[Previous] What Is Intelligence? | Home | [Next] “Small” Errors, Frauds and Violences

EA Judo and Economic Calculation

Effective Altruism (EA) claims to like criticism. They have a common tactic: they say thanks for this criticism. Our critics make us stronger. We have used this information to fix the weakness. So don’t lower your opinion of EA due to the criticism; raise it due to one more weakness being fixed.

The term “EA Judo” comes from Notes on Effective Altruism by Michael Nielsen which defines EA Judo as:

strong critique of any particular "most good" strategy improves EA, it doesn't discredit it

This approach doesn’t always work. Some criticisms are hard to fix. Some criticisms require large changes to fix that EAs don’t want to make, such as making large changes to which causes they put money towards.

EA could sometimes be criticized for not having figured out a criticism themselves sooner, which shows a lack of intellectual rigor, leadership, organization, effort, something … which is much harder to fix than addressing one concrete weakness.

They like criticisms like “X is 10% more important, relative to Y, than you realized” at which point they can advise people to donate slightly more to X which is an easy fix. But they don’t like criticism of their methodology or criticism of how actually one of their major causes is counter-productive and should be discontinued.

The same pretending-to-like-criticism technique was the response Ludwig von Mises got from the socialists 100 years ago.

Mises told them a flaw in socialism (the economic calculation problem). At first they thought they could fix it. They thanked him for helping make socialism better.

Their fixes were superficial and wrong. He explained that their fixes didn’t work, and also why his criticism was deeper and more fundamental than they had recognized.

So then, with no fixes in sight, they stopped speaking with him. Which brings us to today when socialists, progressives and others still don’t really engage with Mises or classical liberalism.

EA behaves the same way. When you make criticisms that are harder to deal with, you get ignored. Or you get thanked and engaged with in non-impactful ways, then nothing much changes.

Elliot Temple on January 2, 2023


Want to discuss this? Join my forum.

(Due to multi-year, sustained harassment from David Deutsch and his fans, commenting here requires an account. Accounts are not publicly available. Discussion info.)