I’ve largely reached the conclusion that the agenda of the effective altruism movement has a phase one which consists of gradually adding effectiveness to altruism, at some point to be followed by a phase two which will consist of gradually subtracting altruism from effective altruism. Basically, effectiveness is to effective altruism as efficiency is to neoliberalism as paper clip is to paper clip maximizer.
If effective altruism is actually a program of gradually replacing altruism with effectiveness, it would seem to be a similar strategy to the one that the think tank machinery of free market ideology has used, first to phase out political economy as a subject of study, then to phase in so-called public choice theory. Basically their agenda is to frame political science as a branch of economics. I don’t doubt they plan to enclose sociology and anthropology much as they have political science. Basically, in their view there is economics, and then there are bullshit “disciplines” pretending to be social sciences. But the economists at the think tanks are hired guns. There will always be paying gigs for those willing to speak power to truth.
As everyone who knows anything knows, the efficiency of free markets is unassailable, but can the incomprehensibly superior ability of the market mechanism to calculate maximum resource allocation, be harnessed in service to criteria of efficiency that are person-weighted, rather than dollar-weighted? I’ve seen no evidence that it can, but happily, as of yet, no conclusive reason it can’t. Whether I’m a soft anagorist (advocate of building the new allocation mechanism within the shell of the old) or a hard anagorist (basically, market abolitionist) hinges on the question of whether it turns out market calculation can also optimize person-weighted criteria of efficiency.
When it comes to EA’s, it seems their highest priority goal is reduction of extreme poverty. I can think of no more appropriate goal, as that is also the primary goal of the school I’m rooting for, which is negative utilitarianism. Where things maybe go off the rails, is that at least some EA’s conclude that the thing they can do personally that best serves EA goals is to earn as much money as possible. Maybe my life would be more comfortable if I were capable of believing that. Then again, maybe at some point I will decide to become a true believer in wealth being the only answer to poverty, and fail to thrive in the market economy anyway. I would sure as hell feel used if I were to dedicate myself to the money grubbing process out of a conviction that filling my own cup is a prerequisite for helping fill others’, only to find that my new-found conviction and dedication does not in itself add enough competitiveness to my job search that I actually start landing impressive job offers.
Likewise, there’s a certain horror at the prospect of maybe the economists being right about economics being on a sound empirical basis (in ways the other social sciences are not). After all, if economics is really a science, my rejection of the body of economic theory constitutes a form of science denialism. Maybe I’m no better than the global warming denialists. But observe how many economics non-denialists are global warming denialists. The money backing much economic research appears to be partisan (in Newspeak, nonpartisan) money. For now, I stand by anagorism. Whether hard or soft remains to be seen, for a little while.