BR Blog

July 31, 2015 Effective Altruism, Continued: On Measuring Impact Hauke Hillebrandt

Photograph: International Organization for Migration.

The debate on effective altruism continues. Here Hauke Hillebrandt, Director of Research at Giving What We Can, responds to Emily Clough's essay on the political impact of NGOs

For more debate on the forum, read Rwanda's Minister of Health Agnes Binagwaho's response to Angus Deaton. Read Deaton's reply here.

We at Giving What We Can would like to thank Emily Clough for her thoughtful response. We constantly strive to update our beliefs on the basis of new evidence, and so we welcome criticism of both the ideas behind effective altruism as well as the practical matter of which charities we recommend. It is particularly valuable to hear the thoughts of scholars of...

July 27, 2015 Claudia Rankine on Radio Open Source

Listen above to Claudia Rankine on Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon. The conversation was sponsored by Boston Review.

In the time of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston, the poet Claudia Rankine has been the lyric teller of our deepest hurt. Her new book, Citizen: An American Lyric, was a best-seller and something of a lifeline this year, mapping America’s racial traumas—from the Katrina travesty (2005) to the death of Trayvon Martin (2012) and the now-and-then travails of Serena Williams.

Rankine says that American life is made of these moments when race gets us “by the throat.” Only some are nationally noted tragedies. The rest: millions of episodes between friends and loved ones, errors of human interaction, when “citizens” of...

July 24, 2015 GMOs Are Safe—So Let's Label Them Simon Waxman


Yesterday the House of Representatives found itself with a surprising group of allies: scientists. Discarding the know-nothing posture it has perfected in debates over climate change, contraception, abortion, research funding, and just about every other issue implicating scientific reasoning, the body sided with the overwhelming majority of scientists in acknowledging the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for human consumption. The House voted to ban state requirements that food companies affix special labels to products containing genetically modified ingredients.

As Pamela Ronald, a plant biologist at the University of California, Davis and author of Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food (2008), wrote in a September 2013 Boston Review forum, the genetically engineered foods on the market

are as safe to eat and safe for the environment as organic or conventional foods. That is the conclusion reached by...

July 22, 2015 Desegregation Is Not Intolerable Social Engineering Simon Waxman

Children playing in Chicago. Image: Art L.

It came as no surprise when, earlier this month, conservatives responded to a new desegregation initiative with the charge of social engineering.

Under Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rules unveiled in Chicago on July 8, localities will have to show the federal government how they use its money to integrate housing. The goal is to improve the quality of housing in low-income areas and to encourage the construction of affordable housing in higher-income ones, ultimately leading to greater racial integration than existing law has achieved.

On cue, the American Enterprise Institute’s Edward Pinto told the New York Times, “This is just the latest attempt by HUD to social-engineer the American people.” He said the same thing the last time the Obama administration attempted to foster integration through HUD efforts, in 2013. Two years earlier, a Westchester County executive made the...

July 16, 2015 Reply to Dr. Agnes Binagwaho Angus Deaton

Editor's Note: Angus Deaton replies here to Rwanda's Health Minister, Agnes Binagwaho, who discusses Deaton's response to our most recent forum, "The Logic of Effective Altruism."

Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, firing off in all directions, misses her target. I am not a racist, and that she would stoop to such libel only highlights the weakness of her case, indeed the absence of any argument at all. And her fury has blinded her to the logic of my argument.

My target is not the Rwandan people, nor even Paul Kagame; I have no doubt that Rwandan parents love their children, and that the improvements in health and healthcare in Rwanda are a good thing. Dr. Binagwaho can be justifiably proud of her part in this. I did not argue that Rwandans do not want good health, nor that Rwanda would be more democratic if it neglected its basic needs. No one in their right mind would ever make such claims, certainly not I. The attack on Kagame is general, not personal: autocrats without accountability to their citizens face no constraints to behave well and have no structural incentives to do good things for their people.

My targets, in addition to Peter Singer’s dangerous endorsement...