Evidence-based voting

I enjoyed Michael Plant’s article in The Conversation today, ‘Which party’s manifesto promises would make Britain happiest?‘ Plant attempts an evidence-based approach to choosing which party to vote for by reading their manifestos. Despite it being basic and limited, I’m very glad it exists, and I think there should be more attempts to select an objectively best party to vote for.

Call me a radical, but I think people should vote for the party that will do the most to increase happiness. If a party’s policies won’t reduce misery and help people have more pleasant, fulfilling lives, what are they good for?

You may recall that myself and Hugo Burgin attempted a similar analysis in 2016 for the Australian Federal election. As we said then, “We say ‘attempted’ because such analyses are incredibly complex (which is possibly why none exist), although we believe that some attempt at picking the best party is better than no attempt.

Voting correctly is a lot more important than people often think it is. Again, in 2016 Burgin and I said:

People often say that you’re unlikely to have any impact when voting, or that the impact of your vote is so small that it’s not worth thinking about, but this is only true if you only care about yourself. In Doing Good Better, Will MacAskill simplistically estimates that the expected value of voting for a US citizen, when spread out across all citizens in USA, is around $5,200 USD (~$7,000 AUD at the time of writing). That is to say, on average, $5,200 of the budget will be spent differently as a result of your vote (see the appendix for a more detailed explanation of why this is so). This means it’s very important to vote for the party that will spend the budget in the best way possible.

I do have some concerns around Plant’s analysis. I want to stress first that I’m not necessarily criticising Plant for this. He was (presumably) operating alone, with limited time and resources, and also had a limited number of words on the article to play with. I’m just outlining what I would want in an ideal analysis. Having said that, my concerns are as follows.

Plant doesn’t account for non-human animals (edit – he did mention them briefly, I just missed it), which is a major gap, though he does try to account for non-British citizens. He also doesn’t seem to look at the future or far future. Needless to say, far future effects (e.g. 1,000 years plus) are extremely difficult to predict, so again, this is not a criticism of Plant. He relies on manifestos and promises, which won’t necessarily be kept. An ideal analysis would look at history and likelihood of individual parties meeting their promises.

One reservation around these types of analyses in general is that people might use them to come out with the answer they want, whether consciously or subconsciously, although there are ways around this with sufficient oversight.

My ideal outcome looks something like this: A group of benevolent individuals grants an organisation funding say 1 year prior to an election. This organisation can’t be a non-profit in many countries (e.g. Australia), because they are not legally able to support any one political party. This organisation then produces and releases the report shortly before the election. The majority of the population, being motivated by maximising wellbeing of all sentience over the course of the universe (I wish), votes accordingly.

There is a very real question as to how many people would trust such an analysis. There will probably be some people who will never change the party they support out of sheer mistrust that it didn’t pick their party. The trust may have to be built up slowly over several elections and with strong, impartial oversight. I have no idea how to do this, but I do think it is important and worth dedicating time and money to. People have $5,200 worth of impact every time they vote, and we surely want to see that impact being positive.

Morality is Hard podcast – Episode 4 – Tobias Leenaert, the Vegan Strategist

Tobias Leenaert is one of the founders of Ethical Vegetarian Alternative, or EVA, which is a Belgian organisation that advocates the consumption of plant foods instead of animals.

Tobias founded the Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy, CEVA, with Melanie Joy, who you might know as the author of Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows. CEVA aims to increase the impact of vegan advocacy worldwide.

I first heard about Tobias through his work on the Vegan Strategist, a blog where he talks about effect animal advocacy. He is also working on a book on vegan strategy and communication, and gives talks around the world.

Tobias and I chatted about the effectiveness and role for different types of animal advocacy.

Don’t forget to subscribe to this website or our Facebook page to get reminded of new episodes. We’ll be on iTunes soon too!

An open letter on industrial animal farming

I’m proud to join Scott Weathers, Sophie Hermanns, Mark Bittman and 200+ expert signatories (read: very impressive people) to ask the World Health Organization (WHO) to reduce factory farming.

If you care about any of the following issues; animal suffering, climate change, environmental degradation, antibiotic resistance or global health, please add your signature (https://openletteranimalfarming.com/).

Check out Scott, Sophie and Mark’s op-ed in the New York Times here, Scott and Sophie’s note in The Lancet here, and the original letter here.

If the new WHO Director General takes a strong stance on factory farming, that would be a positive for human and non-human animals in so many ways. Congratulations to Scott and Sophie for what I’m sure will be a highly impactful initiative. I’d also just like to take this moment to remind you how easy it can be to influence things, including high profile individuals and organisations (I’ve written about this here). You can and must take action.

LA Times Book Festival & pitching bricks at tech workers

I just wanted to quickly share something that blew me away today.

I was at the LA Book Festival, a large part of which is a massive series of panels discussing anything from politics to activism and fiction books. I was at a panel on activism when one of the speakers, Cleve Jones (a well known LGBTQ activist), said this.

“When I see a bus full of young tech workers on a Google bus going to Silicon Valley, my first instinct is to pitch a brick in the window. It would be unfortunate though if I hit the driver.”

This was met with resounding applause and cheering from the audience. I couldn’t believe it, and to be honest I felt a little afraid. He believes that the gentrification of San Francisco due to the tech industry is displacing families, and that the workers don’t realise they are being exploitative. As far as I can tell, there was little relevant context beyond talking about exploitation rather generally.

I’m 90% confident I haven’t misrepresented his views here. The quote might be slightly paraphrased because I have a poor memory, but I’m confident it’s accurate enough.

Episode 2 of the Morality is Hard Podcast released!

Today I expanded on two blog posts I wrote recently, the first being about the recent United Airlines event where a customer was removed from one of their flights and about a controversial art installation coming to Tasmania, Australia. I try to show why both of these events are more complex than they first seem.

The second is about the recent announcement by the Australian Federal Government that they are considering a shark cull in response to a surfer dying to a shark attack in Western Australia. I try to show why this makes no economic sense, even if you are only concerned with Australian human lives.

Download the full episode here

United Airlines and Dark Mofo

Hey guys it’s Michael, and today I bring you another round of That thing you’re outraged about is probably more complicated than you think. Two things to discuss today; the United Airlines passenger event in USA, and the Dark Mofo art installation, to be displayed at the Mona art museum in Tasmania, Australia.

First, United Airlines. In short, United Airlines needed to bump four paying customers from a flight to accommodate four United staff, who were needed at another location. Passengers were asked to volunteer their seat in exchange for compensation. Finally, still needing seats, United randomly selected some passengers. One passenger didn’t want to leave, citing that he was a doctor and had to see patients the next day. Police were called to remove him, and the passenger ended up being injured. I’m not sure what the extent of his injuries were (certainly not critical), but he was bleeding from his face.

While this event was very unfortunate and bad for the passenger in question (and made for some great memes), there are some important things to keep in mind before you get too upset (though it’s probably too late for that). These points are taken from this podcast, which had a good discussion on the finer details. Some salient points to consider:

  • The physical mistreatment of the customer was by the police, not by United. They were acting in the interests of the remaining customers (supposedly). Yet somehow much of the negative attention has been on United.
  • This isn’t that unusual. The business model of airlines is to book more customers than there are seats, with the assumption that some will not turn up. Occasionally this doesn’t work, so they pay people off. However despite these occurrences, airlines still run this business model because airlines are a super competitive business.
  • The story goes that, due to bad weather and some other extenuating circumstances, the United staff who were taking customer’s seats had to get to their destination or an entire other flight would be cancelled. Would we really say this customer should have kept their seat at the expense of a plane full of seats?

Is there more to this story? Almost definitely. Was United justified in their actions (accounting for the fact that they didn’t control the police aggression)? I’m leaning towards yes right now. The passenger was randomly selected and they refused to leave, wasting everyone else’s time and risking another entire flight. Sure, they paid for their ticket and they were entitled to it, but real life has extenuating circumstances sometimes, and people need to act.

The second story involves a three hour performance with a slaughtered bull, which on the outset appears reminiscent of a ritual. RSPCA has said that the art is disrespectful, but are very careful to say that they don’t object to the slaughter of the animal itself. It seems their issue with it is the treatment of the body. The art installation will be coming to the Mona art museum, a world-famous museum in Tasmania, Australia.

As a prelude, I like to steelman stuff, which means finding the merits of an argument that you don’t necessarily agree with, and maybe even make a stronger case for it than your adversary is making. I think this is a very useful thing to do to mitigate your own biases and ensure that your position truly is the correct one. Having said that, while I am in some ways defending the art installation here, I still don’t really know whether it’s a good thing. I’m just trying to make the point that it’s almost certainly not as easy an answer as you think.

This whole thing has two groups of people very upset – vegan animal advocates, and non-vegan animal advocates. The vegan animal advocates generally object to any use of animals for entertainment, and this falls under that category. The non-vegan animal advocates object to this because it’s… disrespectful or something. To that, I’ll just point out briefly that what is done to the animals whose products you consume might also be considered disrespectful (and induces suffering, if you care about tangible stuff that the animals would actually care about), you just don’t see it.

So I saw an article about this in my Facebook news feed and scrolled right past. I caught the gist, and was mildly against it. But then my mother, an artist, shared this blog post by David Walsh, founder and owner of the Mona art gallery. It was a long, but very enjoyable read, and I highly recommend it. I’ve highlighted some of my favourite paragraphs below, then say a few things.

All that verbiage and I still don’t know whether Nitsch’s performance is justified. I can argue that it does good by creating awareness of moral hypocrisy (highlighting the slaughter of millions of beasts a year for unneeded food) but it is hard to find a way that avoids it being categorised as a direct action, and humans generally think doing good by doing bad is wrong.

Yvette Watt, Tasmanian local and, I later found out, a ‘noted vegan crusader’, expressed her opinion on Facebook that it was not good art. For my purposes, it is good art. I believe that it has already spiked a conversation (thank you, Yvette) about the appropriateness of slaughter and Dark Mofo hasn’t even happened yet. That isn’t what the artist intends, but Mona has a history of repurposing art to serve its own psychological or political purpose.

If you don’t think the side-effect argument has merit consider this. We have a work at Mona by Jannis Kounellis (see this blog post). When whim pervades, we hang chunks of meat from hooks. Nobody cares. The only reason I can think of as to why that is okay, but Nitsch’s meat isn’t, is that Kounellis’ meat is killed for food and repurposed (side-effect), whereas Nitsch’s is killed for performance and later eaten (the side-effect is the only ‘legitimate’ purpose). I hate that Nitsch insists on eating the meat. I want clarity of intent—I want the audience to ponder why meat for food is okay (at least people aren’t protesting at Mona’s barbecue) but meat for ritual or entertainment isn’t.

Basically Walsh is making a utilitarian steelman case for the art installation, and he does a pretty good job. I’m skeptical as to how many animal product consumers would look at this art and be turned off animal exploitation/cruelty in general, and there is an argument to be made that this might desensitize people to violence, but the case seems plausible.

I guess what I might say to vegan animal advocates (a cohort I consider myself to be a part of), is, how much of this protest is symbolic, and how much is practical? If the show is cancelled, we might save one or more bulls. You could do that much good by donating around $1 to The Humane League. It might be a symbolic gesture in support of animals, but I don’t place much value in symbolism unless it has tangible effects on present or future wellbeing and suffering (which maybe it does, I just don’t see that being argued).

Everyone gets upset at stuff without thinking about the finer details. Even I will make a blog post sometimes without doing as much background reading as I should. From time to time, it bites me in the ass. The best one can do is be as careful as possible, and make a point of admitting and correcting your mistakes.

Why spending money on shark culling is a terrible idea

A 17 year old surfer in Western Australia has been killed by a shark. This is, of course, a tragedy, and my thoughts are with the girls friends and family for the loss. However, in response the Australian Federal Government has said that they are open to a shark cull to ‘protect people’, which would be equally tragic, if not much greater. Let’s look at some numbers.

First, I need to acknowledge that I think this is bad because I intrinsically value animal suffering, and feel like this might impact animal suffering in a negative way. But even if we just look at humans (and not only that, specifically humans in Australia!), this idea would be an incredibly inefficient way of reducing suffering and/or death.

Here I’m going to make some simplified assumptions to make the case for culling seem more attractive than it is, then show that it still doesn’t make sense. From 1958 to 2014, 72 people died to shark attacks in Australia (536 attacks total). Let us suppose that for a one-time investment (unrealistic) of $10 million (unrealistically low) we can prevent all shark attacks in Australian waters for the next 56 years (unrealistic). If we suppose 72 more people would have died in this time frame, this would be an estimated cost of $138,888 per life saved*.

Even with these extremely optimistic assumptions, that is an exceedingly poor return on investment. The Against Malaria Foundation can save a human life for approximately $6,000 AUD by preventing cases of malaria. But even if we care much more about people in our own country than in Africa (which, to be fair, governments have to), there are still more effective ways of reducing death.

For example, the median cost per quality adjusted life year (QALY) gained for Australians by interventions for specific diseases such as diabetes is $3,700 AUD.

Do we care about all suffering, or just suffering specifically experienced by humans and caused by sharks? That would be silly, but then, government policy doesn’t always seem to make much sense. The steelman of this might be that they are trying to win publicity points (and aren’t ignorant of cost-benefit analyses). Sharks are a topical issue today, and the government wants people to like them. But let’s not pretend the policy would make any rational sense to someone interested in improving the world, even if you only care about animals of your own species that happen to within an arbitrarily defined political boundary.

I urge the Australian Federal Government to please reconsider any thoughts of a shark cull, and to focus on helping sentient beings in a significantly more efficient manner.

* One might even be able to make an argument that a shark cull would increase human deaths. I have no numbers for this argument and therefore place low confidence on it, but if a shark cull is incomplete (i.e. doesn’t kill all sharks), yet more people end up swimming because they think it’s safer, more people might die.

Addicted to outrage: For the love of the bandwagon

In our society, we are addicted to outrage and jumping on the latest bandwagon. This is a bad way to go about things, and maybe even dangerous. I want to share a particularly great example that occurred through a conversation I had recently on Facebook with some random people on a post made by Adam Bandt, Australian Federal Government Greens member for Melbourne. He was talking about a proposed coal mine in Queensland, Australia, which the Australian resources minister Matt Canavan had said would be a net positive for the environment. Queue outrage.

Bandter with Adam Bandt’s supporters

I decided to simply screenshot the conversation without removing names as it was and is entirely public on Facebook anyway.

What happened here exactly? If you made it through all of the comments, I’m impressed. I read the linked article and another about the issue, and resources minister was making some plausible arguments for how this mine could be a net positive for the environment. Sure, it might have been better to have renewable energy or gas instead, but if what we’re comparing is a world without this mine and a world with this mine, Mr Canavan’s argument might hold. Here is how:

“…using high-quality coal to displace lower-quality coal”

I know nothing about this mine, but if it were true that the coal was higher quality (releasing less emissions per unit energy produced) than the average existing coal, and the production of this coal meant lower quality coal was not produced, the claim might be true. There are several other minor arguments, such as:

““They will do things that will improve the environment here in central Queensland and they’ll protect an additional 31,000 hectares for the black-throated finch,” Canavan said.”

And:

““They will limit the drawdown on the springs in the area and also return water to the Great Artesian basin – around 730 megalitres a year.”

So basically Adam Bandt and his followers seem to be arguing that these claims are baseless. Fair enough, maybe they are. So I asked Adam Bandt if he did indeed have evidence that these claims were baseless.

“This seems plausible, does it not? Adam Bandt are you saying that you have evidence that this statement is false?”

No response from Adam, but his supporters were pretty upset. E.g.

“Have you got shares in the coal industry or are just stupid as Canavan” [sic]

“Michael you really are naive if you think what they said will actually happen. Look at history of Adani and their broken promises…get the facts from many sources before you slavishly believe one source.”

This one was particularly amusing because I’m actually questioning the source (Adam Bandt) unlike them. There was also one nice chap who asked me whether my (PhD) supervisor knew what I was saying here, but he has since deleted his comment.

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that we are addicted to being outraged at certain things without much evidence about the specifics. This seems like a pretty bad heuristic. If you have read any of my work relating to effective altruism, you would know that even strange ideas can lead to great outcomes, and great ideas can lead to negative effects. I wouldn’t fall off my chair if something that sounded environmentally damaging on the outset turned out to increase wellbeing.

Best of all, I never said I supported the project, I was just not jumping on the bandwagon. This was taken to be a full, unwavering support of the project. As I said in the post:

“These things are always more complicated than people want them to be. For the record, I think the project shouldn’t go ahead. It is amusing to me that people here have assumed that I am in favour of the project, as I never said anything of the sort.

What kind of sad world we live in where merely thinking through the consequences of actions instead of jumping on the bandwagon is seen as a bad thing.”

Along a slightly different theme, but no less ‘bandwagony’, is this example. This was posted in a closed group called Friendly Vegans in Melbourne, so you might not be able to see it. As a result, I have hidden the identities of the original poster and commenters.

Some friendly vegans

 

I really don’t have much to add here. But once again, refusing to jump on the bandwagon makes people think less of you. Go figure.

I will just say that this should in no way cause you to be against veganism, simply because some friendly vegans celebrate human suffering in specific circumstances.

Why you should NOT leave USA

By all accounts, it looks like a pretty sure bet that Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States of America. This has a lot of people worried. I don’t know what to make of such stories, but there are reports of the Canadian immigration site crashing and the borders of Mexico seeing increased traffic.

This article assumes that Trump being president is an overwhelmingly bad thing, relative to other candidates. This is not the topic of the article, and I won’t spend any time clarifying why this is the case, but a lot of clever people seem to agree. In any case, if you think Trump being president is a good thing, this article isn’t targeted at you.

I write to you – the worried individual and defender of a good world that is wondering if you should leave America or no longer visit.

I urge you – Don’t leave USA.

If you are the type of individual who would consider leaving or not going to USA because of the values held by its new president, then you are exactly the sort of person that America needs more of right now. How will we counter the insanity if all the good people leave? Now is not the time to leave USA full of Trump supporters.

These aren’t idle words written from afar – I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I have no intention of cancelling my extended research trip to California in 2017.

Do you think Trump will care or notice if you leave? What difference will that actually make? Instead, think about the impact you will have by increasing your involvement in civics.

What’s scarier than Trump being president? Trump being president twice. Leaving USA now literally increases the chances of Trump winning a second term. Don’t let that happen.

Edit: A good point was raised to me that I was overlooking concerns people have about their safety. I think this is very valid. I would just ask you to seriously weigh the added safety concerns against the reduced ability to make a difference by leaving.

How you should vote in the Australian federal election (to maximise wellbeing)

Multi-issue analyses of which party is the best one to vote for from an objective point of view are seriously lacking. In fact, we couldn’t find a single one for Australian parties in the lead up to the 2016 federal election, which prompted us to perform this research.

In this article, Hugo Burgin and myself have attempted an analysis of which of 6 parties are the best to preference, and what order they should be placed in, based on how their policies make the world a better place generally. That is to say, we have attempted to select the party that is ‘best’. We say ‘attempted’ because such analyses are incredibly complex (which is possibly why none exist), although we believe that some attempt at picking the best party is better than no attempt.

We intend to sway your opinion, though we ourselves are open to being swayed. If you believe we have erred in our analysis or missed something crucial, we want to know so we can change our analysis and our own vote. Thus, this will be a living document until the election. Please also leave any comments below that you believe are useful or add to the discussion.

The parties analysed are:

  • Liberal
  • Labor
  • Greens
  • Animal Justice Party
  • Science Party
  • Nick Xenophon Party

This is a long piece, and we suggest reading the policy by policy summaries or skipping to the conclusion if you are time poor (and trust us).

Important edit: There seems to have been a bit of confusion from some people about what we’re trying to prioritise here. A lot of questions have been of the nature “Well, it’s all well and good that some people care about animal issues, but I don’t, and you haven’t really convinced me that working on animal issues or foreign aid will increase the wellbeing of Australians.”

This kind of response misses the point. We have not chosen to focus on these issues solely because of the impact they have on humans. We chose to focus on animal issues because of the enormous impact they have on animals. We chose to focus on foreign aid because of the enormous impact they have on foreigners. We didn’t choose these issues just because of the impact they have on Australians (although both have positive flow on effects for Australians anyway, e.g. human health and climate change for animals, and international relations and security for foreign aid). Animals and foreigners alike can experience wellbeing just as Australians can, and so we should consider their wellbeing too when thinking about who to vote for.

Introduction

People often say that you’re unlikely to have any impact when voting, or that the impact of your vote is so small that it’s not worth thinking about, but this is only true if you only care about yourself. In Doing Good Better, Will MacAskill simplistically estimates that the expected value of voting for a US citizen, when spread out across all citizens in USA, is around $5,200 USD (~$7,000 AUD at the time of writing). That is to say, on average, $5,200 of the budget will be spent differently as a result of your vote (see the appendix for a more detailed explanation of why this is so). This means it’s very important to vote for the party that will spend the budget in the best way possible.

The impact of your vote on you personally, however, is worth significantly less than $1 (see the appendix). So unless you think you’re really, really important, you should probably vote for the best party for others in general. By the best way possible, we mean the way that will improve the happiness and wellbeing of humans and non-humans alike globally, which means we also consider things like foreign aid budgets.

Because of this exceptionally high value of voting, it’s worth spending a reasonable amount of time deciding who to vote for. In the lead up to the Australian federal election, we wanted to do this transparently. In addition, it seems reasonable to argue that, if one is pretty sure they know which party is the best, they should encourage other people to vote for them as well to maximise their impact. This is our attempt at doing so.

As we have said, if you disagree with anything we’re saying or our conclusions, we obviously want to know, because we’re trying to maximise our impact, so we urge you to tell us in the comments or contact us directly. This kind of analysis is exceptionally difficult because of the vast range of interrelating issues to cover, and we freely admit that this is not comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination. Also, policies can be changed, and promises can be broken, a fact which we’ve attempted to account for.  We’ve tried to break down policies into several key areas. There are also a lot of parties (57 total, not including independents), and we clearly haven’t covered them all. Please also let us know if a particular party is worth covering here. We do urge you to use rational, evidence backed responses where possible. If you disagree with, say, a left-wing policy or party, you should have a brief rationale for why that policy in particular is bad.

Please also let us know if you’ve changed who you’re voting for because of this work. We love measuring impact. If you agree with our recommendations, please share this to increase your impact even more. If you don’t, tell us why ASAP!

One more disclaimer: Whilst we have taken an Effective Altruist approach to this, the research and recommendations made here don’t necessarily represent the opinion of the Effective Altruism community in general, or of any organisations that we are affiliated with.

On voting generally

First, it’s important to understand how the Australian voting system works, especially since the rules for voting for the upper house have changed recently, so check out this video or this article.

So does this mean one should just vote for the party they wish was running the country? Not necessarily. Here is an example of where you wouldn’t do that. If there was a small/new party that focussed on a specific issue, you might assume rightly that they wouldn’t do a good job of running the country if they won the majority of seats. However, since they almost certainly won’t win a majority of seats, it could still be worth voting for them to try and get them a few seats so they can make progress towards that specific issue. As they gain popularity and funding, they might branch out into other issues in the future and gain the expertise necessary to cover all issues. So really we have to try and think about our marginal impact – “What is the impact of my individual vote?”

We also highly recommend you plan your vote before arriving to reduce the chance of you being swayed by a smiling face with a ‘how to vote’ card at the booths, or to make an uninformed decision due to pressure or forgetfulness. This is a tool to plan your senate vote.

To judge the parties, we use a utilitarian approach. That is, we pick the party that we believe will lead to the greatest wellbeing for the greatest number of individuals. We do this on a policy by policy basis, then attempt to weight these policies against each other to come up with a final recommendation. We have covered 3 broad policy areas which we believe are the most important for increasing wellbeing. These are:

  • Non-human animal policies
  • Foreign aid
  • Climate change

On to some policies.

Non-human animals

The amount of suffering experienced by (non-human) animals as a result of human activity is enormous, and probably many times greater than that experienced by humans. Around 60 billion land animals and 90 billion marine animals are killed annually (including by-catch from fishing this is argued to be over 1 trillion by some), most of which experience an enormous amount of suffering. If you care about animals close to as much as you care about humans (which most people do judging by the way they treat their pets, and which you should because they have a capacity for suffering and wellbeing that, while not equal to humans, is in the same ballpark), you should care about what your vote does for animals.

The issue of where to vote for non-human animals is complicated by the distinction between animal welfare (wellbeing vs. suffering) and animal rights (giving animals the right to not be exploited). I personally argue that the thing that we should be valuing for animals is wellbeing (or a lack of suffering). Giving animals the right to not be exploited might be the best pathway to this (or it might not be – there is still much debate here), but the fundamental goal should be to reduce animal suffering as much as possible.

No party has a primary policy of promoting or encouraging a vegan lifestyle (the closest to this is the Animal Justice Party). That is to say, most parties encourage reducing the suffering experienced by farmed animals rather than stopping them from being exploited in the first place. It is difficult to say whether welfare reforms make lives better or worse for animals in the long run. They arguably make them better in the short term, by improving their living and slaughter conditions, but they may make people more comfortable with exploitation, thus prolonging their use and therefore suffering. For the sake of recommending the best party for animals, we suggest that the party with the best intentions towards actually eliminating animal suffering for the sake of animals (not for any flow on effects to humans) will be more inclined to change their mind with new evidence in the future.

Liberal

The Liberal party does not have a formal animal policy, however they do have some policies that affect animal welfare. They propose a plan to ban the sale of new cosmetics tested on animals. They don’t support an Independent Office of Animal Welfare or an end to live exports. They advocate for a removal of tariffs on exports of dairy, beef and seafood, which is expected to increase the exploitation and suffering of animals.

Labor

labor animals

http://www.farmweekly.com.au/news/agriculture/general/politics/alp-animal-welfare-policy-slammed/2752727.aspx

Labor, like Liberal, advocate for a removal of tariffs on exports of dairy, beef and seafood.

Greens

Despite having a detailed animal welfare policy, the Greens don’t advocate veganism or a push towards encouraging veganism to reduce animal use. Instead, they focus on increased regulation and legislation to protect animals from suffering, including:

  • “An end to cruel or unnecessary use of animals for teaching and research purposes” (as argued by Gary Francione in Rain Without Thunder, there is reason to mistrust the use of ‘cruel’ or ‘unnecessary’, as all research can be argued to be necessary)
  • “Make any act of animal cruelty subject to criminal penalties”
  • “Regulate conditions for the captivity, transport and slaughter of animals”
  • End the “export of live animals for consumptive purposes”
  • “The establishment of an independent national regulatory body to provide national oversight and coordination of animal welfare”

Despite the overarching party policy, we suggest that voting for certain senate candidates within the Greens over others may be effective. For example, from conversations with senator candidate Jody Moate (SA), she is interested in supporting pro-vegan campaigns despite the Greens themselves not explicitly supporting them. Senator candidate Lee Rhiannon (NSW) appears to support similar campaigns for reasons of animal suffering, public health burden and climate change. We suggest that preferencing Moate, who is not the primary candidate for Greens in SA, might be an impactful thing to do.

AJP

The Animal Justice Party have a large number of policies relating to animals. In summary:

  • AJP claim to advocate a plant based diet (their candidates must all be vegan or vegetarian), but it does not appear to be a key policy, or well planned for how this will happen
  • AJP is open to supporting cultured meat, which is expected to be a positive, but there are currently no strong policies in place to do so
  • AJP advocates an end to live animal exports
  • AJP appears to be against animal experimentation as it is misleading to extrapolate animal testing results to humans. As an interim, they advocate for reducing the suffering of animals in research.

Science Party

The Science Party has a number of policies relating to animal welfare, including:

  • Supporting in vitro meat (lab meat) production to reduce animal use
  • Establishing an Independent Office for Animal Welfare
  • Restricting (but not eliminating) live exports
  • Ending the use of battery cages and sow stalls
  • Improving regulation around animal use in racing (but not necessary abolishing it)
  • Improving food labelling
  • “The Science Party supports the use of animals for scientific and research purposes.”

Nick Xenophon Party

The Nick Xenophon Party does not have an animal welfare policy, but support strict controls on live animal exports, and prefer that meat is processed in Australia and exported chilled.

Conclusion

It appears that no party is currently advocating for a reduction in animal suffering as much as they could be, though this could be a strategic move (too hardline a stance may mean losing votes). In terms of perceived intentions towards non-human animals and promises, we recommend the preferencing Animal Justice Party first, followed by Greens, then (closely) followed by the Science Party, followed by the Nick Xenophon Party/Labor then Liberal last.

Also, a brief summary of animal policies for 21 parties is available here.

Foreign aid

One of the areas where the value of your vote may have the largest impact is within Australia’s contribution towards overseas aid. Taking a snapshot of current figures, Australia currently spends $5.03 billion dollars on foreign aid, amounting 0.32% of our countries gross national income (GNI).

Liberal

The policies found on the Liberal Party of Australia’s website contain no mention of contributions to foreign aid. However, recent plans by the Coalition are to progressively reduce this figure by almost a third to 0.22% of NDI placing Australian foreign aid at its lowest level for 60 years, while most other developed nationals contribute close to four times this amount. Additionally, during their most recent term the Liberals have introduced performance benchmarks for national aid programs, incorporated AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and prioritised aid spending such that the priority of foreign aid expenditure shall be ‘Australia’s national interest’. The benchmarks are expected to be a positive, as they come with claims of being more outcome oriented.

Labor

A mark above the Liberals, the ALP is supposedly dedicated to “Tackling inequality and disadvantage”. Their policies include an immediate reversal of the $224 million cut to overseas aid outlined within the most recent budget including the on-going investment of $40 million a year to help Australian Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) deliver frontline service to some of the world’s poorest communities. All up, over a four-year period the ALP claim, that if elected they will provide around $800 million more for overseas aid that the Liberals. Additionally if elected Labor would improve the overall effectiveness of Australia’s overseas aid programs, legislating for transparency and accountability. We feel it is important to note that, whilst providing a more comprehensive approach to foreign aid on paper, as with the Liberals the ALP have a history of reducing Australia’s foreign aid contribution.

Greens

The standout of the major three parties when it comes to investment in foreign aid is the Greens. With a number of policies ranging from assisting developing nations affected by climate change through re-settling and re-housing to the promoting of debt cancelling schemes for developing economies where debt re-payment results in increasing poverty. Additionally the Greens want to see: an increase to a foreign aid contribution of 0.7% GDI (on par with the UK and other western nations), transparency and accountability in the purpose of all Australian aid programs, non-commercial aid programs and the establishment of AusAID as an independent department with its own dedicated cabinet minister. On top of these is the Greens policy to preference multilateral trade agreements, except where bi-lateral agreements may favour a developing country. Please visit the Greens website for a more comprehensive view of their foreign aid policies.

Science Party

The Science Party want to see an increase in Australia’s humanitarian intake in proportion to other migration schemes. This includes additional places in the short term allocate to recognised refugees from Malaysia and Indonesia to reduce smuggling.

The Nick Xenophon Party

The Nick Xenophon Party provides no policy regarding to foreign aid on their website.

The Animal Justice Party

The Animal Justice Party believe in a compassionate approach to migrants and refugees while keeping the home grown component of our population growth at or below zero.

Conclusion

Once again, we are assuming that increasing Australia’s foreign aid and its overall effort to assist developing countries is a good thing. Based on policy alone the recommendation here is to place The Greens 1, ALP and Science Party 2 or 3, Animal Justice Party 4, NXP 5 and the Liberals 6.

Climate change

While climate change is a highly important issue, I think several other issues (e.g. those listed above) are more pressing and have a larger impact on wellbeing, even after considering flow on effects.

Liberal

Liberals support a Renewable Energy Target at 23% of Australia’s total energy use by 2020. They support a transition to clean energy through the $1 billion Clean Energy Innovation Fund and $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund. They claim they will double renewable energy in Australia over the next 4 years. And Liberal have a target of reducing emissions by up to 28% by 2030 based on 2005 levels. These are modest targets, but are low compared to the other parties.

Labor

Labor have promised that at least 50% of Australia’s electricity production will be sourced from renewable energy by 2030. They will expand the investment mandate of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, provide $206.6m to ARENA to support solar thermal, establish a Community Power Network and Regional hubs ($98.7m over 4 years), implement an electricity emissions trading scheme and reinvigorate the Carbon Farming Initiative.

Greens

The Greens want a net zero or negative greenhouse gas emissions in Australia within a generation.

The Greens don’t support natural gas, which I believe is a mistake, due to its proven ability to reduce emissions in USA (Full disclosure, I have previously worked at an oil and gas company, and currently hold shares in several). They also don’t support nuclear energy, which on the whole is expected to have prevented significantly more deaths than it has caused. To put things into perspective, nuclear is expected to have killed less people per unit energy produced than wind and solar.

AJP

The Animal Justice Party have the following key objectives for climate change; to transform to a carbon free infrastructure, to allow reforestation by reducing grazing animal agriculture, to prohibit the expansion of fossil fuel industries, to implement a carbon tax for both coal and animal agriculture, to direct carbon taxes towards a number of climate change solutions, and to protect existing forests and marine habitats in general.

AJP also recommend that natural gas be phased out over the next 15-20 years.

Science Party

The Science Party support carbon pricing mechanisms as their primary solution for climate change. They propose that more work needs to be done on mitigation and adaptation, and fund increased research for geoengineering (with the caveat that no major geoengineering will actually be undertaken until thorough research on its safety has been undertaken).

They propose zero net carbon emissions from electricity generation by 2030 and have plans to support this, and will seek to end all subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. They also propose small scale nuclear power generation to take place in Australia as a trial, with the plan to scale this up if successful. They also seek to support research on nuclear fusion. The Science Party propose some policies to improve animal welfare (discussed below), but do not recognise the role that large scale animal agriculture plays in climate change.

Nick Xenophon Party

The Nick Xenophon Party support a 50% renewable energy target by 2030. They have been against wind energy in the past for ungrounded fears about the health implications, but not without other good reasons.

Conclusion

To simplify this analysis, we suggest that, all else being equal, reducing the effects of climate change on humans and in general is a good thing. On this issue specifically, the Science Party and the Animal Justice Party have the most ambitious targets, but don’t have a proven political track record of effecting this change. The Greens have an operational track record, however support neither nuclear energy, natural gas or a reduction of livestock related emissions. Labor appears to have more ambitious policies than Liberal. The tentative recommendation here is to put AJP and Science Party 1 or 2, Greens 3, Labor 4, NXP 5 and Liberal 6.

Existential risk

The impact a political party has on the likelihood of human extinction, even if very small, probably dominates all of the other factors (see this site for an explanation of why). Having said that, the impact of policies and parties on X-risk is significantly more uncertain than on other categories.

Increased research into the likelihood and potential solutions to X-risk concerns are likely to be the best way to have an impact in this issue, but no party to our knowledge is either for or against this work.

It seems likely that increasing international ties and cooperation/collaboration will reduce the chances of catastrophic extinction. Increasing foreign aid is a possible way of doing this, which has been discussed above.

It is expected that certain trade-related policies or other foreign relations policies could be a good way to increase (or decrease) international collaboration, but an analysis of these policies were beyond the scope of this draft due to time considerations, and the authors are very open to suggestions here.

Final recommendation

We have clearly missed out a lot of important categories, and haven’t addressed the economic, political or social viability of any of the policies (the likelihood they will be implemented successfully). This was meant to be a more extensive project but due to the number of people involved and time availability, it fell short. From this limited analysis, however, we tentatively suggest voting in the upper and lower house in the following order:

  1. Greens
  2. Science Party/Animal Justice Party
  3. Labor
  4. Nick Xenophon Party
  5. Liberal

A suggestion has been made that, since the Animal Justice Party and Science Party are unlikely to elect many or any members, despite being ranked 2/3 you should still list them 1/2 and Greens 3. If a party receives at least 4% of ‘1’ votes, they receive extra funding for every ‘1’ vote. Further, if the AJP or Science Party don’t win, the vote will just go to the Greens. We think this is a valid way of strategic voting, and so would suggest voting Science Party or AJP 1, followed by the other and Greens, even though we think the Greens party has a more comprehensive and better overall policy than the Science Party and AJP.

Also, to be clear, this is a relative listing. That is to say, we think Labor is better than Liberal, but we don’t necessarily think they should be your 4th and 6th preference. We think that there are likely many more parties not covered here that are better than Liberal, and that you should probably these parties above them to minimise the chances of a Liberal member being elected.

This ranking is based qualitatively on the following ranking system of policies in terms of relative importance.

  • 1 – Existential risk
  • 2 – Non-human animals
  • 3 – Foreign aid
  • 4 – Climate change

You might note that a discussion of ‘jobs’ is broadly lacking. This is because we believe that, relative to the other issues here, jobs per se aren’t a particularly important policy. This is sure to rustle some feathers, so for a brief analysis of why we think this is the case, please see the appendix.

Not all of these parties have candidates in each state. If you are unable to vote for a party recommended here, we suggest simply moving to the next on the list. If there are other parties that you think would benefit humans and animals generally, we would recommend placing them between the Animal Justice Party and the Nick Xenophon Party. Please also tell us about them in the comments.

Thanks to those who reviewed early versions of this work and provided useful input.

To get in touch either leave a comment or send me an email at mdello@hotmail.com.

A lot of people have been quick to criticise me of being biased. This is possible, but for what it’s worth, I am not a member or volunteer of any political party (nor have I ever been, I make a point to not get involved to retain partiality), and I have changed my personally preferred party several times since starting this analysis.

Appendix – The value of voting

The estimate of the value of voting being $5,200 USD as calculated by MacAskill is briefly described here.

Political analyst Nate Silver, Professor Andrew Gelman (Statistics) and Professor Aaron Edlin (Law) calculated that the odds of an individual changing the outcome of the 2008 USA presidential election was, on average, around 1 in 60 million, which is a low probability, but we have to also look at the potential impact.

Estimating simplistically that the benefit per person of the $3.5 trillion annual US budget being spent 2.5% more effectively ($1,000 per person per 4 year election term), the benefit that you would expect to receive personally over an election term based on your vote is 0.0016 cents. However, looking at the benefit received by all Americans ($1,000 multiplied by 314 million), the expected value of voting is $5,200 ($314 billion of value multiplied by a 1 in 60 million chance of swaying the outcome).

This is further simplified by the fact that the policies of parties aren’t always opposite, and there is significant overlap, however it does demonstrate that the value of one person voting, when spread over the population of a country, can be big.

Appendix – The value of jobs

The number of unemployed Australians as of August 2015 was just over 800,000, or around 6.3 %. A target of spending part of the budget on ‘jobs’* might be to bring unemployment to 4% (the lowest it’s been since at least 1980), a lofty goal indeed. Let’s now suppose that the government spends $20 billion of the budget in making this happen. Therefore they will have created one job per $68,478**. And let’s now that having a job increases an Australians’ wellbeing by double.

For a comparison, the world’s top rated charity focusing on poverty/global health, the Against Malaria Foundation, can save a life for around $4,000 AUD. That’s 17 times cheaper than the job creation. And these lives saved tend to last a while, whereas jobs are often lost again quite quickly (national average tenure in a job is around 7 years). While AMF is an exceptional charity, and many charities are orders of magnitude less effective, this example should at least highlight that foreign aid (let alone the two policies listed above it in importance) is arguably much more impactful than a focus on ‘jobs’***.

*In reality governments tend not to spend money just on ‘jobs’, but jobs come about as part of other spending which might be focused on jobs.

**A point was made that, if you come at this analysis from another direction, and argue that one could create a job if given $X, you could arrive at a similar answer to our estimate.

***We also recognise that there are flow-on effects of ‘jobs’, but there are flow-on effects for everything, and so we have ignored them to simplify our analysis.

Edit history

Edit 1 (8:20 pm, 28/06) – After reassessing the individual policy recommendations, we adjusted the final recommendations from Science Party 1, Greens/AJP 2/3, NXP/Labor 4/5, Liberal 6; to Greens 1, Science Party/AJP 2/3, Labor 4, NXP 5, Liberal 6.

Edit 2 (3 pm, 29/06) – Several miscellaneous points added.