BenHoffman comments on Where should anti-paternalists donate? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Halstead 05 May 2017 05:08:02PM 1 point [-]

I think I agree with maybe having a sceptical prior for paternalistic interventions, but I'm unsure about how strong such a prior would be. The information on what has worked in the past would determine the prior I should have when assessing a new intervention. If I looked at all past public health interventions and paternalism was not correlated at all with quality of outcome, even correcting for reasonable unknown side-effects, then it seems like I should give paternalism very little weight when assessing a new intervention. My examples were a bit cherry-picked, but they do show that if you look at the tail of the distribution of interventions in terms of impact, they tend to be paternalistic.

However, I suspect there is something of a correlation between paternalism and outcomes: I suspect nearly all or all of the ineffectual/harmful interventions have been paternalistic - playpump etc. This is borne out by the fact that GD is better than most other anti-poverty interventions. Then you have to take in the risk of hidden costs/harms, as you say.

But there are also factors pushing the other way - e.g. biases about spending on personal health, positive externalities etc - that counterbalance a presumption against paternalism.

Comment author: BenHoffman 05 May 2017 08:33:59PM *  1 point [-]

It sounds like we might be coming close to agreement. The main thing I think is important here, is taking seriously the notion that paternalism is evidence about the other things we care about, and thus an important instrumental proxy goal, not just something we have intrinsic preferences about. More generally the thing I'm pushing back against is treating every moral consideration as though it were purely an intrinsic value to be weighed against other intrinsic values.

I see people with a broadly utilitarian outlook doing this a lot, perhaps because people from other moral perspectives don't have a lot of practice grounding their moral intuitions in a way that is persuasive to utilitarians. Autonomy in particular is something where we need to distinguish purely intrinsic considerations (e.g. factory farmed animals are unhappy because they have little physical autonomy) from instrumental pragmatic considerations (e.g. interventions that give poor people more autonomy preserve information by letting them use local knowledge that we do not have, while paternalistic interventions overwrite local information).

Thus, we should think about requiring higher impact for paternalism interventions as building in a margin for error, not just outweighing the anti-paternalism intuition. If a paternalistic intervention has strong evidence of a large benefit, it makes sense to describe it as overcoming the paternalism objection, but not rebutting it - we should still be skeptical relative to a nonpaternalistic intervention with the same evidence, it's just that sometimes we should intervene anyway.

Comment author: Halstead 06 May 2017 10:21:55AM *  0 points [-]

Yes I'm not sure I disagree with much of what you have said.

I don't want my argument to be taken to show that we should ignore paternalism as a potentially important instrumental factor. Showing the implicaitons of paternalism as a non-instrumentally important goal does not show anything about the instrumental importance of paternalism. Paternalism might not count in favour of GD as an non-instrumental goal, but count in favour of it as an instrumental goal.

It's important to separate these two types of concern. I do think some people would have the non-instrumental justification in mind, so it's important to get clear on that.