Edited to add (Nov. 13): based on continuing to follow coverage of this situation, I now think it’s very likely that FTX engaged in outrageous, unacceptable fraud. I am furious at the behavior of FTX leadership. I’m going to take some time to reflect on what this means for effective altruism and the effective altruist community. I’m not sure whether or when I will write up more detailed thoughts, so for now I will just point to a few statements by others whose general sentiments I resonate with:
- Twitter threads by Rob Wiblin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Will MacAskill
- Evan Hubinger’s excellent post, We must be very clear: fraud in the service of effective altruism is unacceptable
I’ve made an attempt to get some basic points out quickly that might be helpful to people, but the situation appears to be developing quickly and I have little understanding of what’s going on, so this post will necessarily be incomplete and nonauthoritative.
One thing I’d like to say up front (more on how this relates to FTX below) is that Open Philanthropy remains committed to our longtermist focus areas and still expects to spend billions of dollars on them over the coming decades. We will raise the bar for our giving, and we don’t know how many existing projects that will affect, but we still expect longtermist projects to grow in terms of their impact and output.
Are the funds directed by Open Philanthropy invested in or otherwise exposed to FTX or related entities?
The FTX Foundation has quickly become a major funder of many longtermist and effective altruist organizations. If it stops (or greatly reduces) funding them, how might that affect Open Philanthropy’s funding practices?
If the FTX Foundation stops (or greatly reduces) funding such people and organizations, then Open Philanthropy will have to consider a substantially larger set of funding opportunities than we were considering before.
In this case, we will have to raise our bar for longtermist grantmaking: with more funding opportunities that we’re choosing between, we’ll have to fund a lower percentage of them. This means grants that we would’ve made before might no longer be made, and/or we might want to provide smaller amounts of money to projects we previously would have supported more generously.
Does Open Philanthropy also need to raise its bar in light of general market movements (particularly the fall in META stock) and other factors?
- Our available capital has fallen over the last year for these reasons. That said, as of now, public reports of Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna’s net worth give a substantially understated picture of our available resources. That’s because, among other issues, they don’t include resources that are already in foundations. (I also note that META stock is not as large a part of their portfolio as some seem to assume.) Dustin and Cari still expect to spend nearly all of their resources in their lifetimes on philanthropy that aims to accomplish as much good per dollar as possible.
- Additionally, the longtermist community has been growing; our rate of spending has been going up; and we expect both of these trends to continue. This further contributes to the need to raise our bar.
As stated above, we remain committed to our focus areas and still expect to spend billions of dollars on them over the coming decades.
So how much might Open Philanthropy raise its bar for longtermist grantmaking, and what does this mean for today’s potential grantees?
We don’t know yet — the news about FTX was sudden, and we’re working to figure things out.
It’s a priority for us to think through how much to raise the bar for longtermist grantmaking, and therefore what kinds of giving opportunities to fund. We hope to gain some clarity on this in the next month or so, but right now we’re dealing with major new information and don’t have a lot to say about what it means. It could mean reducing support for a lot of projects, or for relatively few.
(We don’t have a crisp formalization of “the bar”; instead we have general guidance to grantmakers on what sorts of requests should be generously funded vs. carefully considered vs. rejected. We need to rethink and revise this guidance.)
Because of this, we are pausing most new longtermist funding commitments (that is, commitments within Potential Risks from Advanced Artificial Intelligence, Biosecurity & Pandemic Preparedness, and Effective Altruism Community Growth) until we gain more clarity, which we hope will be within a month or so.
This is a temporary pause as we try to reorient our thinking. There are many potential grantees we expect to ask to wait for a month or so, but are likely to fund in the next three months. It’s not an absolute pause: we will continue to do some longtermist grantmaking, mostly when it is time-sensitive and seems highly likely to end up above our bar (this is especially likely for relatively small grants). Our existing calls for applications will remain open by default; we just will hold off on evaluating incoming applications in most cases, while the pause is in effect.
We’ll also be honoring existing commitments and providing funding that’s needed to avoid costly disruptions to core grantees’ work.
Will Open Phil support FTX Foundation grantees who have financial needs related to these events?
Open Phil will consider grantees whose work falls in one of our focus areas, and evaluate them alongside other opportunities. As mentioned above, we are temporarily pausing most longtermist funding, but continuing to evaluate time-sensitive asks.
How does this impact Open Philanthropy’s Global Health and Wellbeing work?
Given FTX Foundation’s focus on existential risk and longtermism, the most direct impacts are on our longtermist work. We don’t anticipate any immediate changes to our Global Health and Wellbeing work as a result of the recent news.
What do you think of allegations that FTX engaged in fraud and/or other unethical behavior?
I don’t understand the situation very well (and I have no special insight into it – I’ve read the same tweets and news stories as everyone else), and it doesn’t seem that all the facts are in. I will be following the situation as it develops.
Edited to add (Nov. 13): I now think it’s very likely that FTX engaged in outrageous, unacceptable fraud, as now noted at the top of this piece.
Separate from the details of the FTX situation, do you think that fraud could be justified if it raises huge amounts of money for good causes?
I dislike “end justify the means”-type reasoning. The version of effective altruism I subscribe to is about being a good citizen, while ambitiously working toward a better world. As I wrote previously, I think effective altruism works best with a strong dose of pluralism and moderation.
I think this is a common approach to effective altruism, e.g. it is consistent with the effectivealtruism.org intro to effective altruism (where I got the language “being a good citizen, while ambitiously working toward a better world”) and the Centre for Effective Altruism’s Guiding Principles (see “Integrity”). (Also see this post by Eliezer Yudkowsky.)