This is a really good question! I’m glad you shared this argument, opened with a sense of curiosity, and included some potential objections (I think both of yours have merit, but don’t tell the whole story).
There’s been quite a bit of discussion on this. I’ll link some resources below, but I think the major issue here is practical—running for office is very difficult, and typically requires a lot of preparation and investment into a single person.
An EA-aligned person who decides to run for their national government may have to succeed in several different low-probability contests to get there, and they’ll face stiff opposition. By comparison, most EA causes involve working in areas where there isn’t active opposition, and people won’t invest more and more resources to counter your efforts the harder you work.
Of course, EA works on some political issues where active opposition exists—most notably animal welfare, but also policy around housing, climate change, foreign aid, etc. I’d guess that many of the most politically-minded EA people go into fields where they can advocate for specific policy change, rather than focusing on getting elected.
Being elected could make certain types of policy change a lot easier (though note that a single rookie Congressperson often can’t do much), but policy work is more flexible, more resilient to a single bad election, etc. It doesn’t seem obviously wrong to focus on policy change over party politics.
That said, if we do want EA-friendly candidates in office, there are ways to pursue this aside from getting a specific person elected:
Make EA-related ideas popular in elite spaces: Most of the top universities in the U.S. and Europe (and many other schools and cities worldwide) have local EA groups. People from those places are more likely to become elected officials. Even if a given Congressperson wasn’t a member of such a group, they might have friends or past colleagues who were, and they may be positively inclined toward advice that lines up with EA principles.
Make EA more prominent in popular culture: How many future politicians listen to the Sam Harris podcast? How many of them read the Economist? How many read Vox and see Kelsey Piper’s articles from time to time? How many will play Baba Is You and see the Giving What We Can advertisement featured in the game?
Of course, these are indirect effects, and the most likely way to get someone into office is to work directly on party politics. But I’m not sure that has the highest expected impact on politics, overall.
A few more links on EA + party politics/direct political action:
When does it make sense to directly support or oppose political candidates on EA grounds?
Intervention report: Ballot initiatives
How to pursue a U.S. Executive Branch appointment
Thank you for the resources and insightful comments! I pretty much agree with all of that.
If we’re talking US Congress, then I also definitely agree that’s super difficult and a huge investment. While it’ll be relevant for some, maybe the more useful examples would be running for local office, getting involved in some of the organisations that work on primary challenges, or simply supporting the best candidate for office (with money and volunteer time) when elections do come around (looking at you Georgia).
Also for context, my family are American but I’m actually a New Zealand citizen and we have proportional representation which does make the national-level politics a very different beast.
I think EA-aligned people could probably learn a lot by running for local office, and I’d be enthusiastic to see more people try it (depending on the strength of their other opportunities).
One difficulty is that it often pays quite badly; one highly engaged community member was a state representative in New Hampshire, but eventually had to quit because the job was effectively unpaid and took a lot of time. She’s running an AMA on the Forum soon—keep an eye out, as you may want to ask her some questions!
eventually had to quit because the job was effectively unpaid
That’s interesting—I’ve seen it argued that we should massively increase pay for MPs etc. in order to attract higher quality candidates. At the moment the pay and quality of life are both significantly worse than decent candidates could get by being e.g. an executive at a medium sized firm, and perhaps as a result many MPs are just not that bright. In contrast Singapore pays very highly and has a reputation for high competency.