This is my first post, so I’m eager to hear feedback. Hope it stimulates discussion!

I would like to share my perspective as a newcomer to the EA community–someone who has read a couple external articles about EA from larger news sites and a dozen or so forum posts. From this position, my useful contributions will probably be limited to a couple categories:

  1. Reporting my perception of EA from the outside to provide anecdotal evidence that may aid recruiting or outreach efforts
  2. Introducing relatively novel discussions

In this post, I am hoping to do both, by giving an initial reaction to the priorities and methods that I have gathered that the EA community favors. 

From what I have seen, EA is not very involved in the political sphere, with a spoken or unspoken consensus that the most pressing issues are the following:

  1. Global extreme poverty
  2. AI risk, nuclear risk, climate risk, biorisk, and general technological regulation

To address these priorities, EAs (seem to) favor extremely direct interventions: direct donation via GiveWell and similar organizations and direct, specific advocacy for greater international and domestic cooperation to keep potentially dangerous technologies under control.

Again, I could be missing huge parts of the average EA’s agenda. This is just my interpretation of the community’s priorities. With that said, I would like to offer some constructive criticism of this approach, which to me reflects an attitude of “trust the system and make the greatest impact on the world you can from within the system” that may lead to overlooking the potential to do high-impact work by changing the system itself.

After all, in a world that already has the productive capacity to feed and house everyone, mustn’t both the source of and solution to our most pressing problems come from underlying systems of governance, culture, and ideology? And, if these systems will determine the majority of future human happiness, as well as humanity's resilience to existential risks, then is it not worth investing more time and social capital, if not money, into improving those systems? 

For example, it appears to me that economic and political inequality within both developed and developing countries is one the most significant chronic failures of the global system. The conclusion I jump to is that, to have the greatest impact, it is worthwhile to expend certain resources on reducing inequality and democratizing institutions, rather than focusing exclusively on work done from within the system, such as earning-to-give. 

I want to explore the issue of inequality further because I think it is an integral concept for a movement that advocates giving from the globally well-off to the globally worse-off. I will argue that reducing this inequality through underlying structural means, in addition to manual corrections via the private sector, is a very high priority for humanity for two main reasons:

A) This is what a world with this level of inequality looks like: a group of the benevolent global rich trying to band-aid the issue, while most of the world faces stagnating or reduced buying power and influence over their own future, and most of the powerful look the other way. Given that the status quo has not produced desired results, there must be substantial issues with the status quo, and although earning to give may help alleviate the suffering caused by the status quo, it may not have a significant impact on the structures that led to that suffering in the first place. Essentially, some mixture of plugging holes in the boat and using buckets to throw out the water that already seeped in must be optimal, and I worry that we should be spending more time plugging holes. 

B) A global system that tolerates the political and economic disenfranchisement of many of its constituents is one that is extremely likely to cause the “lock-in” of a negative set of values. If this is really our most important century, it is of paramount importance for us to develop institutions that are capable of cultivating human wellbeing. Also, dramatic inequality makes us more likely to suffer either a debilitating global war or an intense internal political and cultural instability that makes addressing anything difficult. Political instability and the general breakdown of social cooperation are existential threats not only in of themselves, but also in regard to their potential to damage our ability to collaborate on other existential risks like AI or bioengineering.


1. The long-term impact of institutional crises affecting the developed world

Ironically, this belief leads me to challenge some of the fundamental assumptions behind a heavy prioritization of global extreme poverty. Obviously, this issue is of huge importance–the average person living in poverty experiences far more harm and probably less happiness on a daily basis than the average person not living in poverty. It is also undeniably true that to lift someone out of poverty in Zimbabwe is cheaper than to lift someone out of poverty in the U.K. 

However, with regard to the long-term impact of direct-transfer type interventions, I am more skeptical. Political and social change seems to pose the solution to the issues facing both the U.K. and Zimbabwe. An injection of cash or even a life saved may make less of an impact in the long run than an investment in democratic norms and the rule of law in the case of Zimbabwe, or an expansion of state capacity and the social safety net in the U.K. 

Going further, it is conceivable that the maintenance/creation of a strong democracy and an egalitarian economy in a rich country will have more compounding effects than efforts to introduce democracy in developing countries. This may be true for two reasons: a higher ROI on institution change in rich countries enabled by greater rule of law and stability in the region, or global economic dynamics, wherein the rich country commands a larger share of global capital and skilled labor, and therefore plays a more leading role in resource allocation. 

Obviously, investments in the stability of developing regions and in the institutional quality of developed regions are both extremely high-impact, and the former may provide more opportunities that will yield a high dollar/impact rate. However, I do think that the latter should not be overlooked, especially given that most EAs live in developed countries, speak the local language, and generally make their lives there, which provides them extra opportunities to make an impact.

I think that this is a time in which local community-building and political organization in developed countries may be particularly impactful. Many high-income countries are currently experiencing crises of faith in their most foundational institutions, and a historic share of the populations of these countries are experiencing high financial and general stress. Real median wages have declined across most of the developed world and the quality of democracy has declined in the United States, Europe, and South America according to Our World in Data: Anglophone countries, particularly the US and UK, are feeling the effects of chronic underinvestment in public services and infrastructure, while many East Asian countries and Southern Europe face a looming demographic crisis and attendant economic decline. Some developed countries, notably the US, also chronically violate civil rights at home and abroad, which threatens the integrity of their institutions.

These issues seem to pose risks to the general functioning of the institutions that enable EA in the first place, like free, democratic societies and equitable economic growth that ensures “Progress” actually improves lives. As effective altruists, are we not hoping that the whole world’s institutions eventually come to resemble those of our favorite developed countries? If so, should we not be concerned when those institutions show signs of decay, or simply fail to grow and improve over time?

I realize that these goals are inherently political, and perhaps EAs shy away from them for that reason. Maybe it is most efficient, from a bird’s eye view, for groups who think political interventions are the most important priority to silo themselves off from those who favor essentially politically-agnostic interventions. In theory, this allows each group to maximize their impact without being paralyzed by ideological disagreement. 

Unfortunately, it may be impossible to know what the net impact of the movement adopting more political or social positions will be until it is actually tried. However, I think that if there is any chance that taking a greater interest in modifying institutions would improve most EAs’ moral impact, it is worth seriously examining the possibility of making it a greater focus, especially because the combined influence on institutions that EAs could have through concerted effort is probably quite substantial. 

If certain forms of social stewardship in one’s local community/workplace become signals of commitment to effective altruism in the same way that taking the Giving What We Can pledge signals commitment, I can envision the long-term impact of EA being especially great. For example, geographically-concentrated EA groups hold monthly or quarterly evaluations of the highest-impact ways to make a local impact, with members expected to invest at least some time in the projects selected by the group. 


2. Local Community Building as Effective Altruism

Inspiring more people to join and retaining current EAs might be closely tied to one another: both depend on powerful traditions and forms of organization that can be replicated internationally and tie local and global stewardship together.

It may be surprisingly impactful to lead by example and spend time and energy contributing to community or invite-only events. Especially if one believes one’s worldview and habits (such as donating to high-impact causes) ought to be more widespread, investing in one’s own wellbeing and social involvement could lead to those beliefs getting far more attention, potentially multiplying one’s own moral impact while simultaneously maximizing personal happiness. 

I think this vision of an ideally moral person differs from the one outlined in Singer’s “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”. By emphasizing cultivation of the self, this approach trusts in the human desire to do good in all areas of one’s life, assuming that the individual who donates a modest to moderate amount of their income without neglecting the rest of their life will have the highest moral impact through occasionally indirect, difficult-to-quantify means, many of which center around the creation of new, better social realities.

For EAs, I think adopting a more community-oriented approach would demand relatively little of the time and money currently spent on farther-flung, high impact per dollar aims. Far from encouraging a reduction in donation quantity (unless one’s donations were so high that they were unavoidably damaging their physical health and social life), this philosophy might motivate more involvement in organizing community events, more time at the local climbing gym, or making more trips by bike, foot, or bus rather than by car. 

More contentiously, it might suggest, for example, a preference for the government-related job that pays $10,000/year less but enables one to make a significant local impact over the private sector job that would free up $10,000/year more to give. I suspect that minor reductions in donation quantity that result from taking on a personally preferable or more locally impactful career, or from spending a bit more money hosting social events or obtaining hobby-related goods (assuming that these events wouldn’t have happened otherwise and the hobby wouldn’t be accessible otherwise) will be repaid in the end via faster spread of EA ideas to friends and acquaintances, as well as higher personal future earnings resulting from higher physical and mental health. The best community building tools are those that both save money AND improve quality of life, like going to the park instead of the movies, biking to a local 5k instead of driving to a gym to run on a treadmill, or volunteering with friends instead of doing an expensive activity. I think that most of us still have a lot of low-hanging fruit in these areas, and baking these sensibilities into EA groups could bring said groups together.

I really enjoyed the post from a while back about taking inspiration from the Quakers. Building novel subcultures among EAs and like-minded people could be hugely impactful over time by building deliberately-welcoming and resilient communities. The primary barrier for admission might be something like taking the Giving What We Can pledge and uniting forces might include regular community events and group volunteering. Other uniting factors could be building coworking places for remote workers, sharing tools and expertise with regard to house/car/bike maintenance, watching each other’s children, etc. Groups that elicit a high degree of implicit trust of other group members are relatively rare and potentially powerful.


3. Applying Logical Analysis of the EA Caliber to Political Positions

This is a somewhat different way that EA could make a large positive political impact without violating its sense of political neutrality and openness to debate. 

When people first become interested in politics, they often have a years-long road ahead of them to generate even mildly-informed opinions on the issues of the day. Few have time for this, and even those that do could have saved a lot of time at the beginning of their journey by viewing the entirety of various informed people’s political beliefs in a thorough, categorized, searchable database of political positions. 

I don’t have the technical skills to create such a tool, but if someone could improve upon this general idea and flesh it out, I think the EA community would be an ideal starting point for acquiring data on political positions and opening discussion on which policies are most promising. The quantitative, relatively anti-partisan, and debate-oriented bent of EA would make this community great stewards for the concept. I envision a system where a policy that is endorsed by, say, 80% of EAs, would qualify for an official recommendation by the community. Of course, it wouldn’t just be EAs using this tool–it could expand far beyond the movement, and people would have the ability to create their own subcommunities with their own recommendations on the platform. 

With regard to the kind of overtly political national policies I think EA could unite around, some examples of policies to advocate for might be voting rights and universal healthcare (for American EAs) or investment in public infrastructure (including infrastructure following the principles of New Urbanism). By prioritizing the quality of the underlying systems of government, defending civil rights, and advocating for the most thoroughly-evidenced economic policies, a considerable impact could be made by applying consolidated EA influence and expertise to institutions change. It is only logical for EA, as a movement with an intense interest in effective resource allocation, to attempt to improve the most powerful resource-allocating organizations to ever exist on Earth: governments.


Again, I’m excited to join this community and I welcome feedback and/or counterarguments.






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Thanks for posting this. I thought it was well-considered with lots of good brainstroming of options for valuable policy/system change, so am happy you're joining the community! I think 3 is a particularly interesting idea. I think the EA community is far too large and independent to get to 80% agreement of EAs endorsing something, but there may be some way of surveying EAs in relevant fields for each of your policy proposals. It seems probably valuable to me to get politically-interested EAs to have in-depth knowledge on certain areas, although I think this could be broader than your suggestion of specific policies, and could be more like 'lean into this area because it seems possible to have extra-large positive impact to others' rather than going in with the aim of advocating for a specific policy. In my opinion, I'd probably endorse the main areas being those listed by 80k here - but seems like there's room for these to be challenged by new particularly policy-relevant areas.

I recommend this post about US policy careers and this post about longterm sustainability and growth in developing countries which argue some similar things and some different things to you!

I would probably add animal welfare too to your list of issues most commonly championed in EA  (but note there are plenty more causes that various people within EA are passionate about).

Some quick thoughts:
1. Rich country politics are not very neglected. Lots of resources are spent on them, and it's not clear EA would make too much difference. Maybe now that EA is bigger it's more plausible?
2. I think there are a number of groups pursuing this kind of vision;  the DSA in the USA sounds rather similar to what you envision, from what I know of them. What would remain distinctive about EA if it became another left-wing political group?
3. IMO within-country inequality is a much less serious problem than between-country inequality (because rich countries are ~100x richer per capita than poor countries). You seem to equate "poverty" in Zimbabwe and the UK, but they are not equivalent - practically no one in rich countries is in extreme poverty (under $1.90/day); the poverty lines in rich countries are for a much higher standard of living.
4. Improving political institutions in poor countries would probably be very valuable, but it seems really unclear how to do it. I'm skeptical that making the US less unequal or more democratic would help much.
5. EA does invest quite a bit in community building, and AFAIK there are quite a few local groups similar to your (2)
6. I personally have some doubts that goals like "decrease inequality in rich countries" are actually desirable. There's a reason these questions are live political debates! Most EAs are left of center, so perhaps you could get pretty good consensus on some things like this, but I'm not sure the cost of alienating people who disagree is worth it - I'd actually like to see more right-of-center EAs.
7. EA does do some political work already. Here's immigration: Here's reducing US incarceration: Here's YIMBYism: Here's monetary policy: 

Thank you for your response! I wasn't aware of those EA political action funds or the fact that some EA groups do local work. 

1. I agree wholeheartedly that rich country politics are a saturated field and EA should avoid conventional engagement with them. On its grandest scale, I believe EA should always be about more nonpartisan direct giving and existential risk prevention, because these things are very quantifiably good, and that's extremely important. 

My argument is more that building local EA groups through engagement with local issues could expand the movement and induce greater investment from those already on board, by giving your average EA with a job not directly related to the highest-impact fields another way to engage with the gospel of effective doing that unites EAs. This average EA might currently spend 20 money-units  on a cocktail of GiveWell and existential risk donations and 20 time-units on deciding what to donate to and engaging with the local group. My hypothesis is that if local EA groups pursued a dual strategy of local and international work, discussing the highest-impact opportunities in each separately with an understanding that international work provides more bang-for-buck but there's still effective ways to spend time on local issues, that average EA would still spend 20 money-units on Givewell and existential risk, but they might add 1 money-unit on seed money for a local political campaign and double their time-unit investment because there is now a local project that the group decided to work on.  Plus EA's fame grows as a movement that is most dedicated to the highest international good, but is nonetheless willing to put in some local effort. I think it Feels Good to do something local and outsiders will Feel Good about EA if it accomplishes some useful local thing.

2. I want to steer super clear of DSA-like stuff. I am joining EA and not the DSA for a reason--the quality of meta-debate, introspection, and ideological diversity of EA make it far more likely to have a long-term positive impact on the world, in my opinion. I think EA's reverence for quantification and transparency is also pretty unmatched. Plus I think EAs are correct, from a moral-calculus perspective, to spend their energies building a movement with more expansive goals than political groups and more focus on things like direct aid. I think local projects would have to target non-incendiary policies, if they targeted policies at all. YIMBYism or improving voting accessibility or advocating for public parks are the kind of policies that seem to be in the sweet spot of impactful, maybe a bit neglected, and not likely to alienate anyone (maybe some YIMBY policies are too dangerous in this regard though). On the individual or really small group level EAs might do little things like getting permission from the city to build a small bridge over a neighborhood creek or making one of those little book libraries from scratch. I think what I'm envisioning is just a bimodal culture of care where you put like 95% of your philanthropic money into international efforts but much of your philanthropic time goes towards bonding with EAs on local projects. Maybe what I'm describing isn't actually that far off from some local EA groups. As far as I can tell, it's pretty different from the one where I live, though.

I think even with regard to local policy-related issues, EA would do it better than a group like DSA, by identifying the policies that are most universally-desirable, and having the ability to ignore the political sphere if no impactful opportunities arise.

3. I have to agree that poverty in the UK is a different and altogether less pressing issue than poverty in Zimbabwe. I think that was probably the weakest segment of my argument. I do, however, think that the general compression of the middle classes of these countries have enough negative psychological and social impacts as to be concerned for the wellbeing of both the inhabitants of these countries and those countries' institutions. If things aren't going well in rich countries, how can we fix the world by making poor countries into rich countries? (Obviously it's more efficient to focus on poor countries, but I think we should at least make symbolic or local efforts in rich countries).

4. I'm not sure how to improve the institutions of developing countries either, to be honest, but given how impactful it seems likely to be, I think EA should look into how it might be done. I suspect that at least some high-impact opportunities would be revealed by the search. To your other point, I think making the US less unequal and more democratic would actually have extremely dramatic impacts on future world history. From pure GDP and military numbers, it seems crucial that it perfects its institutions and is a global steward for good governance, especially in a world with reasonably strong autocracies that would like to see liberalism rot from the inside out. Good governance is a subject for debate, but assuming one's assessment is accurate, if money could effectively be spent on improving US governance, it would probably be one of the most impactful causes in the world to focus on. Alas, it is also the most crowded market on earth and it is probably only worthwhile to spend money on extremely specific overlooked efforts to improve governance. For example, if there was a really promising, really transparent movement  run by EA-aligned people to give everyone Election Day off, I might give it a bit of seed money.

5. That sounds great. Will have to investigate further.

6. I agree that "reducing inequality" is not an end that inherently justifies itself, and certainly wouldn't make a good prospective tenet of EA. On the other hand, although this obviously is still up for debate, I think there's pretty good evidence for the long-term economic and social benefits of a larger public sector and social safety net than the US and the UK currently have. Those are the kinds of policies I could see EA advocating for, at least from my relatively uninformed perspective about what EAs consider too political for the scope of the movement. I agree that ideological diversity is inherently good for a movement. I think if there was some apparatus for community endorsement of a policy, requiring 80% consensus would be a pretty good protection against alienation, but I could be wrong about this.

7.  Really cool stuff, this is the kind of thing I was envisioning for selective engagement with the political system. I think it's good to have this stuff on the side as long as it doesn't come to dominate too much, especially not the "international" side of the local/international focuses. I'm currently using a 75/75/75 rule for my own donation where 75% goes to immediately-impactful GiveWell aid, 75% of the remaining 25% goes to existential risk, 75% of the remaining 6.25% goes to improving governance, and the remaining 1.56% goes to pet/local projects. I think I will be donating to these funds as part of my governance donation, particularly the YIMBY one as it seems underfunded to me.

Again, thanks for the reply!

Parting a billionaire from his money when he doesn't want to give it to you is extremely difficult. It also doesn't always give you the results you were hoping for. Consider the track records of countries now and in the past that have sought to use government power to markedly reduce inequality. Which ones seem like examples of outcomes you'd be happy with?

EA has had quite a bit of fast success (FTX notwithstanding) in inducing billionaires to part with their money willingly.

I think that countries for whom reducing inequality was almost a religious conviction, such as the USSR, had terrible governments which should never be replicated. However, I think that countries that invest in their public sector and social safety net more so than the US or the UK have very good track records today. There's always the classic Scandinavia example and I think the UK's rocky economic performance over the past twenty years has a lot to do with its push to privatize and reduce provision of public services. Germany does fairly well although they do tend to try to undercut the rest of the EU with their (more permissive) labor regulation. Impossible to tell for sure, but I think Japan would have had an even rougher go of it if it engaged in as little public investment as the Anglophone countries. The biggest issue for many of these countries is birth rate, although it's worth noting that Scandinavia outperforms the rest of the EU on this except France and way outperforms East Asia, and their generous maternity/paternity leave is likely part of that.

Providing these public goods does indeed require persuading billionaires to give you money, and there is always the issue of capital flight. Thankfully, countries like the US and the UK are often the recipients of that capital flight because they have a large population, speak English, and have lots of fun things for rich people to do, plus lower taxes.  So I'm sure that some amount of capital flight or attempts at tax evasion would result from these countries raising obligations on their richest citizens, but I think if anything it is likely to be less dramatic than what most of Europe has suffered for their welfare states, and I think the decision was still a net positive for those countries. In my reckoning, combining Northern European institutions with America's birth rate and dynamic multiculturalism would probably result in even greater economic growth than America currently enjoys.

It's all definitely up for debate though. Thanks for the response!

As you know, the question of how a government ought to provision for welfare and the morality and economics of inequality is a multifaceted debate that's raged not for decades, but centuries. Let me give a personal example of why I think it's best to avoid getting wrapped up in those debates in most cases.

One of my interests is the question of whether we ought to compensate people for selling a kidney. I've read dozens of news articles, many scholarly papers, and talked with doctors and economists. I'm a biomedical engineering grad student, have a philosophy/humanities background, and a decent familiarity with economics. Furthermore, I have a lot of experience with "diplomatic dialog," facilitating friendly conversations in the context of sales, interviews, and teaching. So I think I'm unusually well-positioned to navigate this debate. 

I literally just got off a two-hour phone call with a doctor who used to screen kidney donors to get his thoughts. He's against legalization. A very wise and experienced person. Yet it took me two hours just to understand his chain of reasoning. Some of his views were internally inconsistent. I'd patiently talk through a line of thought with him, and we'd find that the reasoning was circular. Fortunately, he's very patient, and our conversation was non-defensive, so that did not result in an ego conflict. What happened instead is that he'd import an entirely different argument that now became his true fundamental objection. And then there would be another one after that. And another one after that.

After two hours, I do think I understand his reasoning, more or less. Regardless of the practical health/economic aspects of the problem, and regardless of how the seller feels about their decision to engage in this transaction, he feels that it's undignified for society to allow organs to be sold. Selling a kidney is not admirable, so it degrades the spirit of altruism that pervades kidney donation. It's not the kind of society we should want to live in - an invasion of the sanctity of the body.

He's willing to admit that this might not be the right way to think about dignity and altruism, but nobody on the pro-legalization side is taking this dimension of the problem seriously. And even if they did, there's no cut-and-dry way to make the case that permitting kidney sales enhances human dignity, or sanctifies the body, or betters the moral worth of our society.

He doesn't see the question as urgent. These matters transcend the practical urgency of a long and growing waitlist for kidney transplant, or the $28 billion the USA spends on dialysis annually. He's perfectly willing to wait patiently for somebody to him personally to change his perspective on the dignity and symbolism of kidney sales. Until they do, he's happy to stay with his present perspective, which as an added benefit is compatible with the law.

Now, I personally think that we should permit kidney sales in the short run, but that implantable dialysis will more or less completely eliminate demand for living kidneys within a few decades. I could make it my life's work to construct a moral argument for kidney sales that might be persuasive to people like the doctor I spoke with today. But the debate's been raging for decades, the Catholic church is on the other side, Federal law would have to be changed, there's no clear argumentative strategy to change people's minds about "dignity," and the problem itself is temporary on long enough time scales.

Since I'm a biomedical engineer, I have the opportunity to work on the bioartificial kidney technology that I think will eventually replace living kidney transplant. I can also work on a lot of other technological solutions for human health problems, or policy issues that might be uncontroversial and make a big difference in human health. Why select a political issue where we've had decades of evidence of the inability to make progress, for reasons that are easy to understand once you start seeing what motivates people on each side of the debate?

When I shift from considering kidney sales, where the practical arguments are cut-and-dry in favor of permitting them, to measures to increase taxes to fund social services, where even the practical economic arguments are much more controversial, and where you're not trying to permit a voluntary transaction but force a large confiscation of money from some of the most powerful individuals in the world, it seems to me that you're not only at serious risk of doing harm, you're at an even greater risk of failing to do good -- just as many generations of our ancestors have.

This isn't to say you're wrong. It's to say that this is what you'd have to persuade me of if you wanted to convince me, personally, that EA should be doing more progressive activism on taxation and welfare. But my warning is that this would probably have to start with the equivalent of the two-hour phone call I had earlier with the doctor, and it might turn out that I'd convince you, rather than the other way 'round. And either way, it would only be zero or one person who was convinced. It's easy to get sucked into, but tough to scale or accomplish things with. That's an important reason why I have chosen to pursue a career in technology rather than in politics, and have affiliated myself with a movement that focuses on philanthropic provision of goods and services rather than on trying to use government as the primary vehicle for its agenda.

If you think you can make a compelling case (i.e. a case that would convince me) that I'm wrong in my thinking, and that the best way to do good in the world might be for me to focus on politics in some way, let me know!

Thank you for the reply, it was very thought provoking. It seems to me you have successfully found a niche that provides higher altruistic ROI with regard to career than a large portion of political-adjacent careers. As far as I can tell, many STEM-inclined people can make their greatest impact by focusing on innovation and to a lesser extent earning-to-give.  

I wrote a paper on kidney sales for an undergrad philosophy course,  and with my small sliver of knowledge on the debate, I agree that it is likely not the best time sink for changing the world efficiently. I think the conclusion I came to is that if there was a strong social safety net (to reduce the incentive for impoverished people who may not be healthy enough to donate to attempt to do so anyways, as occurs when people try to donate blood more often than permitted in order to obtain the cash rewards), the kidneys were added to the waiting list rather than sold to the highest bidder, and participants were well informed of the risks, it would be a net positive to legalize a regulated market. But as you said, this is a debate where it is extremely difficult to be confident that one's position would actually produce a net positive outcome in practice.

I feel very differently with regard to lack of public services--I think there is enough evidence to suggest that there is probably a pretty significant economic boost to be expected from investment in high-speed railways and single-payer healthcare, to say nothing of the moral impact of the latter. Plus, in contrast to allowing kidney sales, there seems to be far less emotional intuition warning me against such reforms. My conviction is strongly reinforced by the fact that most developed countries in the world provide these services, which are considered indispensable by most of the inhabitants of those countries. On the other hand, kidney sales have not been legalized anywhere in the world, as far as I'm aware. 

As you point out, it may take a prohibitive amount of time for one of us to convince the other of our economic stances, but I will try to summarize my opposition to your points succinctly for the sake of it.

Efforts of ancestors in vain - I believe that the majority of policies that provide opportunities to working people in developed countries have had lasting and significant net positive impacts, and that when almost any of these policies are repealed (as many have been in the US and the UK over the last few decades), there is a marked negative impact on both natl GDP growth and natl wellbeing. In essence, it is not an all-or-nothing debate, but rather a struggle worth fighting every generation anew. I believe the American middle class as we knew it was largely created by policies from the 1930s-1970s, for example, and that its decline has been caused more by a shift rightward economically than by shipping jobs overseas, technological disruption, or any of the other explanations provided by some economists. Such arguments, in my view, fail to explain the totality of the change, or the fact that it has been so much more pronounced in countries that gutted their public sector.

Not good to act in opposition to billionaire interests - I think this defers unnecessarily to individuals who are citizens of developed nations, after all, and whose power similarly rests in the vehicles of corporations which also can be effectively regulated by national or international law. During the Gilded Age we had powerful, unprecedently rich men, and corporations wielded intolerable power over the lives of many of their workers. Then in the early 1900s Progressives came in and guaranteed shorter workdays, did some trust-busting, and passed a bunch of worker protections generally. FDR and LBJ continued that legacy. Now, we've gotten rid of the protections and the taxes on the hyper-wealthy that enabled them, and we're in the same place again. The US experienced the most economic and social vitality as a nation in the interim between these two periods. Obviously, there is no way to test models of different historical economic and political decisions to see what changed what. But I feel at least 90% confident that it is better for the US to be farther left economically than it is currently, perhaps by going in some unorthodox direction, like embracing Georgism. I also think the butterfly impacts of such reforms often are far more relevant than they initially appear.

If you think it would be optimal for us to debate further, DM me, although I suspect the depth of our knowledge of economics is similar, so neither of us will be able to convert the other by pulling overwhelming data or expertise out of a hat.

Thanks for posting this! I don't really know what EA is in an "ontological" sense, but it seems partly about branding and networking. I don't know what the best scope for these things is, but I appreciate a post like this raises these issues.

Maybe there could be multiple brands or submovements within EA (perhaps there are already) or numerous "sister" movements/communities with somewhat different values/priorities. Maybe it's good to have some solidarity between the more stereotypical radical EA-types and folks with more traditional views who want to make a difference in their community and stuff. The desire to make a difference in the world is, far from being peculiar to EA, basically a universal human trait, and I think it may be good to leverage and celebrate that. Or maybe it's better to stay smaller and more focused. Idk, but again, appreciate the post. 

I like the general idea of local stuff. 

Summoning AI Jesus is the ultimate system change?

I think people who want really big meta changes get drawn to AI issues - where I do think that your perspective gets at something really important is that summoning an AI god who doesn't kill is all immediately does not mean that everyone will have access to good things and control over their lives automatically.

I think a really underemphasized cause area is creating policies and institutions to ensure that success in ai alignment creates an utopia for everyone, rather than allowing a tiny group of people to control everything forever.

I agree, and I think shoring up democracy and creating strong public guarantees of human wellbeing/opportunity like the social safety net and public goods including parks and education are great ways to do that.

AIs will still have to work with governments, so we want to be in a place of strong social cohesion and international cooperation when singularity is reached.

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