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Syllabus for Course on Effective Altruism

Our Philanthropy Advisory Fellowship at Harvard University Effective Altruism Student Group has just published an EA course syllabus that we developed: http://www.harvardea.org/blog/changemakers

We hope this can be a helpful resource for EA groups at other schools to encourage faculty to create new courses on EA.

Comments (7)

Comment author: Dunja 26 April 2018 09:06:00PM *  6 points [-]

This is great, thanks a lot for sharing! One thing I'd add would be criticism voiced against (certain aspects) of EA as well as disagreements between different approaches to EA (e.g. short-term vs. long-term prioritization - an example being the idea that one should purchase cheap clothes made in sweatshops and save more to donate vs. the idea that such an action would have negative economic and social long-term consequences, etc.). As an academic syllabus, I think it's important to add critical views, which would nicely fit the content of the course in any case :)

Comment author: Denkenberger 02 May 2018 10:21:36PM 0 points [-]

Hmm... I think that providing sweatshop jobs has positive economic and social long-term consequences, because it brings people out of extreme poverty. I think the main drawback is the non-utilitarian criticism of sweatshops as "exploiting" people. Most people do not recognize that sweatshops are orders of magnitude safer than living in extreme poverty where something like 20% of your children die. But even if people were aware of that, they could still say that since sweatshops do not have the same safety standards is the developed country factories, it is somehow unfair to those workers - they are not getting justice.

Comment author: Dunja 03 May 2018 08:46:59PM *  0 points [-]

The problem with this kind of reasoning is that in the same way one could attempt to justify slavery: just because sweatshops/slavery provide living conditions better than none, it doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to abolish them. Hence, by boycotting sweatshops one gives an important message to corporations that use them. As a result, under sufficient pressure, companies will change their rules and take care to provide better working conditions. The goal here is long-term structural improvement of social/economic practices rather than short-term help.

Comment author: Denkenberger 05 May 2018 12:29:06PM *  0 points [-]

First let me clarify that I only support people voluntarily taking sweatshop jobs-I do not support anything involuntary. I think it is good to consider the long-term implications of present actions. But by taking a sweatshop job, not only can people afford life-saving interventions, but they can also afford things like elementary education, which has massive long-term benefits. Saying something is better does not imply that it is good. Starting with sweatshop jobs, the four Asian Tigers have made a dramatic rise, where according to purchasing power paritypercapita) South Korea and Taiwan are richer than Spain, and Singapore and Hong Kong are richer than the US!

Comment author: Dunja 05 May 2018 05:27:44PM 0 points [-]

Sure, but can we really speak of "choice" for those who have no other options? Again: your argument can be used to defend any form of slavery, as long as slaves became slaves "out of choice". If otherwise they wouldn't have survived, what kind of choice is that?! Imagine the alternative: there is consumers-driven pressure on companies to introduce serious control of working conditions. As a result, current sweatshops eventually become much safer for work. It's a long-term win-win scenario.

Comment author: BenMillwood  (EA Profile) 09 May 2018 09:06:01AM *  0 points [-]

I think on balance there's a strong chance you're right, but there IS a lose-lose outcome, where the consumer pressure drives the companies to fire all their sweatshop employees and move to a place where they can get people from a different, less needy origin (that maybe has different labour laws, or in some other ways pacifies many of the consumer activists).

Comment author: lunalyon 26 April 2018 12:59:48PM *  0 points [-]

This is an excellent resource. Majoring in a tradition field and minoring in a 'problem' and students working in a cross-functional team are creative approaches to effective instruction. I think those experiences will be life-changers for many students. Terri Lyon