Assignment on Autocrats and Philanthropists

  • Single spaced
  • 350+ words per response
  • Be concise! Will send back for revisions if overly redundant!
  • Liberal (Left) opinions preferred


  • 26 and 1.28 – Worst Case Scenarios and Likely Scenarios


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What’s more worrying? Low probability events with huge consequences?  High probability events with uncertain consequences?


For example, should we be concerned that AI might eventually wipe out humanity?


Economists and psychologists think humans discount the future.  Should we value the future less than the present?  Why or why not?


How should we think about the role of time in politics?



  • 2 and 2.4 – Evaluating risk and uncertainty


(Raised questions or problems with the readings, or just thoughts the readings raise for you.)


Addressing risk is in part about assessing probabilities.  But people are terrible at evaluating risk and dealing with uncertainty.  Do the readings help us understand why?


  • 9 and 2.11 – Information and Expertise


Some people will always have something to gain by presenting “truthiness.”  We usually count on “experts” to help us sort out fact from fiction.  But what about questions where there seem to be contradictory expertise, or where experts themselves seem suspect, like the debate around vaccines?  Is it possible to have a policy debate without experts?


  • 16 and 2.18 – Partisanship, Affective Polarization and Motivated Reasoning


How does persuasion happen?  Is it harder to persuade people now than before?  Does partisanship make it harder to persuade people?  Bonus question: Is persuasion necessary in a democracy?


  • 23 and 2.25 – Persuasion and Focusing Events


Is there a point at which people are willing to listen to new information, or is every piece of data filtered through the lens of what we already know, so that we’re unwilling to change our minds about anything?  Surely this can’t be true, since we do in fact change our minds (don’t we?) some of the time.  What do these articles have to say?


  • 2 and 3.4 – Collective Action, Electoral Incentives, and International Cooperation


Why don’t elected officials pay more attention to the long view?


There are lots of barriers to collective action, both at the national and international levels.   How is it that it happens at all?


  • 16 and 3.18 Adaptation and Inequality


One response to climate change might be simply to adapt to it rather than try to mitigate it.  As US climate change reports point out, climate change will probably have winners and losers.  In addition, people and places with more resources will also be more likely to afford to adapt, essentially converting a global public goods issue (climate) into a localized private goods issue (adaptation).  Should we be concerned about equity?


  • 23 and 3.25 Autocrats and Philanthropists


What if the problem in addressing large problems with long time horizons is democracy itself? Is top-down decision making a better option?  Would we better off relying on an executive with emergency powers?  Or how about side-stepping politics altogether, and going with beneficent oligarchs like Gates or Buffet who contribute their billions toward social ends?


  • 30 Insurance


This week’s topic is the role of insurance in thinking about, and managing, the risks of climate change.  Insurance companies have an incentive to try to minimize the risks of climate, since they are on the hook for some of the uncertain costs.  So are insurers potential agents to address climate change?  On the one hand, raising premiums they can change people’s behaviors (building homes away from vulnerable coasts, etc.).   On the other hand, the role of insurance is precisely to spread out risk, making any one of their clients less vulnerable, so maybe the insurance industry won’t change behaviors at all…   Thoughts?






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