Saturday, March 29, 2014

"The problem isn't that people aren't trying to be moral, it's that they're no good at it."

Just thought this was an interesting way of looking at things:
we live in a failed world. Problems like world hunger, war, racism, and environmental damage are only partly controlled even in our insulated First World countries, and in the majority of the world they are barely controlled at all. It is traditional to attribute this to “people being immoral", but in fact people are generally very moral: they feel intense moral outrage at the suffering in the world, they are extremely generous in response to certain obvious opportunities for generosity like the Haitian earthquake, and many people will, in an emergency that calls for it, sacrifice their lives to save others with only a split second's thought. And even things that are in fact repulsive, like the intensity with which people oppose gay marriage, derive from a misplaced sense that they are doing the right and moral thing; people will devote their entire careers to opposing gay marriage even though it does not hurt them personally because they feel like they should. The problem isn't that people aren't trying to be moral, it's that they're no good at it.
-- link

Suffering per kg from different meats

I've written before about how I try to eat flexitarian. Basically, I'm not 100% motivated/convinced by vegetarian or vegan arguments, but I'm not 0% motivated/convinced by them either, so I go somewhere in between.

One thing I've done, when I do have meat, is mostly choose chicken over pork/beef. I did this mainly under the assumption that chickens are probably less intelligent, or at least are biologically further from myself (the one being I can be 100% certain can suffer), so perhaps they suffer less. A secondary motivation was that beef creates more pollution than other meats.

But I just came across this estimate of how much suffering is involved per kg of a few different animal products. I don't know to what extent I agree with his calculations (yet (?)), but I've realized I've really failed to consider the size of each animal in my own thoughts for how to compare meat options. Basically, because cows are so much bigger than chickens, eating amount of meat would require the death/suffering of far fewer cows than chickens. This should probably be a much stronger factor in my decision-making than my assumption that chickens may be a bit less capable of suffering, especially since I don't have a particularly good reason for believing that.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Minorities and Voting

This is awkward:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Open Borders Day

Today is Open Borders Day. This doesn't mean much because I just blog for my own enjoyment, nobody reads it, and I have no expertise in any of the relevant fields. But... from what little I have learned and thought about ethical philosophy, politics, and economics, I believe that open borders, or at least moving in that direction, is the most important change we should be pushing for in our government(s). And I believe it is something people of nearly all political persuasions have good reasons to support. It's natural to support the status quo until we come across strong reasons to prefer otherwise. And for that reason, I didn't think much of existing immigration laws for a long time. But when you really think about it, strict immigration laws are strange and hard to justify.

Consider the following fundamental reasons people often provide as justification for the laws our government should or should not make, which span the whole political spectrum:

  1. People have natural rights/freedoms, which the government should protect, not obstruct. What does it mean to allow someone to immigrate here? It doesn't mean granting special privileges, or making everyone a citizen. It is merely a person working for an employer at a wage agreed to by both parties, and buying or renting property to live in at a price agreed to with the seller/renter. These are things we all view as very basic rights, which the government should not infringe on without very good reason. Does the location on our earth in which a person was born qualify as a good reason for this?
  2. The government should follow the Constitution and its founding principles. The U.S. Constitution only explicitly granted the federal government the power to regulate naturalization (i.e. citizenship), not immigration. And we didn't have a single federal law restricting immigration until 1875. Even then, that only restricted immigration specifically for Chinese people. General immigration restrictions came in the 20th century.
  3. The government should alleviate wealth inequality to bring more fairness to the world. However bad you believe inequality is in our country, global inequality is far worse. The median U.S. household earns more than 93% of the world's households, while the bottom 5% of U.S. households earns more than 68% of global households.
  4. The government should reduce its debt. The main difficulty for our federal budgets going forward is the retirement of the baby boomer generation. Our entitlement programs mainly go toward the elderly with Medicare, Social Security, and even much of Medicaid. Even beyond the cost of public projects, there's a fundamental problem when too large a percentage of our population is too old to work. Allowing more working-age immigrants helps alleviate this. This is why the CBO estimate of the latest immigration reform bill predicts lower deficits as a result.
  5. The government should do what increases human well-being / makes the world a better place. Presumably you think it's good to donate money to people stuck in poverty in developing nations? We can help such people much more by simply getting our government to stop prohibiting their ability to move to more stable nations like ours. This isn't just for helping poverty. Some people live in countries in which they lack basic rights. There may be high violence, war, rape, slavery, child soldiers. By what reason can we prohibit people from fleeing those situations into safer countries?
  6. The government should do what grows the economy. One of the things economists across the political spectrum actually agree on is that immigration is good for the economy. A study on open borders estimated that it would double world GDP. Think of people whose innovations have greatly benefited the world, such as Bill Gates (insert another name if you disagree with that example). Notice that almost all of them had the benefit of being in developed nations. How many potential geniuses, inventors, etc were never able to benefit the world with their abilities simply because they were stuck in places where they had no chance to develop them?
"Open borders" doesn't necessarily mean that we should let anyone go anywhere no matter what with no oversight. We probably don't want to allow suspected terrorists to come and go as they please, for instance. But denying someone's basic free movement should be the exception which requires the burden of proof, not the rule.