For a change, some good  billionaire philanthropy news


  • It seems to have been in response to the question "Do you plan to give away the majority of your wealth in your lifetime?"; I don't know whether he encouraged them to ask this
  • I suspect this is not entirely 'news'; iirc he has made noises like this in the past

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to give away the majority of his $124 billion net worth during his lifetime, telling CNN in an exclusive interview he will devote the bulk of his wealth to fighting climate change and supporting people who can unify humanity in the face of deep social and political divisions.

This seems potentially promising:  he seems to prioritize effectiveness.

“The hard part is figuring out how to do it in a levered way,” he said, implying that even as he gives away his billions, he is still looking to maximize his return. “It’s not easy. Building Amazon was not easy. It took a lot of hard work, a bunch of very smart teammates, hard-working teammates, and I’m finding — and I think Lauren is finding the same thing — that charity, philanthropy, is very similar.”
“There are a bunch of ways that I think you could do ineffective things, too,” he added. “So you have to think about it carefully and you have to have brilliant people on the team.”

Bezos’ methodical approach to giving stands in sharp contrast to that of his ex-wife, the philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who recently gave away nearly $4 billion to 465 organizations in the span of less than a year.

In terms of specifics, the Earth Fund seems relatively good, to me:

Bezos has committed $10 billion over 10 years, or about 8% of his current net worth, to the Bezos Earth Fund, which Sánchez co-chairs. Among its priorities are reducing the carbon footprint of construction-grade cement and steel; pushing financial regulators to consider climate-related risks; advancing data and mapping technologies to monitor carbon emissions; and building natural, plant-based carbon sinks on a large scale.

I’m less enthusiastic about the “Bezos Courage and Civility Award” which seems celebrity-driven (as much as I love Dolly Parton) and perhaps less likely to target global priorities/effectiveness.

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

One takeaway for EA might be to reduce the proportion of EA funds going towards climate change, although I suspect this is fairly low already.

Otherwise, is this a particularly good time for EA leaders to try to engage with Bezos and give him ideas for high-impact giving opportunities?

Another option is to consider making new EA-guided nonprofits  in either climate change or other Bezos cause areas. It might be easier to funding in these areas now, so a 40% difference in efficiency could be scaled a lot. 

In case it's useful, Founders Pledge wrote a report last year [November, 2021]  that in large part is focused on the implications of Bezos' climate spending (Navigating the changing landscape of climate philanthropy):

Climate philanthropy by foundations was at roughly $2b last year and is poised to increase significantly, probably almost doubling this year, with large new pledges (such as Bezos’ Earth Fund) coming into effect.

It gives breakdowns by regions and sectors based on Climate Works' 2021 funding trends and adding on top in-house estimates of Bezos' commitments.

Climate Works has also recently published its update on 2022 funding trends [October, 2022]. Key takeaway:

In recent years, foundation funding for climate change mitigation has more than tripled, growing from $900 million in 2015 to more than $3 billion in 2021 (Figure 3). Between 2020 and 2021 alone, it increased by more than 40%, driven in part by the arrival of major new donors such as the Bezos Earth Fund

Obviously the shadow of the FTX thing, fairly or unfairly, makes the timing difficult in some ways. (Or maybe that’s what you were hinting at)

Once the FTX debacle gets resolved, and the PR blowback dies down, it might be useful for EAs to try to nudge Bezos to broaden his cause areas -- on the principle that tackling climate change may be moderately important in scope and severity, but is far from neglected, and seems rather intractable politically.

It would be great to see some of the Amazon money going to higher-impact cause areas.

Also, we might be able to help make spending more effective even within these areas. 

Or maybe focus on broadening globally (rather than mainly focusing on US leaders/celebrities and US-focused interventions like this Seattle homeless shelter)

Of course there will be some political and consumer pressure to 'give at home' in the country they are based in etc. But that non-rationalist argument could be countered by other non/semi-rationalist arguments like 'most products are manufactured outside the US', and 'raw materials come from the globe', and 'poor countries tend to suffer the most from climate change'.

I just want to highlight that Geoffrey's comment is basically a truism within EA, yet somehow has 9 karma with 11 votes, and only 2 agreement karma with 7 votes at the time I'm coming across it. So a nontrivial fraction of EA Forum users voting on it disagreed with it, despite it essentially being a truism.

This seems unideal to me. It also seems to be happening more in my experience, which lead me to ask the question: Has karma/agreement voting behavior on the Forum changed?

I didn't vote in any way on the comment, but it's plausible you could have different strategic choices. You could try to shift a large donor to cause areas outside of existing preferences to more effective ones (as is the EA "truism") or you could try to discover and endorse the most effective charities within existing preferences. The latter seems to be discussed by Ozzie Gooen in this thread.

Perhaps disagree votes were along the lines that they did not think lobbying for different cause areas would work with Bezos.

Good points. Still, I feel like the phrase "it might be useful for EAs to try to nudge" is so qualified as to be hard for readers to disagree with offhand. It's not like he said "it will definitely be useful for EAs to invest a lot of effort into trying to convince Bezos to grant to some drastically different causes."

Unless someone spends a significant amount of time researching this question to be confident that trying to nudge Bezos to give in different cause areas is a bad idea, it seems hard to know if that's a bad idea, and thus hard to "disagree-karma" a comment that merely suggests it might be useful.

I think that might not even be necessary for some time tbh (see this comment)

supporting people who can unify humanity in the face of deep social and political divisions.


Ooh, that sounds suspiciously like:

I imagine someone who goes out of their way to mention "unification in face of social and political divisions" would be bullish on all these causes even if they were keeping it short and sweet for the journalists or haven't heard of these causes yet. EA ideas really aren't weird so let's just get him some donation opportunities :)

[edit: and to clarify, even if these aren't your top cause areas, this saves Open Phil's dollars for the ones you might care about more. Then a year later we can get Bezos to look at other things as needed. Prob better to not try to make too big of asks at first, given the SBF scandal]

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