Imagine a large theatre with a singer at center stage. A single bright spotlight illuminates this singer, and the rest of the crowded theatre is as dark as can be, given this arrangement. Morality can do the same thing in the theatre of our mind. Once one issue or choice gets a strong moral color, we can focus on it so much that we just don’t see a much larger theatre of action. This is fine when our moral sense works well. If one murder were happening in a stadium of 50,000 people, it could make sense for the Jumbotron to project it onto the big screen, and for the whole stadium to focus on it, to help them do something about it.
Less political repression is a small thing? If you lived in a country where thousands were executed in a soccer stadium, like Chile, or shoved out airplane hatches over the South Atlantic like Argentina, you might think it's a big thing. Even in less brutal regimes the secret police and censorship are oppressive to everybody. Comparatively benign authoritarian regimes like Singapore are very rare, and even they aren't a match for an ordinary democracy. Democracy lets you live a normal life in a way few if any authoritarian regimes do. That's a huge win, and that's why they're preferred. Any benefits to economic growth or avoiding war are just gravy on that big meal.
While your observations identify a genuine problem...
A problem compared to what, I would have to ask Robin. Compared to humans being instinctive utilitarians? I think Robin sometimes selectively forgets that coordination is hard.
Right, money-making isn't the only factor. But it is in general a hugely important one.
Why does Helen Toner say this? Does she mean : Don't necessarily embrace what would be the initial reaction of a typical good person who had neither thought much about the matter nor made a special effort to gather relevant information?
Re #1, the importance of profit varies tremendously among firms. In particular, closely-held firms (where the owners are not subject to outside investor demands or SEC oversight) often prioritize other things. But even public firms don't pursue profit at all cost (or even pretend to), and are under the constraints Robin mentions.
Just as not *everyone* who goes into government does so in order to wield power for the purpose of enjoying the cringing respect of the powerless, sadism, self-enrichment, or social status.
With respect to democracy wars in the past, I don't think that the point you are making is the point the authors were trying to make: "In this regard, early parliamentary regimes in pre-modern Europe were a type of"“transitional” autocracy, bridging the gap between the traditional absolutist model and institutionally mature modern democracies (Mansfield and Snyder, 2002). Such regimes were quite representative and accountable by historical standards (Stasavage, 2016, pp. 147-9). Still, early parliamentary regimes differed in important ways from modern democracies.Contemporary definitions of democracy often include open competition and contestation, the right to participate and vote in elections, and civil liberties (Lipset, 1959, Dahl, 1973, Jaggers and Gurr, 1995, Vanhanen, 2000). Pre-modern parliamentary regimes, however, generally lacked such democratic practices (Marongiu, 1968, p. 31). These differences may help explain why institutionally mature modern democracies can prevent the outbreak of wars in ways that early parliamentary regimes could not."
Thanks! So you're right: *modern* democracies indeed very rarely go to war with each other, but early ones warred quite frequently. From the paper's first paragraph:
"Institutionally mature democracies rarely go to war against one other (Maoz and Russett,1993, Dixon, 1994, Dafoe, Oneal and Russett, 2013). This result comes “as close asanything we have to an empirical law” in international relations (Levy, 1988, p. 88).Nearly all empirical evidence for the democratic peace, however, concerns warfare fromthe Congress of Vienna (1815) onward. "
What a well-written piece. With regard to item #1, however, I do think that the making-money goal is a hugely important factor in determining the behavior of for-profit businesses and their leaders, though not because that's what their purpose statements say (and in fact many purpose statements seem to play down this aspect).
"more political repression" was a typo, it should have been "less". Fixed now.
I agree with the general thrust of this post, however I am somewhat skeptical of the following claims:
"...in the past democracies warred more than others."
"Democracies have more political repression..."
What evidence are you able to cite in favour of these propositions?
Vaguely related: "Don't use the heuristic of what a good person would do" (Helen Toner, 'Choosing for effective altruism').
"Democracies today war a bit less, but in the past democracies warred more than others."
Is this statistically true? There's an argument that historically there have been very very few wars between functioning democracies. (Note that the "functioning" condition excludes for instance Germany by the time WWII broke out) .
This Wikipedia post for instance lists only 12 wars-between-democracies during the 20th century, and even then many of those were just skirmishes, or involved very flawed democracies:
What determines the action that appears on stage? What directs our focus? Different families, nations, religions, etc. seem to emphasize different moral points.
Given that spotlights turn in different directions, I wonder if there is a sense in which the population is not doing badly. Individuals may face increasing returns when concentrating effort on one problem, so perhaps it is best for each of us to focus our moral outrage on one item. Then there is an analogy with game theory: Looking at the population, we each appear as moral automatons, but overall might be playing the equivalent of an optimal mixed strategy, effectively allocating our combined moral energy among problems. While your observations identify an genuine problem, perhaps the consequences are less severe than they first appear.