For the first year and a half since taking the GWWC pledge, I donated exclusively to the long-term future fund. As a longtermist, that seemed the obvious choice. I now find I have a nagging feeling that I should instead donate to global health and factory farming initiatives. With an hour to kill in BER Terminal 2 and a disappointing lack of plant-based food to spend my remaining Euros on, I figured I should lay out my reasoning, to get it straight in my own head, and invite some feedback.
I am more convinced of the arguments for longtermism than other cause areas. Hence, my career planning (beyond the scope of this post) is driven by a high longtermist upside. In retrospect, I wonder if one's assessment of the top cause area needs to apply universally, or if the SNT framework could produce a different outcome when considering one's money as opposed to one's work. Obviously, scale will be unchanged, but the tractability of my funding and my time are likely different, and cause areas will be limited by money or talent but not both.
I just read George Rosenfeld's recent article on free spending. The point highlighting the strange situation where EA has an excess of longtermist funding available while efficient global health programmes could absorb more, very tangibly doing good in the process, really grabbed me. There are a few reasons why that feeds into my thinking.
Having billionaires donating fortunes to longtermism is great. If that temporarily saturates the best opportunities there, maybe small donors like me should move elsewhere?
Furthermore, when I read through a donation report for the long-term future fund, I noticed an appreciable fraction of pay-outs were for things like 'this person will use this as a grant, allowing them to gain credentials and work AI alignment'. I appreciate the value of this. Nevertheless, it's mightily difficult to explain to wider friends and family why, having dedicated 10% of my income to "doing the most good possible, with reason and evidence", funding people to get ML qualifications is literally the best use of that money. Even if a raw EV estimate decided this was the best thing, I'd cite the burgeoning discussion on the optics of EA spending to be cause for concern. A few massive donors making sure these opportunities are funded is reassuring but small donors will account for the lion's share of all conversation that is had about EA donation. People talking about the community surely accounts for much of how the outside world perceives us. It troubles me that these conversations might be quite alienating or confusing when transmitting the message "I want to use reason and evidence to maximise my altruistic impact, so I fund people in developed countries to get postgraduate degrees instead of cheap ways to save lives."
I can't get away from this feeling that the PR bonus from donating to GiveWell or ACE charities is worth switching to, given the angst I am starting to feel about community optics and the well-funded state, on aggregate, of the longtermist sphere. Does this make sense to you? I'd be interested to see other arguments for or against this point of view.