209Joined Sep 2015


Is the idea that there isn't already opposition to EA stances, so creating it is extra bad?

Bringing into existence new opposition is bad. Not sure to what extent there's currently no opposition; but there's no opposition of the sort that EA's would face. (I'm pretty sure there are no professional oppo researchers targeting EA or individual EA's right now, for example. Similarly, existing politicians have no reason to dislike EA. Similarly, I'm pretty sure that there's never been a publicly running advertisement attacking effective altruism.)

(I think it's pretty likely that there attack ads would be if EA keeps running candidates. Maybe you're skeptical now, but that's based on a positive view of EA from the inside; not based on what a motivated opposition researcher who's being paid to find reasons to criticize an EA would either find or twist to criticize. The term "political hatchet job" exists for a reason.)

obscurity of these cause areas also reduces cause-area-motivated opponents

I'm not really sure what you mean by that?

Is the idea that nobody would oppose EA candidates because of EA ideology? That's true, they would oppose EA candidates for non-EA ideological reasons, and also because electoral seats are a scarce resource.

Pork is pushed for by legislators, not by interest groups.

I don't really understand the distinction you're drawing. Interest groups definitely lobby to receive pork.

These projects have some support from within the district, sure, but it's really the legislators that want them to happen so they can advertise to their constituents.

Is the claim here that the actual spending itself doesn't matter, and the reason it occurs is solely that the politician likes to be able to talk about the spending?

That runs counter to my understanding; this paper claims otherwise for Brazil, and this paper suggests otherwise for the US.

Yeah. It's kinda difficult for me to present a knockdown argument against explicitly EA politicians, when everybody agrees that the benefits would be illegible the public and difficult to predict.

Your analysis of the limited influence of individual elected officials focuses on the House of Representatives. These arguments are grounded in the House's unique features (e.g., influence of leadership, limits on members' ability to propose amendments), so it doesn't make sense to generalize their conclusions to the Senate.

This is true, and I think my essay suffered somewhat from being both an argument specifically about Carrick Flynn and an argument about politics more generally.

I think that the focus on the House, beyond just Flynn, was somewhat reasonable though; I think that EA is just incapable of getting an EA elected to the Senate in the near term, so there's not much point in considering the benefits. I can elaborate on this if you disagree.

Concluding one of your sections, you write, "they inevitably will end up campaigning on, and dealing with, primarily non-EA topics. This means that most opposition that EA politicians would face isn’t due to their EA stances." So? I'm not seeing how this is an argument for your main claim.

Two reasons this is bad:

  • As I discussed in the next section, creating opposition to EA could be harmful to EA itself.
  • It means that most of the EA effort in elections would go, not to arguing for EA causes specifically, but to arguing for and fighting over other issues. For example, in OR-06, significant sums of EA money was spent attacking Andrea Salinas as a drug lobbyist, which is not an EA focus. It also means that EA might lose elections even where nobody really disagrees or opposes the EA cause areas; OR-06 is again an example.

I agree, I think that GAP is probably very good. I mentioned it as being effective and bipartisan in footnotes 2 and 7.

What goals did the Tea Party fail on? 

Repealing Obamacare was arguably its central political goal, and was a total failure.

Secondary failures include failing to reduce government spending and failing to reduce government debt. I also would characterize it as failing to reduce the size of the government and failing to reduce government regulation, although I don't know how to measure these. These cases are all dependent on what hypothetical you choose- maybe they reduced the rate of increase.

Congresspeople deal with a ton of different interest groups all the time trying to have their preferred policies make their way into legislation. We are competing with all of them, which makes our odds of success quite low, especially since politicians generally consult the interest groups they agree with rather than interest groups actually persuading politicians.


A more apt comparison in my eyes is pork. Politicians get funding all the time for projects in their districts so they can report back to their constituents. Hundreds of these things get included in many omnibus bills in order to ensure the vote of every single legislator.

I agree that pork is good comparison, since it has highly concentrated support but nonexistent opposition. But the second section I quoted above directly contradicts the first section: pork is an example of how interest groups can be effective at getting their preferred policies into legislation, even if no politician themself benefits from the pork.

It's very rare for the groups that benefit from pork to try to steer it by themselves holding office.

I don't think we are really competing with all other interest groups; there's not a limited amount of legislation. There is a limited-ish budget, but it's so high that there's room for many different priorities already (including pork).

But I think you vastly exaggerate how much having more association EA would have with Democrats if there were a couple of Democratic EA-associated legislators in office, especially if they never really talk about EA in public.

Well, maybe. It's really tough to evaluate hypotheticals like this; but the actually existing political campaign that I'm commenting on lead to multiple articles about EA in the national political press just from the primary, let alone the general or somebody holding office.

I think it's fair to characterize the Flynn campaign, the actually existing case, as an example of EA as a movement trying to win a political office; it was portrayed that way in the national press. The takeaways I linked on the EA forum also seemed supportive of EA as a movement trying to win political office, and I haven't seen anybody suggest that this would be harmful.

In which you say that R EA's would then not be interested in joining EA (or at least engaging in EA politics) but to me that seems off because as you mentioned many of the issues that the average voter and indeed party cares about aren't things most EA's would prioritize.

I agree that EA politicians wouldn't prioritize the issues that they care less about; but they wouldn't be able to avoid taking a stance on them, most straightforwardly by voting on bills. There are no national single-issue politicians in American politics, every vote is a vote for a coalition, and EA would be a member of such a coalition. EA would be repeatedly advocating for the election of politicians who consistently take one side of the issues, and would therefore correctly be associated with that side.

To me, this means that for the issues that EA's do really care about (e.g. X-risks mitigation) an EA D or R would be happy to collaborate because they do share the values on those issues even being in different parties which are opposed on other "bread and butter" political issues. 

This assumes that the EA's in question are already committed EA's with strong alignment on the EA cause areas. There's at least two important cases where that might not be true:

  • EA's might want to work with somebody who's not themself an EA; for example, every current member of Congress.
  • Nobody is born as an EA; EA needs to recruit people to become EA's.

I do agree that, while some EA's with opposing politics might bounce out of EA as a result, the number would be pretty negligible, most would probably remain.

But, given how much the odds go up for an incumbent in their election, I think if he (or anyone else) got in, even if they didn't have power in that first term, they would be much more likely to be able to stick around for many more and exert power that way.

I agree.

Without necessarily endorsing the EA-as-religion comparison, I don't think it's true that politicians don't face opposition for their religion. Christians do not face much criticism because they are the majority; some specific denominations do face opposition. In particular, Romney did in fact face significant opposition due to his Mormon religion- see this experiment, and this summary on wikipedia. (It wasn't a significant factor in the higher-profile 2012 general election because the Obama campaign decided to focus their fire on Romney's venture capital background.)

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