With increasing coverage of EA, I’m seeing many critiques on Twitter along the line of “EA billionaires should just pay more taxes” and “philanthropy bypasses democratic processes”.

A key value which EAs share and most people do not hold (or at least do not adhere to in practice) is internationalism and the idea that people matter equally, regardless of nationality.

I think it’s very important to emphasise this when communicating about EA.

Internationalism explains why paying taxes isn’t better than funding EA charities and projects (because governments typically spend <1% of tax revenue on improving things for people in other countries, while EA spending values everyone equally).

Internationalism also justifies philanthropists using their influence to promote policies which improve things for people around the world (because the policies of powerful governments can have large impacts on foreigners, but foreigners are excluded from the democratic processes which determine the policies).

(Also, side note, but I think when EAs observe that people don’t care as much about people who are far away from them, the reason is more about nationality and nationalism than physical distance)




Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:24 PM

Cf this post from 2014 which had a similar message.

Wow, thanks that post pretty much says word for word what I was thinking

I think the post is spot on with the sentiment that a value many EA's hold is that each person, no matter the nation they belong to, is equal.

However I would like to provide some doubt as to whether cosmopolitanism is the best way to organize the world. 
Just as how a corporation controlling 100% of a market may not be the best thing, a single government controlling 100% of the world may also have some downsides(ex. innovation). I might be wrong, and most of my thinking on this is just coming from this: https://www.econtalk.org/yoram-hazony-on-the-virtue-of-nationalism/ 
The topic might need some pro-con weighting.

I’m also opposed to a one-world government because it may make “stable totalitarianism” more likely, but I am in favour of governments valuing foreigners far more than they currently do when they make decisions.

I don't see how cosmopolitanism implies wanting a single, powerful governmental entity to literally control the world, though. For example one can very easily be an egalitarian with regards to people of various cities, or ethnicities without thinking that there should be one global city with a world mayor or a single homogenized ethnicity in the world.

Justifications for nationalism could be pragmatic (e.g. out of other possible systems... let's say hypothetically, a world of city-states or millions of tiny tribes, or a world of a single hegemonic empire etc. the world we have now with nations of the sort we have now works decently, and perhaps trying to reorganize things too much at least in the short term might be bad for society) and that's a fair justification even if it can be called out as "status quo is good" bias. But we have to be careful to not conflate pragmatism or politically, logistically and legally convenient ways of arranging people with moral or value judgements of how to arrange them in terms of our circle of concerns. 

Also, it might have not been your main point of the metaphor, I guess another difference between the corporation example is that in a world of decentralized corporations and decentralized nation-states alike, people have nonetheless a lot more say in moving between the former than the latter and people's fates are much more strongly tied to the latter as they stand now in an unchosen way. This has strong implications for how to help out. 

If someone is doing poorly because their job or livelihood's tied to a poorly performing corporation (for e.g. if they live in a company town or place dominated by one industry), we'd advise them to quit or move, the altruistic thing is to get them to join a better one, perhaps letting the old one "crash and burn". We'd not often assume they'd stay tied to it while we channel money to those poor workers, keeping them and their corporation afloat. On the other hand telling someone "if your nation is faring badly, just pack up and move to a better one and let the old nation fail like a company going bankrupt", is not feasible advice (and many people would not want it). Thus, because we're "stuck" with people in nations who cannot easily leave/change their situation, thinking about how to help people in other nations who cannot easily leave problems behind becomes important.  

For nations where it's often accidents of history (or family) that determine citizenship, stuff like quality of life, average wealth differing by orders of magnitude, safety, health, access to a good life overall etc.,  - yes people can emigrate/change nations but it's costlier than changing jobs, companies, neighborhoods etc. - it becomes more like an unchosen trait that some people were just lucky or unlucky to have and unable to do things about.  I guess this kind of relates to how people with more "universalist" mindsets often feel that discriminating based on unchosen traits -- e.g.  ancestry, race, sex, and other things marked down from birth, who one's parents are etc., is wrong. Impartiality suggests that we not treat these as morally significant, It's not always a rule of thumb -- e.g. after all many things like personality, intelligence, etc. that make us treat others differently are unchosen (and in some philosophical way, I didn't "choose" to be a human and not say a worm), but it is an ethos.

That's definitely a con that will cost many QALY's. But so does the risk in cosmopolitanism; the lack of incentive for government innovation to attract citizens which also costs many QALY's.
I do want to say that I'm not saying cosmopolitanism isn't the best option, but rather think some more doubt and careful running of the numbers of QALY's may be necessary to increase confidence in that option.

Also Your totally right that it's impractical often to tell the person in a bad nation to just leave their nation & they did not choose their country. 
It's quite similar to a person working in a sweatshop. They did not choose to be born where that's one of their opportunities, but they often say themself that they prefer the factory job best compared to selling various small items, or farmwork. 

I agree this is important and we should do this. But like, haven't we been doing this the whole time? "impartiality" (the idea that equivalent interests are equally morally deserving - or something like that)  is one of the three main things that get emphasised in basically every intro fellowship. 

I think internationalism in particular, as a consequence of impartiality, deserves more emphasis because it explains a lot of where EA differs from other perspectives on doing good. I don’t think this has been emphasised in most recent news articles on EA.

I guess the question is, is internationalism something worth pointing out or having a concept for, or is it just a byproduct that naturally follows from"impartiality"?

After all,  many boundaries are crossed as a consequence of some degree of "impartiality" (e.g. the act of people helping others might cross family, social circle, neighborhood, town, city, region, province/state/territory/intranational division, class, ethnicity/race/ancestry, hemisphere, time zone,  generational, and in the case of animal activists, even species, boundaries). 

But it's not like every time any of these boundaries  (which in principle are too numerous and too arbitrary to count, even if some are enforced, legally, socially etc. and others not so much) are crossed by would be do-gooders, they get flagged as noteworthy (e.g. we don't always call out helping people in a different city, inter-regionally or inter-ethnically as too strange, unless, perhaps you're living in a society of strong cross-city, region or ethnic tensions and then, crossing over to help the "other" marks you as unusually heroic or a "good Samaritan"). 

Naming "internationalism" as a special kind of boundary-crossing would seem to imply it's a particularly significant one, among many others, because the barriers are exceptionally high. 

"internationalism" is only a tool towards a higher value of "doing more good [per dollar]", at least to me

But the idea that a person in another country is equally worth caring about as a person in your country is a necessary premise for believing that that's a way to do more good per dollar. Most people implicitly would rather help one homeless person in their city than 100 homeless people in another country.

I see

I agree

It seems to me that "internationalism" would be seen as "a thing" precisely because nationalism is so strongly the default or status quo and nations often an unquestioned unit of organization (you could flip the frame of "internationalism is only a tool" to "nationalism is a tool" for doing things, good or otherwise, after all).

This seems very right.

This is important, and perhaps is one of those differences in views that happen to be important.