I appreciate this response because I think it’s symbolic of something I think is important.
EA has a lot of internal norms, like any group. It seems like on the EA forum one of those is to use more factual, descriptive, neutral titles. But elsewhere, the norm is to be attention getting, provocative, etc. You could fairly call this ‘clickbait’ if you’d like. Clickbait exists because it works. It is startlingly effective, and not just at cheap engagement that dies quickly. It’s effective at prompting deep engagement as well. One quick example—video essayists on youtube who do incredibly informative deep dives on technical subjects still use clickbait titles, image previews, etc. The big channels literally have consultants that help A/B test which reaction face will get more clicks. It doesn’t detract from the quality of their videos or the depth of their communities, it’s just part of what you have to do to get people to care.
My experience is more in that world. I’m used to phrasing things with the explicit goal to make people click, draw their eyeballs, cause a stir, etc. By using that kind of title on the EA forum, I’ve probably committed a minor faux pas. But it actually does help me illustrate the point that EAs shouldn’t be allergic to that kind of thing all the time.
EAs using factual, descriptive, neutral titles on their own forums is an interesting quirk of the community. But if EAs only ever use factual, descriptive, neutral language in all forums, that’s a strategic mistake, and hinders their ability to effectively communicate with the public. This comment is a corollary to the ‘Pick a fight’ argument—I believe that sometimes EAs need to abandon internal norms in order to win attention for their ideas.
also—the clever sounding title was taken from an obscure academic screed 9 years ago—https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_elitist_philanthropy_of_so_called_effective_altruism
This is sort of unavoidably going to get into culture war/political territory… but if Nathan J Robinson is the kind of public enemy that EA has, we’re doing very well. NJR is a terrible hack who has little of substance to say and whose place in The Discourse is usually as a laughingstock, even among those who are ideologically close to him.
I’m of the opinion that EAs should pick more public fights anyways, so I see this is as a positive development.
My point is that I think you can often a ton of good by NOT focusing on the highest priority cause.
If you constantly talk about killer AI for a year, you might get 2 people to contribute to it.
If you constantly talk about improving regular people’s regular charitable giving for a year, you might influence dozens or hundreds of people to give more efficiently, even if they’re still giving to something that isn’t the highest priority cause.
Basically—If your goal is to improve restaurant quality, improving every McDonald’s in the US by 10% does more to improve restaurant quality than opening a handful of Michelin star joints.
There’s definitely a set of principles that underpins our policy beliefs. A lot of this goes all the way back to classical liberalism—to be a neoliberal means first and foremost that you are a liberal and are grounded in liberal political philosophy. This means we hold the core liberal values of equality before the law, democratic governance, a market economy, freedoms of press/religion/speech/assembly/etc.
Modern neoliberals take that liberalism and add and emphasize a few things. Neoliberals are internationalist and globalist, which leads to our support for free trade, free immigration, international institutions, etc. We are social liberals who fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry. We are capitalists who believe in using a relatively free-market economy to make a richer world, but paired with a welfare state to alleviate poverty and suffering. And we have an emphasis on evidence-based policy. All of those are relatively base-level beliefs that inform the policies we support.
I’m hesitant to act like I know the One True Answer here because while this is a global phenomenon, I think Trump, Brexit, Bolsonaro, Le Pen, Duterte, Erdogan, Modi, Xi, Putin, Orban, etc etc etc all have their own unique circumstances that makes any kind of general answer impossible. Putin is propelled by unique factors relating to the fall of the USSR and the sense of decline/malaise in Russia. All American politics is inexorably tied into our race relations. Erdogan’s boosted by Turkey’s tortured history with ‘liberal coups’ and its historical dance between Islam and secularism. There’s no single thing to address all these guys at once.
I’m honestly unsure that individual action can do much to influence the authoritarian wave. I think there are likely geopolitical solutions, but geopolitics is hard and far more messy and complicated than most casual observers understand.
Initially the name came from wonkish Hillary Clinton supporters getting called ‘****ing neoliberals’ or other angry denunciations by Bernie Sanders supporters in the 2016 Dem primary. We kind of ran with it—if being a Clinton supporter is being a neoliberal, fine, I’m a neoliberal.
Once the name was there, it attracted attention like a lightning rod and the community grew very fast. At the beginning nobody was trying to make this into anything, it was just a bunch of people memeing about central bankers, globalism and woke capitalism. There wasn’t a conscious decision about how This Is The Name That Will Eventually Win Suburban Moms And Create Our Political Moment, it was just a small community having fun that turned into a much larger community. By that point the name was the name.
Moving forward, we have some soft-rebranding where some of our chapters choose to go by ‘New Liberals’ instead of Neoliberal. We are moving into using different names in different contexts.
- open borders. If there was no political blowback it’s a multi-trillion dollar idea. Second would either be some sort of giant green package focused on carbon taxes + huge amounts of green energy R&D funding + international agreements, or some sort of federal control of zoning where I liberalize the hell out of EVERY city’s zoning (this is probably impossible constitutionally, but no blowback!)
Go outside Mike :)
This is a complex thing to measure, because the largest thing we’re trying to do is to create an ideological movement that captures a lot of people in the long run. I admire the DSA a lot and think they’re very much an example of the impact I’d like to have (but obviously with what I think are preferable political views). I think they have had enormous impact on current US politics.
But if you had asked 10 years ago ‘What has the DSA accomplished?’, it’d be a tough question to answer. They had a handful of local politicians, but nobody really notable nationally was an out-and-proud DSA member until Bernie Sanders exploded in popularity. It’d be hard to describe them as having a huge impact on US politics at that time, but since the Sanders Moment they’ve had a massive impact, both in shifting the overton window of the Democratic Party in a lot of ways and in having very high profile members of Congress. I think a longrun path to success for us likely looks similar, in that we have to build the foundation of what we’re working on for years and then hopefully at the correct moment we’ll be able to leverage it in a huge way to change politics.
More concretely! I think we’ve successfully made ‘advocate for sensible monetary policy’ the socially accepted elite position. It’s been a signature issue for us for as long as we’ve existed, and and area few people used to care about. Now both center-right and center-left (and even portions of the further right/left) now advocate for how important Bernanke, Yellen and Powell have been and how important it is to keep them independent and free of partisan politics. Goldbugs are now simply laughed off, and when someone like Elizabeth Warren goes after Jay Powell, the majority of the center-left is jumping to dunk on Warren and defend Powell (who is a fantastic Fed chair and should be reappointed).
That’s one where I think I can really pinpoint us as key actors, because it’s a niche issue and we were so early on it and so loud about it. A lot of other issues it’s very difficult to measure impact—when someone votes the way you want, was it truly because of you? Who knows? I can also say that a lot of talking with officials is talking them out of dumb ideas, and that’s influence that never sees the light of day. There’s another part of this that will be frustrating as an answer—there are high level politicians who have directly told us that they love what we’re doing and basically agree with us/identify with us, but prefer to keep it silent because they avoid ideological labels. I know that sucks as answer, but it’s the truth.
One other concrete thing—we have a small number of members who are elected, almost all at very local levels on local city commissions and things like that. I think it’s fair to count whatever they do as direct influence.
I think it’s important to realize that different names serve different purposes at different points in time.
If the initial subreddit had called itself the very sober sounding ”/r/NewLiberal” from the beginning, I firmly believe that what we are doing right now would not exist. The subreddit would never have gotten the attention it got, and would never have grown as fast as it did. Reclaiming the term neoliberal was delightfully subversive and grabbed people’s attention—people who loved it and people who hated it. Before the Neoliberal Project had even been conceived and we were just a loose collection of social media spaces, we had already been profiled in Vice, Gawker, NPR, and many other places. We had mainstream media attention because the name was controversial. The attention brought in both supporters and attackers, and the inevitable tribal battles that happened forged a sense of community that attracted people further. We’ve grown pretty fast, all things considered.
So I think there were very strong reasons to lean heavily into the neoliberalism branding early in our existence. And once you lean heavily into a brand, it’s hard to divorce yourself from that brand—path dependency is a thing. A lot of our members identify with the neoliberal brand. I also continue to think there’s a benefit to being controversial and iconoclastic. Think about the DSA’s rise in popularity, and how the left has successfully redefined ‘socialism’ from ‘the scary communist USSR with a brutal dictatorship and absolute total state control over every part of the economy’ to ‘socialism is when free college and healthcare’. (which may be a slight exaggeration of how many GenZ socialists understand themselves, but only a slight one)
With that said! I do think it’s likely that as we move further into serious advocacy within the political establishment, we’ll move more towards a different branding. We already have the Center for New Liberalism which is essentially just a new wrapper on the same ideas, and is helpful to use in instances when ‘neoliberal’ might scare people off. Clearly it does restrict some things for us and isn’t the best branding in all situations. Right now we’re letting our chapters choose whichever name is best for them in their local context. I’m ultimately a pragmatist and am willing to use different names in different contexts.
The term came from wonkish people who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary being called ‘neoliberals’ by Bernie Sanders supporters and general leftists. There was a sense of “If supporting Hillary and being a wonk is being a neoliberal, fine, I’m a neoliberal”.
I’m not aware of any serious arguments that open borders are bad on a first-order, only that the political backlash is something to worry about.
With that in mind, I’m a pragmatist (and pragmatism is one of our core values). I’ll fight for whatever increases in immigration I can get and work within the political reality that we live in. I’m willing to explore what Bryan Caplan calls ‘keyhole’ solutions that are much less than ideal or unfair in some ways, but better than nothing.
I also think that the backlash angle can be overstated. A lot of the backlash is not really about the actual number of immigrants (which people are largely ignorant of—the most opposition comes from the places with the least immigrants), but the perception of chaos. And sometimes you can just power through—Merkel accepted millions of refugees in one of the greatest acts of political courage I’ve ever seen. It briefly empowered the AfD extremists in Germany, but Merkel just bulled forward and ended up doing fine. She’s retiring as one of the most popular and effective German leaders ever. The AfD is now shrinking and the refugees are still there and millions and millions of lives have been drastically improved. I also think that Singer is wrong when he says
“But given that concerns about immigration have clearly brought about the election of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote, and the election of right-wing governments in Hungary and Poland”
This seems like a very simplistic analysis. Immigration likely played a part, but the rise of right-wing nationalism is a global phenomenon with a lot of moving parts. How does immigration explain Bolsonaro, Duterte, Erdogan, Modi, etc?
Given all this, I’m going to keep advocating for the immigration increases I can get (which will not be anything close to Open Borders) and continue making the public case for immigration to change public attitudes. Immigration is on a gay-marriage-like trend, and god willing public attitude keeps moving that way
Going through the first list
Single Payer Healthcare. -Weakly opposed. I prefer a multi-payer system like many, many other rich countries have. I’m usually annoyed when people present single payer as the only way to get everyone affordable healthcare coverage.
Build More Housing. Huge yes, neoliberals are pretty explicitly YIMBY.
Legalize Drugs. Yes, but I’m unsure about harder drugs.
Jail People Less. Very much yes
Less Military. This is complicated and I’m unsure.
Give People Money. In general, fungible cash benefits are better than restricted benefits or in-kind services provided. The flat tax idea is bad.
No Minimum Wage. Opposed. Monopsony power is a thing and “No minimum wage” types typically don’t understand actual labor econ very well beyond a ultra simplified econ101 view.
Tax Land Value. Yes.
Tax Harmful Things. Yes
Reduce Other Taxes. The pattern I’m sensing is that this person REALLY likes simplicity but it often seems like just simplicity for simplicity’s sake without much real justification.
Fund Schools Federally. Probably a good idea
Let People In. YES
Opt-Out Organ Donation. A decent idea, but the research I’m aware of is that this doesn’t actually move organ donation rates all that much.
Randomize Everything. ‘Everything’ is hyperbole, but I think more experimentation is a good thing.
In general I’d say this platform has a great deal in common with a neoliberal platform, but it also falls into a lot of overly simple policies (or more generously one-size-fits-all) that are aesthetically pleasing in their simplicity but ignore hidden depth. Specifically thinking of ‘one tax rate’, ‘remove all other taxes’, zero MW, Single Payer.
I’m somewhat of a skeptic on the dangers of AI, so I may not be the best person to address that point. On pandemics, I think it’s likely that Gain of Function research should be heavily curtailed—but I don’t think that’s a core neoliberal value or anything, just my personal opinion.
More broadly, I don’t really think of x-risk and economic growth as things that necessarily have to be traded for each other. I think that in many important ways a more prosperous society has more stability and less x-risk. One important area to worry about is the possibility of nuclear conflict. To me it seems pretty clear that the more than every country in the world can become a rich country, the more stable international geopolitics will be and the lower the risk of a catastrophic war will be.
Morally, I think any attempt to slow growth in the name of x-risk had better be really damn sure that the x-risk is truly intolerable, because in practical terms ‘trade off for growth’ means ‘potentially impoverish millions/billions of people’. Purposefully trying to slow economic growth seems to me to be a moral evil in almost all cases, barring some exceptional edge cases, simply because economic growth is so good (and this is especially true in developing countries).
I think Tyler Cowen’s general idea that economic growth is extremely important is true and underrated in our political discourse. I’m not always in agreement with the prescriptions that Cowen believes would actually achieve that growth. There’s an exciting revival in the general big-tent-neoliberal world of a ‘pro-growth progressive’ attitude. Sometimes you hear this called a ‘supply side liberal’. Ezra Klein wrote about this in the NYTimes, but I would also recommend the general works of Sam Hammond at the Niskanen Center, Matt Yglesias and Noah Smith for other versions of this.
Big fan of many of the groups discussed here, and we’re often close with the groups you listed. We’ve had Matt and Ezra on the podcast several times, as well as Dylan Matthews from Future Perfect to discuss kidney donation. Love the work that Future Perfect does. I’ve also hosted on the podcast Glen Weyl, Jason Crawford of the Roots of Progress, and Mark Lutter of the Charter Cities Institute. Much less a fan of Peter Thiel, whose goals are explicitly anti-liberal (and being an ideological liberal I obviously view this as a very bad thing).
I think your answer is a pretty thorough overview of the space, to be honest. ‘Rationalists’ generally, like the LessWrong and SlateStarCodex crowd, are heavily EA aligned. But that’s a fairly explicit thing. Economics as a field is fairly fertile ground due to the tendency towards cost-benefit analysis, modeling, etc.
I think it’s a good proof of concept—have something fun that people enjoy as a gateway drug into the group’s more serious ideas. But simpler reddit/twitter content would work even better—their content is astonishingly viral compared to long works of fan-fiction.
Yes, lobbying officials is part of what we do. We’re trying to talk to officials about all the things we care about—taking action on climate change, increasing immigration, etc etc etc. Truthfully I don’t have a ton of experience on this front yet—I’ve been part of the project since its inception in early 2017, but have only been formally employed by PPI for the last 8 months or so. So I’m not a fountain of wisdom on all the best lobbying techniques—this is somewhat beginner level analysis of the DC swamp.
One thing I’ve noticed is that an ounce of access is worth a pound of attention, which is worth ten pounds of idea. Access in DC is the real currency, not money. True high quality access directly to powerful congresspeople or cabinet-level people is phenomenally rare. Access to regular congresspeople, important congressional staffers or mid-level executive branch types is still limited and fought over. Access is golden. The number of hours in a day for any of these decision makers is finite and someone always wants their time.
If you can’t get direct access to decision makers, the next best thing is attention (which can lead to access later, if your ideas get traction). There are a lot of small think tanks with very bright people writing quality reports… that will then go on to be downloaded a grand total of 11 times ever (and maybe 1-2 of those downloads actually got read more than a third of the way through). Getting important people to pay attention to your work in DC is hard. There are quite a lot of think tanks and non-profits and people writing reports on every imaginable topic under the sun, and you have to stand out somehow.
Our model that we’re hoping to lean into as we grow is to take our natural talent for community building and getting online attention and leverage that into attention/access among people who matter in DC (and elsewhere). We have a network of politically active chapters in cities around the country and globe. We have a large, boisterous social media following that we can mobilize. That’s a reason for someone to court us, to pay attention and care what we’re telling them. I guess maybe that’s a piece of advice—if you want a decision maker’s attention, if you want access, recognize how that’s a limited resource to the decision maker and give them a reason to care beyond just yelling ‘My Idea Is Very Good!’ like everyone else.
You might be partially right, but in the early days we were largely memeing about free trade, immigration, and semi-ironic worship of central bankers. Most of that isn’t exactly the hot thing with the youths, but never underestimate the power of memes to make something ironically cool in a subculture.
Loved the post you linked!
I second your hesitation about the upside/downside to “identifying as an EA”. But I honestly don’t think you can help this sort of thing happening. The most you can do is actively guide the values that are defining your group. In the early days of the neoliberal subreddit (the earliest large-scale group of modern self-identified neoliberals), one of the slogans we used was ‘evidence based policy’. The leaders and prominent members of the subreddit tried to instill ‘evidence based policy’ as a core value to the members, to offset the dangers of groupthink, to make people be willing to change their minds. EBP is a complicated subject and it’s not like most people are really out there reading research papers. But it’s important to at least have people signaling that they are open to changing their minds. Signaling can become reality.