I wrote about SBF, MacAskill, and EA for The Hindu.
SBF’s Future Fund donated $36.5 million to Effective Ventures, a charity chaired by friend and mentor MacAskill. It is unclear what the basis of this donation was. Was there a randomised, controlled trial (RCT) to decide if this was the best use of the money? More to the point, can any scientific study speak to the means through which the money was earned in the first place? Things get messier still. MacAskill was an ‘unpaid’ adviser to Future Fund, a post from which he claims to have resigned. But most would insist that $36.5 million was, in fact, paid. In the wake of the collapse, MacAskill has distanced himself from SBF. In a series of tweets, the philosopher declared that effective altruism is not above common sense moral constraints. Avoiding conflicts of interest, it would appear, is not one of them.
In any case, the fact that MacAskill failed to spot SBF’s conceit despite a 10-year long association, is deeply damaging to him. Why should we take his views on existential threats facing humanity that he calls to our attention in his latest book What We Owe The Future with any seriousness? If MacAskill cannot predict threats to his own near-term future, namely, the threat associating with SBF posed to his own reputation and the effective altruism movement, how well can he estimate, much less affect, the million-year prospects of humanity?
I also tease a counter model for 'charity' based on recognising beneficiaries of charity as people:
Shanti Bhavan, a below K-12 boarding school in Baliganapalli, admits 30 students from poor backgrounds every year and supports their learning up to university. At the end of their 17-year engagement with the school, a remarkable 97% of these kids find full-time employment. A year-long sponsorship of a child here costs $2,000. The alternative to effective altruism is a techie from, say, Chennai sponsoring a child in this school over delivering 4,000 deworming treatments in Kenya for the same cost. Not based on notions of effectiveness but because the techie’s own son and the child she sponsors might become friends.