Tyler Cowen on the NIH; Ian Rowe on the moral dyad; Erik Torenberg on elite hypocrisy; Andy Kessler on EA
I can't get too angry about 'missions.' The Asters, etc, built public libraries. It seems to have been a good thing - but, to admit, it eventually became a tax burden on everyone and now they aren't as big an asset as they once were. Perhaps they didn't lead a natural lifecycle? Perhaps when the super-rich stopped being interested in funding them, they should have been shuttered?
On the Torenberg piece, one needs to distinguish between sincerely held luxury beliefs and preference falsification. One good property of the secret ballot is that it helps make that distinction. Here in San Francisco, we didn't see a lot of public elite outrage against the removal of ability-based admissions to Lowell High School; but the recall of the school board members who pushed that removal was so broadly supported, across every economic and geographic segment of the city, that it's very likely the case that many if not most elites privately opposed it and voted accordingly.
Kessler doesn’t like that some of his fellow citizens advocate for things he thinks are weird and that will cause tax revenues to be spent that otherwise wouldn’t be. Fair enough. I probably agree with him in particular cases. But it’s an odd view of citizenship that limits advocacy to things that are at least budget neutral and that aren’t “quirky.” Most things cost money to do. Moreover, women’s suffrage, for example, was considered quirky at one time, as was, a longer time ago, the idea of a self-regulating market.
A member of the elite, Torenberg, denounces elites for being hypocrites. Apparently not all of them are., but lots of people are hypocrites. Not especially noteworthy. And the observation about the utility of hypocrisy is in part tautologically true. If acting on my belief causes harm then by definition I will be better off if I don’t act on it. It is made to seem non-empty by assuming that someone must act on my belief. But that's false. There is no necessity that either I or anyone else act on my beliefs.
Finally, The idea that victimization inevitably leads to inaction or loss of agency seems misguided. Lots of Christians feel victimized by American culture but they have been anything but inactive. Malcolm X in his earlier years had “agency” and led a hustler’s life. In prison, he read books and became persuaded that he was victimized but that belief didn’t lead to inaction or a loss of “agency.” Quite the opposite, whatever you think of his politics.
"It seems to be a fad among 21st-century billionaires that they come up with grandiose “missions.” See Peter Thiel or George Soros or Bill Gates or Samuel Bankman-Fried."
This reminds me of the discussion that Jim O'Shaugnessy had with Johanathan Bi on the Infinite Loops podcast recently: https://www.infiniteloopspodcast.com/johnathan-bi-girard-desire-and-modernity-ep116/.
Or it's a different value system. If you care nothing for descendants, family name, or the accolades of history; if you believe that people in the future are an idiocracy and people in the past were blinkered fools; then the right answer is to do whatever makes you feel the best right now, and if EA makes you feel 'meta-ennobled' so that even the dollars you spend are better spent and you are a greater person for them, then that's the answer. After all, all those QALY's that could have been assembled in 1515...
Kessler makes some valid points and I’m glad you pointed to the full article.
On twitter, EA advocates exclusively mocked the line where he says calling for future pandemic spending is like closing the barn door after the horses have bolted. EA has a point here too, since future pandemics are a legitimate long-term concern, not something we can assume will never happen again.
I don’t have a WSJ subscription, so I can’t get the full context from Andy Kessler’s article. But that quote is intellectually uncharitable in the extreme, and I am disappointed to see you list it as FIT-worthy.