74: Career, Effective Altruism, and Pharmacology with Aaron Bergman

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Hosted by
Will Jarvis

In this episode, I’m joined by Aaron Bergman. We talk about how to build a successful career, effective altruism, pharmacology, and a whole lot more. Aaron is a recent graduate of Georgetown. You can check out his substack at: https://aaronbergman.substack.com/


William Jarvis 0:05
Hey folks, welcome to narratives. narratives is a podcast exploring the ways in which the world is better than in the past, the ways that is worse in the past towards a better, more definite vision of the future. I’m your host, William Jarvis. And I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. You can find show notes, transcripts and videos at narratives podcast.com.https://youtu.be/1Dr-IAg_zIE

Will Jarvis 0:42
Well, Aaron, how are you doing?

Aaron Bergman 0:44
I’m doing very well. How are you? Good. Well,

Will Jarvis 0:46
Aaron, thanks for hopping on. Could you just give us a brief bio and some of the big themes and ideas you’re interested in?

Aaron Bergman 0:54
Yes, so um, I have grown up in Bethesda, Maryland, next to Washington, DC my entire life. Right now I’m a senior at Georgetown University. I’m majoring in economics and mathematics and monitoring in philosophy. And I feel like I have a whole bunch of interest. So definitely interested in economics, on politics and public policy across like a really wide range of areas, you know, like everything from climate change, health care, Science, and Technology Policy, all that sort of like all of the above, also really into effective altruism actually starting in effective altruism club at Georgetown University, which I’m super duper excited about, which is also going to be having its own podcast, coming up shortly. Um, awesome. And, um, besides that, I also really like rock climbing, been a rock climber for a little while.

William Jarvis 1:43
Super cool. Well, we’ll plug your show in the in the show notes, everything make sure you buy is linked to it. That’s great. That’s super exciting. So you know, Eric, actually, I found your blog, you put a link on the slate star Codex Reddit page, and you’re talking about the topic is not the content. And I really enjoyed this blog post. Essentially, you’re talking about entering the workforce, and you’ve got this this fresh perspective, right? Because you know, you’re about to graduate, you’re, you’re, you’re an intern, and keep talking that posts a little bit I really enjoyed it.

Aaron Bergman 2:20
Yes. So my, I have a sense that booth for me, and also for my peers, like we’re in the process right now of like figuring out, you know, well, a couple of years ago, like what to major and what to study at college, which is really like the first time we get to, like, really choose what to study for many of us. And now we’re up to like the point of literally applying for jobs and internships and sort of deciding what we kind of want to do with our lives. And one thing, I think that sort of intuitive is a way to go about this is to sort of ask yourself, you know, like, what are you interested in? Or what do you like thinking about or talking about or discussing? And then maybe think about, like, what ways can you like, apply that to your career. And I actually think this is a little bit misguided, because based on sort of my very brief experience, a lot of times, like, what I’ve been calling, like the topic so like, the topic area related to what sort of like a job or a college major is about isn’t actually that closely related to like, the minute to minute, hour to hour work, and sort of like content. And for those who can’t see me, I’m doing like air quotes, content of a job. Um, and so my basic, I guess, recommendation is that we focus a little bit more on like the actual minute to minute activities of what we’re sort of good at and enjoy doing, rather than thinking more about like, what sort of general for lack of a better word topics do we want to relate our sort of careers to?

Will Jarvis 3:47
Yeah, that’s always a super wise and it’s a, it’s so often missed when people are thinking about choosing careers. It’s, it’s what are you actually doing on the day to day? And do you enjoy that and like, you know, what, what are the specific activities you’re doing? A friend? He’s an attorney, he clerked on a Gorsuch and, you know, if he talks about this a lot, this one and he’s like, you know, you really need to think about like, there’s the you know, because you get a high status job, where you just like the what you’re actually doing just like incredibly boring, or it doesn’t align with your interest. But like, the topic is on point, you know, like, Oh, yes, like, I love constitutional law. But then, you know, when you’re actually doing the gig, it’s like, I don’t know, maybe you’re sitting there writing briefs or reading briefs, and maybe you don’t like reading briefs. And that would be pretty brutal. But I I really like it because I think most people just, you’re absolutely right, they completely miss this fact, that probably the most important thing you should be looking at is what are you actually doing? Are you interested in that? Not like the broad topic of whatever like the field is?

Aaron Bergman 4:51
Yeah, and I’ll just like give you an example. So like, take math, like math, it’s always sort of been my thing a little bit like Yeah, um, for as long as I can remember but like, I actually I find like sort of pure math just like superduper. Boring, like, um, but you know what I’m actually so like, I would never read like a nonfiction, nonfiction book or like a popular nonfiction book, for example, I think I’d find that just like, like, all right, yeah, when I’m like actually like, sort of doing a proof, I can, like get really into it and actually can find that like, quite enjoyable. Um, see, I guess that just goes to show how these two sort of things can kind of disconnect. Yeah,

Will Jarvis 5:28
that’s cool. Are there any other observations you’ve seen being like fresh to the working world? Like I, you know, you’re, you’re at a really interesting place, right? I remember being there a couple of years ago, where, you know, you’re like you, you enter the workforce, and you’ve got this, like, narrow view into it, but you know, you’ve never been exposed to it. And like, there’s weird things going on. Is there anything else that you’ve noticed that it’s like, that’s kind of something that people that are kind of immersed in it, they can’t see the? Like, fish? They don’t notice the water? That makes sense?

Aaron Bergman 5:57
Yeah, so that’s a great question. Um, you know, I don’t really want to make too many generalizations. Because my, you know, I’ve worked with like, I’ve been like a math tutor. And right now, I’m actually interning at the Department of the Interior. So like, one thing that’s been on my mind, maybe this is like a very general point. But it’s just that like, I think to outsiders, things just like, seem more arbitrary than they do that people have been sort of like, imbued in the work for a while. And so just like, as an example, like something that we’re doing at the Department of the Interior, there’ll be like, you know, one question is, like, do you incorporate the social cost of greenhouse gases, you know, like, the externalities related to carbon? When you’re like tallying up, like, what are the economic effects of X and Y policy? And like, my initial thought was like, Yeah, like, obviously, like, like, why would you not do this, but like, that’s not necessarily so obvious to, to the people who have been like, sort of going about doing something one way or another this whole time. And I sort of would guess that this trend would hold true more generally, although I’m definitely not not certain. So like, I think just like, maybe the value of just like asking, sort of like a newbie in general, like, you know, what, things don’t seem so obvious, or like, maybe you think we should change might be like a valuable way for like companies, organizations, the government, etc, to like, to sort of like knock themselves out of that sort of, like, default way of doing things.

Will Jarvis 7:21
Yeah, I think that’s a great idea. And perhaps this is why consultants make so much money or else. Well, perhaps there’s other reasons why many things going on there. Um, yeah, I think. I think that’s super well, but I have thought that was a good thought too. Oh, well, okay. Yeah, that’s one of those things, right? We can come back to that. Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, so you’re interested in effective altruism. And, oh, I remember it now. Right before escape force here, I’ll add a magic of editing. And we’ll fix that but have you noticed the most shocking thing to me enter the workforce was Have you heard of Cornell’s iron law of bureaucracy?

Aaron Bergman 8:05
I feel like maybe but you’re gonna have to remind me Okay,

Will Jarvis 8:09
so it goes something like over time the people in the organization that are loyal to the organization’s mission are crowded out by the people that whose primary goal is to like gain status within the organization and rise to the top and you see this with like older organizations like oh god like no one’s really trying to do the thing they’re all just trying to you know, somehow like bureaucratically navigate and like i don’t know i think that was the most surprising thing to me Have you ever noticed anything like this you know working and you know if you don’t want to talk about it that’s completely fine because I’m sure you’re still in it so but but have you noticed that working in the federal government

Aaron Bergman 8:48
Yes, so I would actually it definitely sounds like a like a plausible theory um, I would if anything I’ve been actually surprised at how it’s like at least in my very limited personal experience like hasn’t been super true I mean, obviously like i don’t i don’t know what time like I’ve been working at the dry for a couple months for example. But like everybody that I see at least like seems to be superduper like passionate about what they’re actually do it and actually like I know content like that’s that’s totally both the topic and the content I think and you know, I um, both of my parents are government lawyers, you know, there’s a government family living in DC and I know that like they’re you know, they’re both very they’re quite successful but they’re definitely passionate about like really helping, you know, the American consumer or, you know, applying their AI creating like, effective regulation So, you know, I do think that as a general as like a starting point that’s probably not a not a bad guess, but I wouldn’t necessarily underestimate the effects of like, having a strong culture and like sort of dislike social norms that people who like really want to be doing what they’re doing like like that definitely like has a force to play as well. Like I wouldn’t be overly cynical about bureaucracies.

Will Jarvis 9:58
Interesting. That’s really Interesting. That’s cool. I like that. And is this was your particular group? Was it a newer group with ngoi? Or is it for a long time?

Aaron Bergman 10:09
Like I think it’s been around for long enough to have them have have changed their name. So so it’s got to be a couple years at least

Will Jarvis 10:17
interesting. Well, that’s, that’s good to hear. It’s good. It’s quite surprising. I just want I wonder about this in the, in the context of just coming out of this, you know, this COVID world, right and my favorite anecdote with about our response, you know, the federal government is the CDC in Atlanta, you know, they’re bringing there’s a 60 minutes piece a while back about, they had a cruise ship, it’s like it was the diamond princess thing was another one. But you know, they loaded up the passengers onto an airplane, everyone is super sick with COVID, all these elderly people, people are falling over on the falling over the flight, they land in Atlanta, it’s where the CDC has their like, you know, special unit deal with infections and pathogens that are coming to the country. Everyone gets out of the airplane, and they walk into the airport, and they kind of look at everybody, and they just go, just just go right ahead, you know, people like falling over dying, you know, COVID, and they walk into the busiest airport in the US. So I like, I wonder like, like, What is going on? Right? And so perhaps this is localized to certain parts of, you know, the federal government’s apparatus, and it’s just not

Aaron Bergman 11:21
Yeah, you know, I’m not there. I’m not I’m no, like expert on like, that the functioning of the federal government bureaucracy, and like, the US federal government is absolutely gigantic. So I’m sure there’s a lot of different. Yeah, um, you know, I think there is like a little bit of a conflict between what I was saying before about, like, sort of like defaults and precedents, like, I’m taking precedent for lack of a better word, and like the people who like genuinely really care about their jobs, you know, it’s quite possible that, like, everybody who was involved in that decision, like if they were to, like, have been the person in power, like, wouldn’t have done that, but for one reason or another, like the protocols were just were, like, just such that, like, the default thing to do was to, like, let them like, go off the plane. And like, there’s nobody like empowered enough to, like really override that, which is like not to excuse like, the system as a whole. Like, I think it’s absolutely terrible. Um, yeah, but like, maybe that goes a little ways toward explaining what was going

Will Jarvis 12:14
on. Yeah, exactly. The kind of diffusion of responsibility. It’s quite interesting. Maybe a little bit effective altruism. I know you’re you started in clubs here, you’re, or you’re in the club, and you’re starting a podcast around a pet of altruism through the club. So I know you’re quite into the to the, to that topic. How did you first get introduced to it? And, you know, yeah, like, let’s start there. How did you first get introduced to EA?

Aaron Bergman 12:41
Yes. So as I said, I’ve been a competitive rock climber for a while. So back in high school, we had this event that me and my friends put on called the mile climb, where we started, we tried to climb a vertical mile inside. So that’s 130 to 40 foot routes over the course of a day. And this is a fundraiser. So for the first couple years, we just chose like random charities based on what sounded good. But as one of the organizers, at one point I came across, give well, and most of your audience probably knows what that is. But just briefly, they like evaluate charities, but like how much they can do to like help people, especially in the, in the developing world, for example, by preventing malaria. And they’re like an integral sort of part of the effective altruism movement. And from there, I just started, like learning more about it and was like, pretty quickly sort of convinced that this is like a good way of like, framing, you know, how to use your career, how to use your money to help people. So yeah, that’s how I found out about it.

Will Jarvis 13:33
Nice. Let’s go. Let’s go. And I think it’s a, I think it’s super important, just that like that, you know, there’s objections to that. Absolutely. Like of altruism, utilitarianism in general. But I think, generally, we should try to give to charities that, you know, at least spend the money on the thing they’re trying to do and like and try and think about what causes are more effective than others. I think that’s a, it’s a very good thing to do in general. And something a lot of people miss, you know, there’s like the feel good aspect of charity. And that kind of I think that overrides generally, how people think about like, you know what to give to? Yeah, absolutely. So you wrote another piece, and it was about how we treat children. So can you frame that a little bit? I thought it was a really good piece. Yeah,

Aaron Bergman 14:22
yeah. Yeah, of course. So my piece was basically, um, about how we, we as a society, sort of adults in general, in the United States, I don’t want to speak for the whole world, just like, don’t treat children super well. And by that, I mean, like, we kind of do what I call like casual disrespect, like quite often. So I start with this opening example of how when I was a summer camp counselor, I remember that like, all the counselors would sort of like lie to the kids, the campers about their age all the time, even though I couldn’t think of like a plausibly, like compelling reason to do this. You know, like, like, these were just like normal. You No nine to 15 year olds or whatever, and they wanted to know, like, basic biographical information about, like, you know, their counselors, and they would ask me, you know, how old are you, but for some reason, like there was, like a norm around like not saying your age, and I don’t think it was ever, like an official rule. Um, and just as a little bit more context, you know, like, there’s obviously things that you shouldn’t tell like that, like that should topics that should be off limits for discussion. I completely agree with that. But like, why did we have to lie so much, you know, and so I think, if I recall correctly, I was like, one of the few counselors that just started sort of telling them, you know, like, yeah, I’m 16 years old, and part of this was cuz I looked like I was 13, or something at the time, like, I wanted them to know that I was, like, in fact, older than them. But then yeah, so I think that sort of holds true more generally, like, it’s not that we should treat kids identically to adults, like, there are real substantive differences between kids and adults, I mean, especially kids of, you know, younger ages. But the fact of their youth or their age alone is it shouldn’t be a sufficient reason to treat them differently. So like, in general, you know, if there’s not a compelling reason to tell him to tell a lie, or, you know, maybe have less loaded term is to say, an untrue statement or something like that, then in general, just like our rule of thumb should be, you know, we shouldn’t do that. Also, you know, things like kind of, like baby talking, like, I know, I think it’s like very tempting, sort of, like natural even, even if there’s a kid like, you know, eight or 10 years old, he’s like, not like an infant to like, talk to them in sort of, like a weird mannerism. And it’s kind of like, you know, why do we do that, I think we’re just basically conveying, you know, like, you don’t really deserve to be treated like, like a real sort of normal human being. And I sort of do remember, throughout my childhood, wondering, you know, like, why, like, why am I being treated so differently? Like, it’s not like, Is there any some like, like, magical thing that happens when I turn like 18 or 20. And I can tell you, like, I’m 21 now like, no, like, like, there’s nothing magical that happens when you turn 18 or 20, that like, makes you officially an adult. So that’s like, the basic story.

Will Jarvis 16:56
Yeah, I thought, I think that’s a it’s quite wise to notice that. You know, as at a party, my wife, she works, works, or she used to work in a psychology lab here at the University of North Carolina, and they had a party with the psychology department, and I went, and they had a psychologist there from Duke. And he was a he’s a big researcher in developmental psychology. And so I asked him, you know, like, What do you understand about your field? I love this question. You know, what do you understand about your field that lay people just like that, like, everyone your field knows, but lay people just like don’t understand or would be surprised by any find out some really interesting things. Anyway, he mentioned like, the biggest thing is kids, they understand a ton of things, you know, a lot more than we give them credit for. And so like, treating them like they’re just like, this other like, and like you said, of course, like, there’s special cases where you like, there’s topics should be off limits, but when you’re talking to them, you know, they they, you should, should not try to like, I don’t know, it’s like, really, it’s a bizarre thing. Why do you think we we treat them differently? Like they don’t? Like, almost like, they’re fools in

Aaron Bergman 18:02
some sense. Yeah, you’re always thinking about this. And one thing, it just like, so I was thinking back to, like, you know, what was the experience of being say, like, 610 14, whatever, like, versus, like, how did I come across? And like, when I like read something that I wrote when I was like, eight, like, it just like, obviously, sounds like way less like mature, like, right, it’s like, way less like coherent or whatever. So like, maybe it’s that kids are just, like, much worse at like, communicating and expressing their idea, their ideas, and they aren’t actually like having their ideas kind of. So you know, if there’s like an eight year old, and he’s like, messing up the grammar. He’s like, you know, not conjugating verbs. Like correctly. Like, I think it’s tempting to maybe assume that that kind of like translates over into like, the actual sort of, like contents of his thought for like, lack of a better term. Whereas, you know, maybe it maybe it just doesn’t, like maybe it’s just that, like, kids are still learning like language, you know, it takes a while to be good at like eloquent writing, um, but like, that doesn’t necessarily reflect sort of what’s going on underneath the surface, like we should probably give them a little bit more credit for, like the fundamental sort of, like integrity and maturity of their ideas.

Will Jarvis 19:09
Yeah, I think it’s a it’s a Yeah, it’s a thing where it would make sense that obviously they’re not as good as communicating their ideas because you know, it takes a while to even get your own theory of mind for other people and and understand and empathize with with them. So you’d have transmitting ideas probably in a good way, you know, it takes some time to get there. So perhaps is just this fallacy and trap adults fall into all the time where we just like they’re all just like, there’s just completely stupid Don’t ever say anything yet.

Aaron Bergman 19:42
And one more one more little thing I’ll mention is that in this piece, I do cite this like Atlantic article, forget what it’s called, but basically about how you know this is not a human universal, like there are other cultures that basically treat kids you know, Now obviously, they don’t treat like two year olds like they’re 20 year olds, like there’s real differences there. But like basically just treat them a lot more normal. Like no excessive one thing I call out is like excessive praise that like kids can obviously see through. I remember for one, like, like when I was, like, in like little league baseball, like being constantly complimented and like, knowing that it was BS. And so like, I’m sure I’m not like, I’m not like that the only kid who realized that, so like, there’s other cultures that like, don’t do this, like constant praise, basically, like don’t like, constantly throw, like, modified forms of attention on kids. So it’s not something that like, has to be, you know, we as a culture, I think could could sort of move in the right direction.

Will Jarvis 20:33
Yeah. And I think it’s, it’s important to do so, you know, a lot of my wife’s research has been in you know, like, the language you use the metacognitive language used and teachers use and how that’s important and people develop their thinking. And if you completely just, you know, talk to someone like they’re stupid, you know, it’s like, maybe in some sense of self perpetuating. I don’t know enough about it, but it seems like it’d be a good idea to avoid some of that. So I’m curious. You’re interested in, in drugs and psychopharmacology? Is that correct?

Aaron Bergman 21:10
Yeah. Yeah. One of my like disparate interests. That’s right.

Will Jarvis 21:14
Nice. Um, have you ever heard of zolpidem? zolpidem, zolpidem? Excuse my pronunciation, but the Ambien effect, this is an aside but you’ve heard a dampening

Aaron Bergman 21:24
effect I feel like I’ve heard the Ambien effect like that phrase used but once again, you’re gonna have to remind me Okay, you

Will Jarvis 21:30
should check this out. I think you’ll like this. So if you give a certain TBI patients like so people that have suffered traumatic brain injuries, and you know, they can’t talk or there’s like, you know, severe cognitive impairment sometimes if you give them Ambien, you know, for about 30 minutes, they’ll regain a lot of function. So you know, they’ll be able to talk and things like that. Anyway, there’s like all these weird things with the brain. That’s that’s what I’m trying to the general sense I’m trying to, it’s really interesting, right? All these weird effects so how did you originally get interested was there like, one moment or it’s just like, this is an interesting topic, don’t really know where it came from, it came from,

Aaron Bergman 22:09
I mean, I wouldn’t say a single moment, but like, one thing it just like, I had a family member who was struggling with an illness that they really did the research and thought that they needed their particular medication. And I’ve talked to this person, they’re okay with me mentioning that in the abstract, um, and, um, and they sort of were up against, so they really did their research basically, into like, like, the effects of this medication and sort of what types of effect it was going to have on their brain, etc. And they really ran up against some issues, like getting it prescribed, like they couldn’t really convince anyone to prescribe it. And so this got me really interested both in like, sort of medicine and as an institution, kind of, and then also just psychopharmacology. In general it was like a mental health medication and, um, and just also sort of, from a different lens, I just, sort of intrinsically find it fascinating how, you know, drink a cup of coffee, and you feel a little bit different, you know, I’m not that since I’ve just turned 20 why, and I can think I can say, you know, have a sip of beer and feel a little bit different. And, you know, this is sort of like the raw experience of life like, a baby basically, like, like, the way that we sort of conceptualize the world and feel it’s like controlled by like tiny little chemicals sort of coursing through our brains, I just sort of intrinsically find that very interesting.

Will Jarvis 23:30
Ya know, it’s really fascinating. And even just, you know, I think was probably four months ago, you know, I made a big cup, a cup of a big pot of coffee, and I, and, you know, I was working on some, like tasks required me to really focus and I ended up drinking, you know, like, the entire pot over like, couple hours. And like, man, like, I feel like distinctly different and like, I like this, and I kind of got, I drink so much caffeine, you know, I’ve got some euphoria going on, right? And I was like, man, like, it’s incredible how chemical like our experience is, right? Like, you know how weird it is that you can modify that like, it doesn’t. I don’t know that perhaps it’s just like a banal assumption, but it’s like, but all thought but I think that I find that really interesting. Are there you mentioned not being able to you know, this person Yeah, they read all the literature determine that this drug would be beneficial or something like that. They try to get it prescribed can’t convince anybody to do it. Do you think we should have more wax? laws around prescription drugs in the US?

Aaron Bergman 24:36
Yeah, I do. So first of all, I’ll just say I’m not an absolutist in the sense like I there are definitely people who would say that, like the government has absolutely no business regulating, you know, what people write in their bodies. And I think there certainly are certain substances that have like sufficient sort of externalities like that would like you know, cause people to be very violent or do other things that would like impose burdens on like the rest of society. That would warrant sort of government control. Um, but just from a practical standpoint like there’s a lot of just like normal prescription drugs that I don’t think the government should basically forbidden people from taking either entirely or because or until they get doctor’s approval and you know before everybody sort of jumps on this is like very naive I would have which maybe it is to be fair, um, you know, we have to think about like how we’re doing right now so there’s like a bunch of research that shows that like a lot of FDA approved drugs, it’s like aren’t very effective there’s like all this like statistical like malfeasance that goes on like pee hacking and stuff um, by like pharmaceutical companies you know, I think there’s some studies that like cancer drugs like either don’t extend life or extend life by an average of like, you know, seven days or something like that after paying like $50,000 Yeah, so like relative relative to that, like should we be preventing patients who like have done their research who think that like this is like you know, XY and Z X, Y or Z is something that could really improve their lives from taking the substance and I think the answer is is no mostly out of just sort of a basic intern for like you know, autonomy and and justice I guess.

Will Jarvis 26:14
Yeah. No, it’s uh yeah, I think it’s super important Yeah, and I agree you know, like fitness you know, maybe it should you know that that should probably be illegal we should probably regulate that but there’s a you know, there’s a whole class of things that we have that we just disallow and it also drives the price up right. Which which makes things worse I remember you know, recently my dog got sick and he got some medication prescribed there’s an issue with the prescription it took like three weeks to get the medication because the issue with prescription and you know, that’s USDA and FDA but you couldn’t I couldn’t walk in the store and just buy you know it’s sitting there and no one will give it to me and it’s like this is for a dog This is not like there’s no way you can abuse this you know, it’s like it’s just like some regulation like creep or something that’s caused this to be or just the pharmacy lobby I’m not sure which but so I guess I’m curious you’ve written a couple of posts about different drugs and like whether or not they should have been approved like whether or not they work do any of those stand out is like really interesting cases.

Aaron Bergman 27:23
I yeah. I mean, I’ll just mention the one that cut like the one that I wrote recently about which is add a Canon map so you got like it’s an obscure name but like this is the controversial Alzheimer’s drug like if you google like culture original Alzheimer’s drug, it’ll pop up in articles. And this is like so the basics background is like a, a drug for Alzheimer’s? Basically, my impression is that it showed very little efficacy unless you look at a very specific sub population of patients and the FDA approved it anyway. Um, actually recently they backtracked on that so I don’t actually know what the official status is right now um, but at first glance I was like wow, like this is pretty bad this is like industry pressure you know, winning I mean, and also a little bit more sympathetically you know, patients like Alzheimer’s advocacy groups, I think we’re pushing for it as well which is very understandable. You know, there are millions of people who are sort of pinning their hopes on on this like one drug because I know there have been a lot of attempts to develop Alzheimer’s drugs and without very much success. And so my sense is like wow, like this is like basically government not working, you know, pressure groups like affecting regulation, but then after thinking about it, I was like, well actually no, like the FDA you know, even though the FDA shouldn’t have put their mark on it as safe and effective. Like they were right not to block people from taking it like it should be. Some people have different risk tolerances, and Alzheimers is a terrible disease. And I don’t and it’s almost certainly not an abusable drug, you know, like from a recreational standpoint. And so so basically like it should be up to patients and their doctors to decide whether to take it and the FDA was basically right not to stand in their in their way um, in that sense. And the other thing I’ll mention here is that I do think that I’m removing sort of the mandatory FDA approval I’m so in sort of my dream world, let me take a step back for a second in my dream world, the FDA would still like review drugs, they would still demand randomized clinical trials from drug companies, but they wouldn’t be in the business of once they receive those clinical trials, the data etc. Blocking thing from being sold. Um, so I do think that the current system of where the FDA basically approved the drug is safe and effective, kind of takes the pressure inappropriately off of like medicine and individual doctors to like, critically evaluate the evidence to like right now like no, no one is good. If you have a patient diagnosed with like x and there’s a drug that’s approved for x. I’m sort of guessing that a lot of times like the doctor, maybe it’s Under a huge amount of pressure to, like, critically evaluate whether x is in fact, right for the patient. And so I do think that removing this sort of barrier might, in a good way, like put a little bit more pressure back on both, like doctor and institutional medicine and patient alike to like, on an individual basis, sort of like, um, clarify whether, you know, whether whether we think this is a good, you know, cost benefit analysis worth taking. Um, so I do think that maybe an unexpected effect that this might have, but again, this is, this is just speculation.

Will Jarvis 30:30
Got it? And I definitely think dealing with you, I think, I wonder if it would be wise just to lean into safety, you know, like FDA, like, you know, why don’t you just focus on safety and efficacy? Like, you know, just cut that out? And, and, you know, maybe demand RCTs, but like, not, can make the decision from there. It’s, uh, yeah, I don’t know, it is interesting, when you read like that, that post you put up, like, it’s like, well, you know, what drugs? Do we have that that actually work? You know, what I mean? Like, it’s a short list, you know, antibiotics work,

Aaron Bergman 31:04
vaccines, luckily, yeah,

Will Jarvis 31:05
vaccines, you know, like, short list. prison sentences, right? I tend to think I want to talk about the posts a little bit, do you think it’s more important to, it does seem to be consistency, a punishment is much more important than like severity. And we probably worry too much about severity and like cranking it up. So you appear tough? What do you think about that? What do you think about prison sentencing here in the US?

Aaron Bergman 31:38
Yes. So I have sort of two distinct views like one is like in total agreement, consistency, just like impure both, like, both of them, like an intuitional perspective. And I’m like, empirically, like I’ve like look like to do it like a little bit on consistency, just like much better at deterring crime. So like, if I mean, just imagine that you were 100% sure that if you were to steal a bike, you’re gonna go to jail, like no one would steal a bike or like, basically, nobody would steal a bike. Yeah, and obviously, we can’t get to 100%. But right now, like the US, in general is actually like, shockingly bad at like, finding criminals. And like, this sort of, I don’t think necessarily accords with like, some popular images of the US as being like really tough on crime. And like, you know, inhumanely, so which I definitely think it is, in some ways, but like, I do think that we should, sort of, we should call out the fact that like, many, I think, except for murder, like, a huge number of crimes, go unsolved. And just like, empirically, this is really the thing that we could change to reduce crime, because, you know, whenever you think about criminal justice issues, etc, etc. Nobody in general, you know, crimes are, in fact, a bad thing. Like, we would want to read more in general. And, um, and yeah, and so making sure that that people sort of know, like, have a higher confidence that if they do something that harms other people, that something bad’s going to happen, hopefully not, you know, life ruining our awful, that definitely, almost certainly would really reduce crime. And the second thing, which, you know, gets to the piece that you were mentioning, is even like, putting that aside, I do, I do think that prison sentences sort of as a whole, are too long on. And you know, I haven’t sort of technocratic brand for a lot of these posts that I write, but like, this one, really came out of just like thinking about like, Wow, so like, I hear all the time, not all the time, but like, occasionally I’ll hear you know, you know, john goes to prison for 20 years, you know, Derrick goes to prison for 10 years, or five years, or even one year, like, Wait a second, like, those are just like, incredibly long periods of time. Like, yeah, like 10 years. Like, that’s when I was like, 11 years old. Like, that seems like, just like, it’s like, literally almost half my life. Like, that’s a huge amount of time. Like, how sure are we that like, that’s actually the appropriate type of sentence. And like, especially in the context that like prison sentencing just empirically doesn’t do much for deterring crime. And consistency is much more important. It just like, as a whole, I just do think that prison sentences in general should be it should be shifted shorter. So I’d love to love to hear what you think about that. And whether this is just like, again, one, like very naive.

Will Jarvis 34:11
Yeah, right. It makes no sense at all. So wonder, you know, like, I think people could tell the difference between one year and like going, you know, life in prison, but like, you know, like, when you’re conceptualizing of how bad something will be, like, the difference between five and 10 years, like, I don’t feel like you know, this enters in the calculus really, right, like, Yeah, exactly. And so I wonder if that that’s just as big for just, you know, reducing sentences in general, it’d be a lot cheaper as well, you know, all kinds of things. You mentioned something, I think that’s interesting. Do you get the sense that, that America is simultaneously like, over policed and under policed in the sense that you know, we have a lot less cops on the beat than other countries do. And it’s, it’s a much more it feels much more adversarial. And you know that you know it’s almost random like when the cops are there you know it gets violent a lot more like there there are a lot of violent incidents involving police that don’t involve killings you know it’s like you’ve beaten a lot of people up and that’s that’s really bad to do you get the sense that we could do better if we just had more cops you know perhaps compensate them better and it actually encouraged them to get out in the community more

Aaron Bergman 35:26
um, yeah so this is probably going to be a little bit of an unpopular opinion in in maybe some of my circles but yeah, I’m in total agreement with that I if you just like my impression of the literature is literally just having cops like stand on corners just like looking around doing absolutely nothing is like very effective at preventing crime because you know, like, people don’t steal bikes and there’s like a cop right there. Right? So So and then also there’s like surveys that show that even people who like really think that like police violence and aggressiveness is like a serious issue often do, in fact, want more police in their communities. So I do think that there’s a lot of potential literally for just having, you know, if we if there’s a way to make police, you know, interact more appropriately and, and be more well accepted by their communities. I do think there’s a lot to be gained by literally having like cops literally just as like, as eyes, I’m sure just like standing around in neighborhoods, like preventing crime that way because it’s it’s like a remarkably effective how, how effective that is. But you know, all that said, I don’t at all want to discount, like the very real, you know, issues of police brutality, I don’t want to make any sort of like statistical claims or anything. But my general sense is that, you know, despite, you know, having fewer cops on the beat, as you said, as other countries, um, there’s a little bit of a culture of, yeah, as you said, an adversarial relationship between the police and the communities, they’re, you know, supposed to be protecting. And I, you know, there’s been a lot of ink spilled on this topic. I’m not going to be the one to like solve it, unfortunately. But I think you’re absolutely right, that like we’re sort of, there’s no like one unit directional way of fixing, like the police issue in America, like, things have to sort of bow and go in both directions a little bit.

Will Jarvis 37:14
Yeah, absolutely. And however, you know, Tyler Cowen, you know, Tyler Cowen? Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Say it conversations. Tyler, he had some lady on from the University of Virginia, and I hate to call her out, but she’s one of these. She’s, like, really important police scholar, she’s, like, one of the most cited people. And he kept asking her, you know, like, what policy prescriptions do you have? And she’s like, I don’t know, I don’t? I don’t know. And, you know, to some extent, I do understand, like, you don’t want to, like, proclaim something if you’re not sure. But you know, what I worry about is if all the scholars that know, everything are like, we don’t know, we’re not going to make any policy prescriptions, then you know, who’s gonna make the policy prescriptions? You know, yeah, yeah. It’s like, how do we go anywhere, then, if you aren’t gonna have any ideas, right? Like, you have to have some idea, you know, if you, if you are the best, you have to have some idea, in some sense, be just like, don’t want to commit. I don’t know, it’s a weird field. But it’s something very important to work on. I hate to stick on police. But one thing I’ve noticed is a weird thing about the police is it’s super politically polarized in the sense that, you know, 90 plus percent of cops are, you know, red tribe in this country. And it’s, I wonder if it’s kind of the same thing with police unions, where 90 plus percent of the teachers, you know, they’re blue tribe, and you get all these weird and weird things going on, when like, it’s just like, ultra concentrated on one side of the political spectrum. Do you think that plays into it at all?

Aaron Bergman 38:38
Yeah, I do. This gets a little bit back to what I was saying about just like culture in different, like different parts of the government, I think that actually can have a really strong effect. Um, you know, I haven’t done like a recent, like literature review on this, but I think a little bit based on what I’ve like, read, and then also just sort of introspecting as to what it would be like to be a cop, you know, I’m in a place yeah, like a maid night. It’s a 90% fellow Trump supporters, for example. And what that would be like, relative to, like, I imagined, like my peers at Georgetown all, like turning into the police force, and like, what that would be like, and I just have a sense, those would be very different experiences. Um, you know, I don’t know how tractable this issue is, though, like, how do we change that? If it’s changed? I really don’t know.

Will Jarvis 39:21
Yeah, I think this is politically infeasible. But I think if you doubled salaries for police officers, you know, you’d get a very different kind of, like, you know, he’s like, I don’t know, like, I think about all my peers that went to this, like, you know, flagship State University, and like, none of them are ever going to become a police officer. It’s just like, not gonna happen, you know what I mean, like, and I just, I wonder about weird effects like that, where, you know, you just select for the search, you’re selecting for something and then once it gets above a certain percentage of certain type of people in there, they’re selecting for themselves and there’s, you know, it just, it keeps spiraling up.

Aaron Bergman 39:59
I think that’s true for So sorry, go ahead.

Will Jarvis 40:00
No, go ahead.

Aaron Bergman 40:01
I think it’s true for like civil servants, to a large extent in general is just like, um, like, there are people who like, if you I mean police is like one issue where one sort of career that is particularly like polarizing in politically, but like even other things that maybe don’t have that as much like I know teachers are pretty diverse politically, like like this out relatively low salaries in many parts of the country just contribute to people sort of having to choose between taking, you know, a career that can pay them significantly more and doing something they want to do that’s like very, very much pro social. And like, this is just not a choice we should be forcing on, at least in my opinion onto people, we could you know, public defenders as well, I think, in general, it would be a good use of our tax dollars to to increase the salaries of many, many such categories of public servants.

Will Jarvis 40:51
Yeah, I think so. And even even to the extent of, you know, if you have to make a trade off with a certain amount of money, it’s like, less highly paid, having less people that are more highly paid, maybe better trade off in some cases. I’m curious, you know, how does this, do issues like this play into, you know, your, your senior, getting ready to graduate? I’m sure you’re thinking about career a lot, you know, you’ve been writing on it? You know, how does this play into how you think about building a career? And have you thought about that very much?

Aaron Bergman 41:19
Yeah, yes, this is very, this is very salient for me right now. Um, I need to give more thought to it, because unlike some of my peers, I don’t have as much of a plan, I think they really should. Um, so I mean, you know, I think I’m very fortunate for being in a position where I get to where I probably do have some options. Um, you know, I’ve been extremely fortunate for being able to go to Georgetown University, for example. And, um, I don’t think I have anything super insightful that to say on this matter, except that unforced like, for better or worse there, there is a trade off in certain respects, between doing something that might seem more intrinsically interesting, versus altruistic. Versus renewal. renumerated, I think is the right word. And, you know, to some extent, this is this is, in fact, functional, even though this is how the economy works. Like there are some things that are less pleasant, and we pay people more to do that. Right, exactly. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. But like, sometimes it could be like kind of a failure, I think, where there might be, yeah, people like me, who might do things that are a little bit more on, like the investment banking side of things, and not for earning to give necessarily, so they don’t just want to donate their money, instead of doing something might be like, more socially valuable and meaningful to them as well.

Will Jarvis 42:37
That’s Yeah, it’s a it’s a real trade off. I’m curious, you know, I’m sure you’re aware of the $80,000 at 80,000 hours, career recommendations? Have you found that valuable?

Aaron Bergman 42:50
Oh, tremendously, I think they’re just, it is what to say 80,000 hours.org is just a probably the single best resource, at least that I’ve found for just thinking about by the year, I’m planning in general, I mean, they aren’t explicitly in the effective altruism organization. And even if you’re not interested in that, a lot, a ton of their resources are just like about, you know, everything from you know, interviewing, and you know, how to plan a career and, you know, a, plan B’s and stuff like that. It’s just incredibly valuable. And, you know, my personal take, I think, is that like, I do sort of agree with them in general, that you should probably start with, like, what are the pros, if you if you do want to make sort of a positive impact in the world, you should really start with like, what are the biggest problems in the world? And then like, how can you use your skills, resolve them instead of thinking, you know, like, how can I apply what I happen to want to do in some, like, in some way? That might that also happens to be beneficial? So yeah, I’m in very much agreement with them. I think.

Will Jarvis 43:50
That’s cool. That’s cool. Let’s see. You ready for overrated, underrated? Oh, of course. Alright. So overrated or underrated? We talked about a little bit but the FDA or excuse me, FDA, overrated?

Aaron Bergman 44:05
I yeah. overrated? Um, yeah, they’re not doing a huge job of approving drugs that actually work and they’re also sometimes like with the COVID vaccines. I’d like to be I like to approve drugs that are not letting people take drugs that would be like, potentially life saving, and I’m not sure how widespread This knowledge is. And like American society, so overrated,

Will Jarvis 44:27
nice. The Washington DC metro area, overrated or underrated?

Aaron Bergman 44:33
Um, yeah, I’m really not the best person to ask because I’ve lived here my whole life. Like I don’t feel like I have a yacht like I need like an outside perspective, I guess. Yeah, yeah. I’m probably appropriately rated, on average, maybe underrated by like, Well, okay, sorry. I’m gonna I’m gonna do a little tangent here. So I would say from the government side, Congress probably overrated, nothing ever happens. You need a wall. filibuster bureaucracy you’ve probably underrated that’s where like a lot of like the rules decisions get made and and that yeah so that’s one thing you know, there’s some aggressive drivers you know to 70s maybe not always but you know, probably probably probably rated on average nice

Will Jarvis 45:19
like the book subtract overrated underrated

Aaron Bergman 45:25
so I actually last time I checked it had four stars on Amazon so it’s not you know, not just good or bad but overrated underrated. So I’d say this is overrated, I read the book, it was when I read it, it was only published a few months, I only read it a few months after it was published. And it basically makes the case that sort of humans in general, like systematically neglect subtraction, as like a way of making change. Um, and part of it comes from like this author’s like individual research, but then he sort of tries to connect it to like broader society and try and, you know, adding in historical anecdotes and evidence, and I really thought the first part was pretty good. Um, like, he does sort of make the case that like at least you know, in the lab like it the the, not just in the lab, actually, um, it like at the individual level, at least he humans really do systematically neglect subtracting, it can be anything from like, shooting, trying to improve a golf course, like people will add elements instead of subtract them. Like, even when you remind people that they’re able to subtract and like a huge number of sort of dimensions and topics. So he did make that pretty convincingly. But everything else was just a little bit weaker. Yeah.

Will Jarvis 46:31
Gotcha. That makes sense. It’s quite interesting. Minimal wage loss. overrated, underrated?

Aaron Bergman 46:37
Oh, yeah. overrated way overrated. Um, so, you know, I definitely am on the at least economically progressive side of things. Um, but I think that of all the way so it basically help poor and middle income people. This is not a particularly good way, basically, because even though there’s plenty of research that right now, like the 725 to $15, minimum wages don’t have a huge negative effect on employment, like we know, basically, for a fact just from like, common sense that at some point, like it would have an effect on employment. So then the question becomes, like, how far can we push it before people start being unemployed, but like, this is not a trade off that we have to make, like if you just have like a negative negative income tax, which basically means giving money to people with low incomes, literally a negative tax, unemployment insurance, things like that, you know, universal basic income, if we’re just giving people money, like we don’t have to worry that we’re going to be like secretly harming them by giving them money. Like there can be negative effects from this, but it’s not going to be harming like the very people that were directly helping it. But like, on the opposite side, like you could imagine a situation where they do like a $25 minimum wage. And some people do, in fact, who would otherwise be hired, you know, cannot find a job because of this. And in this case, we are like, harming the direct people were trying to help. And so because of this, I just don’t think it’s a particularly good way of of sort of, like helping low and middle income people.

Will Jarvis 48:00
That makes a lot of sense. Well, Aaron, thanks for coming on. You have any final thoughts? And where can people find your your blog? Your substack?

Aaron Bergman 48:09
Oh, yeah. Final Thoughts? Well, first of all, I don’t think so. Just thank you so much. This was a blast. had a lot of fun doing this. And my blog. I think the official name is Aaron’s blog, very creative, and I am burgmann.substack.com. And hopefully, we’ll have our my EA groups podcast feed up in the near future. So maybe we’ll stick that in the show notes. But yeah, again, thank you so much.

Will Jarvis 48:35
Definitely has a lot of fun.

Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with a new episode of narratives.

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