, we can draw an analogy to the payout profile of a call option.  We can imagine that we own an option on the underlying process that generates historical outcomes.

The first thing to recognize is that there’s a fundamental difference between the value of the option, and the value of the underlying.  Translated to moral terms, we should distinguish between the value of present, and the ultimate moral worth of the universe.  The former is just one input in calculating the latter, and the latter should be our primary concern.  We are only indirectly exposed to the value of the present.  We are also exposed to other factors, including the volatility of the historical process, and the social discount rate.

Let’s consider these in turn.  Options theory tells us that the value of an option increases in volatility — a trader would say that an option has positive “vega.”  Thus it makes perfect sense to see you arguing in Stubborn Attachments (and TGS and TCC) for increased social dynamism, risk taking, and openness to innovation.  If we can increase upside volatility, or reduce downside volatility, that’s even better than a symmetric increase in volatility.  My sense is that you view human rights as a way to mitigate downside risk.  This framework implies that some degree of downside mitigation can be traded for upside, a view which seems to be consistent with your view of human rights.

In the option-theoretical framework, the value of an option is decreasing in the discount rate.  But while the specific choice of discount rate changes the overall value of the option, it doesn’t change the sign of any of the sensitivities.  One advantage of this framework is that it can incorporate any particular social discount rate, without affecting the broader conclusions.

We can restate other common questions in this jargon.  Let’s start with the question of the value of the present vs. the value of the future.  In my view, that language is confused.  The value of the future is unknowable and can’t be affected directly.  We should stop talking as if we can.  We can only affect things like the value of the present and the volatility and overall trajectory of the historical process.  Rather than asking about the value of the present vs. the future, we should simply ask “how much should we care about the present, relative to the other things we can affect directly?”  In options jargon, the “delta” of an option is the derivative of the option’s value with respect to the value of the underlying process.  In moral terms, delta is interpreted as the derivative of the moral worth of the universe with respect to the value of the present.  “How much should we care about the present?” can be restated as “What is the delta the option?”

In standard theory, delta is positive (obviously) and increasing in the value of the underlying process.  That is, the second derivative of an option’s value with respect to the value of the underlying process is also positive.  Translated to moral terms: the more valuable the present, the more we should care about it.  This is intuitive, at least to me.  If you think the potential value of the future is vastly greater than the value of the present (i.e. if you think our option is only slightly in-the-money) you should care less about the value of the present.  But if the option is deep in-the-money — if civilization is secure and of great value — we should care more about increasing its value.

We can also think about partial sensitivities.  The most interesting is the sensitivity of delta with respect to volatility: as volatility increases, delta decreases.  In moral terms: the greater the range of historical outcomes, the less we should care about the precise moment we’re in now.  If we think history is highly dynamic, that the space of potential outcomes is very large, and that the far future can be vastly more valuable than the present, we should care less about the specific value of the present.  Similarly, if we think we’re close to the end of history, we should focus on incremental tweaks to improve the value of the present.  The arguments in Stubborn Attachments clearly tend toward the former view.

Finally, we can return to the original assumption, that the value of the future is biased to the upside.  I don’t think you argue for this explicitly, but it’s implied in your idea of Crusonia plants.  What would a negative or inverse Crusonia plant look like?  Could one even exist?  I think it’s vastly more likely for civilization and value to simply be wiped out, than it is for a monstrously evil future to occur.  But if you disagree, you can account for it in the option framework.  The more likely an evil future, the more symmetric (and less option-like) our payout profile.  You can think of humanity as owning some combination of a long call and a short put.  If our portfolio contains equal positions in each, our total delta is 1 — implying that the value of our options position is identical to the value of the underlying.  Translated into moral terms: the more symmetric we think future outcomes are, the more we should care about the present.

This is a new framework for me, but I think it is useful.  I’m sure there are other implications that haven’t yet occurred to me.  I can’t imagine I’m the first to come up with this framework: after all, Cowen’s Second Law states that there’s a literature on everything.  There’s perhaps some precedent in Nassim Taleb’s work and his popularization of options theory and its usefulness in non-financial contexts.  I’m sure someone in the Effective Altruism community has kicked these ideas around; I’m just not aware of it.  If you know of any related work, I’d love to be pointed in the right direction.

That is from MR reader CK.


This sounds good, and we should note that it is not really the same thing as cut taxes and hope for the best. You have to value plans over complacency.

Florida has enacted $10 billion in tax cuts, and North Carolina has reduced its personal and corporate tax rates. How are those states’ tax cut experiments doing?

Ten Tips for starting your own internet based
business. You read all of the time about companies laying off their workers.
One meaningful post sent one person may potentially
be seen by 250+ people.

It also doesn't mean that the best way to increase the value of the future is with higher taxes and bloated, entrenched government.

How can you option something that can't be paid out?

I believe the idea is that we all benefit from living in a richer country (or planet, or universe). This option stuff is a model for that.

I think I might believe it a bit less than Tyler (some of us can and should find happiness by releasing desire, Buddhist style), but it certainly works on the big long term. I'm glad Thomas Edison didn't just sit under the Bodhi tree.

Why is it a call option though? We don't have the choice of not buying if things go poorly.

Deleuze and Guattari.

The formal options theory is somewhat above my head but these intuitively feel like really valuable ideas. Would love to see Tyler’s considered response at some point.

Would someone please summarize this in ordinary English? (I have no idea what an "option" is, let alone all of the other stuff.)


My kingdom for coherence

An "option" is a contract you can purchase. Simply put, it gives you the option to buy something later a price that is specified now.

For example: give me $1,000, and I will allow you to buy this pound of gold at any point in 2019 for $1350 per ounce. Gold is currently trading at $1287. If you believe that gold will go up well over $1350 in 2019, you might risk the $1000 to purchase this option. If you do so and the price crashes, you have wasted the entire $1000, but lost nothing else because you will obviously never "exercise the option" and purchase the gold. But if the gold price triples, you have made a large amount of money for just a $1000 investment.

Options are therefore just another way to invest. They cost less to get into (compared to purchasing a pound of gold) but it's also pretty easy to lose your entire investment. Options are therefore more of an "all-or-nothing" sort of gamble. They either pay off or you lose it all.

Which would have been a much simpler thing for CK to say.

A call option is a contract for the right (but not the obligation) to buy something in the future before a specified time at a specified price.

A put option is the right (but not the obligation) to sell something before a specific time at a specified price.

For example, in an open ended lease of a car, you have the option to buy the car at a specified price when the lease ends. Or you can return it and walk away.

In contrast to cars, in finance the value of an asset can go up or down. The more volatile the price, the more valuable the option is because it increases your chances to buy/sell for a big profit.

I too am having trouble understanding this in the social welfare context. I need to think about it a lot more. How is present social investment a call/put option? I don't know.

A discount rate of zero means that you value income streams in every future time period equal to the present. That is, when we make social decisions today, we give equal value to the impact on our great grandkids as ourselves today. The implication is that we need to start doing good things (paying down debt, stopping global warming, curing diseases) immediately at great cost.

But I think this is a lousy way to view it. Discounting future income streams doesnt imply that we care less about the future. Indeed, the future is our eventual present. In making optimal capital allocation decisions today, we need to put future benefits on an equal playing field with alternative choices that have different payoff schemes in the future. For example, the following two income streams would have the same value today:

1: 100, 80, 60, 40, 20, 0, -20, -40, -60, -80, -100
2: -10, -10, -10, -10, -10, -10, -10, -10, -10, -10, +100

1, perhaps, represents a state where we do nothing about an impending disaster.

2 represents paying dearly to prevent a future catastrophe.

The fallacy though is that future generations will be substantially more wealthy than we are today. We could certainly wreck the world if we tried, but doing so would have ever increasing opportunity costs.

With 2, we might not live long enough to enjoy the benefits. For example, if an earth killing asteroid were on it's way here, we would devote substantial income to destroy it. But if we are thousands of years from that fate, we have to expect some improvement in technology in that time to avery catastrophe at a lower cost. If we devote almost all our resources now, we might kill everyone in a world war over the deprivation therefrom.

And what if the asteroid only had a probability of striking us, not a certainty? That would and should affect our expenditures. The less likely, the less we spend.

I should note that the end of humanity, earth, the solar system, and the galaxy are inevitable, yet no one is spending a cent to stop it or to ameliorate damages. Should we value the lives of humans millions of years in the future as much as our own and start investing now?

Instead of building carbon sinks to reduce greenhouse gas, we could alternatively invest in nuclear power, build underground air conditioned bunkers, scrub the atmosphere or put other worthwhile desires ahead of those deleterious effects. Do we want to reduce global warming or cure cancer? Pick one.

The nasty truth about decision theory is that you can justify any project you want with the right set of assumptions. A zero discount rate is a blatant thumb on the scale in favor of stopping a catastrophic future event that isnt at all likely, the benefits of abatement exaggerated, the costs of abatement understates, and the (intended) consequences a blatantly political redistribution of present societal wealth.

When the chicken littles who cry about global warming actually start living like they believe in it, I will begin to listen.

Creation of a futures market was a great (the greatest?) financial innovation. How so? Because it reduced volatility in supply and price. So says Robert Shiller. Shiller is referring to the first commodity futures market: the Dojima Rice Exchange established in 1697 in Osaka, Japan. Up until the establishment of the rice futures market, the supply and the price of rice were subject to large fluctuations, a great concern in a culture in which rice is a staple of the diet. But that's not how the writer of the comment above views options: "Options theory tells us that the value of an option increases in volatility — a trader would say that an option has positive “vega.” Thus it makes perfect sense to see you arguing in Stubborn Attachments (and TGS and TCC) for increased social dynamism, risk taking, and openness to innovation. If we can increase upside volatility, or reduce downside volatility, that’s even better than a symmetric increase in volatility." Of course, valuing the present vs. the future is different in kind from valuing a single commodity. But by applying concepts of a futures market to measure the value of the present vs. the future, the author of the comment has turned the beneficial effects of a futures market on its head.

I generally agree with Cowen that as a society we place too much emphasis on the present as opposed to the future. Stated another way, we seem to have more confidence in the present than in the future. Hence, investment in productive capital has lagged for decades. Some economists have sought to shift that dynamic by reducing the cost (i.e., taxes) of investing in the future, but with minimal affect (other than increasing the debt that will have to be repaid sometime in the future); ironically, such measures have actually reduced the relative value of the future. Many of the same economists argued that President Obama stifled investment in the future because Obama's policies created "uncertainty" about the future. Cowen takes the position that "disruption" in the present will result in a more valuable future. Which will more likely shift the preference from the present to the future: present volatility or present stability.

Optionality would be a great metaphor for situations with low downsides, with a choice at the end of whether to exercise the option. But the big decisions that we might evaluate in this framework are not like that. Was the Brexit choice more like choosing between an option on Leave and on option on Remain (with limited downsides in both cases), or like choosing between stock in Leave and stock in Remain? If the British had purchased a Leave option, they would have declared it out of the money by now and moved on; instead it’s more like they have a large fraction of their wealth in Leave stock, which they now have to sell at a loss. So I think the whole option metaphor fails, but if the author can show how to apply the option theory to a particular moral choice, that might make the case better.

The option was created and existed during the Leave campaign. It was exercised at the vote and they owned the stock. It later fell in value as new information emerged.

I’d like to see an example where the options thinking is helpful. If the Brexit decision was like exercising an option, then the arguments in the post miss the mark.

A few comments:

1. Zero social discount rates are a nonsense and need to go away. Essentially you will have an infinite value for your future projects versus present ones, and it will make it impossible to value anything, including your option framework. The entire idea of intertemporal planning is based on discount rates. The fact that discount rates imply we should care much less about the future, and future people, than the present should be obvious and is a feature not a bug. Zero discount rates tend to appeal to fans of science fiction.

2. On the option idea (again assuming you incorporate discount rates), I guess it's a perpetual call struck at zero, which is really a forward? In any case what does "exercising" the option mean? And who wrote the option, God? Did humans pay for it with their souls?

But since there are no contiguous owners of these instruments not sure these financial instrument analogies make sense.

CK hints at the problem with his own framework. We don't own a call option on the future -- we own the underlying. And even if the returns from disruption are sharply right-skewed, the modal disruptive change is almost surely negative, simply because we have quasi-optimized up to now. It's not that the option framework isn't valuable for understanding the theoretical willingness to tolerate disruption, but any practical attempt to use it will need a more precise understanding of the shape of the post-disruptive distribution than we have any hope of estimating.

Reading some of the comments I wonder if some take the metaphor too literally. Or is that only I view the thought as a metaphor.

The problem of using option theory like this is that it’s based upon forming a hedged portfolio, so you get results like a rising interest rate increases option value.

Our moral universe is an unhedged portfolio (probably unhedgeable) so Option pricing theory probably doesn’t help much.

This ppinta in the direction of Eric Falkensteins older stuff. 2010?

Civilization: a vehicle without brakes whose system of propulsion is sheer momentum--its velocity is apparent only as it runs downhill.

The beginning of Javier's point 2) was my thought exactly and is an immediate death blow for this framework. All the points that rely on option theory make little sense in light of no strike price and no expiration date. Take those out of it, and we return to just talking about the world as a stock, where we need to know how to discount the future. This whole thing strikes me as Maslow's hammer for a derivatives trader.

Eh, I think I take it back

This feels handwavey in the jump from "the underlying has a positively skewed distribution" to "we own a call option." The future is going to happen regardless, and if it goes wrong we can't just choose not to exercise it like we can an option. If anything our strike price is 0, which just makes the security a future and not an option.

A future is inevitable, the probability of any particular future can usually managed. We don't all share the same fate. See my comment below. Also, didn't Taleb note somewhere that structurally, too-big-to-fail banks had optionality built into the banking system? Again, no fixed time is the sticky bit.

Great comments!

The model isn't super fleshed out or obvious. I had the same skepticism as I see here.

But optionality is built into a lot of economic development. Not structured as cleanly and as uniformly as it is for market traded options, but the compare and contrast is always where the interesting stuff is.

Consider the Bhopal disaster. I looked it up on Wikipedia to refresh, it seemed a handy case. If the December 2, 1984 leak had not happened, that plant would be in the money on December 3. It's profits (making up the underlying-state of things) including intangibles (production flexibility, competetive advantage due to the cheaper--and riskier--methyl isocyanate, etc.) would belong to Union Carbide. Instead, the underlying state of things was a toxic mess and belonged to India (even though there was a lot of post hoc negotiation over how to make them whole). The situation on December 3 was out of the money and UC did not own it. (They still owned over half the plant and had a ton of impending liability, but the fucked up mess--the day prior's 'future'--was really owned by the town & surroundings.)

The future is on average better, but not uniformly. There are tons of examples of economic development turning into a disaster. The people who live those bad outcomes own the underlying. The parties who would have taken a gain (and the greater gain) in a different outcome owned the option.

Time is the real sticky part of this model. Options expire and cost. You could hand wave the cost away as somehow being 'priced in' to the exchange somewhere (or being as CK notes, mis/unpriced*), but the lack of expiry is a problem for the analogy. Nonetheless, I think it's interesting.

*wait for the arb, then!

I want to think deeply about your proposition, but so much is unclear. Please explain:

What is the underlying asset? What is being bought or sold?

In what market is the price of the underlying set? Alternatively, how do you frame its value?

What then is the strike price? How do the parties set that price?

On what date does the contract expire? Is it open ended?

Who are the counterparties?

I accept that metaphors and analogies are imperfect by definition, but I think many of us need more convincing that the metaphor or analogy is apt. As it is, you've identified costs, benefits, risks, uncertainty, decisions and a temporal setting. But every financial instrument can be described with those features. You haven't convinced me/us that option contracts are the most suitable instrument to define the problem.

Buying a house with a 5/1 ARM has option-like qualities. If you are unwilling or unable to refinance the house in five years, you can walk away from it leaving the bank with an asset that is potentially greatly depreciated. But that contract has an underlying (house), a market, a price, a stream of costs and benefits, counterparties, an implicit strike price, and an execution date.

Much is unclear, yes. Thanks for your questions.

1. a) The underlying is res, latin for 'stuff that is'. In my example, its a factory with a process in a town, in yours its a car in my driveway. Not very well defined, I know. b) Like an option on an equity, res isn't formally bought or sold at expiration, it just gets settled automatically the way it makes sense. If my calls expire ITM, I don't really 'buy' the stock so much as end up with it and a cash debit. [Most option positions are closed before expiration, anyway-I don't know how that would extend into our cartoon- R&D? Sounds about right.] It's not really a transaction but the implication of a transaction, the way I see it. Of course, it's perfectly legit to see it as a transaction in its own right. That's just not my habit. Likewise, UC is just obviously not expecting employees to show up for work on Dec 4. They ain't. Everyone knows the going concern ain't going anymore. And just as some plucky Thomas Edison manager could fly in and rally everyone to rebuild the plant better than ever (but that would be extraordinary), the option holder can decide not to settle by contacting the broker or clearing house (also extraordinary).

I find the settled automatically part surprisingly interesting. We don't need to monetize or even quantify 'the future' to know if it is in or out of the money. Those people in Bhopal know the value of the future they got, don't need an economist to tell them. [Or: do the criminal charges against Warren Anderson and India's good faith efforts at cooperating with the US courts mean the 'future' wasn't settled automatically? See, this is why I find the model interesting!] Anyone who gets screwed by development knows it. Thalidomide kid isn't looking up 'hands' in an actuary table before wanting some. It's idiosyncratic anyway. There is a underground fire in a coal seam in Centralia, Pennsylvania that has been burning for 60 years. Waste management is a development issue (it was started by a trash fire). The federal government has offered to pay to relocate people, and many of them won't leave! Turns out, they think Uncle Sugar is undervaluing the future they ended up with. Life is unceasingly amazing! Maybe this is really showing the limits of this analogy.

2. a) There is no market. CK and I both make this point. b) This is exactly the interesting part! How, indeed?

3. a) I don't know, I'd have to ponder that one. b) They don't, this is not a formal instrument, openly negotiated (there is no market).

4. This is my biggest issue with the idea. What is an open ended option? To my mind, that's a square circle, but you (or another MR comment person) may have met such a creature. If so, regale me with tales?

5. In my example, Union Carbide and the Indian people, in yours, me and GMAC.

I'm not trying to convince anyone that option contracts are the most suitable instrument to define the problem. I'm not convinced of it. I am exploring an idea someone else threw out for development.

I don't see the relevance in your mortgage example, which is why I went with your above car lease instead. To me, your ARM scenario is just defaulting on a contract. I mean, it's still a 15 or 30 year mortgage.

Please respond if inclined! And maybe I'm so off the res, no one cares. I read the post, but I did not read the book.

I love this being an option trader myself. Does the model imply only in the money options? I ask because you state, "as volatility increases, delta decreases." This is true for in the money options but it is the opposite for out of the money options. So if you think the future has much more potential value then the present would that be indicative of an out of the money option at present?

I'm not the guy who floated the idea, just a commenter.

But you can think of an example, no?

This is fascinating but it took some thinking for me to get on the same page. I thought I’d share my understanding of the basics here, since others seem to be having trouble too. There are two main points I had to grasp to understand the option-framing. I also point out two problems with the idea.

1) You say the underlying of the option is “the value of the present”. I initially thought that meant the value we derive from humanity’s existence this year, or today. But that’s a flow, i.e. a number that refers to a period of time. By contrast, the underlying of an option is a stock, i.e. a number that refers to a point in time. Specifically, it’s usually an asset’s valuation, calculated as the discounted sum of expected future flows. So your “value of the present” actually refers to the future, i.e. it is a discounted sum of future flows.*

2) The option’s payoff corresponds to what I normally think of as the expected value of humanity, or the sum of discounted expected social welfare. In the option framework, the call option payoff is max(the underlying value, 0).

This means that the underlying value—what you call the value of the present—is entirely hypothetical. It can go below 0, and it is symmetrically distributed, unlike the payoff of the option which is positively skew.

To illustrate, I understand your underlying stock value as something like the sum of expected discounted social welfare but where we are not “allowed” to go extinct when things get bad. For example, if earth blew up and humanity couldn’t respond by going extinct, then we would experience the cold of vacuum for the rest of our existence. The possibility of going extinct in bad scenarios is what the option provides.

Based on my first point, I think you neglect that your “value of the present” actually includes the value of the future, with discounting. So improving the “value of the present” includes improving the future. This makes your paragraph about the value of present vs. future somewhat confused (“We should stop talking as if we can [directly affect the value of the future]. We can only affect things like the value of the present…”)

The option value is largely driven by how valuable it is to make sure we go extinct in scenarios where life isn’t worth living (see my second point). But we can largely take that as given! The goal of policy (or philanthropy) shouldn’t be to maximise the benefits that we get from this optionality. It should be to maximise the expected payoff—the expected discounted social welfare. So I disagree with your idea that the option value is “the moral worth of the universe”. This also means I believe that delta, vega, etc, while interesting, are irrelevant to policy.

* If “value of the present” really does refer to the value derived from humanity’s existence over the next year, or day, then I’d argue there is little positive skew of payoff over that timeframe. It’s mainly the entire far future that has a kinked payoff.

The value of an option can go below zero if the cost of carrying the option exceeds its expected value. This does happen, for instance, with ordinary stocks options. Not often, but it happens.

But for the most part, if that's the case, we don't bother defining/creating/considering the option.

If the discount rate is zero, then the lives of humans 5 billion years from now are as important as our own. Hence, we have an obligation to begin now to avert the destruction of Earth from our sun becoming a gas giant.

I propose to start a Go Fund Me account to fund this project. I estimate that it will require at least 90 percent of all people's incomes for the next 5 billion years to avert this disaster. As we get closer to the destruction of the sun, my successor will determine whether to increase or decrease this allocation.

This is too important for you to ignore, so I expect 100% cooperation.

That is all.

Happy to help for a percentage of the revenue during my lifetime. You get the rest.

Endless rationalizations. X-risk reduction starts with a foregone conclusion - preventing human extinction is important - and then rationalized backwards. The reason is social desirability bias. "Hero saves the world" is a high-status meme, and so people will rationalize.

We get all this nonsense about there being more ways for things to go well than go wrong, or that intelligence implies benevolence, or that preventing extinction will preserve option value (rather than destroying the option value of preventing harm in the future that could be prevented if humanity goes extinct now).

You see this biased nonsense in the "Effective Altruism community" all the time. They come up with bullshit like, there might be suffering in non-life non-technology physics and civilization might prevent it. The exact sign-flipped argument, that there might be positive value in non-life non-technology physics and civilization might destroy it, is never even considered or mentioned. Unsurprising of course, because the whole "analysis" is an exercise in backwards rationalization to be high-status.

None of this would really matter if it didn't force real costs on us. Unfortunately, it does, because none of this will be cheap. And it's not like we personally can benefit from the future we are "saving" (making more victims). It's politically mandated self-sacrifice aka other-sacrifice. You're not going to live that long, and neither will anyone who's ever benefited you.

I buy most of your arguments, but you make it sound as if no human should care about anything occurring after the end of their lives, and hence society shouldnt care about anything beyond the lifetime of current members. As an empirical fact, we do care. We care about the existence of humanity. I cant explain why we care (or why we should care) bit we do, even if it is lip service. We have a natural empathy for ourselves which is a survival trait.

Empathy is a scope-insensitive emotion. But most of the arguments surrounding x-risk reduction come from scope-sensitive consequentialist arguments. You can't derive those from empathy alone, you have to add other philosophical assumptions.

Plus, a natural empathy for ourselves is not the same thing as a natural empathy for humanity-as-a-species. Even worse, if human civilization starts spreading into space, there will not only be positive consequences, but the total number of innocent victims of torture and similar severe negatives, without their consent, will increase by an astronomical factor. There is no logical reason why our natural empathy should point in the direction of causing these victims rather than preventing them. All you need is to reject the idea that such victimization is justified in order to make more goodness for others. In fact, this was my original point of disagreement with the people who call themselves "Effective Altruists". I used to be seriously distressed by this.

Since then, I have made a deliberate philosophical decision to reject altruism, outside of instrumental and reciprocity-based considerations. The suffering of others is not my suffering. But the pleasure/happiness/flourishing etc. of others is also not mine. There is no logical reason to treat it as such, not even a little bit. And empathy management, in its scope-insensitivity, is actually much cheaper.

I will support any ideology that makes me better off, and harm all those ideologues who make me worse off. You don't have to do the same, but if you want to benefit nonhuman animals or far-future entities, it has to come out of your own capacity. You won't get free tolerance or moral superiority status, let alone money, from us non-altruistic reciprocators.

As an empirical fact, there exist people who do care.
As an empirical fact, there exist people who do not care.

tl;dr, but DOES the universe's "total moral worth" have a distribution? Isn't it a single "value"? Perhaps CK means that different people have different "values". But can these "values" all be unambiguously projected onto a one-dimensional metric space? It sounds to me to be pretty wishful thinking, but I'd invite CK to demonstrate this. On the simplest binary level, if "good" is "not bad" and "bad" is "not good" then any choice is either good xor bad. For each choice, the universe "splits" exactly 50:50. But actually my argument is that for any positive choice there are many many neutral or negative choices. Just like a mutation, the vast majority of choices are bad ones, but the dead don't vote.

One thing that tends to get ignored is the impact of lifespan on discounting. It is quite clear that people value/fear much higher events/impacts that occur during their lifespans and much less those that are projected to happen after. In other words people are willing to discount future much less as long as it happens when we are still around, after that discount rates accelerate no matter how beneficial potential outcome can be. Yes there is always the “future for our children” argument but it tends to work only for parents with young children - a minority in any society and a non-existent presence among real decision makers who in almost all countries - whether democracies or autocracies are well into their 50s and 60s. The debate about actions to tackle global warming with worst impact project in 50+ years from now but costs to tackle in next 5-20 years is the case in point - in all the countries (latest internal arguments in EU come to mind)

Yes. This is often framed as a flaw or failure of sorts, but I think it's completely rational and appropriate, given the actual interests and preferences of most people.

It looks like I was fifteen years too soon.

Doesn't the assumption that that there are more ways to be good than bad counter entropy?

Comments for this post are closed