Longtermist Institutional Reform

N. Cargill & T. John (Eds.), The Long View: Essays on Policy, Philanthropy, and the Long-term Future

LPP Working Paper No. 4-2021

17 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2021 Last revised: 8 Nov 2022

See all articles by Tyler John

Tyler John

Rutgers University, New Brunswick

William MacAskill

University of Oxford - Faculty of Philosophy

Date Written: September 1, 2021


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 civilisation 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 programme on effective longtermist political institutions.

Keywords: longtermism, institutional reform

JEL Classification: H11, K30

Suggested Citation

John, Tyler and MacAskill, William, Longtermist Institutional Reform (September 1, 2021). N. Cargill & T. John (Eds.), The Long View: Essays on Policy, Philanthropy, and the Long-term Future, LPP Working Paper No. 4-2021, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3933657

Tyler John (Contact Author)

Rutgers University, New Brunswick ( email )

New Brunswick, NJ
United States

William MacAskill

University of Oxford - Faculty of Philosophy ( email )

10 Merton Street
Oxford OX1 4JJ
United Kingdom

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