What Are Effective Alternatives to Party Politics for Effective Public Policy Advocacy?

post by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2019-01-30T02:52:25.471Z · EA · GW · 6 comments

This is a question post.

In the United States, the Open Philanthropy Project has made many grants to public policy advocacy NGOs that have had significant successes. And some regional EA organizations in other countries have also focused on policy project. Typically in EA I see public policy favoured for being along the following lines:

I've been thinking about what it'd take for EA to pursue goals of effective policy advocacy in different countries around the world. In Canada, I asked a friend of mine how people can start influencing politics and policy. He has several friends who got involved in federal party politics in Canada by becoming highly involved volunteers and members with a major party. I visited the office of my local representative (my Member of Parliament, or MP) to ask how one gets involved in the party, and I got the exact same impression I got from my friend who told me several anecdotes of what active party membership was like for his other friends. This is seen as the most typical route a typical citizen might get involved in politics. Unfortunately, joining a political party as the primary route to influence policy struck me at odds with what policy advocacy from an EA perspective would ideally look like.

This makes trying to build a movement in a country for effective policy advocacy and reform through joining political parties look like a highly uncertain prospect that could end up being years of effort wasted that could have been spent on genuinely and successfully helping people by pursuing a different career. EA community members should definitely consider and pursue careers in politics and policy, and much of the time that may necessarily involve party politics. But not everyone in EA has to do that, and party politics may not a good personal fit for many of us who would nonetheless seek to see public policy reformed. So it seems worth exploring other options for alternative means by which EA organizations can successfully advocate for effective and altruistic public policy. Possibilities include:

These are all methods for advocating, influencing, and changing public policy that have been successfully employed in many ways by many different movements and organizations in the past. I have some familiarity with how different movements and organizations have succeeded, but I'm not confident enough to say which methods or means would be the best fit for the kind of policy advocacy EA organizations would aspire to. This is the summary of my mild foray into thinking about general approaches for EA to take to public policy so far, and I thought I'd start a conversation about what other options for public policy advocacy and reform EA should look at?


answer by Khorton · 2019-01-30T08:53:13.432Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

There's a lot to be said for public opinion or "political mood." I think the legalization of gay marriage in Canada would be a good case study. Factors that led to legalization included:


-court decisions

-Private Member's bills

-a change in public opinion

-political circumstances

For a large-scale issue, working on any of the above would probably be worth your time.

answer by Khorton · 2019-01-30T11:12:22.863Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's worth noting that state- or province-level powers are usually not "less important," they're just based on particular categories, so they're worth paying attention to. For example, Canada stopped exporting asbestos to developing countries in 2012 due to a provincial decision. http://www.preventcancernow.ca/canada-has-stopped-mining-and-exporting-asbestos-but-the-battle-to-protect-people-from-asbestos-harm-continues/

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2019-01-30T23:03:28.944Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I've seen EA community members talk about impacting politics on a national scale, and then also on a municipal scale. Nobody talks about a state-or-province-level much, so I don't know much about it. I imagine the level of ease which one can get things done is somewhere between the national level and the municipal level, but I've yet to check it out.

answer by Milan_Griffes · 2019-01-30T20:00:04.002Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ballot initiatives, at least in the US.

answer by EirikMofoss · 2019-02-02T12:27:48.587Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

As an alternative to joining a party and aiming for becoming MP or similar, there's also the option to become a political adviser, and/or to work somewhat politically in the civil service. Although far from rational conditions, positions as advisers seem to demand much less of everything typical "non-EA" that a career as an MP might require, IMO.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2019-02-03T02:17:46.270Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That makes sense. I'm not angling for a civil service career myself, but it makes sense. At least in the past for the U.K. 80,000 Hours has recommended entering the civil service as more impactful in expectation than trying to win in electoral politics (mostly because the expected value of generic/randomly selected candidates of winning and achieving their goals is so low; individuals with reason to think they could have a decisive edge in electoral politics should consider it more).


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