Comment author: Geuss 15 September 2017 10:11:44AM *  -3 points [-]

"This does not mean that capitalism is bad because capitalism is not conceptually tied to selfishness. The question of which system of economic ownership we ought to have is entirely separate to the question of which ethos we ought to follow."

This is almost solipsistic - it sounds like you're denying that a complex social world exists out there with powerful and entrenched system of causation. Only for the most remote, cerebral idealist are these two things possibly separate. What's the point of this kind of philosophy?

Comment author: Halstead 15 September 2017 12:25:03PM *  1 point [-]

I'm not making a claim about what capitalism causally produces. I think that is fairly clear from the fact that I say that I am making a conceptual distinction. These are separate questions:

  1. Capitalism is defined as a system in which people are selfish.
  2. Capitalism causally makes people more selfish than socialism.
  3. Capitalism is all-things-considered the best system.

I am arguing for 1, and saying that we need different information to evaluate its truth to both 2 and 3. I'm not denying anything about social systems causing different motivations in people; it is obviously true that they do.

The point: you don't get to argue against capitalism by suggesting that it is all about selfishness, as a conceptual matter. Rather, you'd need to show that it makes people more selfish than socialism does or that it produces less good outcomes overall than socialism. So, you'd need to present empirical evidence.

Comment author: Geuss 15 September 2017 10:04:41AM *  1 point [-]

I don't way to be too harsh, but this is the apotheosis of obtuse Oxford-style analytic philosophy. You can make whatever conceptual distinctions you like, but you should really be starting from the historical and sociological reality of capitalism. The case for why capitalism generates selfish motivations is not obscure.

Capitalism is a set of property relations that emerged in early modern England because its weak feudal aristocracy had no centralised apparatus by which to extract value from peasants, and so turned to renting out land to the unusually large number of tenants in the country - generating (a) competitive market pressures to maximise productivity; (b) landless peasants that were suddenly deprived of the means of subsistence farming. The peasants were forced to sell their labour - the labour they had heretofore been performing for themselves, on their own terms - to the emerging class of agrarian capitalists, who extracted a portion of their product to re-invest in their holdings.

The capitalists have to maximise productivity through technological innovation, wage repression, and so forth, or they are run into the ground and bankrupted by market competition. There is, as such, a set of self-interested motivations which one acquires if one wants to be a successful and lasting capitalist. It is a condition of the role within the structure of the market. The worker has to, on the other hand, sell themselves to those with a monopoly of the means of subsistence or face starvation. To do so they have to acquire the skills, comport and obedience to be attractive to the capitalist class. Again, one has to acquire certain self-interested motivations as a condition of the role within the market. Finally, capitalism requires a sufficiently self-interested culture such that it can sustain compounding capital accumulation through the sale of ever-greater commodities.

Comment author: Halstead 15 September 2017 12:16:21PM *  4 points [-]

Thanks for the comment.

  1. In the first paragraph you suggest that I have argued that it is not the case that capitalism generates selfish motives. I have not argued for this or against it. I have just argued that capitalism is not defined as a system in which people are selfish. This is entirely separate to the question of whether capitalism causally produces more selfishness than socialism. If you accept that it is an empirical question whether capitalism or socialism causally produces more selfishness, then you agree with my argument since you don't need to do empirical work to find out whether a conceptual claim is true.

General point: conceptual distinctions are very useful. It is difficult to have debates about things when the concepts are not clearly defined. And conceptual distinctions are not, nor did they pretend to be in my piece, to the exclusion of history and sociology. Actually, they make historical and sociological arguments better because more precise.

  1. I'm not sure whether capitalism causally produces more selfishness than socialism. In 'Why Not Capitalism?' and in the blog I linked to, Brennan argues that market societies actually produce more virtuous people than socialist societies, though I haven't looked into this very deeply. Studies of traditional (hunter gatherer and other societies) show that people in market societies are nicer in ultimatum games and that kind of thing, though I'm not sure how much weight to put on this.

You have presented an abstract argument showing that capitalism creates incentives for selfishness. But we really want to know whether capitalism creates greater incentives for virtuous conduct than socialism. To answer that question, we'd need to look at actual socialist societies and compare them to how people are in actual capitalist ones. e.g. You could look at how nice people are in capitalist countries and compare that to how nice people are/were in Venezuela now, during the Cultural Revolution, in communist Russia or Cambodia etc.

11

Capitalism and Selfishness

[From my blog ]. As effective altruists make increasing forays into politics, I thought it would be good to share what I have found to be one of the most useful conceptual distinctions in recent political philosophy. Many people think if you’re in favour of capitalism you have to be... Read More
Comment author: Geuss 14 September 2017 07:10:26PM *  0 points [-]

I meant socialist in broad terms. One can be a socialist and not think much of a project for change based on the 'voluntaristic' exchange of money without demolishing capitalist social relations. It pushes back to your philosophy of society, and whether you think capitalism operates as a systemic whole to generate those things which you think need to be changed.

I'm not sure that you're not building a strawman, either. The defining problem of anti-capitalist thought since the failure of the Bolshevik Revolution to spread to Germany has been why it isn't obvious. And it's worth saying that no one wants to abolish private property altogether, just the historically specific property relations that emerged in the early modern period and made it such that peasants could not earn a living except by selling themselves to those who owned the means of production. Even more ambitious forms of social anarchism allow for usufruct.

Comment author: Halstead 15 September 2017 08:17:28AM 0 points [-]

Sorry I should've been clearer. I meant the socialist argument as used in criticisms of EAs by Leiter and Srinivasan etc. They talk as though EAs are missing something painfully obvious by not advocating for the destruction of extensive private property ownership. This shows a lack of epistemic awareness.

Comment author: Geuss 13 September 2017 10:00:22AM 0 points [-]

Libertarian capitalism dovetails with EA insofar as it respects side-constraints on property rights - one has a right to that which one receives through 'free' contract - and conceives of person-to-person help as voluntaristic. Of course, Rand didn't think much of helping others either.

That's also why, correctly in my view, socialists don't think much of EA.

Comment author: Halstead 14 September 2017 05:07:34PM 0 points [-]

One thing I find odd about this socialist criticism is that it is stated as though it is the most obvious thing in the world that we ought to abolish the institution of private property. Even if you think this is right, it isn't obvious. It is, after all, rejected by almost the entire community of experts on economics.

The differences between Rand and EAs are clearly greater than the similarities. Firstly, e.g. most EAs are in favour of strong resdistributive taxation, which would be rejected by right libertarians. Secondly, as you note, EAs are in favour of a strong ethic of impartial benevolence, which is obviously incompatible with one of the key tenets of the Randian worldview.

Comment author: Halstead 25 August 2017 12:25:48PM 0 points [-]
Comment author: Sanjay 24 August 2017 10:10:49PM 3 points [-]

I contacted the authors with some questions a few months back because their website included some apparently interesting info, but with inadequate explanation of how they had defined things, and it looked like the numbers didn't stack up (but I couldn't be sure because things weren't defined clearly enough)

They didn't reply.

In response to comment by Sanjay on Open Thread #38
Comment author: Halstead 24 August 2017 11:31:23PM 2 points [-]

i've also contacted them and they didn't reply. It's a bit unclear how they got to the rankings they did - there's not much explanation given.

Comment author: Ben_Todd 19 August 2017 06:50:53PM 6 points [-]

Another big area you didn't mention is Superforecasting, prediction markets and that kind of thing.

Comment author: Halstead 22 August 2017 11:41:08AM *  0 points [-]

good shout - does anyone have any thoughts on this that aren't well-known or disagree with Tetlock?

Comment author: MichaelPlant 17 August 2017 01:53:57PM 4 points [-]

This is sort of a meta-comment, but there's loads of important stuff here, each of which could have it's own thread. Could I suggest someone (else), organises a (small) conference to discuss some of these things?

I've got quite a few things to add on the ITN framework but nothing I can say in a few words. Relatedly, I've also been working on a method for 'cause search' - a ways of finding all the big causes in a given domain - which is the step before cause prio, but that's not something I can write out succinctly either (yet, anyway).

Comment author: Halstead 17 August 2017 04:07:01PM 0 points [-]

I think splitting off these questions would balkanise things too much, making it harder for people interested in this general question to get relevant information.

17

How should we assess very uncertain and non-testable stuff?

There is a good and widely accepted approach to assessing testable projects - roughly what GiveWell does.  It is much less clear how EA research organisations should assess projects, interventions and organisations with very uncertain non-testable impact, such as policy work or academic research. There are some disparate materials on... Read More

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