JeremiahJohnson

340Joined Sep 2021

Comments
25

I appreciate this response because I think it's symbolic of something I think is important.

EA has a lot of internal norms, like any group. It seems like on the EA forum one of those is to use more factual, descriptive, neutral titles. But elsewhere, the norm is to be attention getting, provocative, etc.  You could fairly call this 'clickbait' if you'd like. Clickbait exists because it works.  It is startlingly effective, and not just at cheap engagement that dies quickly.  It's effective at prompting deep engagement as well.  One quick example - video essayists on youtube who do incredibly informative deep dives on technical subjects still use clickbait titles, image previews, etc. The big channels literally have consultants that help A/B test which reaction face will get more clicks. It doesn't detract from the quality of their videos or the depth of their communities, it's just part of what you have to do to get people to care.

My experience is more in that world. I'm used to phrasing things with the explicit goal to make people click, draw their eyeballs, cause a stir, etc. By using that kind of title on the EA forum, I've probably committed a minor faux pas.  But it actually does help me illustrate the point that EAs shouldn't be allergic to that kind of thing all the time.

EAs using factual, descriptive, neutral titles on their own forums is an interesting quirk of the community.  But if EAs only ever use factual, descriptive, neutral language in all forums, that's a strategic mistake, and hinders their ability to effectively communicate with the public. This comment is a corollary to the 'Pick a fight' argument - I believe that sometimes EAs need to abandon internal norms in order to win attention for their ideas.

also - the clever sounding title was taken from an obscure academic screed 9 years ago - https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_elitist_philanthropy_of_so_called_effective_altruism

This is sort of unavoidably going to get into culture war/political territory... but if Nathan J Robinson is the kind of public enemy that EA has, we're doing very well.  NJR is a terrible hack who has little of substance to say and whose place in The Discourse is usually as a laughingstock, even among those who are ideologically close to him.

 

I'm of the opinion that EAs should pick more public fights anyways, so I see this is as a positive development.

My point is that I think you can often a ton of good by NOT focusing on the highest priority cause.

If you constantly talk about killer AI for a year, you might get 2 people to contribute to it. 

If you constantly talk about improving regular people's regular charitable giving for a year, you might influence dozens or hundreds of people to give more efficiently, even if they're still giving to something that isn't the highest priority cause.

Basically - If your goal is to improve restaurant quality, improving  every McDonald's in the US by 10% does more to improve restaurant quality than opening a handful of Michelin star joints.

There's definitely a set of principles that underpins our policy beliefs.  A lot of this goes all the way back to classical liberalism - to be a neoliberal means first and foremost that you are a liberal and are grounded in liberal political philosophy.  This means we hold the core liberal values of equality before the law, democratic governance, a market economy, freedoms of press/religion/speech/assembly/etc.

Modern neoliberals take that liberalism and add and emphasize a few things.  Neoliberals are internationalist and globalist, which leads to our support for free trade, free immigration, international institutions, etc.  We are social liberals who fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry. We are capitalists who believe in using a relatively free-market economy to make a richer world, but paired with a welfare state to alleviate poverty and suffering.  And we have an emphasis on evidence-based policy.  All of those are relatively base-level beliefs that inform the policies we support.

I'm hesitant to act like I know the One True Answer here because while this is a global phenomenon, I think Trump, Brexit, Bolsonaro, Le Pen, Duterte, Erdogan, Modi, Xi, Putin, Orban, etc etc etc all have their own unique circumstances that makes any kind of general answer impossible. Putin is propelled by unique factors relating to the fall of the USSR and the sense of decline/malaise in Russia.  All American politics is inexorably tied into our race relations. Erdogan's boosted by Turkey's tortured history with 'liberal coups' and its historical dance between Islam and secularism. There's no single thing to address all these guys at once.

I'm honestly unsure that individual action can do much to influence the authoritarian wave. I think there are likely geopolitical solutions, but geopolitics is hard and far more messy and complicated than most casual observers understand.

Initially the name came from wonkish Hillary Clinton supporters getting called '****ing neoliberals' or other angry denunciations by Bernie Sanders supporters in the 2016 Dem primary. We kind of ran with it - if being a Clinton supporter is being a neoliberal, fine, I'm a neoliberal.

Once the name was there, it attracted attention like a lightning rod and the community grew very fast.  At the beginning nobody was trying to make this into anything, it was just a bunch of people memeing about central bankers, globalism and woke capitalism. There wasn't a conscious decision about how This Is The Name That Will Eventually Win Suburban Moms And Create Our Political Moment, it was just a small community having fun that turned into a much larger community. By that point the name was the name.

Moving forward, we have some soft-rebranding where some of our chapters choose to go by 'New Liberals' instead of Neoliberal. We are moving into using different names in different contexts.

  1. - open borders. If there was no political blowback it's a multi-trillion dollar idea.  Second would either be some sort of giant green package focused on carbon taxes + huge amounts of green energy R&D funding + international agreements, or some sort of federal control of zoning where I liberalize the hell out of EVERY city's zoning (this is probably impossible constitutionally, but no blowback!)
  2. Go outside Mike :)

This is a complex thing to measure, because the largest thing we're trying to do is to create an ideological movement that captures a lot of people in the long run. I admire the DSA a lot and think they're very much an example of the impact I'd like to have (but obviously with what I think are preferable political views).  I think they have had enormous impact on current US politics.

But if you had asked 10 years ago 'What has the DSA accomplished?', it'd be a tough question to answer.  They had a handful of local politicians, but nobody really notable nationally was an out-and-proud DSA member until Bernie Sanders exploded in popularity. It'd be hard to describe them as having a huge impact on US politics at that time, but since the Sanders Moment they've had a massive impact, both in shifting the overton window of the Democratic Party in a lot of ways and in having very high profile members of Congress. I think a longrun path to success for us likely looks similar, in that we have to build the foundation of what we're working on for years and then hopefully at the correct moment we'll be able to leverage it in a huge way to change politics.

More concretely!  I think we've successfully made 'advocate for sensible monetary policy' the socially accepted elite position.  It's been a signature issue for us for as long as we've existed, and and area few people used to care about. Now both center-right and center-left (and even portions of the further right/left) now advocate for how important Bernanke, Yellen and Powell have been and how important it is to keep them independent and free of partisan politics. Goldbugs are now simply laughed off, and when someone like Elizabeth Warren goes after Jay Powell, the majority of the center-left is jumping to dunk on Warren and defend Powell (who is a fantastic Fed chair and should be reappointed).

That's one where I think I can really pinpoint us as key actors, because it's a niche issue and we were so early on it and so loud about it. A lot of other issues it's very difficult to measure impact - when someone votes the way you want, was it truly because of you?  Who knows? I can also say that a lot of talking with officials is talking them out of dumb ideas, and that's influence that never sees the light of day. There's another part of this that will be frustrating as an answer - there are high level politicians who have directly told us that they love what we're doing and basically agree with us/identify with us, but prefer to keep it silent because they avoid ideological labels. I know that sucks as answer, but it's the truth.

One other concrete thing - we have a small number of members who are elected, almost all at very local levels on local city commissions and things like that.  I think it's fair to count whatever they do as direct influence.

I think it's important to realize that different names serve different purposes at different points in time.

If the initial subreddit had called itself the very sober sounding "/r/NewLiberal" from the beginning, I firmly believe that what we are doing right now would not exist.  The subreddit would never have gotten the attention it got, and would never have grown as fast as it did.  Reclaiming the term neoliberal was delightfully subversive and grabbed people's attention - people who loved it and people who hated it.  Before the Neoliberal Project had even been conceived and we were just a loose collection of social media spaces, we had already been profiled in Vice, Gawker, NPR, and many other places.  We had mainstream media attention because the name was controversial. The attention brought in both supporters and attackers, and the inevitable tribal battles that happened forged a sense of community that attracted people further. We've grown pretty fast, all things considered.

So I think there were very strong reasons to lean heavily into the neoliberalism branding early in our existence. And once you lean heavily into a brand, it's hard to divorce yourself from that brand - path dependency is a thing. A lot of our members identify with the neoliberal brand. I also continue to think there's a benefit to being controversial and iconoclastic.  Think about the DSA's rise in popularity, and how the left has successfully redefined 'socialism' from 'the scary communist USSR with a brutal dictatorship and absolute total state control over every part of the economy' to 'socialism is when free college and healthcare'. (which may be a slight exaggeration of how many GenZ socialists understand themselves, but only a slight one)

With that said! I do think it's likely that as we move further into serious advocacy within the political establishment, we'll move more towards a different branding. We already have the Center for New Liberalism which is essentially just a new wrapper on the same ideas, and is helpful to use in instances when 'neoliberal' might scare people off. Clearly it does restrict some things for us and isn't the best branding in all situations. Right now we're letting our chapters choose whichever name is best for them in their local context. I'm ultimately a pragmatist and am willing to use different names in different contexts.

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