Cause X Guide

by Joey 3mo1st Sep 20192 min read35 comments


One of the factors that makes the effective altruism movement different from so many others is that its members are unified by the broad question “How can I do the most good” instead of by specific solutions, such as “reduce climate change.” One of the most important questions EAs need to consider is what cause area presents the highest impact for their work.

There are four established cause areas in effective altruism: global poverty, factory-farmed animals, artificial intelligence existential risk, and EA meta. However, there are dozens of other cause areas that some EAs consider promising. The concept behind a “cause X” is that there could be a cause neglected by the EA community but that is as important, or more important, to work on than the four currently established EA cause areas. Finding a new cause X should be one of the biggest goals of the EA movement and one of the largest opportunities for an individual EA to achieve counterfactual impact.

One example of many of cause X’s posts having an impact is that some of these posts have influenced Charity Entrepreneurship’s focus on mental health. The Cause X discussion has also influenced one of the largest foundations in the world, Good Ventures.

This guide, however, aims to compile the most useful content for evaluating new possible cause Xs and compare them to the currently established top cause areas. Some of the content is old, and some of it does not perfectly address its question. However, these were the best sources I could find to debate and explain the issues. This guide is aimed at an intermediate EA audience who already has a solid understanding of EA ideas.

The guide is broken down into three sections. The introduction aims to explain the concepts needed to compare cause areas such as “Cause X,” “How a new cause area might be introduced to the EA community,” “Current methods used to split resources between causes,” and “Concerns with some of those methodologies.” The second section is focused on comparing top causes and reviewing some of the key issues that divide current supporters of the big four cause areas. The final section aims to present several possible candidates for cause X as new areas worth considering. It is only a small sample of the full list of causes presented and considered in the EA movement, but they were selected to represent the areas (other than the big four) that many EAs would consider promising. I used three different methods to devise a list of 15 cause areas that might be considered promising candidates for cause X, selecting five causes per method.

Method 1: Cause areas among the top ten listed on the EA survey
Method 2: Cause areas endorsed by two or more major EA organizations
Method 3: Cause profiles or pitches with 50 or more upvotes on the EA Forum

This guide aims to be a resource wherein cause Xs can be noticed, read about, and more deeply considered. There are hundreds of ways to make the world a better place. Given the EA movement’s relative youth and frequently unsystematic way of reviewing cause areas, there is ample room for more consideration and research. The goal of the guide is for more people to consider a wider range of cause areas so we, as a movement, have a better chance of finding new and impactful ways to do good.

Cause X guide content

-Four focus areas of EA
-EA cause selection
-World view diversification
-Cause X
-What if you’re working on the wrong cause?
-EA representativeness
-How to get a cause into EA

Comparing top causes
-Animals > Humans
-Humans > Animals
-Long-term future > Near-term future
-Near-term future > Long-term future
-Meta > Direct
-Direct > Meta

New causes one could consider.
-Mental health
-Climate change
-Nuclear war
-Wild animal suffering
-Meta science research
-Improving institutional decision making
-Immigration reform
-Government policy
-Moral circle expansion
-Pain in the developing world
-Coal fires

If this guide is helpful to a lot of people, I will update or deepen the key posts or connect them better to make a more comprehensive PDF handbook. We will also keep a copy of this guide on Charity Entrepreneurship’s website here so it is easier for people to find in the future.