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Why We Started Longterm Liberalism
Our goals with this project
Welcome to Longterm Liberalism! This is a blog that aims to integrate the insights of effective altruism (EA) with those of liberalism. We believe that effective altruism is critical to a successful liberal movement and that liberalism is critical to building a free, prosperous, long-term future.
In this introductory post, I’d like to briefly explain why we felt it important to synthesize these concepts and what we’re hoping to gain out of the blog.
Disclaimers: (1) I make some claims in this post that we will substantiate in future posts. (2) I use the terms “libertarian” and “classical liberal” interchangeably in this post. (3) When I use the term “liberal” I’m referring to a family of beliefs that includes libertarianism, classical liberalism, and neoliberalism. (4) We encourage you to check out the companion post to this one: Principles of Longterm Liberalism!
Motivation for the Blog
The main authors of this blog came from a classical liberal background, but more recently became interested in effective altruism (EA). Effective altruism, simply put, is a project that aims to discover and execute on ways to best improve the common good.
What makes EAs unique is that they take scarcity of resources very seriously. They recognize that our ability to improve the world, whether through the political process, advocacy, or charity, is constrained by limited time, money, and energy.
But they also recognize not all problems in the world are equally great in scale, equally neglected, or equally solvable. Some problems are not just 2x or 5x or 10x as important as others, but 1000x or 10,000x.
We cannot rely on our intuition alone to tell us which problems are the most important any more than we can rely on our intuition alone to tell us what the temperature will be tomorrow. Prioritizing issues requires committed research, measurement, and investigation.
In the EA world, there are organizations that conduct this type of research (i.e. “Global Priorities Research”). They use EA methodology to try and categorize different global problems by their relative importance. This can mean conducting randomized control trials. It can mean finding out how much money is already being spent on solving a particular problem. It can mean estimating the probability of future geopolitical developments.
Much of this work is not easy, but it is necessary. After all, if we’re spending millions of dollars on advocating for a policy X that does only 1/10,000th as much good as policy Y, we should at least be aware of the magnitude of our tradeoff. Anyone who is seriously trying to make the world a better place needs to be doing priorities research, or else they are likely wasting their time, money, and energy.
So the question we asked ourselves is, who is conducting liberal priorities research? Who is comparing the scale, neglectedness, and solvability of different problems that libertarians, classical liberals, and neoliberals care about? Who is measuring the cost-effectiveness of different strategies for solving such problems and publishing this research for everyone to see?
Nobody (that we know of), at least in the libertarian world.
This is arguably the biggest gap that exists in the libertarian movement. Without liberal priorities research, the entire movement, including all the nonprofits, all the political wonks, and all the young activists, are flying blind. They might be working on problems that are 10,000x less effective than the ones they could otherwise be working on, but there’s no organization that tries to measure these opportunity costs.
With Longterm Liberalism, we begin to explore this problem.
Goals of Longterm Liberalism
1. Provide initial intellectual infrastructure for Liberal Priorities Research.
Ideally, one would establish a think tank with the express purpose of conducting cause prioritization research within the libertarian movement. We believe that someone should create this organization, but we are not currently best-suited for this. That said, this blog provides us an informal outlet to discuss the importance of priorities research.
2. Communicate the importance of EA and longtermism to the classical liberal community.
We believe that the classical liberal community – which includes think tanks, writers, activists, and others – has not put serious enough thought into some of the most important problems of our time.
They haven’t taken existential risk seriously enough. For example, there is a non-trivial risk of a misaligned artificial general intelligence (AGI) enabling stable totalitarianism within the next century. There are serious risks posed by biological threats too. These are problems that classical liberals should be thinking much more about.
Classical liberals should think more about other problems that EAs highly prioritize, such as factory farming. Plant-based, cell-cultivated, and fermentation-based technologies are being developed to allow us to eat meat without causing astronomical suffering to animals, great damage to ecosystems, or significant harm to public health. These technologies could be threatened by the possibility of stifling regulation.
For years, EAs have been focusing on some of the most important problems in the world. It’s time that classical liberals do the same.
3. Communicate the importance of liberalism to the EA community and wider audiences.
We believe that liberalism is fundamental to the flourishing of any society. Indeed, we largely credit liberalism for the astronomical explosion in human wellbeing over the past couple of centuries.
Unfortunately, for the past decade, liberalism appears to be under attack, both within Western liberal democracies and the rest of the world. In particular, we’ve witnessed the rise of far-right and far-left ideologies that fail to appreciate the fruits that liberalism has borne in the world. Part of the purpose of this blog is to defend liberalism’s past achievements and communicate its importance for the long-term future.
4. Serve as a platform for other EA-adjacent classical liberals or classical-liberal-adjacent EAs to post their thoughts on the intersection between the two ideas.
Libertarian priorities research and liberalism’s implications on the long-term future are complicated topics. We welcome anyone to submit content related to these issues!
5. Publish opinions of individual writers.
For the most part, we’ll write on the topics of liberalism, longtermism, and effective altruism. But we may occasionally post about trending topics of the day, using EA and classical liberal frameworks. At times, content may involve opinions that are shared by some, but not all Longterm Liberals. When this happens, we will provide disclaimers at the beginning of the blogpost, saying that the opinions therein represent the thoughts of the author, not the wider project.
The EA and classical liberal communities have a lot to learn from one another. The former has given us a methodology for studying how best to maximize the common good. The latter has given us a framework for designing institutions that respect individual rights and generate sustained prosperity.
Using the insights of both, let’s work towards a freer, happier, more prosperous long-term future.
PS: Don’t forget to check out Principles of Longterm Liberalism!