Should we talk about altruism or talk about justice?

post by kbog · 2019-07-03T00:20:40.213Z · EA · GW · 26 comments


  Policy case studies
  Impact on discourse and civility

In this post [EA · GW] I went through Elizabeth Ashford's paper on EA. She first gives an explanation of how EA is good as a complement to left-wing projects, but also gives a critique where she tries to steelman left-wing criticisms of EA. The idea is that EAs use certain language about charity and altruism, but this language encourages society at large to act in bad ways. If we used language about justice instead (with leftist connotations of fairness and restoration, not the conservative emphasis on law & order), then we would have a more positive impact on social attitudes and discourse. I noted that Ashford gave a very one-sided view of the issue, listing potential upsides of justice language but not potential downsides, and it's an open question which is actually better.

This issue is not just academic; some EAs do talk about justice instead of benevolence. So here I will try to answer the question of whether talking more about 'justice' is in fact something that is better or worse for society at large, compared to talking about altruism with a more "wonk" attitude.

Policy case studies

First I will go through major political issues where the "justice" view is associated with particular attitudes, and see whether they make things better or worse compared to a more conventional approach.

The policy judgments are sourced from the Candidate Scoring System [EA · GW], where I spent quite a bit of time gathering up-to-date evidence and soliciting opinions from a wide range of commentators.

Animal welfare: Both welfare reforms and vegan boycotts are usually agreed to be positive developments for animal interests. Concerns over justice to animals have strongly motivated vegan-oriented animal activism, with groups like DxE, ALF, Sea Shepherd, and PETA pushing the strongest messages. The alternative is softer efforts for free range farming, reducing meat consumption, and researching plant products. There is quite a bit of controversy over which one works best; overall I don't see a clear upside or downside to the justice framing right now. (But maybe some people here can resolve this.)

Foreign aid and international philanthropy: More foreign aid and philanthropy to impoverished countries is generally a good thing. The altruism framework targets this directly by acknowledging it as good; the justice framing usually criticizes it for not fixing everything. Therefore, in this case the justice framing usually has worse results, because it gives people a sense of overriding indignance which clouds their thinking on separate-but-related issues.

Immigration: The appropriate policy approach is to greatly expand legal immigration and offer a path to citizenship for existing illegal immigrants. The justice approach generally endorses this as well, but often includes a hardline commitment to open borders or at least opposition to effective security measures against illegal immigrants. This could be good in terms of expanding migrant mobility, but could be bad for its political effects: increasing right-wing hostility to legal immigration and preventing policymakers from compromising on comprehensive immigration reform. Therefore, in this case it's not clear if the justice framing is better or worse.

Trade: The appropriate realistic policy approach is free trade, possibly with some negotiated agreements to raise environmental and labor standards. Conventional people who think about altruism and philanthropy are generally tolerant of this. However, concerns of economic justice frequently lead to boycotts and opposition to free trade, with trade deals shelved entirely when they are perceived as being unfair. Progressive leftists like Warren and Sanders are nationalist trade protectionists. Now a proper concern for economic justice does imply a preference for free trade over nothing, and ultimately demands generous trade deals in which we subsidize manufacturing in poor countries. However these points are lost for practical intents and purposes. You can see this in Ashford's paper where she only barely and grudgingly admits the superiority of free trade to economic nationalism, and in the practical policy world where Western states and political actors are not seriously considering things like reparative trade subsidies. Therefore, in this case the justice view has worse results, because it (a) gets misunderstood/coopted and (b) is too far divorced from the constraints and interests of real political actors.

Abortion: For maximizing social well-being, abortion should broadly be available. The phrase "reproductive justice" is something of a euphemism for abortion access, though it also includes a wide variety of other actions to give women control over their reproduction. Here the leftist notion of "justice" is better, because it focuses attention on women and prevents the fetus from being a subject of moral deliberation.

Climate change: The appropriate approach is a mix of carbon taxation and public spending on clean energy R&D. Climate justice approaches tend to neglect carbon taxes and R&D in favor of regulations to punish specific companies and assistance to local communities for implementing cleaner technology. This is a less effective approach. Climate justice approaches have a higher emphasis on compensating local communities for the harms of climate change, which is off-track when the most harms of climate change will be felt by foreigners in the developing world and prevention is by far most important. Finally, justice approaches empower local groups such as indigenous communities to stall or neuter local policies and projects which are good for the climate but bad for their local interests. Thus, here the notion of "justice" is worse, because it causes people to take a more narrow view at a particular set of stakeholders rather than thinking in simpler, broader terms.

Criminal justice: the appropriate approach is reduced incarceration. Notions of racial injustice have played a crucial role in moving the American political system towards better policies, as liberal scholars were ignored. However, there is reason to be concerned that now the worries about racial injustice have become too intense and extreme, as Republicans and police are increasingly accepting reduced incarceration, some BLM stances are controversial, and racial dissatisfaction in America has turned into a formidable zeitgeist. Thus, currently it's not clear whether it's better for people to keep talking about racial justice, or to relax to a more basic altruistic/benevolent approach to improving the criminal justice system. (Maybe someone who knows more details about the state of these reforms can answer this.)

Healthcare: concerns of economic justice lead to a strong commitment to Medicare-for-All, whereas more conventional attitudes are associated with support for a wide variety of perfectly viable alternatives (such as a Medicare buy-in option). The narrow-mindedness of the economic justice view can cause problems, as seen with the fiscal flaws of Sanders' bill, and M4A absolutism might cause complete failure in a divided congress. But on the other hand healthcare reform in the US is badly stalled and it might be important to harshly sweep away the complexity and dysfunction with a strong reform movement. Obamacare basically failed, largely because it was weak and undermined by Republicans. Therefore it's currently not clear which approach is better.

Taxation and budget: Concerns over economic justice motivate higher taxes on millionaires and billionaires, which is good. However they also motivate equalizing capital gains with income taxes and high corporate taxes, which are bad. They further motivate a shift to make income taxes much more progressive across regular income brackets, but the impact of this is unclear. Overall, it's not clear whether justice concerns make attitudes better or worse.

Capitalism and socialism: Concerns of economic justice are well aligned with socialism, but socialism would probably be worse than capitalism. Therefore justice attitudes are harmful here.

Summary: talking about justice is better than conventional attitudes in 1 case, neither better nor worse in 5 cases, and worse in 4 cases.

Impact on discourse and civility

Different language may have different effects on people's attitudes towards each other. Talking about justice can create a strong commitment to being an "ally" of people who marginalized. But more importantly, it creates a more adversarial and harsher approach to resolving disputes. It can actively foster a sense of grievance from things such as historical wrongs. Meanwhile, talking about altruism puts everyone loosely on the same side.

Now, given people's divisions and senses of grievance, some attention to justice is appropriate for encouraging a lasting solution. A fully wonky or philanthropic attitude might not do anything to heal grievances and divides.

That being said, fully committing to justice-language often means taking one particular side of a dispute and assuming or hoping that you will be able to restructure society so as to be on the 'right side of history,' creating tolerance via solidarity. If any gaps appear then this can backfire.

So overall, it seems like we should have a presumption in favor of the altruist framing, but with some empathetic and communicative abilities to refer to other perspectives in certain circumstances (not just justice, but also other things like rights, freedoms, etc).


Another important factor is which point of view is most appealing to people, particularly for spreading EA. The justice framing is more appealing in leftist circles, whereas talking about altruism is more appealing in a broader swathe of the population. It's worth noting that it was Peter Singer's argument for altruism that caught the most attention and popularity - not Pogges' argument for economic justice. It's nice to imagine that EA could gain the kind of mass dedicated support of left justice movements like LGBT, feminism and racial liberation, but this support is not possible when the victims are not in the same country or species or generation, as demonstrated by the lackluster performance of animal liberation and international human rights campaigns.

So I think the right approach is to have the movement maintain its broad and simple idea of altruism, but be fluent at code-switching to express the same ideas in justice language to the right audiences. Or have some people who constantly talk/think that way, in order to show a different side of the movement.


The way Ashford seems to think about benevolence, it almost looks like she doesn't think of it as an obligatory concept. But that's not true. In utilitarianism as well as the Kantian value of benevolence, EA activities are obligated. And within EA, people seem adequately willing to heavily revise their careers and donate most of their spare money.

In justice-oriented movements and communities, people frequently sacrifice too, becoming full-time activists. But other people change nearly nothing about their lives, except for voicing moral support to a cause.

It's hard to compare directly because justice-oriented groups focus more on the lifestyle and community rather than career achievements and donations. But generally speaking, both approaches seem adequate for motivating people to sacrifice.


From what I can tell, it would be a bad idea for EAs to broadly adopt the liberal/leftist framing of justice and moral debts. We should mostly stay the course with the altruist framing. However, EAs are right to use the justice framing in a few contexts and to have some people who genuinely communicate in those terms.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by zdgroff · 2019-07-04T09:54:45.330Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I lean toward effective altruism moving in the direction of "justice" for a few reasons.

1) I think Aaron is right that "justice-oriented arguments seem to have had a much greater chance of going "viral" than altruistic arguments", and I think the academic literature supports him. Van Zomeren and Postumes (2008) is, from what I understand, one of the better syntheses/reviews on the psychology of collective action, and it finds that an injustice framing promotes more participation.

2) I think the effect of the different terms on moral attitudes is ambiguous at worst. Most of your examples above seem to be on the fence. In the animal welfare case, you ask for help resolving this. I can't claim to be decisive and have a lot more doubt here than I used to, but I think "justice" is a better way to build alliances with other advocacy groups, the most promising of which are on the left, but possibly even on the right if part of a Christian justice view. (In Poland, there's major conservative support for animal welfare because of a kind of fondness for rural life that seems more in line with justice than altruism.) I think altruism calls to mind dietary change and leafleting sorts of approaches, which have somewhat fallen out of favor in animal advocacy. To my mind, the current tactics with the most EA support, namely corporate campaigns, undercover investigations, and clean and plant-based meat, are somewhat orthogonal to the altruism-justice consideration.

3) Trends in the EA movement over time suggest to me that the term altruism is more likely to bias us in the wrong direction than justice. Initially EAs focused substantially on earning to give, donating to poverty charities, and dietary change as I note above. Over time, there has been much more interest in policy (even for poverty, where immigration and climate policy seem to have more support in EA now). AI strategy and policy, for example, seems very pressing, and most EA animal advocates I know favor institutional change over individual change. Many of the judgments we have moved away from since the earlier days of EA seem to be cases where we did the sort of things "altruism" is evocative of, and increasingly we find ourselves doing the "justice" things.

I do worry, as someone in animal advocacy who has seen all the conflict in that movement, that the "justice" framing could have a perverse impact on discourse and civility. I think at the margin we could afford to move a bit more in that direction, though.

Replies from: kbog, lucy.ea8
comment by kbog · 2019-07-04T16:54:55.929Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

When you're talking about decisions made in the EA community itself, it's best to focus on concrete issues of effectiveness and not worry so much about discourse and rhetoric. We're equipped to make right decisions regardless of these subtle things.

EAs mostly haven't started doing justice framed policy work. Justice isn't equivalent to institutions and policies per se.

Replies from: lucy.ea8
comment by lucy.ea8 · 2019-07-05T07:56:38.588Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

We're equipped to make right decisions regardless of these subtle things.

None of give well top charities focus on women or girls, given that women and girls are valued less in poor countries, from a strictly utilitarian perspective, this is a miss for the EA movement

Malala Fund has a report that claims girls education is the world best investment I dont see serious research from EA community on this front either.

Atleast the CEA has a good page on gender and inclusion. Its not actual recommendations of any charity, but its a start.

Justice (goals) must inform institutions and policy.

Replies from: kbog, Jemma
comment by kbog · 2019-07-05T08:27:55.052Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
None of give well top charities focus on women or girls, given that women and girls are valued less in poor countries, from a strictly utilitarian perspective, this is a miss for the EA movement

But maybe the best interventions aren't easy or efficient to target towards women only - if you give out bed nets, best to give them to everyone. If we extend this logic, we're going to ask "why do none of our charities focus on ugly girls in poor countries?" and it never ends because you can always find a sub-group of people that is in still more dire straits on average (but it gets unlikely that that will lead to the best charity).

Generally speaking I don't think you can easily empirically confirm or disprove that EA is 'on the right track', either position is going to boil down to a lot of subjective assumptions. Instead I just trust that we're ultimately competent and encourage constant debate and reconsideration of specific charities and causes. That's the most productive route. If thinking about justice helps you make your argument - more power to you. No need for us to worry about how each other thinks.

You may be interested in Founders' Pledge report: Women's Empowerment

Replies from: lucy.ea8
comment by lucy.ea8 · 2019-07-07T03:04:54.377Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

You may be interested in Founders' Pledge report: Women's Empowerment

Thanks for this.

But maybe the best interventions aren't easy or efficient to target towards women only

There has been very little effort to find and prove this. I have seen very little research from give well or else where on women's issues.

Give Directly could easily run a pilot and test giving to women only. I cant imagine why this would be inefficient.

When there is actual discrimination e.g. missing women It means that women's lives are less happier. A track of "saving lives" would not care about this difference. (As the list of top charities of Give Well show). A justice oriented thinking would adjust for this and spend more money of women's empowerment.

Replies from: DavidNash
comment by DavidNash · 2019-07-07T08:56:22.491Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

There is a paper from the Centre for Global Development that might be relevant.

"We Can Learn a Lot about Improving Girls’ Education from Interventions That Don’t Target Girls"

Replies from: lucy.ea8
comment by lucy.ea8 · 2019-07-09T06:24:01.306Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks much, that was good reading. Education is not like Childbirth or Breast Cancer (99% female) which are women specific. It makes sense that Girls learning outcomes can be improved without specifically targeting them. However access to school should be done specifically by targeting them.

Hypothetically if only 50% of kids can be educated, having them be all boys is much worse than if 50% of all genders make it to school. Thankfully we don't need to make such a choice there is enough money to educate everyone to 12 years of education regardless of gender. Whats lacking is political will.

comment by Jemma · 2019-07-06T10:31:57.759Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Have GiveWell examined many charities addressing maternal and neonatal health? Childbirth is a situation in which the worst-case scenario is the death of two people, one of whom literally has their whole life ahead of them, the other of whom is also relatively young and may have other young children who would suffer extreme emotional hardship from the loss of their mother (as well as the suffering caused to her partner and other relatives and friends, of course). In The Life Equation, a woman receives a caesarian which seems to save her baby (and, if I recall correctly, also herself) from near-certain death. Also, it seems like relatively basic healthcare attendance during delivery can significantly reduce the risk of long-term complications to mother and baby, like obstetric fistula or disabilities arising from hypoxia during birth.

Replies from: Tetraspace Grouping
comment by Tetraspace Grouping · 2019-07-06T14:03:49.528Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

GiveWell did an intervention report on maternal mortality 10 years ago, and at the time concluded that the evidence is less compelling than for their top charities (though they say that it is now probably out of date).

Replies from: Jemma
comment by Jemma · 2019-07-07T10:46:17.694Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, looks interesting --- it seems from this report like what reduces maternal mortality rates is likely to be a combination of factors, or a factor that hasn't been discovered yet. Though maybe now GiveWell has incubation grants, they're in a position to support more investigation into the final option presented (clean birthing kits and/or associated education), which seemed promising?

comment by lucy.ea8 · 2019-07-07T03:09:55.746Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Many of the judgments we have moved away from since the earlier days of EA seem to be cases where we did the sort of things "altruism" is evocative of, and increasingly we find ourselves doing the "justice" things.

Thanks for writing this. I am relatively new to EA it helps to understand history.

I think about justice without judging people, I hope that avoids hostility.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-07-04T00:19:48.754Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Your discussion of the ways that these frames appeal to different audiences seems broadly accurate to me. However, I feel as though your Singer/Pogge comparison leaves out a couple of important details:

1. Singer had a massive head start. "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" was published in 1972, and "Animal Liberation" in 1975, while the "Global Justice" page of Pogge's website only includes one pre-2000 publication. This seems important when considering how each view spread among intellectuals and philosophers.

2. As far as the relative prominence of each thinker within early EA, I don't know much about the dynamics of how Giving What We Can formed, but I wouldn't be surprised if Singer and Pogge (and others) wound up using Singer's framing for reasons that weren't rigorously examined.

(I personally prefer Singer's framing, and I'm glad that it's the dominant frame within EA, but I could imagine the movement developing from a justice/fairness perspective in some alternative timeline.)

3. Most importantly, neither view is very popular in the grand scheme of things.

Singer's main-stage TED talk has been viewed nearly two million times on TED's website alone, but the number of people who have taken even moderate action as a result of his views seems like it's at least an order of magnitude lower. Even this very popular altruistic argument, which has been taught in universities since it was first proposed, is quite niche by the standards of "popular ideas". (Compare the number of people who protested Trump's "Muslim ban" in airports or advocated against Nixon's bombings of Cambodia, neither of which had any direct effect on most of those who took action.)

Historically, justice-oriented arguments seem to have had a much greater chance of going "viral" than altruistic arguments; if some version/framing of EA eventually catches on with the mainstream, my prior is that it will be more justice-oriented than the way the average EA thinks about the movement today. This isn't necessarily good, but it's something to think about -- there may be more value than we'd think in finding the best justice-oriented frame to promote "officially" (there are many options).

Also, beyond justice and altruism, there are plenty of other ways to talk about EA. Two examples:

  • Efficiency/"hack the system". Appeal to Lifehacker and Wired readers by positing EA as the best way to do charity "right" while avoiding bloated megacharities and mainstream causes. Tim Ferriss, one of this mentality's exemplars, had Will MacAskill on his podcast (which has something like a million subscribers) because Will fit into his bucket of "system hackers" and "top performers".
  • Humanity/"we are one". Blends the friendly neutrality of altruism with the value-driven approach of "justice". Frame EA as the best way to live as though you are a member of the human race, rather than a particular country/race/creed/etc. Talk about how there are fundamental things that everyone wants, and that EA goes after some of the deepest, more important fundamentals (health, security, self-determination through GiveDirectly...). My favorite EA-aligned film, Life in a Day, uses this perspective to (inadvertently) make a strong case for moral cosmopolitanism and location-neutral donations.

No single frame needs to dominate discussions of EA, and I suspect that an ideal introductory resource for a broad audience would make use of several different frames.

comment by Jamie_Harris · 2019-07-07T00:06:25.445Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Is "altruism" the alternative to "justice" or is "wellbeing/suffering" the alternative to "justice"? I feel like the latter is something that we could aim to maximise, and that this would be consistent with EA, but not with what the majority of aspiring EAs aim to maximise. Justice seems less relevant to utilitarianism and more relevant to virtues ethics or similar (apologies, I don't know much about philosophy).

To the extent that we consider justice as a messaging strategy, rather than something substantial that represents goals/ideology, my guess is that aspiring effective altruists should aim for non-partisanship. My guess is that alignment with established political ideologies (including "the left", or the Democrats over the Republicans in the US) encourages increased political salience in the short term but stagnation longer term. This guess is based mostly on intuition and my research on the anti-abortion movement.

But I would agree with Zach G that, intuitively, justice messaging will have wider reach/virality than altruism messaging.

comment by anonymous_ea · 2019-07-03T16:49:44.965Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm curious to hear from someone who downvoted this post about why they did so

Replies from: lucy.ea8
comment by lucy.ea8 · 2019-07-05T04:42:31.038Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I did not downvote (or upvote). Thinking about effectiveness is very useful, however I am not sold on the idea of Altruism, I think in terms of justice. I have unjust power how can I give it up for the greater good?

Not asking how and why we have so much power is a blindness that I see in the EA movement. This also leads to assumptions that "Free Trade" is good. Were the Opium wars "free trade"? Was the trans atlantic slave trade "Free Trade"?

Replies from: kbog
comment by kbog · 2019-07-05T08:09:56.814Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(warning: longpost)

Not asking how and why we have so much power is a blindness that I see in the EA movement. This also leads to assumptions that "Free Trade" is good.

OK, so let's talk about how and why we have so much power. I'll speak for myself.

The teachings of Jesus of Nazareth were used to establish the religion of Christianity, which was subsequently spread to Armenia via the apostles Jude and Bartholomew and later Gregory the Illuminator. This opened the door to persecution by Armenia's Zoroastrian suzerains in Sassanid Persia, but the right to practice Christianity would be won (for a time) with the Nvarsak Treaty in 484.

At a similar time Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and subsequently the European tribes to the north. These tribes became the foundation of modern Europe, inheriting Roman Christian traditions but occupying a more fragmented existence in a geographically divided continent. The competitive pressures of this regional order led to advanced shipbuilding and other technologies, then expeditions to find new trade routes, which then established Western Europe as the center of global wealth and power able to conquer numerous indigenous nations (aided by diseases) and produce a comparably powerful offshoot called the United States. Throughout this time, Europe remained divided, a situation entrenched by the Catholic-Protestant split in Christianity which forced the pluralist Peace of Westphalia.

This divided Europe relied on a carefully managed balance of power, but German reunification and industrialization threatened to overturn it. European pluralism also laid the seeds for nationalism in Austria-Hungary. These pressures collided to create World War One.

By this time, Armenia was still under foreign religiously-motivated oppression, now by the Muslim Ottomans. The situation of WWI stirred Armenian aspirations towards independence, provoked fear among the Ottomans, and sapped Russia's will to intervene. The result was a genocide of the Armenians and diaspora of the survivors. Some of the survivors made it to Romania, one of the poorest countries of Europe, which was forced into the Soviet bloc as an indirect consequence of the failure of the Western Allies to satisfactorily handle Germany after the conclusion of WWI. Communist policies in Romania sustained a high level of poverty and oppression compared to America, which had profited immensely off its natural resource endowment, geographical location, and sociopolitical heritage (which in turn allowed it to successively defeat the Native Americans, Mexicans, Spanish, Germans and Japanese and then establish its preferred international political and economic order).

A combination of bribes and luck enabled a few of the Armenian Romanians to emigrate to Beirut and then on to 1970s urban America, where men could obtain high salaries in engineering and women could obtain gainful employment in administration and teaching, so that I could then be raised in a stable, upper middle class household with access to a variety of business, political and educational institutions, as the American economy continuously boomed. Also, I won out a bit on the genetic lottery.

Now it's strange to me that anyone would presume that I wouldn't be interested in knowing or talking about this history, because it (like most histories) is a fascinating history and of course I love to talk and read all its brutal and inspiring truths.

But I really don't see its place in Effective Altruism, because for all its ups and downs, it doesn't tell me what to do now. I'm not going to give money to the Native Americans just as I'm not going to demand money from Turkey. I'm going to give money to Malaria Consortium or the Sentience Institute or MIRI, and I'd ask Turks to do the same, because that's what works best. So what if our situation was caused by injustice? And I don't support free trade because I think it worked with slaves or opium, I support it because I think it works now, according to the best economic evidence that we have.

Replies from: lucy.ea8
comment by lucy.ea8 · 2019-07-07T03:24:58.033Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for sharing your story. I am short of time and keeping this brief.

And I don't support free trade because I think it worked with slaves or opium, I support it because I think it works now, according to the best economic evidence that we have.

Thats an understandable position. I am skeptical of Free Trade because it was used to justify Slave trade and opium trade. Why should I assume that this time is different?

To take a more contemporary example: "IP" is a restriction on Trade, yet the same people who are for "Free Trade" are for "IP" more correctly called "Intellectual Monopolies". Read Against Intellectual Monopoly

Wikipedia, Linux are perfect examples of lack of monopolies in knowledge. And can be traded freely, the positive welfare effects are enormous.

Replies from: kbog
comment by kbog · 2019-07-07T11:42:06.446Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Why should I assume that this time is different?

The foundation of free trade is that it is mutually beneficial, since both parties agree to it.

With slavery, the slaves did not agree to be enslaved and transported. The enslavers used force and this allowed them to make other people worse off. Today, traded goods don't include forced laborers, though you could include livestock in this category and I would actually be in favor of restricting that.

With opium, the story was more complicated. Users wanted opium, but it's an addictive drug that damaged them and Chinese society in the long run. So the Chinese tried to restrict its import, but the British forcibly compelled them to lift the restrictions. Today, we don't try to use military force to get other countries to accept harmful goods. We do exercise some leverage where we offer trade and finance deals to developing countries in exchange for them changing some of their economic policies; there is debate over this practice with some people arguing that we shouldn't have these strings attached, but the countries are still willingly taking these deals so they are better than nothing.

I think you may find pro-free-trade people in favor of IP reform, these are rather separate issues. However I kind of doubt that many people of any stripe would want to remove IP rights entirely - that would eliminate the incentive to pursue research and development.

Replies from: lucy.ea8
comment by lucy.ea8 · 2019-07-09T07:12:41.754Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think you may find pro-free-trade people in favor of IP reform, these are rather separate issues.

Intellectual Monopolies are restrictions on Trade, when trade hurts profitability of the powers that be, they see are happy to support monopoly and see no contradiction.

When human rights are affected negatively by trade (slave trade, colonialism/capitalism, opium war), trade takes first place if necessary by force.

the countries are still willingly taking these deals so they are better than nothing.

Kings lasted thousands of years, Communism lasted for 50+ years (depending on region), colonialism lasted 400+ years. Slavery is thousands of years old. Just because something exists does not mean it is good for humanity. Nor does it mean consent. People try to survive as best as they can given their circumstances.

comment by Juan Cambeiro · 2019-07-03T22:43:43.035Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for writing this!

What about x-risks? Do you think it would be helpful to frame the importance of protecting/enabling the future existence of vast numbers of happy people in terms of justice? Perhaps an argument can be made that it isn't fair to future/current generations that they aren't given the opportunity to exist/continue to exist? This is obviously a more difficult case given that there would be no stakeholders if a true x-risk were to occur - and the presence of stakeholders may be required for the idea of justice to even come into play(?)

Replies from: kbog
comment by kbog · 2019-07-04T02:08:03.943Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I can't really tell; x-risks as a monolithic area of study and activism is new.

Society pretty much agrees that extinction is bad so I don't think these ethical and rhetorical ideas matter as much, you can just make good technical arguments about risks and let other people figure out the rest.

comment by lucy.ea8 · 2019-07-05T07:17:50.786Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

but often includes a hardline commitment to open borders or at least opposition to effective security measures against illegal immigrants.

This statement is flat out wrong. There is no commitment to open borders. It was well known in 2015 that illegal immigration was going down.

Obama was known as deporter in chief Overall illegal immigration is down and has gone negative from Mexico

Immigration from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala will continue for another 10 years and taper off as the fertility rates fall

As of today I see the "left" position or justice position is to treat asylum seekers and illegal immigrants humanely.

Replies from: Khorton, kbog
comment by Khorton · 2019-07-05T07:30:40.418Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That's definitely true of Obama, but I'm not sure everyone on the left agrees. I think some of Obama's tactics were horrifying, and would support much more liberal immigration, even though I consider myself centre left.

Replies from: lucy.ea8
comment by lucy.ea8 · 2019-07-07T02:40:26.175Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am just trying to paint the bigger picture. Whatever the politics in USA are, emigration from around the world will decrease going forward. As countries start to have better human development people will decide to stay home more. Which is why the example of mexico is important, going further back South Koreans, Japanese used to move not anymore, going even further back Italians, Swedish etc moved to USA.

In 20 years net immigration per year into USA will start to fall with no end in sight.

comment by kbog · 2019-07-05T08:16:14.641Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi, you're definitely right about Obama and most other Democrats but they are not leftist (more like center-left, American liberals), and not operating on this revisionary sense of justice and fairness.

I am thinking of people like:


As of today I see the "left" position or justice position is to treat asylum seekers and illegal immigrants humanely.

That's definitely a huge part of it, however my worry is that the realities of how they push these politics could have a bad effect of increasing right-wing hostility to legal immigration and preventing policymakers from compromising on comprehensive immigration reform. Let's be clear - altruistic minded people want to treat them humanely too, we are comparing them to each other not comparing them to what America has actually been doing.

An "altruistic" position might be to pass a quick bill, no political strings attached, giving funding to CBP to just improve the conditions at the camps and expedite processing, leaving bigger decisions for later. The "justice" position could be to fight tooth and nail to abolish CBP/ICE instead. Which is better? Eh, I have some personal sympathies, but at the end of the day I don't have the confidence to declare it.

Replies from: lucy.ea8
comment by lucy.ea8 · 2019-07-07T01:51:06.422Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

An "altruistic" position might be to pass a quick bill, no political strings attached, giving funding to CBP to just improve the conditions at the camps and expedite processing, leaving bigger decisions for later. The "justice" position could be to fight tooth and nail to abolish CBP/ICE instead.

Thinking and talking about justice does not mean lack of pragmatics politics. One could point out the injustice of immigration law and still compromise.

Should we talk about altruism or talk about justice?

Since EA is not an electoral political movement, thinking in terms of justice makes more sense. This allows space to carefully think the world. Electoral politics are not good analogies for what EA should do.