Thursday, November 05, 2015

Various functional forms for brain-weighting wild insects and farmed land animals favor the former

Summary: Some people have offered guesses or intuitions that when comparing animals with very different nervous system scales, they should be weighted by the logarithm or square root of neural capacity, while also taking the view that the impacts of animal agriculture on wild insects are not much greater than the impacts on farmed land animals. Considering these functional forms, and linear weighting with number of neurons, it appears they assign a much greater total weight to wild insects populations affected by agricultural land use than to the land animals being farmed. This suggests a revision of some combination of the weighting schemes and evaluations of agricultural impacts.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Some considerations for prioritization within animal agriculture

Summary: Conflicting rationales have been offered to prioritize reduction of particular sectors of factory farming and animal agriculture, and I review a selection of these. Cattle make the largest contribution to climate change, and cattle raised for meat create the greatest demand for agricultural land use. Smaller chickens and farmed fish are much more numerous. Taking still more numerous wild animals into account would suggest that cattle farming has the largest impact, positive or negative. Taking neural capacity into account favors attention to large farmed animals, but this measure is still dominated by wild animals. Mental abilities such as learning and social intelligence do not seem to have strong implications between chickens and cattle. An alternative perspective is that focus should be on changes in human attitudes, efforts, and organizations, as these contribute to further change.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Trends in farmed animal life-years per kg and per human in the United States

Summary: Selective breeding, drugs, and altered diets have greatly increased the quantity of milk, meat, and eggs produced per year of farmed animal life for multiple species, creating side effects that lowered the quality of life of farmed animals, and increasing consumption through lower prices. In the United States it appears that for some agricultural industries productivity increases since 1950 might have reduced farmed animal-years enough to outweigh the effect of falling prices. These include dairy, beef, and eggs. However, total animal-years of chickens raised for meat, the most populous farmed land animal, increased dramatically in total and per capita, despite a severalfold reduction in chicken-years per kg of meat sold. Increases in production efficiency may reduce demand for farmed animal-years in some mature developed country markets, while increasing demand in larger emerging markets. Further analysis using detailed income and price elasticity information, as well as welfare effects of overbreeding, could estimate net effects of technological change on animal welfare.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Discussing Giving Season 2014

It's giving season in the American tax year. As in previous years, some people in the effective altruism movement have been asking to talk about their giving decisions with me, and I would like to extend the offer of a sounding board to the readers of this blog. You can contact me by email, facebook, or by leaving a comment below with contact information (comments with contact info will be kept in moderation and not published).

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Second generation human capital benefits of migration

Summary: One important element in estimating the benefits of liberalized migration is the effect on the human capital of migrants' children. Taking human capital benefits of childhood in a developed country into account increases estimates of overall benefits, and may favor permanent migration relative to temporary guest worker programs. I discuss human capital benefits in health, language competence, educational attainment, gender equality, and attachment to location. Benefits are largest and important for immigrants with initially low human capital. Some but not all of these benefits can be attained using retained earnings of temporary migrant workers to help their children at home.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Population ethics and inaccessible populations

Summary: On some views in population ethics, including diminishing marginal value and average views, the value of producing future generations depends on the quantity of beings and welfare in times and places beyond our causal reach. Within these viewpoints large future populations do not automatically have overwhelming moral importance. However, if there are large inaccessible populations, then perspectives like these will-like total utilitarianism and its kin-also place overwhelming weight on the interests of large future populations. Past generations of hominids, and especially of non-human animals, greatly outnumber the current generation, and provide such an inaccessible population. Life elsewhere in the universe might do so as well. Such populations, in addition to changing the recommendations within these theories, may or may not reduce the weight given to the theories in deliberation.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Increasing and improving saving as a philanthropic cause

Summary: While labor's share of world GDP is over one half, capital's share is close to one third. When considering altruistic interventions to increase economic output, as in GiveWell Labs' exploration of U.S. policy, efforts to increase saving and investment should be considered alongside efforts to improve effective labor supply. Compulsory savings schemes and government savings schemes have been used in other developed countries to induce savings far above U.S. levels, and global adoption of such schemes could produce annual gains of many trillions of dollars, although the potential gains are substantially less than the potential gains of labor mobility. Regulatory changes to default pension/investment contributions might also capture important, albeit smaller, gains.