Eli Dourado asks how risk-averse we should be with respect to civilization, in particular how much we should trade off expected economic growth for greater safety against existential risk. I would stress that the best recipe for both growth and stability is high quality institutions. There is thus a broad swath of choices we can make that will boost both growth and stability, namely improving institutions. Nonetheless, there will be cases where the two conflict, all the more so if we allow imaginary thought experiments in the door. I do not offer any solution to that problem in my book, but there are plenty of improvements we can make in the meantime and those do cover most of the empirically relevant cases.
If you are wondering, I do not believe in maximizing “the expected value of civilization” but rather I suggest placing special weight on the costs of extinction. For instance, if we could play “double or nothing” with the current galaxy, at odds of 51-49, I would say don’t do it. I do stress that my arguments apply best to the cone of possible outcomes within current economic growth trajectories.
Joshua Kim has some further questions, in response I would like to make one observation. For the world as a whole, which I take to be the relevant moral unit, income inequality has been going down for several decades. I believe pro-growth policies would do more yet to raise outcomes for the poor, though of course in some cases they may also create billionaires at a faster rate. Thus income inequality could sometimes go up, but I am fine with that.
I agree with Agnes Callard that non-utilitarian motivations may well produce more utility, and I discuss this briefly in the book, when I cover the necessity of grounding systems on some notion of faith. A side note: much as I love the paintings of Vermeer, has he contributed so much to economic growth as Callard suggests? Peter Paul Rubens, who also was a diplomat (and far more prolific on canvas), may hold the pride of place here, or how about the Italian Renaissance artists, for helping to resurrect interest in the contributions of the ancient world, Callard’s favorite Plato included?