This is a linkpost for https://www.cgdev.org/publication/uk-effective-altruist
A long piece by Ritchie and Mitchell at the Center for Global Development examining UK Foreign Aid policy through an EA lens:
The prime minister’s most influential advisor, Dominic Cummings, is a champion of “effective altruism”—the use of evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to maximize the good with a given unit of resources (with “the good” understood in impartial welfarist terms), and applying the findings to improve the world as much as possible. Michael Gove, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, has spoken on similar lines about public servants’ need to avoid group-think and the government’s need to be “rigorous and fearless in its evaluation of policy and projects.” He’s urged the government to prioritise “what works” and to counter a bias against doing things differently, ideals reflected in the effective altruism movement.
With the UK government in the midst of a major “Integrated Review” of its foreign, development, and defence policy—and the recent the formation of a merged Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirming it isn’t afraid of change—now’s a good time to consider whether the effective altruism movement can or should find great traction in UK aid programmes.
In this note we briefly explore the key tenets of effective altruism, consider where the UK government aligns with these tenets in its aid programme, and identify five ways the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office could move further in that direction. Finally, we look at how a government differs from most effective altruists. In essence, effective altruism is about evidence-based approaches to maximise the expected value of an impact. But if a government took this approach seriously, it would also exploit opportunities that smaller individual donors may not have—thinking bigger and pursuing more systemic change where even if success is uncertain, the potential returns are huge.
The Foreign Secretary has confirmed that the UK will retain its commitment to the poorest and conflict-affected countries and ensure that aid is “invested in a way that can deliver the most effective results for the strategic objectives of alleviating poverty for the most vulnerable and delivering on climate change and on the wider international agenda”
If the UK is going to spend aid effectively, then it should move further in the direction of effective altruists: responding to evidence about where and how aid is best spent and by which agencies, focusing on issues of scalability, and thinking about where its unique strengths lie, instead of trying to do everything everywhere. Crucially, a government can act at much greater scale than most altruists—it can avoid the caricature of focussing only on randomised controlled trials—and use its scale to lead systemic change.