Response to Phil Torres’ ‘The Case Against Longtermism’

Again, Beckstead could have made the exact same point while offering my parenthetical. It would have communicated the same idea while also acknowledging the real world context. I'm not opposed to decoupling or thought experiments to help clarify our positions on things. 

Response to Phil Torres’ ‘The Case Against Longtermism’

Yes I think that Summers was wrong. Extending his logic, companies should take even fewer steps to mitigate pollution in industrial practices in poor countries than they do in rich countries, because the economic costs of doing so are lower in poor countries and because it's probably cheaper and therefore more economically efficient to not mitigate pollution. He even says in the memo that moral reasons and social concerns could be invoked to oppose his line of reasoning, which seems relevant to people who claim to want to do good in the world, not just maximize a narrow understanding of economic productivity. 

What that can look like in practice is what Texaco did in Ecuador. I'm not claiming a direct causal link between the Summers' memo and Texaco's actions. I'm simply saying that when intellectual elites make arguments that it's okay to pollute more in poor countries, we shouldn't be surprised when they do so. 

If Bill Gates believes all lives are equal, why is he impeding vaccine distribution?

I believe that governments can be competent in highly technical endeavors (e.g. Manhattan Project and Apollo Programs), operate large distribution networks (USPS), and run businesses (many states have a legal monopoly on alcohol sales). It's a matter of investment. This article goes into a lot more detail on how a public pharma sector could work. 

but I do suspect that it's not like the vaccine information is going to be withheld from the world while at the same time pharma companies just price gouge their way through the Global South; I think it's more likely the vaccines will be provided to developing countries via foreign aid and/or other mechanisms at far lower cost relative to what was charged among wealthy countries.

Vaccine distribution in poor countries has been almost nonexistent so far. This is already a massive problem, and it's astonishing to me that EA isn't yelling from the rooftops about it!

The KHN article lays it out well: 

"High-income countries, representing just a fifth of the global adult population, have purchased more than half of all vaccine doses, resulting in disparities between adult population share and doses purchased for all other country income groups."

Maybe rich countries will donate their extra doses once they vaccinate every one of their citizens, but that may not happen for months or years. All the while, people in poor countries are dying from COVID and mutations are more likely to crop up that may bypass vaccines. Of course, this would be good for vaccine makers, who can then make a booster and sell that. 

If Bill Gates believes all lives are equal, why is he impeding vaccine distribution?

I think open-sourcing any IP (either by govt's buying it and putting it out for free, or by developing it with that intention from the beginning like Oxford had planned) would largely solve this problem. You wouldn't need to have contracts or govts mandate that companies don't profit during the pandemic. There would just be an actually competitive market for generic vaccines.

Vaccine availability in poor countries is abysmal. Which is the main issue I see with the IP-protecting approach to vaccine development. If you just let companies set monopoly prices, as other commenters have suggested, poor countries will be priced out. 

If Bill Gates believes all lives are equal, why is he impeding vaccine distribution?

Then we should massively invest in alternative models for developing and producing vaccines. The reality is that monopoly prices and IP protections are making vaccines inaccessible to the majority of the world. If you just remove IP protections but don't put something else in place, I could see that leading to bad outcomes, but that's not what advocates are calling for. Decades of market fundamentalism has thoroughly limited our ideas of what is possible. Public sector drug development was the norm for many countries around the world, until the pharma industry captured rich country govts. 

What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

Thinking that you can be opposed to a broad ideology on empirical grounds is simply mistaken. You can say something like " the countries that adopted self-described Marxist governments fared worse than they would have otherwise". But even that claim requires a lot of evidence to defend! Marxist revolutions didn't happen in already wealthy countries with stable institutions. I don't even consider myself a Marxist-- I'm just trying to make the point that this stuff is too complicated to make a claim that an ideology is empirically right or wrong.

Ideology is like bad breath, you can't smell your own. You have an ideology, whether you'd like to admit it or not!

I share your wish that American politics weren't so focused on Americans and wish that Bernie were more of an internationalist. However, his platform on immigration in 2020 was better than any other candidate's from an EA perspective IMO, even if his record may not have been great on it. 

What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

Many EAs support open borders, which to me is in the same general ballpark of "abolish the police". Both are radical breaks from how the world currently is.  Both slogans are open to many different interpretations. And both have a lot of literature and research behind them. But one slogan is popular among EAs, and one isn't. 

What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

I'm  a self-described socialist. I also work at an EA-aligned nonprofit and co-organize one of the largest EA groups in the world. I know plenty of other EAs who do great work and identify as socialists or leftists. 

But maybe EA would be better off without us because our political contributions are objectively wrong according to your analysis. 

Your analysis assumes that the goal of anyone with left of center politics is to flip seats from red to blue, but this is not the goal of the DSA. Obviously, winning majorities is essential to enacting legislation, but the composition of those majorities will change what legislation looks like. In the example I linked above, Bernie was able to significantly influence the American Rescue Plan to get more unconditional cash to people who need it, among other things. In New York State, Dems hold super majorities in the Assembly and Senate. All 5 of DSA's endorsed candidates won their primaries (the actually competitive election). One of them was the lead sponsor on the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, which significantly restricts the usage of solitary confinement (i.e. torture) in New York's corrections facilities and just passed the Assembly and Senate with veto-proof majorities yesterday. 

Eliot Engels:

  • supported the Iraq War
  • opposed the Iran deal
  • supported Saudi's war on Yemen 

Source. (The author of this article also wrote a defense of EA 5 years ago)

The nature of presidential primaries is that there is typically a clear front-runner by some point who captures the lions share of the remaining delegates. Even so, in 2016, the results were far closer, with Hillary receiving 55% of the popular vote to Bernie's 43%.

Honestly, you sound ideologically opposed to socialism, which is fine. What's frustrating is that you're writing about politics with a certitude that doesn't seem to match your understanding of it. You're picking a few random data points and then asserting that this proves some very broad claim, like that socialists participating in politics is bad for progressives or that Engel is better than Bowman. 

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