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What is the general EA view on intellectual property rights? Based on the downvotes I get for advocating TRIPs waivers for vaccines, there are at least some on the forum who value IP rights. Why? What is the rationale?

First and foremost, I don't want to characterize EAs in general. However, that being said, my personal views on IP rights is derived from basic microeconomics: if you can't patent/etc. your inventions, then someone else can come along and copy whatever it is you spent time and money developing—and sell it at a cheaper cost since they didn't have to pay for most of the research and development. In some cases you might plausibly still be able to make some money, but in many cases the original inventor will struggle to pay off their R&D costs. 
And no return on investment = no initial investment (unless it was a purely charitable endeavor) = no product.

yes, I agree EAs have different opinions; I was seeking to understand the one I do not follow. Maybe asking for the "general" EA view was the wrong phrasing.

Your reply explains well why an individual or small organization might want to protect patent rights to capitalize, or at the very least preserve investment, to allow for future R&D. 

Where I cannot understand the purpose of securing IP rights, is in situations where there is philanthropic money to fund the R&D.  If philanthropists fund the original R&D, then "someone else can come along and copy whatever it is you spent time and money developing—and sell it at a cheaper cost since they didn't have to pay for most of the research and development", which would ultimately provide the product to more people at a lesser cost. 

The other situation I don't understand the protection of IP rights is for the transnational pharmaceutical corporations in pandemics. Vaccines seem to be the most equitable and effective means (vs closures, restricted travel and trade, or the alternative, unmitigated spread of disease) to save lives and shorten pandemics. While the rapid R&D of mRNA vaccines must have been expensive, the major vaccine producers received public and donated funds for their development, via PPP. Pfizer reported revenue for 2021 of double the prior year, primarily due to vaccine revenue. Their R&D was both funded up front, and presumably recouped.  At what level of profit should lives take precedence? 

I don't have much experience with philanthropic R&D+patenting situations, but one potential reason for that would be to at least partially mitigate the investment costs, allowing  the philanthropic investor to also invest the money in other fields. In this sense, even some modest degree of profit (~4%) might be socially optimal. However, it's true that any investor in such a situation needs to consider the costs and benefits carefully--and especially in situations where, for example, someone else could contribute with manufacturing innovations to reduce manufacturing costs, I think such a philanthropic investor probably should discuss the situation with the manufacturer to get more information.

As to why it might be justified in some circumstances to make some profit:

  • Profit can be reinvested later/elsewhere to save other lives: Obviously, I don't think "profit" in a purely selfish, monetary sense should take precedence over lives. However, a philanthropic investor may be able to turn some profit into life-saving (or otherwise beneficial) innovations in the future, in which case it's not about money vs. lives, it's about [money which may be used to save future lives] vs. saving lives right now.
  • Philanthropic-investment obligations: I think there are also a few investment situations/organizations that basically are semi-charitable, in that they tell investors something like "You shouldn't invest in us if you want to make a serious profit, but we will try to break even while also maximizing wellbeing with your investment," in which case it might be a matter of [breaking your promises to stakeholders which results in you getting less money that can be used to save future lives] vs. saving lives right now.

Ultimately, I think it's important to evaluate things on a case-by-case basis, and I certainly am not categorically opposed to patents, and I believe that in some cases it might seem like the best thing to do would be to ignore IP/patent restrictions, but that would actually lead to long term harms which outweigh the short term gains.

Global health policy is neglected EA-aligned work. This post is short because the attachment is long; if you read the whole article, and disagree that global health policy work is useful, I am interested to hear your reasons. 

The political origins of health inequity: prospects for change

GiveWell have looked into Global Health regulation - see more here:

Their assessment seems to be three small policy spheres, rather than global health policy, which is larger in scale. 

You have an interesting idea; if socialist theories have a lot in common with EA thinkers, but have consistently failed, can EA create/devise a governance system that works better? Maybe this is a rhetorical question, but I would sure love to hear from EAs who know history and politics better than I do.  From my perspective also as a non-historian, the failures seem to have been in the leadership.

How is effective altruism compatible with capitalism? 

Why would it not be?

I understood effective altruism is about doing the most good for the most people (sentient beings). The purpose of capitalism is control of industry by private owners, for profit.  I cannot reconcile the two purposes if fairness/equity is considered. 

As far as I know, no large-scale economic system has ever existed that made a serious attempt (to the extent that a system can "attempt" anything) to maximize human wellbeing. Every large-scale economic system hurts a lot of people in the course of its operation. Thus, asking whether EA is "compatible" with any economic system is a bit like asking whether EA is "compatible" with a particular religion — no religion has a credo that perfectly matches EA's, and EA and religion just don't overlap in a lot of places. 

I'd think of it this way: You can reconcile EA with religion if you focus on the parts of your religion that are about doing good for other people. You can reconcile EA with being a Democrat if you support Democratic politicians whose policies seem evidence-based and highly impactful. You can reconcile EA with capitalism if you engage in business in a way that makes life better for people who deal with you. You can reconcile EA with socialism if you push for socialistic policies that have strong evidence backing their tendency to improve human welfare (or something like that). But EA is defined as "trying to do as much good as possible for other people", and nothing else is defined in quite the same way — no religion, no political party, and no economic system.

In a practical sense, there are lots of capitalistic projects in the EA community that make use of market forces to generate good outcomes — Wave, which has vastly improved the banking system in Senegal and garnered massive popular support from the citizens of that country (who are quite happy to do business with them), may be the most prominent example.

Does any of this answer part of your question?

It does. I am impressed.

I only have issue with the semantics of your first sentence. I would suggest no large-scale economic system has ever existed that was successful at maximizing human wellbeing; I think socialist ideals intend to maximize human welfare, but have always failed in implementation. I might say the same for the great religions, though, excellent analogy. 

Thank you for taking the time. 

I'm glad this was helpful!

You may be right on the semantics. Rather than attributing intent to a system, I should have said "no large-scale system whose implementers were seriously trying to maximize wellbeing". Even at the beginning of well-intentioned socialist revolutions, it seems like state economic control typically led to a focus on military buildup, or disastrous economic policies, or other things that weren't done with general welfare in mind. Socialist theorists often had a lot in common with EA thinkers, but the failures of implementation/failure to take economic evidence seriously meant that the theory didn't get very far.

(Caveat: This is a very un-nuanced take from a non-historian.)

(Appreciate you taking the time to respond so well.)

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