324Joined Jul 2018


Thanks for the reply Michael.

I just wanted to note that I didn’t want to imply or recommend that the fund managers should be payed but rather that there is a reason fund managers are payed. I think this reason was somewhat neglected in the post. I think more of an argument / investigation would be helpful to understand why / find out if the current arrangement is well-thought out.

I think my main concern is that funds tend to centralize funding pretty strongly and this can have positive but also negative consequences in certain situations. Imagine a corrupt fund manager having access to / leverage over hundreds of millions of dollars.

Paul Christiano’s suggestion regarding donor lotteries may be an interesting approach in this regard because it makes the whole thing less interesting for career criminals.

Having said all that I am not overly concerned that this is a pressing issue for the community but still something that should be in the (back of the) mind of people who design such management systems.

I just wanted to raise a short critique that came to me while reading this section:

Investment funds regularly take a management fee (hedge funds, for example, typically take 1–4% of invested funds each year). Whereas the charitable funds we recommend don’t take any fees for their work.

While I certainly understand the point, it seems a little bit more justification for why this is a good arrangement is desirable when viewed through an economics lens. The reason that there are management fees is so that there is an economic incentive for the people running the fund to stay "alive". In economic terms, ideally, the management fee would be conditional on the profits made using an investment so as to align interests between management team and investors. However, even in cases where there is a simpler arrangement, having economic incentives in place helps to align interests as long as the management teams depends on them.

So, I guess my point is, what we are doing here in the donation space seems to be a very trust based arrangement, where we would need to justify the mechanisms that ensure that interests between management and investors remain aligned if the management team does not depend on the fund surviving. I am slightly worried about this after the whole SBF and FTX debacle. There is/was a lot of good will towards people who seem to have a lot of money and claiming they want to do good with it. How do we make sure that not all of our eggs are in one basket and potential downsides in the case of betrayal or corruption are limited?

Thanks for the thoughtful post. I think you are onto something interesting here!

I like the move of trying to frame ethics in pragmatic terms (i.e., focused on what we actually are and could/should be doing rather then on a-priori assumptions) and would argue that your argument hits onto something really important in this regard. Imo, there is much to learn from pragmatic philosophy to further elaborate on your insight.

Having said that, I am not sure that assigning new meanings to already heavily used terms like "virtue ethics" or "consequentialism" is the right way to go here. Imo, people are bound to be confused by this. Maybe it would make sense to frame it slightly differently by creating a "new model" for ethics that consists of the components you identify and then simply state that "component Y could be informed by prior work on X" where Y is a useful term for the component, and X is one of the already used terms like virtue ethics.

Hope this helps you flesh out this idea further! Feel free to reach out to me if you want to discuss.

Yeah, I think this question is pretty interesting and worthwhile pondering about at least a little bit.

I think that one could take the perspective that the whole FTX situation is presenting EA in a bad light BECAUSE FTX has had a very visible connection to EA with most people (including me) being very enthusiastic about this. I think it’s safe to say that few were considering potential downsides of such associations. It seems like this whole situation can become a watershed moment for the whole community to look at the sources of where “our” money is coming from more critically. Maybe we need new vetting mechanisms or at least be more careful about “praising” large donors.

It’s gonna be interesting to see how this develops!

Hey Nicoll,

thanks for the interest. I am considering running some workshops to start bringing the communities a little bit closer together. If you are interested in stuff like that, feel free to reach out to me. Would love to connect with similar minded fellows :)

Cheers, Alex

I think the explanation for this happening is pretty simple. People writing academic articles (me included) have cited EA Forum articles... thus, google is finding them. 

For better or worse, I am pretty sure there is no(t yet a) systematic attempt to integrate the EA Forum in the scholarly debate...

I think the main drawback of this approach is that there is no “average person”. Every person is a unique combination across a broad range of characteristics.

The classic example is the story of how the Airforce first designed the fighter jet cockpits to fit the average fighter pilot but got complaints from the pilots that this didn’t work too well for them. Upon investigating it turned out that there was no pilot in the entire airforce that fit the average pilot used to design the cockpit. They changed their strategy and now allow for multiple ways of adjusting the cockpit to the individual characteristics of the pilots. The rest is history.

I think what this tells us that there are indeed many possibilities for how to be in this world and we all have a unique vantage point on life that no one had but us. Thus, it may not really be about “what should I be” but “what can I offer”.

While I have not done a deep dive into the literature and checked the claims in depth, afaik ACT counts as one of the more evidence based psychotherapies with several hundred studies including RCTs demonstrating good effects.

There is also a whole scientific paradigm “contextual behavioral science” based on “functional contextualism” which grounds the development of ACT. This is one of the clearest theoretical foundations for a scientific field I have come across (i.e., it’s a coherent account grounded in Pragmatism) and should be refreshing to have a look at for people interested in philosophy of science as well as behavioral science in general.

I am pretty bullish on ACT and would recommend anyone interested in mental health to have a good look for aspects that might work for them.

What I would maybe add to the post is a short description of the ACT Matrix, which is a thinking tool that can be useful for organizing thoughts about problematic situations. While it certainly depends on the person, some friends I have showed it to found it easy to grasp and very helpful for navigating difficult situations. It’s not a panacea but may be a good starting point for people who appreciate a hands-on learning approach.

I also recommend the tools section in a liberated mind. Should be pretty relatable for people who have done or are generally interested in CFAR workshops / rationality techniques.

Thanks for writing the post!

Thanks for the interesting post! I just wanted to ask if there are any updates on these research projects? I think work along these lines could be pretty promising. One potential partner for cooperation could be They already have a survey tool for intrinsic values and this seems to hit in a similar direction.

Also a big thank you from my side. It really feels like an open and honest account and to me it seems to shine the light on some very important challenges that the EA community faces in terms of making the best use of available talent. I hope that your story can inspire some voices in the community to become more self-reflective and critical about how some of the dynamics are playing out, right under our own noses. For a community that is dedicated to doing better, being able to learn from stories like yours seems like an important requirement.

In this light, I would love to see comments (or even better follow-up posts) address things like what their main takeaways are for the EA community. What can we do to help dedicated people who are starting out to make better decisions for themselves as well as the community?

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