Mistake Versus Conflict Theory of Against Billionaire Philanthropy

Link post

Re­sponse To (SlateS­tarCodex): Against Against Billion­aire Philanthropy

I agree with all the cen­tral points in Scott Alexan­der’s Against Against Billion­aire Philan­thropy. I find his state­ments ac­cu­rate and his ar­gu­ments con­vinc­ing. I have quib­bles with spe­cific de­tails and crit­i­cisms of par­tic­u­lar ac­tions.

He and I dis­agree on much re­gard­ing the right ways to be effec­tive, whether or not it is as an al­tru­ist. None of that has any bear­ing on his cen­tral points.

We vi­o­lently agree that it is highly praise­wor­thy and net good for the world to use one’s re­sources in at­tempts to im­prove the world. And that if we crit­i­cize rather than praise such ac­tions, we will get less of them.

We also vi­o­lently agree that one should di­rect those re­sources to­wards where one be­lieves they would do the most good, to the best one of one’s abil­ity. One should not first giv­ing those re­sources to an out­side or­ga­ni­za­tion one does not con­trol and which mostly does not use re­sources wisely or aim to make the world bet­ter, in the hopes that it can be con­vinced to use those re­sources wisely and aim to make the world bet­ter.

We again vi­o­lently agree that pri­vately di­rected efforts of wealthy in­di­vi­d­u­als of­ten do mas­sive amounts of ob­vi­ous good, on av­er­age are much more effec­tive, and have some of the most epic wins of his­tory to their names. Scott cites only the al­tru­is­tic wins and effec­tive­ness here, which I’d nor­mally ob­ject to, but which in con­text I’ll al­low.

And so on.

Where we dis­agree is why any­one is op­pos­ing billion­aire philan­thropy.

We dis­agree that Scott’s post is a use­ful thing to write. I agree with ev­ery­thing he says, but ex­pect it to con­vince less than zero peo­ple to sup­port his po­si­tion.

Scott laid out our dis­agree­ment in his post Con­flict vs. Mis­take.

Scott is a mis­take the­o­rist. That’s not our dis­agree­ment here.

Our dis­agree­ment is that he’s failing to model that his op­po­nents here are all pure con­flict the­o­rists.

Be­cause, come on. Read their quotes. Con­sider their ar­gu­ments.

Re­mem­ber Scott’s test from Con­flict vs. Mis­take (the Ja­co­bite piece in ques­tion is about how com­mu­nists ig­nore prob­lems of pub­lic choice):

What would the con­flict the­o­rist ar­gu­ment against the Ja­co­bite piece look like? Take a sec­ond to ac­tu­ally think about this. Is it similar to what I’m writ­ing right now – an ex­pla­na­tion of con­flict vs. mis­take the­ory, and a defense of how con­flict the­ory ac­tu­ally de­scribes the world bet­ter than mis­take the­ory does?

No. It’s the Baf­fler’s ar­ti­cle say­ing that pub­lic choice the­ory is racist, and if you be­lieve it you’re a white supremacist. If this wasn’t your guess, you still don’t un­der­stand that con­flict the­o­rists aren’t mis­take the­o­rists who just have a differ­ent the­ory about what the mis­take is. They’re not go­ing to re­spond to your crit­i­cism by po­litely ex­plain­ing why you’re in­cor­rect.

I read Scott’s re­cent post as hav­ing ex­actly this con­fu­sion. There is no dis­agree­ment about what the mis­take is. There are peo­ple who are op­posed to billion­aires, or who sup­port higher taxes. There are peo­ple op­posed to nerds or to think­ing. There are peo­ple op­posed to all pri­vate ac­tions not un­der ‘demo­cratic con­trol’. There are peo­ple who are op­posed to ac­tion of any kind.

There are also peo­ple who en­joy mock­ing peo­ple, and in con­text don’t care about much else. All they know is that as long as they ‘punch up’ they get a free pass to mock to their heart’s con­tent.

Then there are those who re­al­ize there is scape­goat­ing of peo­ple that the in-group dis­likes, that this is the poli­ti­cally wise side to be on, and so they get on the scape­goat train for self-ad­vance­ment and/​or self-pro­tec­tion.

Scott on the other hand thinks it would be a mis­take to even men­tion or con­sider such con­cepts as mo­ti­va­tions, for which he cites his post Cau­tion on Bias Ar­gu­ments.

Cau­tion is one thing. Stick­ing one’s head in the sand and ig­nor­ing most of what is go­ing on is an­other.

One can be a mis­take the­o­rist, in the sense that one thinks that the best way to im­prove the world is to figure out and de­bate what is go­ing on, and what ac­tions, rules or virtues would cause what re­sults, then im­ple­ment the best solu­tions.

One can­not be an effec­tive mis­take the­o­rist, with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing that there are a lot of con­flict the­o­rists out there. The mod­els that don’t in­clude this fact get re­al­ity very wrong. If you use one of those mod­els, your model doesn’t work. You get your causes and effects wrong. Your solu­tions there­fore won’t work.

There already were ap­prox­i­mately zero mis­take the­o­rists against billion­aire philan­thropy in gen­eral, even if many of them op­pose par­tic­u­lar im­ple­men­ta­tions.

Thus, I ex­pect the main re­sponse to Scott’s post to mainly be that peo­ple read it or hear about it or see a link to it, and no­tice that there are billion­aires out there to crit­i­cize. That this is what we are do­ing next. That there is a de­vel­op­ing con­sen­sus that it is poli­ti­cally wise and so­cially cool to be against billion­aire philan­thropy as a way of be­ing against billion­aires. They see an op­por­tu­nity, and a new trend they must keep up with.

I ex­pect a few peo­ple to no­tice the ar­gu­ments and up­date in fa­vor of billion­aire philan­thropy be­ing bet­ter than they re­al­ized, but those peo­ple to be few, and that them tack­ing on an ex­tra zero in the pos­i­tive im­pact es­ti­ma­tion column does not change their be­hav­ior much.

There were some anti-gov­ern­ment ar­gu­ments in the post, in the hopes that peo­ple will up­date their gen­eral world mod­els and then prop­a­gate that up­date onto billion­aire philan­thropy. They may con­vince a few peo­ple to shift poli­ti­cal po­si­tions, but less than if those ar­gu­ments were pre­sented in an­other con­text, be­cause the con­text here is in sup­port of billion­aires. Those who do will prob­a­bly still mostly fail to prop­a­gate the changes to the post’s cen­tral points.

Thus, I ex­pect the post to back­fire.