Political Ideology

The science of well-being is roughly the same in Victoria (Australia), where I live, as elsewhere in the Western world: In Victoria, Australia - home ownership, marriage, sleep, not smoking, not being obese, drinking (and binge drinking), a household income of 40,000+ (any higher makes no difference), better relationships, lack of psychological distress, social support, civil trust and good overall health are associated with greater happiness.


These factors are intricately linked with who is in power, politically. Political engagement and activism are healthy pursuits. And, party membership may be an avenue to accrue political capital to spend on political reform. Why not get involved?


What is the case against right-wing politics such as social conservatism and economic liberalism? Yes, conservatism is associated with psychological health, and both conservatism and economic liberalism are associated with greater population well-being. In principle, the Liberal Party of Australia represents this ideological mix. Ironically, consistent with its US counterpart the Republic Party, and contrary to popular perception that the Liberals/Coalition-Governments are better economic managers, research indicates either the ALP (Labor Party) is superior at growing jobs and the economy or that the two major parties don't differ significantly in terms of economic growth performance. Does that imply there aligning right wing parties values with their behaviour is a low hanging fruit? Does that imply the party can be reformed, capitalising on the electoral success of a major party to enact positive social impact?

What is the case against left-wing politics, characterised by central planning? Historical inefficacy: Venezuela and the Soviet Union are oft cited examples for this. Yes, the Soviet Union facilitated numerous atrocities such as those committed under Stalin, but the Soviet Union also facilitated great global health gains:

'One of the highest-impact ethical people of the twentieth century was a man you have probably never heard of – Viktor Zhdanov, Deputy Minister of Health for the Soviet Union. In 1958, he called for a programme to eradicate smallpox at the World Health Assembly and then lobbied for its acceptance, which came the following year. In 1977, the WHO declared smallpox the first infectious disease ever eradicated by humanity’.

Research Australia found 91% of Australians think 'improving hospitals and the health system' should be the Australian Government’s no. 1 priority. Some may assume that health spending would relate to better population level health outcome. However, though is no relationship between health outcomes and total health system spending for developed countries. Therefore, the marginal impact of voting in a government that prioritises health spending may be negligible in this regard. The same may not be the case for health research spending.

In the absence of dominant broad party ideology in terms of altruistic cred, I am partial to the egoistic option. Recall: ‘conservatism is associated with psychological health’.

Social conservatism is associated with traditional institutions, religious homogeneity and a tolerant attitude to income inequality. In fact, the latter is a defining feature the right wing of politics. Democracy and federalism are associated with a happier population. Religious diversity is associated with poorer happiness and income inequality enhances global well-being. Happiness, not income, is the best metric of interpersonal comparisons of subject well-being. And, happiness inequality continuously falls in the US, and there is no gender gap in happiness there. However, there is a black/white happiness gap. Conservatism seems consistent with population level happiness on social issues.

Conservatism in Australia defers to the economic liberals in economic rather than social matters. Economic liberalism emphasises liberty, individualism, economic prosperity, voluntary cooperation, competition and decentralised governance. Suitably, each of freedom from coercion, individualistic societies, economic freedom [1][2] and poverty alleviation are associated with happier populations. On the other hand, the relative utility of voluntary cooperation, while important is unsolved. Competition increases well-being inequality but does not necessarily contribute to decreases in aggregate well-being. On the issue of governance, anti-liberal forces typically rally support around the issue of ‘market failures’. Whether or not these are a higher order issue than government failures, the typical response is pidgeon taxation. Their utility in handling economic externalities is unclear, given the reciprocal cost problem and the economic measurement problem.

Strangely, the freedom from coercion argument generalises to even the most extreme cases. For instance: access to child pornography reduces the rate of child sexual abuse and 'sex criminals are less likely to consume pornography than the general population and start watching pornography at a later age.' Yet some would intuit that consuming child pornography would be a harm worth aggressing against. It is rather than act of coercing a child into pornography, a sexual situation, or a pornography consumer into abstaining that is the true harm. If the assumption that prosecuting those who consume child pornography reduces the rate of child sexual abuse such as coercing a child into pornography holds, then a laissez faire able to access to the stuff is harmful. But, the aforementioned evidence suggests otherwise.

Curiously, this is starkly non-conservative position. It is unclear to me how to resolve that kind of issue. In such cases tend towards my intuition, which says that permitting access to child pornography is harmful. In the broader issue of crime and punishment, certainty of punishment deters far more effectively than imminence or severity of punishment. Consistency of sentencing should be the basis for better criminal justice rather than harsher or swifter sentencing.

Economic growth and happiness? Heavens! ‘Consider Bhutan, or happy tribesman, in contrast to unhappy bankers you say!’ Ecological fallacy aside, you may have been misinformed by the evidence.  In the past, economists identified an interesting phenomenon where economic growth appeared unrelated to the level of well-being over of the population. This was called the Easterlin paradox. More robust research has identified that this finding was spurious, and there is a link between economic development and the wellbeing of the population. One ill communicated finding on the economics of happiness is that poor neighbours make one happier. And, living among rich neighbours can dull the happiness that comes from wealth. However, there are nuances to these facts. Living in poor neighbourhoods makes one less happy, and living in rich neighbourhoods actually makes one happier. It is, rather, than living in poor countries makes one less happier, and living in rich countries makes one more happier. That is, at least in the US. It appears that there is a balance of factors from amenities, safe areas, well maintained housing, and relative status to one's neighbours that factors into things.

Comments (5)

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 22 May 2017 01:28:57PM 7 points [-]

I found this article to be a bit rambly and hard to understand. What is the point of the article? An argument for conservatism? Explaining a paradox of preventing coercion?

Comment author: ChristianKleineidam 24 May 2017 08:16:30AM 1 point [-]

For instance: access to child pornography reduces the rate of child sexual abuse and

Many people in EA are statistically literate. Saying because in an n=1 (or maybe n=3) experiment a → b, proves that a → b in general either suggest statistical incompetence, inability to use statistical thinking because the subject is political or an attempt to mislead.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 28 May 2017 06:11:32AM *  0 points [-]

It seems if the utility of a political ideology is based on a sort of mindset that generates outcomes which produce the greatest average well-being, but getting involved in political party machines to change society with policy isn't efficient enough a process, then getting upstream of politics to what produces cultural changes allowing these attitudes to permeate democratic societies which engender and incentivize, all other things being equal, optimal lifestyle outcomes is the best thing to do.

Societies throughout Africa and most of Asia still seem largely religious or traditional, while societies in the Americas, Europe, East Asia and Australia are more secular and have a stronger civic culture generating their values. I think there's a state of heightened tension in political across the world today, and the low-level of extremists which typically blend in with broader partisan coalitions are exploiting the opportunity to push an anti-humanistic agenda. Part of this is upstream of violence paving the way for it involves dehumanizing one's political opponents with propaganda. That's something that's happening on the political fringes in North America today. There's lots of allegations reported in the news of this in Europe as well, but honestly what counts as reliable from this far overseas where I am I don't know. News might travel far, but accurate reporting doesn't. The accusations of political violence in North America I know are based on multiple local news sources, eye-witness accounts, video footage, and things one can plainly see with one's own eyes by visiting these places. This has been my experience living in Vancouver, Canada, having lived on the west coast my whole life. I guess it's like that regionally all over the map, but virtually any blog or news source beyond the local level distorts real events to the point it's practically impossible to substantiate any allegations.

However, it's also been my experience most people repudiate all this type of behaviour, and it appears to be staying out of the party machine. I can't find the link now, but I read a blog post written by economist Bryan Caplan about as much hype as there is in the news, what boils down to apparently no more than a few thousand extremists on either side of the political divide in North America doesn't pose much of a real threat to a society of hundreds of millions who'd sooner turn such people out then condone their behaviour. That's the gist of the argument, and I found it more or less convincing. I mean, certainly, everyone ought condemn the instigation of political violence, and not tolerate propaganda that would promote such as legitimate means of activism either. However, all I'm saying is it doesn't hold up as an argument against getting involved in politics as a form of effective altruism.

I think this is a major consideration against political involvement in the world today. This speaks to what I know to be true of North America. I think in the other continents I mentioned where political action is a viable way to improve human well-being at this point in history, one will have to defer to someone who knows better. I definitely encourage people with that sort of knowledge to speak up. I only know enough to speak about politics in North America. However, I think the inefficiency of political involvement or activism is so great that alone demonstrates for most people and movements the opportunity costs of diverting resources to politics will be too high.

In the Americas, there's still a sufficient percentage of deeply religious people among the population of democratic societies. It's a commonly accepted belief the political base inculcating the attitudes towards some superior well-being outcomes through policy action and thus electoral politics and political activism, is the socially conservative religious right. However, based on effective altruism taking a stance of moral pluralism, there are certain shibboleths of religious/social conservatism much of the religious public wouldn't be willing to compromise on which will necessarily remain tolerated in the EA community. So, getting involved in that sort of political action is impracticable from a realistic EA perspective at present.

However, there are plenty of organizations and communities in and around the effective altruism movement which are taking an approach to engendering changes in cultural attitudes to set the stage for later policy reform activism in politics. Sentience Politics is currently doing this work in German-speaking Europe, and is currently trying to expand into other countries. The Life You Can Save and Giving What We Can function as projects that do so, and funding movement growth of EA to promote and spread values which in practice lead to significant lifestyle change are abundant. One cause which stands out as not correlated with favouring cultural change is x-risk reduction. However, the base of support for that cause also largely comes out of the rationality movement. There are lots of people in the rationality community who are already supporting, promoting and creating such projects aimed at changing society in a manner upstream or outside of politics. I haven't talked to anyone enough to figure out which projects would appeal best or most to effective altruism in this regard.

Comment author: konrad 22 May 2017 12:25:46PM 1 point [-]

I find your posts a little hard to read because of the long hyperlinks that stand in stark contrast to the black. I'd recommend linking just one word, maximum two or three (you can still edit these posts).

Will read properly later! Thanks for writing these five apparently very interesting pieces!

Comment author: Daniel_Eth 03 June 2017 12:34:59AM 0 points [-]

I feel like you're drawing a lot of causations from correlations, which don't imply causation.