Peter Singer and Toby Ord are mentioned as influences. "Ord’s ideal beneficiary was the Fred Hollows Foundation, which treats blindness in poor countries for as little as twenty-five dollars a person." Derek Parfit is mentioned.
"“My first big win was convincing him about deworming charities.” It may seem impossible to compare the eradication of blindness with the elimination of intestinal parasites, but health economists had developed rough methods. MacAskill estimated that the relief of intestinal parasites, when measured in “quality-adjusted life years,” or qalys, would be a hundred times more cost-effective than a sight-saving eye operation.
Quote: “He was at dinner in Oxford—some sort of practical-ethics conference—and he was just deeply shocked that almost none of the attendees were vegetarians, because he thought that was the most basic application of ethical ideas.”
"If Peter Singer’s theory—that any expenditure beyond basic survival was akin to letting someone die—was simply too taxing to gain wide adherence, it seemed modest to ask people to give ten per cent of their income. This number also had a long-standing religious precedent."
"A kind of no-hard-feelings, debate-me gladiatorialism was seen as a crucial part of good “epistemic hygiene,” and a common social overture was to tell someone that her numbers were wrong."
"We passed Queen’s Lane Coffee House. “That’s where Bentham discovered utilitarianism,”"
"Against Malaria Foundation alone estimates that its work to date will save a hundred and sixty-five thousand lives."
Criticism: "Rob Reich wrote, “Plato identified the best city as that in which philosophers were the rulers. Effective altruists see the best state of affairs, I think, as that in which good-maximizing technocrats are in charge. Perhaps it is possible to call this a politics: technocracy. But this politics is suspicious of, or rejects, the form of politics to which most people attach enormous value: democracy.” The Ethiopian American A.I. scientist Timnit Gebru has condemned E.A.s for acting as though they are above such structural issues as racism and colonialism."
Also, "Bernard Williams, who noted that utilitarianism might, in certain historical moments, look like “the only coherent alternative to a dilapidated set of values,” but that it was ultimately bloodless and simpleminded. Williams held that the philosophy alienated a person “from the source of his actions in his own convictions”—from what we think of as moral integrity." Someone who seeks justification for the impulse to save the life of a spouse instead of that of a stranger, Williams famously wrote, has had “one thought too many.”"
"Some E.A.s felt that one of the best features of their movement—that, in the context of near-total political sclerosis, they had found a way to do something—had been recast as a bug."
I found the very thought provoking, and like all lovely New Yorker articles, it pushed the subject further and further, while circling around the original questions. Loved it. Reminded me of intro to ethics that I took with Claudia Card at UW. And it feels like what it says, so vital and somehow a little something not quite right.
My impression was that it was kind of Prayer for Jabez. Permission to earn a lot of money, albeit set in Oxford, and then spread to Silicon Valley and financial markets, for the elite. My grandfather, who was a minister, thought it was about increasing his ministry, seemed harmless. Wanting to do the most good. But people use it for other purposes. I think about the ministers in Texas who wouldn't open up their mansions when there were floods and people lost their housing.
I'm also thinking of the evil guy in Don't Look Up. This all could just be another grift.
"Carla Zoe Cremer and Luke Kemp published a paper called “Democratising Risk,” which criticized the “techno-utopian approach” of longtermists."
"Last year, the Centre for Effective Altruism bought Wytham Abbey, a palatial estate near Oxford, built in 1480. Money, which no longer seemed an object, was increasingly being reinvested in the community itself. The math could work out: it was a canny investment to spend thousands of dollars to recruit the next Sam Bankman-Fried. But the logic of the exponential downstream had some kinship with a multilevel-marketing ploy. Similarly, if you assigned an arbitrarily high value to an E.A.’s hourly output, it was easy to justify luxuries such as laundry services for undergraduate groups, or, as one person put it to me, wincing, “retreats to teach people how to run retreats.” Josh Morrison, a kidney donor and the founder of a pandemic-response organization, commented on the forum, “The Ponzi-ishness of the whole thing doesn’t quite sit well.”"
"In “What We Owe the Future,” he is careful to sidestep the notion that efforts on behalf of trillions of theoretical future humans might be fundamentally irreconcilable with the neartermist world-on-fire agenda."
In the end it feels like highly sophisticated fund raising. It feels a little Andrew Yang: Candidate who never served in government. Wants to hang out with the bigwigs, be in the room. But being headed by a philosophy professor is slightly more impressive, though he clearly wants out and doesn't want to be the intellectual face of the organizations.
The conflict between longtermism and concrete nows isn't really, we can do both.
"Open Philanthropy has embraced an ethic of “worldview diversification,” whereby we might give up on perfect commensurability and acknowledge it is O.K. that some money be reserved to address the suffering of chickens, some for the suffering of the poor, and some for a computational eschatology. After almost a decade of first-principles reasoning, E.A.s had effectively reinvented the mixed-portfolio model of many philanthropic foundations."
“Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” by Peter Singer
GiveWell (Wikipedia) "Since its inception, GiveWell has directed the donation of more than a billion dollars." (New Yorker
Give What We Can (Wikipedia)
Open Philanthropy (Wikipedia)
Give Directly (direct link)
The Case for Longtermism by William MacAskill in NY Times. I'm not convinced. If you knew for sure an asteroid wasn't going to hit earth in 5 years and wipe us out, then maybe, but I don't think you can know some catastrophic event won't happen. The galaxy is big, who knows if a rogue sun comes into our solar system and smashes everything up. I mean I think you should think about the future but there is a possibility of nuclear war that kills most of humanity, so there's just too many questions about the future. And knowing something would pay dividends 500 years from now seems dodgy. Taking care of things in the moment seems more likely to keep things better for the future. But I take his point, and I think it mostly applies to global warming and doing things to stop global warming.
I think Buddhism is a kind of longtermism.