Jun 30, 2022Liked by Nathan Goodman

There’s lots of good stuff in your pieces on Principles and Why We Started. But there are also some stumbling blocks.

You say: ‘There is a wide range of actions a person could take if they care about improving the state of the world.’ By putting this in terms of ‘a person’ you get it exactly right. Doing good is about the actions each person voluntarily decides to take. Inventing new business models, volunteering and donating are good examples.

The problem is that you also include ‘influence the political process’ as if it were an example of the same sort. The political process involves forcing some people to do things they don’t want to do (by lobbying or voting for rulers to do this). This is the very opposite of voluntary action.

That brings me to the really big problem: you promote a ‘liberalism’ which contains this most basic contradiction. It is glaringly evident when you say that ‘More interventionist liberals may be open to certain kinds of central planning.’ Central planning means rulers (governments, authorities, central banks, etc) forcing the rest of us to act according to the rulers’ values instead of our own. It is the opposite of voluntary action.

Sadly the word liberalism has come to mean two directly opposite things: voluntary action and government enforced action. Perhaps you can rescue it. The task looks hopeless to me.

The real prize is to re-kindle in people’s minds the belief that every person has an equal right to live according to his or her own values, subject only to a justice process in case one person feels that his or her right has been breached by another’s actions. This is the principle of freedom, whose believers abolished slavery and the traditional oppression of women.

The wonderful future that you foresee will come rapidly if this principle is adopted. It will never come if people continue to pursue the political process, with all its lobbying, voting, parties, think-tanks, special interest groups, etc. Political processes are about using force. That is not the way to a peaceful prosperous future.

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There is a question I have been having trouble with:

I support the concept of effective altruism, but how does it square with the Efficient Market Hypothesis and with Revealed Preferences?

The EMH is obviously not completely true, but it is mostly true. And revealed preferences are clearly superior to stated preferences in determining what people value.

So, combining all that, are we already near maximum effective altruism? The revealed preference states that most givers value their time far more than the results of their altruism, so spending 30 seconds thinking about their giving and giving to something that makes them happy and is easy is most effective by their values (and we can't judge by our values, as that violates basic principles of classical liberalism).

It seems like the true goal of effective altruism is to get people to value their time less (or probably better, value the results of their giving more) so that they spend more of it on optimizing their giving.

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