Criticism of the Effective Altruism (EA) movement
Posted: 17 January 2018 08:09 AM   [ Ignore ]
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CFI members will, I believe, be familiar with organisations like the Centre for Effective Altruism, founded by William Macaskill, as the two have a common goal of promoting rationality. Hence I think the CFI forum is a good place to discuss EA.

Firstly, I have no criticisms of the principles of EA per se, since the fact that we must do the most good possible is a self-evident truth. What I wish to criticise are the things that Macaskill and his colleagues consider to be most effective methods of doing good. I would like to question whether they are indeed the most effective ones or whether we could do better.

My first criticism is of the chapter in his book titled “The moral case for sweatshop goods” which my readers would like to have a look at.

I profoundly disagree with this view of the world’s problems. Even though opposing harsh working conditions in sweatshops might not be the most “effective” thing to do in terms of immediate results, taking action against such a blatant injustice is an absolute necessity to ensure a good future for all of us.

Indeed, Noam Chomsky says about the anti-sweatshop movement, “In some ways, is like the anti-apartheid movement, except that in this case, it’s striking at the core of the relations of exploitation.” Would we accept it if someone criticised the anti-apartheid movement by saying it is not the “most effective” method to do good? If not, why should the anti-sweatshop movement be any different?

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Posted: 17 January 2018 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Can you provide some details. Took a look at the site but don’t have all day to read the entire thing looking for what you’re talking about. In general though I’d say if you like and agree with the organization just do it. Don’t waste too much time questioning, or I should say, nitpicking at their methods. That’s one advantage conservatives have over liberals. They’re like rabid dogs who when told to jump say how high. Liberals otoh will discuss a thing to death. That’s not to say follow blindly. But geesh stop talking so much and DO.

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Posted: 18 January 2018 07:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I found an econ-talk interview from 2015 about this. Some of the premises seem flawed, or at least not well thought out, like maximizing how many people are helped. It’s fine of course to apply some good analysis to an idea, like the “playground pump” that at first sounded cool, but didn’t work well, wasn’t well supported and was actually harder to operate than a regular old pump. By the end of the interview, I was wondering what this guy this was promoting, then he listed a bunch of organizations he had started. All of them sounded like ways to collect money and pass it on, while he takes a percentage. Still fine, if he can show that he is getting better results than an Oxfam or a Heifer.

http://www.heiferfoundation.org/
https://www.oxfam.org/

As for sweat shops, I can’t get on board with them. Any positive aspects, like providing jobs, are outweighed by the negatives, like the risk of death at the job.

He might have sold me if he spent at least some of his time talking not just about how I, as an individual, should decide how I spend my charity dollar, but instead about how governments and big international orgs interact to control their economies. Often, it’s the charity that benefits, while local entrepreneurship is suppressed and local economies aren’t allowed to develop. 

http://enoughthebook.com/

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Posted: 18 January 2018 10:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thank you for the reply, Lausten. What prompted me to write was that MacAskill promotes sweatshops by arguing that unemployment is the only other option for people in developing countries. But given a strong activist movement in those countries, would not decent safe and well-paid employment be a third option? This leads me to question whether his motive is to discourage activism and favour business interests.

An organisation that researches the best ways to be charitable is certainly something we need, but MacAskill’s organisation seems to have lost its neutrality and objectivity. I feel we can reform it by criticising it, hence I hope more people will join the discussion. A possible line of inquiry could be examining who the funders of the Centre for Effective Altruism are. Are they business organisations with links o corporations that run sweatshops?

This brings me to my second criticism of MacAskill, which is that he routinely describes big business owners as the most generous people in the world, because they supposedly donate large amounts of money to charities. Whether the system that allowed them to earn this much money had positive or negative impacts on society is left out of the discussion. Further, is it not more sensible to honour the generosity of those who have helped others even when they knew it would cost them, as opposed to those who merely gave away their excess money?

I would like to know the thoughts of my fellow Forum users on all these matters.

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Posted: 18 January 2018 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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cfi_student - 18 January 2018 10:45 AM

Thank you for the reply, Lausten. What prompted me to write was that MacAskill promotes sweatshops by arguing that unemployment is the only other option for people in developing countries. But given a strong activist movement in those countries, would not decent safe and well-paid employment be a third option? This leads me to question whether his motive is to discourage activism and favour business interests.

An organisation that researches the best ways to be charitable is certainly something we need, but MacAskill’s organisation seems to have lost its neutrality and objectivity. I feel we can reform it by criticising it, hence I hope more people will join the discussion. A possible line of inquiry could be examining who the funders of the Centre for Effective Altruism are. Are they business organisations with links o corporations that run sweatshops?

This brings me to my second criticism of MacAskill, which is that he routinely describes big business owners as the most generous people in the world, because they supposedly donate large amounts of money to charities. Whether the system that allowed them to earn this much money had positive or negative impacts on society is left out of the discussion. Further, is it not more sensible to honour the generosity of those who have helped others even when they knew it would cost them, as opposed to those who merely gave away their excess money?

I would like to know the thoughts of my fellow Forum users on all these matters.

Again, can you point to his articles or where on the site he says these things? As for the rich giving away money, that’s a fact. Rockefeller and Guggenheim are two examples. I tend to think they gave away money as part of their con game to distract from any damage the sources of their wealth caused. But who knows. I supposed too for the beneficially of the largess, especially real benefits like food, shelter, etc. it doesn’t matter to the recipient who it comes from. Put it this way…who or how to honor the giver is a “rich” man’s problem. the poor slob who just needs a bite to eat doesn’t care one bit.

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Posted: 18 January 2018 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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cfi_student - 18 January 2018 10:45 AM

Whether the system that allowed them to earn this much money had positive or negative impacts on society is left out of the discussion. Further, is it not more sensible to honour the generosity of those who have helped others even when they knew it would cost them, as opposed to those who merely gave away their excess money?

I would like to know the thoughts of my fellow Forum users on all these matters.

I think you are sniffing out the same bad smells that I am. The guy is not interesting enough for me to pursue any additional research. As long as he doesn’t get more air time anyway. On my initial search, it seems he got some attention back in 2015, but hasn’t made much of an impact. If you want to expose the guy, that’s fine, but is he worth the effort?

Even more liberal people, with bigger names, like Nikolas Kristoff have made a case for sweatshops, https://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/14/my-sweatshop-column/, and he didn’t attract a following. It’s a debate worth having, but if you are anti-sweatshop, I’d say you already are winning.

Charity is a difficult business, and if this guy can convince rich people to give more money to aid, I’m not going to bother him.

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Posted: 18 January 2018 03:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I will try to address some of the concerns raised in the replies.

The guy is not interesting enough for me to pursue any additional research. As long as he doesn’t get more air time anyway. On my initial search, it seems he got some attention back in 2015, but hasn’t made much of an impact. If you want to expose the guy, that’s fine, but is he worth the effort?

My experiences as a university student suggest the contrary. He has a huge and growing influence in Oxford and Cambridge and is considered (not by me) to be one of the foremost philosophers. Exposing his flawed reasoning might help to transform the organization that he has already set up into one that truly finds good ways of poverty alleviation and hence, would be worth the effort.

Even more liberal people, with bigger names, like Nikolas Kristoff have made a case for sweatshops, https://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/14/my-sweatshop-column/, and he didn’t attract a following.

Kristoff basically makes the same argument as Macaskill (and Macaskill does attract a following) By debunking Macaskill’s arguments, therefore, we would also be debunking Kristoff’s arguments.

Charity is a difficult business, and if this guy can convince rich people to give more money to aid, I’m not going to bother him.

On this point I perfectly agree. But while convincing the rich to give is good, calling them heroes for doing so might not be so good as
A. It is not true
B. Uncritical praise by someone claiming to be a rationalist gives credence also to their other activities (which might not be so honorable)
C. What they give was not theirs in the first place (it might be legally theirs, but is it morally theirs if they earned it by exploiting people)

Again, can you point to his articles or where on the site he says these things?

Yes, in his book titled “Doing Good Better” Chapter 8 is called “The moral case for sweatshops” and he makes most of his arguments here. A Google search such as “William Macaskill sweatshops” will also give some instances of him making those arguments.

I supposed too for the beneficially of the largess, especially real benefits like food, shelter, etc. it doesn’t matter to the recipient who it comes from. Put it this way…who or how to honor the giver is a “rich” man’s problem. the poor slob who just needs a bite to eat doesn’t care one bit.

I agree it doesn’t matter to the poor where the money comes from. But it does matter whether or not their exploiters are lauded as heroes, because, as I said above, it gives credence to the belief that exploitation is not taking place. So actually, they would care and this is not just a “rich man’s problem”

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Posted: 21 January 2018 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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cfi_student - 18 January 2018 03:15 PM

My experiences as a university student suggest the contrary. He has a huge and growing influence in Oxford and Cambridge and is considered (not by me) to be one of the foremost philosophers. Exposing his flawed reasoning might help to transform the organization that he has already set up into one that truly finds good ways of poverty alleviation and hence, would be worth the effort.

More power to you. You might notice this is not a great site for organizing. CFI doesn’t promote it and keeping the trolls away can be a challenge. Not sure CFI is the most popular skeptics group right now anyway. I know some people in the Michigan chapter, and they have their own platforms for organizing.

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Posted: 21 January 2018 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Thank you for your encouragement, Lausten. If anything is a challenge, I will face it. Do you mean the Michigan chapter of CFI? Could you let me know what those platforms are and whether I could join them and other details? Do you recommend that I raise my concerns on CFI Michigan’s Facebook, Twitter and Meetup accounts? Any other ideas?

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Posted: 21 January 2018 12:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I don’t think they will be too interested, but you can ask to join whatever you want. They have speakers, if want to travel to Grand Rapids and do that.

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