Should EAs be more welcoming to thoughtful and aligned Republicans?

Epistemic sta­tus: Highly spec­u­la­tive. I know very lit­tle about the cur­rent state of the field or what EAs in this space think about. I also know about as much about gen­eral policy as you’d ex­pect of a ran­dom lay­man who has ever once lived in DC, so ev­ery­thing I say could be wildly off-base.

Who should read this: If you think US poli­tics and policy are not re­ally im­por­tant for im­prov­ing the world, or if you’re ex­tremely skep­ti­cal that EAs could have any tan­gible effect on ei­ther, you can stop read­ing this post now.

Introduction

I think it’s plau­si­ble that Effec­tive Altru­ism will strongly benefit from hav­ing more thought­ful and al­igned mem­bers of the Repub­li­can Party in Amer­ica (GOP). I fur­ther claim that this is im­por­tant and ne­glected, while re­main­ing neu­tral on its tractabil­ity.

By “thought­ful and al­igned,” I’m imag­in­ing peo­ple who agree with EA’s core premise (tak­ing se­ri­ously the ques­tion of how to do good) and maybe some of our gen­eral ideas and method­ol­ogy (eg, moral im­par­tial­ity, longter­mism, em­piri­cism). By “Repub­li­can” I mean ei­ther reg­istered mem­bers of the US Repub­li­can Party, or peo­ple con­sid­er­ing reg­is­ter­ing, es­pe­cially peo­ple who have broadly con­ser­va­tive val­ues, re­la­tion­ships, and net­works. Ideally, these are am­bi­tious peo­ple in­ter­ested or en­gaged in poli­tics/​policy, and have a le­gi­t­i­mate shot at af­fect­ing change years or decades down the road.

Since these claims can be eas­ily mi­s­un­der­stood, I will first say what this ar­ti­cle does not do:

  1. I am not say­ing that we should do broad “out­reach” to Amer­i­can Repub­li­cans. Similar to why it’s likely in­ad­vis­able to pur­sue “out­reach” in China and other new coun­tries at this cur­rent junc­ture, I would not recom­mend mak­ing ir­re­versible moves like at­tempt­ing to be mas­sively ap­peal­ing to Repub­li­cans with­out much more thor­ough con­sid­er­a­tion than this fo­rum post.

  2. I am not claiming that EAs should be­come more in­vested in poli­tics or policy. This has been ex­ten­sively de­bated el­se­where, but the rest of the ar­ti­cle should be read as con­di­tional upon the hy­poth­e­sis that work­ing in Amer­i­can policy is im­por­tant and tractable for at least some EAs.

  3. I am not posit­ing a spe­cific strat­egy for reach­ing out to Repub­li­cans. For ex­am­ple, I am not posit­ing that we change cur­rent EA writ­ings to be more ide­olog­i­cally palat­able to Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tives, or any other spe­cific tac­tics. De­tails like that can prob­a­bly be de­cided on a more con­tex­tual ba­sis later on iff this gen­eral ar­gu­ment holds.

Importance

Why do I think we will benefit from hav­ing more thought­ful and al­igned Repub­li­cans on board? Here are some ten­ta­tive spec­u­la­tions, in de­creas­ing or­der of im­por­tance:

  1. Repub­li­can poli­ti­cal ap­poin­tees can have a lot of in­fluence. This claim has two com­po­nents:

    1. Poli­ti­cal ap­poin­tees in gen­eral hold a lot of power in the United States. In many demo­cratic coun­tries, a change of lead­er­ship means that poli­ti­cal ap­poin­tees take the top spot in a de­part­ment, but the ca­reer bu­reau­crats hold ev­ery level be­low them. In Amer­ica, a vague rule of thumb I’ve heard be­fore is that poli­ti­cal ap­poin­tees take up the top ~5(!) lev­els.

    2. You would naively ex­pect ~50% of fu­ture ad­minis­tra­tions to be Repub­li­can. Thus, if the only Amer­i­can EAs ac­tive in poli­tics and policy are Democrats and sectless bu­reau­crats/​aca­demics, then nu­anced EA ideas will not eas­ily reach the right chan­nels dur­ing a Repub­li­can ad­minis­tra­tion.

  2. Diver­sity and in­clu­sive­ness is prima fa­cie good. This has been ex­ten­sively dis­cussed el­se­where, in and out of EA. This is not an un­con­tro­ver­sial claim, how­ever defend­ing it is out­side the scope of this es­say.

  3. Ide­olog­i­cal di­ver­sity in par­tic­u­lar seems im­por­tant. Peo­ple have ar­gued for why in­tel­lec­tual di­ver­sity is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant at least since the time of Kant and Mill, I will again re­frain from re­hash­ing the ar­gu­ments here.

  4. Repub­li­can pri­mary votes mat­ter more.

    1. Repub­li­can pri­mary can­di­dates are more high-var­i­ance than Demo­cratic pri­mary can­di­dates. It seems like the differ­ence be­tween the best (by val­ues, com­pe­tence, etc) and worst Repub­li­can pri­mary fron­trun­ners have his­tor­i­cally been higher than that of the best and worst Demo­cratic fron­trun­ners. (I don’t have a source for this, but I’ve said it a bunch of times to poli­ti­cal afi­ciona­dos and no­body re­ally con­tested this claim).

    2. So as­sum­ing that the gen­eral elec­tion is a coin-flip, vot­ing (and cam­paign­ing, etc) in the Repub­li­can pri­maries mat­ters more.

    3. I sus­pect this is true about Con­gres­sional races as well (I have not looked into it in more de­tail). I’m not sure about lo­cal races, but I sus­pect those aren’t usu­ally pivotal to the longterm fu­ture of hu­man­ity.

Neglectedness

While it’s hard to get ex­act num­bers[1], my per­sonal es­ti­mate is that <2% of cur­rent ac­tive EAs are Repub­li­cans, for var­i­ous rea­sons in­clud­ing founder effects.

This is in con­trast to say the UK, where I sus­pect some­where be­tween 10-20% of Bri­tish EAs vote for the Con­ser­va­tive Party. So naively it looks like there’s a lot of room for im­prove­ment.

Tractability

I wish to re­main neu­tral on tractabil­ity, though it seems worth ex­plor­ing. EDIT: Aaron in the com­ments helped pointed out this post on how EAs can be more wel­com­ing to con­ser­va­tives.

Conclusion

Naively, it looks like get­ting some thought­ful and al­igned ac­tive mem­bers of the Repub­li­can party to be on board with EA seems im­por­tant and ne­glected. There is a de­cent chance that this ar­gu­ment does not hold due to some cru­cial con­sid­er­a­tion I’ve missed, so happy to be proven wrong in the com­ments!

Thanks to anony­mous com­men­ta­tors for feed­back on ear­lier ver­sions of this draft. All mis­takes are, of course, not mine.

[1] Though maybe the up­com­ing EA Sur­vey anal­y­sis of poli­ti­cal al­ign­ment by ge­o­graph­i­cal dis­tri­bu­tion might help shed some light.