When I talk with most people about what EA will look like in 20 years, I generally get a bunch of blank stares and confused looks. Or a, “Will EA even be around that long?” It’s a question that people don’t have a cached answer to yet. I’d like to propose that we take a look and start with an outside view. To start, let’s talk numbers. EA has around 40 billion of assets. As a point of comparison, all the think tanks in the entire US have a budget of ~2 billion a year. The entire 2016 election, including both the races for congress and the presidential election, cost ~7 billion. So yeah. All those special interest groups and think tanks that people complain so much about? We could fund them all for a few years.
The ideology. EA is a really successful meme, in the Richard Dawkins sense of the word. To be a successful meme you need to prioritize self-replication . And would you look at that. On the front of 80,000 hours, a top priority cause is spreading the ideas of EA. Furthermore, the EA meme is sticky and adaptable in a way that most current political fashions aren’t. EA’s entire MO is Doing The Most Good. How does one beat that memetically? Say you have a good argument on why EA isn’t actually doing the most good. Cool. The movement just pivots toward that new idea. And pivots again. And then just because, EA hires a red team to attack the ideas some more. Unless we begin to see a large number of people saying they don’t want to do good in the world, the EA meme is here to stay.
Next. EA is getting a hilarious amount of really smart, really young people interested in EA. If you go to any top ranked college and find the most ambitious and thoughtful people, you run into EA’s constantly. Currently the effects of this hasn’t been noticed, but give it 20 years. Once you have a bunch of EA aligned people in the highest ranks of society, things will begin to happen. Tyler Cowen has already said something to this effect. Just as evidence of how strong the EA meme is, here’s a quote from the Wikipedia page. “Famous philanthropists influenced by effective altruism include Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Sam Bankman-Fried, Peter Thiel, Dan Smith, and Liv Boeree." Most movements couldn’t come up with a list half that prestigious, and that’s ironic considering how much this community looks down on prestigious signaling and thumbs our nose at prestige in general.
Another thing is that EA (or the subculture rationality) has already had pretty massive indirect political power through here. Sadly, this is no longer the case because of reasons, but this looks like strong evidence of what’s to come. If you aren't shocked by this, take a second to rethink what was just said. You're part of a movement that was able to have real influence in deciding how 67million Briton would get to live for the next year.
And get this. EA is still growing. At 10% a year! Keep that up for any length of time, and compound growth will work its magic. This might be the biggest point. EA is growing at 10% a year. These accomplishments I've pointed to aren't the height of EA. It's foreshadowing of what's to come. As long as EA doesn't overreach, or dissolve due to political infighting, or any of the other many ways that movements stumble and die, the future of EA might be much stronger than most realize.
TLDR: If I was to tell you about a movement that:
- Has 40 billion in assets
- Prioritizes growth
- Has been absurdly successful in convincing young smart people.
- Had an influence on Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Sam Bankman-Fried, and Peter Thiel.
- Was “able” to dictate covid policy for 67 million Britons.
- Is growing at 10% year over year.
- And it is just beginning as a movement.
I’d hazard a guess that the movement is already very powerful, or would quickly become so.
Mainly I don't think I'm presenting new information here. Most people in EA circles already know everything I've said. It's just they've compartmentalized each piece. If you put it all together, a vastly different picture begins to form.
I’d hazzard a guess that we’re here:
Welcome. It (might just) be the case that you’re at the ground floor of a movement that will find itself in the history books.
Here’s a toast to EA’s health. May it continue to do good in the world.
Sorry EA donors. It feels rude to assume that it's in some sense "EA's" money, as obviously EA had no hand in making it, and the final decision still rest upon your goodwill.
I left out the 2020 election as it looks like a outlier. (It was 14 billion) This may be false, and election may now be twice as expensive forever, but I'm guessing not.
Not really, as laws and things get in the way. It's more a way to get an idea of the resources at EA's disposal then a serious proposal that we should/could be able to do this. (We really, really shouldn't, and probably couldn't)
Maybe? Not really all that sure if everyone's been convinced by Longtermism yet, or will be.
Probably? The last 2 years were around that number, but before that it was less. Though it seems like there's currently more funding for growth, so...?
I largely agree, and discussed these themes here. I think that EAs tend to be insufficiently optimistic about EA's future, and to generally neglect the issue.
I can't imagine much worse for the prospects of EA than to be associated with Dominic Cummings. He of course now claims to have had very little influence on COVID policy, since it was widely regarded as a shambles during his time. Whatever the truth of this, it's precisely through association with widely hated figures like this that EA risks evaporating as quickly as it has grown. This is also why we need to make a strong distinction between "the abstract idea of maximising positive impact," which would survive this, and "the social movement that this forum is part of", a member of a rather short-lived reference class (albeit with some good signs at the moment, as you say).
For those abroad unfamiliar with quite how unpopular Dominic Cummings is, here's an article arguing he was the most unpopular man in the country at the time
and here's a poll from May 2021 showing only 14% of people trusted him on government handling of COVID, by comparison with 34% for the prime minister. https://docs.cdn.yougov.com/iszcru07g6/TheTimes_Coronahandling_Cummings_Results_210520.pdf
I agree with the post, and the same has already been noticed previously.
However, there is also a risk from this: as a community, we have to struggle to avoid being elitist, and should be welcoming to everyone, even those whose personal circumstances are not ideal to change the world.
Thanks for this. I have recently been thinking that we should take a moment to celebrate recent wins, and this post does that in a wonderful way.