American policy platform for total welfare

by kbog1 min read3rd Dec 20204 comments

-6

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I would like to share the policy platform for maximizing total welfare that I've written, applicable to the U.S. government.

This incorporates content from older Candidate Scoring System reports but now has better ideas, sources, and focus, and is now halfway readable and user-friendly. 

This is meant to provide academic solutions to debates and to inform EA and EA-adjacent audiences. It's not well optimized for persuasion of general audiences or government officials (although it contains plenty of content that could help you with those things).

As always, challenges are welcome, I actively revise the page with new ideas and sources.

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(As always, personal opinion, not my employer's.)

I think this looks like an interesting project and think it would be great if more EAs were more involved in politics.

One piece of feedback though – I hope it's useful: I generally recommend against using the EA branding for such projects, for several reasons: 1) it likely discourages others from attempting similar projects, as they think the space is already covered, 2) if you don't do a great job, that could reflect badly on all of EA, as your project will automatically be perceived by some people as being representative of EA if you're using that branding, 3) you might unnecessarily limit your target audience: not everyone might like or understand the EA philosophy, but they might still be interested in your project. (Over the past years, I have recommended against using EA branding in the projects that I've been involved with myself for these reasons, unless they represent a central part of EA infrastructure. For instance, I've rebranded EAF to CLR.)

I hope that's helpful feedback!

I think there are countervailing reasons in favor of doing so publicly, described here

Additionally, prominent EA organizations and individuals have already displayed enough politically contentious behavior that a lot of people already perceive EA in certain political ways. Restricting politically contentious public EA behavior to those few  orgs and individuals maximizes the problems of 1) and 2) whereas having a wider variety of public EA points of view mitigates them. I'd use a different branding if I were less convinced that politically engaged audiences already perceive EA as having political aspects.

(As always, personal opinion, not my employer's.)

While I agree that it could be good for EAs to become more politically active, I don't think there are good arguments for an EA branding.

My main point: By not putting "EA" into the name of your project, you get free option value: If you do great, you can still always associate with EA more strongly at a later stage; if you do poorly, you have avoided causing any problems for EA. By choosing an EA branding for your project, you selectively increase the downside risk, but not the upside/benefits.

Quoting from that link:

You might be worried that Effective Altruism will get a public relations problem if members associate with something politically controversial.

I'm not worried about this; I think EAs doing something politically controversial is both a risk worth taking and mostly unavoidable. I'm only worried about associating the EA brand itself with something politically controversial (or, perhaps as big a risk, something that's perceived as amateurish).

Where political work earns criticism from some, it earns accolades from others. 

The concern is not that political work earns criticism (I think that's a risk worth taking), but that this criticism would be perceived as being relevant to all of EA (rather than just your project).

People are glad to see Effective Altruists supporting their rights and interests. 

I think this is not a strong argument:

  • The EA community is small and isn't widely perceived as having a lot of resources.
  • A lot of EA issues are inherently controversial, with a small supporter base. Partly by definition, EA focuses on neglected issues, helping those who don't have a supporter base. Non-human animals and people in the long-term future might be glad about the support we provide, but cannot help us now get more political influence.

The movement is perceived as more serious and potent when it tackles political issues in addition to regular charities and careers. 

I think this mainly holds if your project is successful; see my point about option value above.

I perceive your website as framed in a EA-ingroup-y way. I don't think this is bad; in fact, I really like some work of this type (e.g., Brian Tomasik's essays). But I don't think it's a great way to get more ordinary people to perceive EA as "more serious and potent" – instead, I think it'll make EA look somewhat weird and niche.

Finally, as time goes by, our efforts will probably be increasingly regarded as being on the right side of history, due to our generally superior epistemics and ethics.

I appreciate your optimism, but I think it'll be a relatively small minority of people who perceive it that way – most will just believe whatever is most advantageous given the short-term incentives they face. E.g., I don't think atheists/deists and experts are very highly regarded in politics, despite being on the right side of history.

most people do not think about politics in the same way as the Very Online left and right … Don’t let Twitter define your understanding of what counts as good or bad PR. … The people who get most outraged about political disagreement generally wouldn’t contribute positively to EA causes anyway, so we can let them go.

I agree; I'm mainly worried about the perception by public intellectuals, policy professionals, and politicians.

EA already has a contentious reputation among some people who are highly politically animated, either because they cannot stand the diversity of political opinions within the EA movement, or because we do not often support certain political causes. Those people are simply a lost cause.

(I don't think this is an important point here, but you could still make things much worse by causing major backlash, shitstorms, etc.)

Finally, Effective Altruism grows best when it offers something for everyone. And for people who are not well equipped or interested in our other cause areas, civic action may be that something.

You can do this just as well without putting "EA" into the name of the project.

Additionally, prominent EA organizations and individuals have already displayed enough politically contentious behavior that a lot of people already perceive EA in certain political ways. Restricting politically contentious public EA behavior to those few  orgs and individuals maximizes the problems of 1) and 2) whereas having a wider variety of public EA points of view mitigates them. 

I agree with this. As far as I know, none of these orgs and individuals currently use an EA branding. That seems good to me, and I hope that everyone launching a political EA project will follow suit.

I hope this is helpful, and I hope it’s clear that I wrote this comment trying to help you improve the project and have more impact, and I’m overall excited about this work. I haven’t looked at the handbook in detail, but based on skimming it, it looks really interesting, so thanks for putting that together!

My main point: By not putting "EA" into the name of your project, you get free option value: If you do great, you can still always associate with EA more strongly at a later stage; if you do poorly, you have avoided causing any problems for EA. 

I've already done this. I have shared much of this content for over a year without having this name and website. My impression was that it didn't do great nor did it do poorly (except among EAs, who have been mostly positive). One of the problems was that some people seemed confused and suspicious because they didn't grasp who I was and what point of view I was coming from. 

I agree with this. As far as I know, none of these orgs and individuals currently use an EA branding. 

A few do. And most may not literally have "EA" in their name, but they still explicitly invoke it, and audiences are smart enough to know that they are associated with the EA movement. 

And they get far larger audiences and attention than me, so they are the dominant images in the minds of people who have political perceptions of EA. Whatever I do to invoke EA will create a more equal diversity of public political faces of the movement, not a monolithic association of the EA brand with my particular view.

 

RE: the rest of your points, I won't go point by point because you are making some general arguments which don't necessarily apply to your specific worry about the presence or absence of "EA" in the name. It would be more fruitful to first clarify exactly which types of people are going to have different perceptions on this basis. Then after that we can talk about whether the differences in perception for those particular people will be good or bad. 

You already say that you are mainly worried about "public intellectuals, policy professionals, and politicians." Any of these who reads my website in detail or understands the EA movement well will know that it relates to EA without necessarily being the only EA view. So we are imagining a political elite who knows little about EA and looks briefly at my website. A lot of the general arguments don't apply here, and to me it seems like a good idea to (a) give this person a hook to take the content seriously and (b) show this person that EA can be relevant to their own line of work.

Or maybe we are imagining someone who previously didn't know about EA at all, in which case introducing them to the idea is a good thing.