My classical liberal critique of *effective altruism*

Following up on my previous post, I want to explain as succinctly and cogently as possible why the so-called “effective altruism” movement is the biggest con since the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919. Put aside the fact that this movement cult has become the 21st-century equivalent of Rudyard Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden.” Even if we define “effective altruism” in the vaguest and most favorable light as “applying evidence and reason to finding the best ways to improve the world” (see here, for example), the reason why effective altruism is bullshit is because we already know–at least since the publication of The Wealth of Nations in 1776–what are the most effective ways of reducing poverty and improving living standards: the classical liberal principles of property rights and individual liberty, or in the immortal words of Adam Smith: “Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.” Change my mind.

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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7 Responses to My classical liberal critique of *effective altruism*

  1. Effective Altruism is certainly ripe with the potential for Bootlegger and Baptist coalitions.

    While it does make sense to a certain extent to try to economically maximize the effect of your donation (similar to how businesses try to max profits assuming normal conditions); there is a lot of room for bad actors (SBF for example) to hide behind this philanthropic practice.

    When I initially heard about the concept, six years ago, I thought it sounded “rational”, but as time as gone on the sanctimony and prospect of it being used as a “moralizing cloak” has turned me off from it. Its grown to be too wide-eyed and quixotic for it to be palatable.

    Most of these trendy pie-in-the-sky and too-good-to-be-true ethical doctrines too frequently operate as veneer for the immoral individuals and those seeking validation through virtue signaling.

  2. Jonathan O'Donnell says:

    Thanks for this.

    How does Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations square with the advances made by China, especially since the reforms of Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s?

    Did Deng Xiaoping effectively bring China within the framework outlined by Adam Smith? I wouldn’t have thought that China would be regarded as having ‘…a tolerable administration of justice…’ (aka rule of law).

    Sorry if this is off-track for your blog, or if you’ve covered it before. I just saw the quote and wondered. Any information greatly appreciated.

    • That is an excellent question/observation, but are the macro-economic data from China’s government real and not doctored??!

      • Jonathan O'Donnell says:

        While I’m sure it is, to a certain extent, there is no doubt about the overall change. Two broad indicators:
        1. There were periods of mass starvation in the late Empire period (late 19th & early 20th century) and again under Mao. Starvation at that scale is almost unthinkable there now.
        2. One of the main reasons the world hit the Millinium Development Goals was the changes in China, even though China never signed up for that UN program.
        I’m not a China scholar, so I’m happy to be proved wrong, but that is my understanding.
        Wikipedia gives a general overview of the economic reforms.

    • I am about to take a red-eye to Chile; will have more to say later …

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