Moloch is the per­son­ifi­ca­tion of the forces that co­erce com­pet­ing in­di­vi­d­u­als to take ac­tions which, al­though lo­cally op­ti­mal, ul­ti­mately lead to situ­a­tions where ev­ery­one is worse off. More­over, no in­di­vi­d­ual is able to unilat­er­ally break out of the dy­namic. The situ­a­tion is a bad Nash equil­ibrium. A trap.

One ex­am­ple of a Molochian dy­namic is a Red Queen race be­tween sci­en­tists who must con­tinu­ally spend more time writ­ing grant ap­pli­ca­tions just to keep up with their peers do­ing the same. Through un­avoid­able com­pe­ti­tion, they have all lost time while not end­ing up with any more grant money. And any sci­en­tist who unilat­er­ally tried to not en­gage in the com­pe­ti­tion would soon be re­placed by one who still does. If they all promised to cap their grant writ­ing time, ev­ery­one would face an in­cen­tive to defect.

The topic of Moloch re­ceives a for­mal treat­ment in the se­quence Inad­e­quate Equil­ibria, par­tic­u­larly in the chap­ter Moloch’s Toolbox.


Scott Alexan­der linked the name to the con­cept in his epony­mous post, Moloch. The post in­ter­sperses lines of Allan Gins­berg’s poem, Howl, with mul­ti­ples ex­am­ples of the dy­namic in­clud­ing: the Pri­soner’s Dilemma, dol­lar auc­tions, fish farm­ing story, Malthu­sian trap, cap­i­tal­ism, two-in­come trap, agri­cul­ture, arms races, races to the bot­tom, ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, sci­ence, and gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion and cor­po­rate welfare.

From Allan Gins­berg’s Howl:

What sphinx of ce­ment and alu­minum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imag­i­na­tion?
Moloch! Soli­tude! Filth! Ugli­ness! Ash­cans and un­ob­tain­able dol­lars! Chil­dren scream­ing un­der the stair­ways! Boys sob­bing in armies! Old men weep­ing in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Night­mare of Moloch! Moloch the love­less! Men­tal Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the in­com­pre­hen­si­ble prison! Moloch the cross­bone soul­less jailhouse and Congress of sor­rows! Moloch whose build­ings are judg­ment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned gov­ern­ments!
Moloch whose mind is pure ma­chin­ery! Moloch whose blood is run­ning money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a can­ni­bal dy­namo! Moloch whose ear is a smok­ing tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thou­sand blind win­dows! Moloch whose skyscrap­ers stand in the long streets like end­less Je­ho­vahs! Moloch whose fac­to­ries dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and an­ten­nae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is end­less oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is elec­tric­ity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of ge­nius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hy­dro­gen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!

See also: El­dritch Analo­gies, Game The­ory, Group Ra­tion­al­ity, So­cial Reality

Med­i­ta­tions On Moloch

Scott Alexander
30 Jul 2014 4:00 UTC
46 points
5 comments47 min readLW link

Moloch’s Toolbox (1/​2)

Eliezer Yudkowsky
4 Nov 2017 21:46 UTC
182 points
75 comments33 min readLW link

Stud­ies On Slack

Scott Alexander
13 May 2020 5:00 UTC
120 points
27 comments24 min readLW link

Mazes Se­quence Summary

23 May 2020 16:40 UTC
74 points
2 comments7 min readLW link

Moloch feeds on opportunity

12 Dec 2019 21:05 UTC
33 points
8 comments2 min readLW link

A Taijitu sym­bol for Moloch and Slack

Bob Jacobs
25 May 2020 20:03 UTC
78 points
2 comments1 min readLW link

Moloch in whom I sit alone

3 Oct 2018 23:40 UTC
53 points
16 comments1 min readLW link

5 gen­eral vot­ing patholo­gies: lesser names of Moloch

Jameson Quinn
13 Apr 2018 18:38 UTC
108 points
15 comments10 min readLW link

Pri­son­ers’ Dilemma with Costs to Modeling

Scott Garrabrant
5 Jun 2018 4:51 UTC
173 points
20 comments7 min readLW link

Gen­er­al­ized Effi­cient Mar­kets and Academia

30 Apr 2020 21:59 UTC
45 points
29 comments2 min readLW link

Moloch: op­ti­mi­sa­tion, “and” vs “or”, in­for­ma­tion, and sac­ri­fi­cial ems

6 Aug 2014 15:57 UTC
22 points
59 comments3 min readLW link

An Equil­ibrium of No Free Energy

Eliezer Yudkowsky
31 Oct 2017 21:27 UTC
153 points
48 comments27 min readLW link

Com­ment on SSC’s Re­view of Inad­e­quate Equilibria

Ben Pace
1 Dec 2017 11:46 UTC
30 points
5 comments2 min readLW link

Mak­ing a Crow­dac­tion platform

Bob Jacobs
16 May 2020 16:08 UTC
20 points
8 comments5 min readLW link

Liv­ing in an Inad­e­quate World

Eliezer Yudkowsky
9 Nov 2017 21:23 UTC
130 points
48 comments20 min readLW link

Lost Purposes

Eliezer Yudkowsky
25 Nov 2007 9:01 UTC
94 points
78 comments6 min readLW link

No, it’s not The In­cen­tives—it’s you

11 Jun 2019 7:09 UTC
91 points
96 comments1 min readLW link

Win­ning is for Losers

11 Oct 2017 4:01 UTC
72 points
12 comments18 min readLW link

The Road to Mazedom

18 Jan 2020 14:10 UTC
77 points
19 comments7 min readLW link

Mazes Se­quence Roundup: Fi­nal Thoughts and Paths Forward

6 Feb 2020 16:10 UTC
66 points
24 comments14 min readLW link

On the con­struc­tion of beacons

16 Oct 2017 9:10 UTC
58 points
9 comments10 min readLW link

Timer Toxicities

22 Sep 2019 12:10 UTC
44 points
5 comments15 min readLW link

Perfect Competition

29 Dec 2019 13:30 UTC
42 points
27 comments7 min readLW link

Franken­stein De­lenda Est

10 Jul 2020 14:38 UTC
11 points
1 comment4 min readLW link

Coun­ter­fac­tu­als about So­cial Media

22 Apr 2019 12:20 UTC
55 points
23 comments6 min readLW link

Moloch Hasn’t Won

28 Dec 2019 16:30 UTC
131 points
28 comments7 min readLW link

The Stable State is Broken

12 Mar 2012 18:31 UTC
59 points
43 comments3 min readLW link

Moloch and multi-level selection

11 Aug 2020 7:08 UTC
18 points
3 comments3 min readLW link

Sys­temic risk: a moral tale of ten in­surance companies

17 Nov 2014 16:43 UTC
26 points
18 comments2 min readLW link

A Pro­posal for Defeat­ing Moloch in the Pri­son In­dus­trial Complex

2 Jun 2015 22:03 UTC
25 points
77 comments4 min readLW link

Marginally Zero-Sum Efforts

Eliezer Yudkowsky
11 Apr 2007 5:22 UTC
23 points
14 comments2 min readLW link

A Brief Chat on World Government

13 Sep 2020 18:33 UTC
4 points
7 comments3 min readLW link

[Question] Are there non-AI pro­jects fo­cused on defeat­ing Moloch globally?

14 Sep 2020 2:13 UTC
13 points
19 comments1 min readLW link

Moloch’s Toolbox (2/​2)

Eliezer Yudkowsky
7 Nov 2017 1:58 UTC
146 points
52 comments24 min readLW link

The Ax­iolog­i­cal Treadmill

15 Sep 2020 18:36 UTC
7 points
12 comments2 min readLW link
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