Longtermist institutional reform

Abstract

In all probability, future generations will outnumber us by thousands or millions to one. In the aggregate, their interests therefore matter enormously, and anything we can do to steer the future of civilization onto a better trajectory is of tremendous moral importance. This is the guiding thought that defines the philosophy of longtermism. Political science tells us that the practices of most governments are at stark odds with longtermism. But the problems of political short-termism are neither necessary nor inevitable. In principle, the state could serve as a powerful tool for positively shaping the long-term future. In this chapter, we make some suggestions about how to align government incentives with the interests of future generations. First, in Section II, we explain the root causes of political short-termism. Then, in Section III, we propose and defend four institutional reforms that we think would be promising ways to increase the time horizons of governments: 1) government research institutions and archivists; 2) posterity impact assessments; 3) futures assemblies; and 4) legislative houses for future generations. Section IV concludes with five additional reforms that are promising but require further research: to fully resolve the problem of political short-termism we must develop a comprehensive research program on effective longtermist political institutions.