Offering a (mutually counterfactual) donation match to GiveDirectly 💖
I'm offering a mutually counterfactual donation match to GiveDirectly, for anyone who wants to extend beyond their usual donation budget to take advantage of this!
(That is: If you donate $ that you would not otherwise have donated anywhere, reply with screenshot and I'll 1:1 match with money I likewise would've kept for personal spending (above my usual 10%/yr); will close on Friday evening at 6pm PT or after I pay out $10k, whichever is first.)
I'm doing this in honor of the work Nathan Young and Émile Torres are doing to mutually improve discourse around criticism of longtermism and EA. These two ideological adversaries have set up this joint fundraiser. Emile is a critic of longtermism and of EA leadership; I find their writing/epistemics at times inflammatory and misleading, but there's central aspects of their critiques I find good/worthy.
I have a sense that Emile's dialog with Nathan has been visibly raising the bar on twitter discourse; making criticisms more specific, and the general tone of the discussion more targeted and constructive, with fewer exaggerated blanket statements. I love this deeply.
GiveDirectly is also a very worthy cause, particularly by being so incredibly straightforward, reasonable, and palatable to people from very different ideological backgrounds.
Feel free to post receipt screenshots in comments here instead of on twitter!
(2) Much more cantankerously: "If your dear friends are suffering deeply, and you have created a system that can help, do not spend any spare time (outside your EA day job) on teaching them the system. You need to spend that spare time on altruistic things, not your friends' suffering. Certainly do not allow any motivated non-EA friends to spend THEIR time helping you build a scalable version for your entire community" is not a moral system or set of community norms I can get behind.
(1) I do want to note that I don't think one should evaluate microcovid as though it was an altruistic action selected by a prioritization process! It was more like a selfish and friend-oriented project, which we made scalable enough to unlock big positive externalities in our broader community and beyond. The first version of the system was purely to save my own group house! (That said, I do think it's well-described as a project in the spirit of rationality, and a good example of rationality in action.)
Separately but somewhat relatedly: Having worked at Open Phil, it's definitely the case that smaller opportunities just don't clear the bar of being worth spending time vetting. I think a powerful way that "individual" donors can contribute is in helping get small things "off the ground", so that they can grow to a size where they're later in the right range for large institutional donors. In that sense it's bit like angel investing.
One idea that isn't on your list is to start a "donor circle". I found this really powerful in the past, and I'd greatly like to do again in the future!
My previous "donor circle" experience was for making a ~$10k grant near the start of COVID: I got a few dozen other friends on board who also wanted to give $1k-$100k each, and we all started a messenger chat and a spreadsheet to look through various opportunities.
Everyone contributed as much research manpower as they wanted; one person stepped up with "co-lead" level of involvement, but many others contributed as well. Together we identified a whole bunch of opportunities, came up with criteria, and made "recommendations" that the less-research-involved members of the circle then followed as they saw fit. Overall we ended up collectively giving about $400k, which was a size at which it felt really worthwhile for ~2-4 people to do a "side project" for.
(see writeup here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/opdMXibKjkoL69s96/prioritizing-covid-19-interventions-and-individual-donations).
Some things that were really cool were:
(1) once you're (collectively) a >$100k donor, you can get on the phone with people who might not otherwise give you time, and donate to groups that aren't taking "normal-person-sized" donation. E.g. a representative from CEPI was willing to spend time with us, and CEPI is mostly courting >$1m donations.
(2) our writeup and criteria ended up influencing a medium-sized foundation; their decisions >$10m in grants used our list of criteria as a rubric.
(3) the presence of others who were excited to use my recommendations made it feel more directly socially rewarding and valuable to spend time on the project.
I think this works best when everyone in the donor circle agrees up-front on approximate "type" of opportunity the group is looking for, or criteria, or something like that.
I'm not sure when exactly a donor circle is the right strategy, but in general I do think that banding together with others, and building strong "working relationships" with other practitioners, is really important for any meaningful endeavor.
I also want to offer an "offsets" perspective, for anyone who can access a vaccine but feels uneasy about doing so.
Namely: in classic EA fashion, I hypothesize "choose to let yourself slip further back in line" is not the most effective way to put your resources towards getting the vaccine to someone else sooner.
Let's say the cost to you of delaying your own vaccination (in mental health, lost productivity, money spent not taking public transit, whatever it may be for you) is something you value at one day of lost time.
I would much rather see you choose to get vaccinated as soon as you are able, and spend an entire day volunteering to help get underserved populations signed up for vaccine appointments counterfactually sooner.
(Perhaps phonebank with http://vaccinateca.com/? Perhaps reach out to essential workers you know personally, and offer to drive them?)
I don't have a rigorous argument here, I'm just broadly happier to see effort/resources going towards active thinking about how to accelerate distribution into the arms that need it the most, rather than that same amount of effort/resources burned on someone who could've been vaccinated and gain some freedom instead continue staying home being cranky and cooped-up and unproductive.
Note that just because you are "a person in the Bay Area" doesn't mean your vaccination options are limited to "get a vaccine in the Bay Area".
You can drive to Sacramento or Auburn (where appointments are not being saturated), or fly to Phoenix and volunteer there, or other options.
Location is of course just one part of a vaccination plan (alongside "are you claiming eligibility in some group?" or "are you trying to last-dose standby?" or "are you volunteering at a vaccination site?" or other paths) but it seems highly relevant to point this out in a world where available appointments are perhaps being saturated within the Bay Area, and not elsewhere, within accessible distance.
RE direct work, I would generally think of the described role as still a form of "leadership" — coordinating actors in the present — unlike "writing research papers" or "writing code". I expect Holden to have a strong comparative advantage at leadership-type work.