Update 12/2/22: Dustin Moskovitz himself has commented.
The title is sort of self-explanatory. Should we arrange for an independent investigator to look into Dustin Moskovitz’s fortune, to try to ensure that the money is morally legitimate and stable? I’m sure other people have brought this up, I think I’ve seen a couple comments like this, and it is an obvious place to look in the wake of the FTX collapse, as Moskovitz is our current biggest funder by a long shot. That said, I haven’t seen it very prominently featured in a forum post yet, and I’ve kept fairly close tabs on the forum. I'm anxious that it has been brought up or there is some obvious reason it shouldn’t be done that hasn’t occurred to me yet, but I’m very busy right now, so I’m throwing this together just to raise (or reraise) the point, on the logic that doing so is at least better than nothing. These hesitations, however, have convinced me to post this as a question rather than its own positive post. Some possible objections that have occurred to me:
This is a double standard, no one else does it and we shouldn’t have to: I think the first part of this at least is very likely true. I think that Tyler Cowen or various Bernie Sanders fans will wind up looking fairly foolish if it turns out that Peter Thiel or Ben Cohen have been engaged in some sort of major fraud, given how they have implied we failed at our due diligence. I don’t think either group is going to incredible lengths to prevent the same thing being as likely to happen on their ends. I think this is just broadly true, that whoever criticizes us, there is probably some major cause area or movement they are invested in, that is funded by rich people who aren’t undergoing much actual scrutiny. All this seems true to me, but it might not be. More importantly, I think it's irrelevant. Perhaps it is relevant to outsiders who are trying to figure out how much to raise or lower EA’s status in their heads relative to other movements, but we are EAs, our job, from the inside, is to just do the work. However hypocritical the accusations of various critics might be, they tend to be true in an absolute sense. Considering how much is at stake, it is worth a non-trivial amount of EA time and money to make sure the community is healthy. This absolute point, and not some relative one, is what EAs should be worrying about. If in the process of doing as well as we can we are rising above the sanity waterline, so much the worse for the current sanity waterline.
This is hindsight bias: I am more worried about this, and I think many people are now either focusing too much on EA problems that specifically connect to this one catastrophe, or are dubiously reframing their own favorite EA criticisms in terms of this crisis in order to get some boost from it. That said, if we decide to do only one thing in the wake of the FTX crash that is inspired by it, this seems like the blatantly obvious, low-hanging one to do. It may be unlikely, but imagine how much we’ll be kicking ourselves if five years pass, and Moskovitz turns out to have been a second SBF. It will look so stupid in retrospect that we didn’t do the bare minimum to get off the tracks of the train that just ran us over. I think that obsessing over the minutia of what exactly went wrong with SBF’s fall from grace on the EA forum is hindsight bias. Applying some general outside scrutiny to Moskovitz is just the sensible productive take away.
We should be applying scrutiny to someone else, like Holden Karnofsky: People who run the major orgs billionaires are donating to often have more granular say over funds than the actual funders, Karnofsky, for instance, has arguably had more impact on how Moskovitz’s money is distributed than Moskovitz himself. I don’t mean for this post to be exhaustive of who should face more scrutiny, but I do think there is an important difference here. If it turns out that Karnofsky is a fraudster, but Moskovitz is squeaky clean, he can just pull the funds from Karnofsky. The damage that was done can’t be undone, but it is isn’t too hard to move forward without Karnofsky from there. I think it might be worse if we miss Moskovitz being a fraud than if we miss Karnofsky being a fraud.
We shouldn’t take out SBF’s misdeeds on Moskovitz: I think this one is probably one of the biggest reasons there hasn’t been more discussion of this. Just the title of this post looks like an accusation, and SBF gave me no more reason to be suspicious of Moskovitz than I already had. I don’t want EA to eat itself alive over this, and I think Moskovitz is probably not a fraud. But he doesn’t have to be for some basic housekeeping to be a good idea. It wouldn’t surprise me if Moskovitz would even agree with this, and would happily submit to the examination. EA is a high trust environment, possibly too high trust. When it became increasingly clear to me that SBF was a sham, it hit me like a personal betrayal, and I now feel like anyone could be next. It is worth keeping in mind that what happened with SBF was super weird and sudden, nothing quite like his fall has happened before. EA should introspect, but to some extent, this happening to us has a component of just stupendously bad luck to it. We should keep this in mind when we move forward, and not overshoot into paranoia. I want to be abundantly clear that this post is not a call for paranoia, and we shouldn’t treat a commonsense audit like a criminal trial.
So those are some beginning thoughts, does anyone else have anything to contribute? Any objections or suggestions? Any beginnings of work along these lines?