Effective altruism in 1400
A loyal MR reader writes to me:
If you taught the principles of effective altruism to a rich person in (say) 1400, what would they have thought was the most effective thing to do with their money? What was in fact the most effective thing they could have done?
I say send some money to Henry IV. On the year 1400 Wikipedia notes:
January – Henry IV of England quells the Epiphany Rising and executes the Earls of Kent, Huntingdon and Salisbury and the Baron le Despencer for their attempt to have Richard II restored as king.
England and the Industrial Revolution seemed to have worked out OK, and besides the Henriad provides some of Shakespeare’s most profound work, Orson Welles too.
I think you can see the problem.
But what would a rational Effective Altruist have thought at the time? How about revising those early versions of the Poor Laws?
Alternatively, 1400 also was the year Chaucer died, and he was a pretty smart guy. Since he worked for Henry’s father and was close to him, he might have given good advice, if only for self-interested reasons. But who in 1400 was the best or most logical representative of Effective Altruism? The theologian Alan of Lynn? He might have told you to invest the money in making indexes of books, which seemed to be his main interest. Jean Gerson, if one looks to France for a thought leader, focused his energies to reconciling the Great Schism in the papacy. Good idea or bad? As Zhou Enlai said…