Should EAs be more welcoming to thoughtful and aligned Republicans?

by Linch 3 min read20th Jan 202010 comments

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Epistemic status: Highly speculative. I know very little about the current state of the field or what EAs in this space think about. I also know about as much about general policy as you’d expect of a random layman who has ever once lived in DC, so everything I say could be wildly off-base.

Who should read this: If you think US politics and policy are not really important for improving the world, or if you’re extremely skeptical that EAs could have any tangible effect on either, you can stop reading this post now.

Introduction

I think it’s plausible that Effective Altruism will strongly benefit from having more thoughtful and aligned members of the Republican Party in America (GOP). I further claim that this is important and neglected, while remaining neutral on its tractability.

By “thoughtful and aligned,” I’m imagining people who agree with EA’s core premise (taking seriously the question of how to do good) and maybe some of our general ideas and methodology (eg, moral impartiality, longtermism, empiricism). By “Republican” I mean either registered members of the US Republican Party, or people considering registering, especially people who have broadly conservative values, relationships, and networks. Ideally, these are ambitious people interested or engaged in politics/policy, and have a legitimate shot at affecting change years or decades down the road.

Since these claims can be easily misunderstood, I will first say what this article does not do:

  1. I am not saying that we should do broad “outreach” to American Republicans. Similar to why it’s likely inadvisable to pursue “outreach” in China and other new countries at this current juncture, I would not recommend making irreversible moves like attempting to be massively appealing to Republicans without much more thorough consideration than this forum post.
  2. I am not claiming that EAs should become more invested in politics or policy. This has been extensively debated elsewhere, but the rest of the article should be read as conditional upon the hypothesis that working in American policy is important and tractable for at least some EAs.
  3. I am not positing a specific strategy for reaching out to Republicans. For example, I am not positing that we change current EA writings to be more ideologically palatable to American conservatives, or any other specific tactics. Details like that can probably be decided on a more contextual basis later on iff this general argument holds.

Importance

Why do I think we will benefit from having more thoughtful and aligned Republicans on board? Here are some tentative speculations, in decreasing order of importance:

  1. Republican political appointees can have a lot of influence. This claim has two components:
    1. Political appointees in general hold a lot of power in the United States. In many democratic countries, a change of leadership means that political appointees take the top spot in a department, but the career bureaucrats hold every level below them. In America, a vague rule of thumb I’ve heard before is that political appointees take up the top ~5(!) levels.
    2. You would naively expect ~50% of future administrations to be Republican. Thus, if the only American EAs active in politics and policy are Democrats and sectless bureaucrats/academics, then nuanced EA ideas will not easily reach the right channels during a Republican administration.
  2. Diversity and inclusiveness is prima facie good. This has been extensively discussed elsewhere, in and out of EA. This is not an uncontroversial claim, however defending it is outside the scope of this essay.
  3. Ideological diversity in particular seems important. People have argued for why intellectual diversity is particularly important at least since the time of Kant and Mill, I will again refrain from rehashing the arguments here.
  4. Republican primary votes matter more.
    1. Republican primary candidates are more high-variance than Democratic primary candidates. It seems like the difference between the best (by values, competence, etc) and worst Republican primary frontrunners have historically been higher than that of the best and worst Democratic frontrunners. (I don’t have a source for this, but I’ve said it a bunch of times to political aficionados and nobody really contested this claim).
    2. So assuming that the general election is a coin-flip, voting (and campaigning, etc) in the Republican primaries matters more.
    3. I suspect this is true about Congressional races as well (I have not looked into it in more detail). I’m not sure about local races, but I suspect those aren’t usually pivotal to the longterm future of humanity.

Neglectedness

While it’s hard to get exact numbers[1], my personal estimate is that <2% of current active EAs are Republicans, for various reasons including founder effects.

This is in contrast to say the UK, where I suspect somewhere between 10-20% of British EAs vote for the Conservative Party. So naively it looks like there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Tractability

I wish to remain neutral on tractability, though it seems worth exploring. EDIT: Aaron in the comments helped pointed out this post on how EAs can be more welcoming to conservatives.

Conclusion

Naively, it looks like getting some thoughtful and aligned active members of the Republican party to be on board with EA seems important and neglected. There is a decent chance that this argument does not hold due to some crucial consideration I’ve missed, so happy to be proven wrong in the comments!

Thanks to anonymous commentators for feedback on earlier versions of this draft. All mistakes are, of course, not mine.

[1] Though maybe the upcoming EA Survey analysis of political alignment by geographical distribution might help shed some light.

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