Choice Writings of Dominic Cummings

“My own heuristics for working in politics are: focus, ‘know yourself’ (don’t fool yourself), think operationally, work extremely hard, … and ask yourself ‘to be or to do?’”—DC

Dominic Cummings is fascinating for four reasons. One, he is extremely committed to truth-seeking but from a different perspective than most of LW. Two, he has a shocking amount of real-world “success”, especially for a truth-seeker. Three, he fills the missing niche of trying to describe what government is actually like, to great effect. Four, he has uniquely powerful ideas about how to do project management well and how to fix government.

At the very least, he is extremely thought-provoking, and provides tons of value to >30% of people around me who try reading or listening to him.

However, most people get rebuffed by the sheer number of words and posts he’s written (or included as block quotes...). This post is to help people get a foothold in reading him, triage his work, and understand the basics of his perspective.

(Pitch: If you end up liking what he has written or even just my summary, consider subscribing to his Substack, even if only for a month and $10. It’s long been hard to capture much of the value from public goods like good opinions/​models/​writing, leaving them under-incentivized. Now that Substack allows us a convenient way to reward and incentivize good online writers, I want us to do an about-face on our expectations, and not confuse the previous fully-free status quo “is” with the “ought” of a real remuneration scheme. If you really like his writing but are short on cash, reach out to me and I may gift you a subscription.)

If you read nothing else…

The Brexit Story (20k words = ~1.5 hrs, anecdotally 2.5):

This piece is most him. It touches on many of the themes that come up throughout his writing but in a concrete story. (Warning: you might have to do a bit of research into UK politics to understand what’s going on, or just skip the hard parts. You don’t need to understand everything.)


  • He worked ~18 hours a day for 10 months, and really missed his comfortable life

  • “Discussing politics with people almost never accomplishes anything proximally, but in public debate it can be like “throwing seeds to the wind” and you can be happily surprised down the road”

  • A long meditation on how difficult it is to tease apart “why did X win/​lose”, it’s almost always misleading and people tend to make up all sorts of stories that help tie the narrative together and make them look “right all along” when it doesn’t work like that; that’s why this post is named “branching histories” and has a heavy emphasis on how things could very nearly have gone much differently in a zillion ways

  • A diatribe on how politics is like fashion and why almost no one in Remain was voting on the basis of actual understanding of the EU

  • An explanation of how they got the media to still cover their message even though they couldn’t get it to cover serious policy arguments

  • A short fantasy about what better political media (esp TV shows) could look like, involving prediction markets

  • A diatribe on the “delusion of the centre” and how both Tories and Libs think the centre has central views on most things and encourage them a little further toward their side, but actually swing voters tend to side with Libs strongly on some things like health care, white collar crime, and higher taxes on the rich and Tories strongly on some things like violent crime, anti-terrorism, and immigration

  • Politics as a field doesn’t meet the two criteria for true expertise (enough informational structure that real predictions can be made despite complexity, and feedback loops for actual learning), so take everything here with a grain of salt

  • They had such infighting issues that they had to make Potemkin committees to keep all the loitering “political” types tied up in meetings while the core team did the actual work

My next 10 favorite blog posts, not particularly in order:

Hollow Men II

The Hollow Men II: Some reflections on Westminster and Whitehall dysfunction

Four great stories about working in government: at one point they couldn’t fix their own elevator. At all points it was an extraordinary mess. Extremely long, you can ctrl+f “Part II” for the stories and don’t need to finish.

Effective action intro

Unrecognised simplicities of effective action #1: expertise and a quadrillion dollar business

“Plenty of room at the top”—there’s no cap on effectiveness and good management and startup skills, so we might be able to do vastly more impressive things with the right skills and teams. Most concrete points about how to do this are later in the series, but this starts the series that feels to me like it could kick-start a paradigm change.

Systems management and lessons from Mueller

Unrecognised simplicities of effective action #2(b): the Apollo programme, the Tory train wreck, and advice to spads starting work today

A bunch of advice on what he actually means by there being room to be better at systems management, for example matrix management, focusing on people first, Black Saturdays and focus on error-correction, having clear goals set by the top of the org but extreme decentralization of decisions made for how to achieve that, etc. This was better than I had gotten from reading the top management books.


Effective action #4a: ‘Expertise’ from fighting and physics to economics, politics and government

“Fundamental to real expertise is 1) whether the informational structure of the environment is sufficiently regular that it’s possible to make good predictions and 2) does it allow high quality feedback and therefore error-correction. Physics and fighting: Yes. Predicting recessions, forex trading and politics: not so much.”

Somewhat old-hat but I still found it surprisingly clarifying.

Expertise and Government

Effective action #4b: ‘Expertise’, prediction and noise, from the NHS killing people to Brexit

When do fields exhibit true expertise? Why doesn’t government? And some thoughts on the failure to learn from the simplest and biggest successes (e.g. ARPA/​PARC).

Odyssean education:

Some thoughts on education and political priorities

The big essay. The first 5 pages of this are a great summary of his worldview: focused on how scitech is making things move faster and bigger; no one has the knowledge for how to stop or control this; we do have some examples of teams who were effective enough they could plausibly keep up; to get those teams we need a better system of governance and that will require better education for people to meet the requirements; specifically understanding the big pieces from many fields. Skip after page 5 unless you want a deep-dive into tech predictions from 2013 or a re-hash of the scientific worldview.

Seeing Rooms


A cool off-brand essay about the importance of being able to see the important information while you’re working. Gave me some ideas about how to better set-up my own office.

(Paywalled from here down)


Afghanistan SNAFU (situation normal all fucked up): ‘normal’ politics,‘normal’ results

Finally gets further on-message! Explains how “The government does not control the government”, some laws of bureaucracies, and why most things should just be dismantled and rebuilt rather than reformed.

Regime Change

Regime Change #2: A plea to Silicon Valley—start a project NOW to write the plan for the next GOP candidate

Further explains how the goal is “a government that controls the government” and calls for a bold project of ~10 people to make substantial progress here.

Startup government

Startup government: notes on Lee Kuan Yew #3

Really good look at a very different type of government. Goes pretty in-depth on the ramifications of different ideas like {the press should not actually be totally “free”, because ideas/​memes spread based not on truth but on how they strike emotional chords within us, and an unfettered press will use this to gradually accumulate power of an odd sort}, or {a serious government should strongly empower standing anti-corruption investigations into itself}, etc. The other LKY notes (1,2,4) are also similarly good.

You can find his index of blog posts here, broken into topic. In general the three areas he blogs about that I find most interesting are:

  • Unrecognized simplicities of effective action

  • How to run governments

  • Many boots-on-the-ground stories about how politics actually went during the Brexit referendum, his stint as Chief Advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson 2019-2020, his time in the Department for Education, and other selections.

I don’t get as much out of:

  • Complexity and politics

  • Cutting-edge science summaries

I haven’t read the Education section but it looks interesting as more boots-on-the-ground experience-fodder.

Regarding my biases: the cutting-edge science is well-understood by those around me, so it’s just old-hat. The Complexity series also feels a bit old-hat and just doesn’t capture me that well. So know that those are my biases here, and I’m foisting them onto you because I expect you’re similar to me.