If funding from the Gates Foundation is having the perverse effect of allowing them to ignore scientific criticism, it also sounds like an interesting case study in charitable spending/inventives gone wrong.
On the bright side, IHME isn't our only or even our main source of pandemic predictions. The CDC tracks numerous covid prediction projects (although the CDC has generally done badly too, and is definitely not going to be winning any forecasting awards). In recognition of these failures, the CDC is creating a new forecasting center staffed by what seems like a promising crew -- they will be led by Marc Lipsitch, a Harvard professor who has given talks at EA events and (IMO) offers very intelligent covid-19 commentary on twitter.
Overall, forecasting and data gathering is one of the few aspects of pandemic response where I'm optimistic that we've learned our lesson and will do better next time.
Interesting, if as you say a bit unrealistic. If I'm interpreting your graph correctly (although I feel like I am probably not; I'm definitely not an economist), you end up describing an endowment-like structure, where if you're going to live forever, you'll want to end up giving away a constant amount of money each year (your b=0 line in the chart), or maybe an amount of money that represents something like a constant fraction of the growing world economy?? (Your b = (r-p)/r line?) It might be helpful for you to provide a layman-accessible summary, if I'm getting this all wrong.
In your conclusion, you talk about a couple ways that your model could be extended:
Of these, personally I'd be most interested in hearing about the last two, as they seem perhaps the most answerable with a pure mathematical approach. It would be interesting to know what ideal investment strategies look like under different combinations of assumptions:
And other things like that.
"The top 5% of posts accounted for about half of the views and view time."
Looks like the EA forum, just like the overall project of effective altruism itself, is a hits-based business!
Yes, I was definitely thinking of stuff along the lines of "help fund the creation of a toy fund and work out the legal kinks, portfolio design, governance mechanisms, etc", in addition to pure blog-post-style research into the idea of investing-to-give.
Admittedly it's an odd position for me to be pessimistic about patient philanthropy itself but still pretty psyched about setting up the experiment. I guess for the argument to go through that funding the creation of the PPF is a great idea, it relies on one or more of the following being true:
Actually doing patient philanthropy turns out to be, in fact, extremely effective. However, we won't definitively know this for decades! A leading indicator might be if the perceived problems/drawbacks of PPF turn out to be more easily solved than we thought. (Perhaps everyone looks at the legal mechanisms of the newly-launched toy fund and thinks, "Wow, this is actually a really innovative and promising structure!")
If the PPF draws in lots more EA donations that wouldn't have otherwise happened, it could be a great idea even if it's not as competitive on effectiveness.
Designing the PPF might somehow have positive spillover effects. (Are there other areas in EA calling for weird long-term institution design or complex financial products? Surely a few...)
Hi! I was one of the downvoters on your earlier post about Israel/Palestine, but looking at the link again now, I see that nobody ever gave a good explanation for why the post got such a negative reception. I'm sorry that we gave such a hostile reaction without explaining. I can't speak for all EAs, but I suspect that some of the main reasons for hesitation might be:
I'm more positive about your second idea -- trying to identify the areas at greatest risk of conflict throughout the whole world and take actions to calm tensions before violence erupts. To some extent, this is the traditional work of diplomacy, international NGOs, etc, but these efforts could perhaps be better-targeted, and there are probably some unique angles here that EAs could look into. While international attention from diplomats and NGOs seems to parachute into regions right at the moment of crisis, I could imagine EAs trying to intervene earlier in the lead-up to conflicts, perhaps running low-cost radio programs trying to spread American-style values of tolerance and anti-racism.
I could also imagine taking an even longer-term view, and trying to investigate ways to head off the root causes of political tension and violence on a timespan of decades or centuries. (Here is a somewhat similar project examining what gave rise to positive social movements like slavery abolitionism.)
Two approaches not mentioned in the article that I would advocate:
Giving to global priorities research.
You mentioned patient philanthropy (whether a few years or centuries), and one of the main motivations of waiting to give is to benefit from a more-developed landscape of EA thought. If the sophistication of EA thought is a key bottleneck, why not contribute today to global priorities research efforts, thus accelerating the pace of intellectual development that other patient philanthropists are waiting on?
I'm not confident that giving to global priorities research today beats waiting and giving later, since it's unclear how much the intellectual development of the movement would be accelerated by additional cash, but it should be on the table of options you look at.
(To some extent, new ideas are generated naturally & for free as people think about problems, write comments on blog posts, etc. Meanwhile, there might be some ways where gaining experience simply takes calendar time. So perhaps only a small portion of the EA movement's development could actually be accelerated with more global-priorities-research funding. On the other hand, a marginally more well-developed field would almost certainly pull in marginally more donations, so helping to kick-start the growth and (hopefully) eventual mainstreaming of EA while we are still in its early days could be very valuable. Anyways, if you are considering waiting for the EA community to learn more, I think it's worth also considering being the change you want to see in the movement, and trying to accelerate the global-priorities-research timeline.)
Giving to various up-and-coming cause areas within EA.
Despite being a very nimble and open-minded movement actively searching for new cause areas, it seems to me that there is still some inertia and path-dependency when it comes to bringing new causes online alongside traditional, established EA focus areas. In my mind, this creates a kind of inefficiency, where new causes are recognized as "likely to become a bigger EA focus in the future", but haven't yet fully scaled up due in part to intellectual inertia within the movement. You could help accelerate this onboarding process by making grants to a portfolio of newer and less-familiar causes. For example:
I appreciate that you're going meta and considering such a full mix of re-granting options, rather than just giving to charities themselves as past lottery winners have. Your point about not having as much local knowledge as the big granting organizations makes a lot of sense. Longview, the LTFF, and the EA Infrastructure fund all seem like worthy targets, although I don't know much about them in particular. Here are a few thoughts on the other approaches:
Paying someone to help decide:
This idea doesn't make much sense to me. After all, figuring out the most effective ways to donate to charity is already the core research project of effective altruism! It seems to me that paying someone to research what to do with the money would just be a strange, roundabout way to support cause prioritization research. Better to just explicitly donate to a cause prioritization research initiative. That way, a team of researchers could work on whatever cause prioritization problems seem most important for the overall EA movement, rather than employing one person to deliberate on this specific pot of $500K.
Patient philanthropy fund:
This is an intriguing idea, but I wonder if patient philanthropy is well-developed enough that money would be best used to actually fill up the fund, versus studying the idea and working out various details in the plan. As Founder's Fund says, there are significant risks of expropriation and value drift, and there is probably more research and planning that can be done to investigate how to mitigate these risks. To their list of dangers, I would add:
The risk of some kind of financial collapse or transition, such that the contents of the fund are no longer valuable and/or no longer honored. (For instance, as a result of nations defaulting on their debt, or a sudden switch away from today's currencies.) This seems similar to, but distinct from, expropriation.
Somewhat related to value drift, the risk that a fund designed to last for millennia and to be highly resistant against expropriation and value drift, would fail to also be nimble enough to recognize changing opportunities and actually deploy its assets at a crucial time when they could do the most good. Figuring out how best to mitigate this seems like a very tricky institution-design problem. But making even a small amount of progress on it could be really valuable, especially since the problem of staying on-mission while also being nimble and maintaining organizational skill/capacity is a fundamental paradox that bedevils all kinds of institutions.
…Anyways, I'm sure that people more involved in patient philanthropy have thought about this stuff in more depth than I. But my point is that right now, it's possible that funding should mostly go towards designing and testing and implementing patient-philanthropy funds, rather than just putting large amounts of cash in the fund itself.
Invest & wait a few years:
Although similar in some ways to the patient-philanthropy plan, I think the motivations for choosing this option are actually quite different:
Giving to a patient-philanthropy fund is somewhat incompatible with "urgent longtermism" focused on AI and other X-risks, while a plan to wait 5 years and then give is perfectly compatible with urgent longtermism.
Two benefits of waiting are the growth in capital, and the ability to learn more as the EA movement makes intellectual progress. Presumably, over a timespan of centuries, the EA movement will start running into diminishing intellectual returns, so the economic-growth benefit (if we assume steady returns of a few percent per year) would be proportionately larger. By waiting just five years, I'd guess that the larger benefit would come from the development of the EA movement.
Personally, I'm more sympathetic to the idea of waiting just a few years to take advantage of the rapidly increasing sophistication of EA thought, rather than waiting centuries. But you'd have to balance this consideration against how much funding you expect EA to receive in the future. If you think EA is currently in a boom and will decline later, you should save your money and give later (when ideas are well-developed but money is scarce). If you think EA will be pulling in much bigger numbers in the future, it's best to give now (so future funding can benefit from a more well-developed EA movement).
Yes, I was just going to ask if anyone had looked at longtermist arguments in a similar way, or even just compiled a similar list of any short, punchy longtermist pitches that are out there. I've been thinking of printing out some pamphlets or something to distribute around town when I go for walks, and it might be nice to be able to represent multiple EA pillars on one pamplet.
I also think it would be interesting to see results on longtermism because it's a much stranger, less familiar idea (more different than other charity messaging people have heard before), so it might be harder to explain in a short format, but there might be correspondingly big wins from introducing people to such a totally new concept.
Two points in response:
The whole point of Agnes' essay is to showcase an infinite regression problem: the basis for meaning in our lives can't rest solely on the existence of future generations, because in that case the fact that the universe is finite would force us to all become committed nihilists right now, today. Consider:
If life for the last generation is nothing but a horrifying, meaningless void leading to "complete ethical and political collapse", then surely life for the second-to-last generation would also be meaningless? (After all, who'd want to bring a child into such a brutal, chaotic, pointless world?) But if things are meaningless for the second-to-last generation, then by the same logic they would also be meaningless for the third-to-last generation, and so on, all the way back to us in the present day.
What you're looking for in response to this essay isn't a defense of altruism, it's a defense of any meaning or goals or values whatsoever (instead of just wallowing in nihilism). If I believed that all meaning in my life came from future generations, and then I read Agnes' essay, I might become depressed and nihilistic. But it's not just altruism that would lose its appeal -- everything would lose its appeal! If nothing matters, why bother making money, staying healthy, having fun, or doing anything? For some quality thoughts about nihilism, you might be interested in this short and entertaining post by Eliezer Yudkowsky.
Of course, if I knew the world was ending next week, that would be terrible news, and in light of that news it would obviously be foolish to continue with efforts intended to help the far future. So, to answer your question -- yes, if we knew for sure that the world was going to be obliterated very soon, there would be little point in trying to build anything or help anyone for the long-term. (There would still be plenty of point in helping others short-term, such as talking with friends and family and commiserating / consoling each other about the impending doom, and in enjoying the time that was left.)
Personally, although effective altruism is a big part of my life, I don't view "helping others" as a terminal value, something that's especially good and meaningful in itself. Helping others is good because it leads to good and meaningful things, like those other people living happy lives. Ultimately, I'd say that the foundation of "meaning" in our lives comes from experiencing our own subjective feelings, sensations, thoughts, and conscious awareness. My main goal in contributing to EA is to make sure that there are lots and lots of people in a thriving long-term future, so that they too can enjoy the wonder of consciousness.
With your aggressive tone, it's perhaps understandable why you've run into mod trouble on LessWrong. But as a simple existence proof, the forecasting techniques and training materials described by Phillip Tetlock in books like "Superforcasting" have been repeatedly shown to somewhat improve people's skill at making all kinds of predictions across varied subject areas. Forecasting isn't the same thing as LessWrong-style "rationality", but it's close -- both are general reasoning skills that focus on avoiding bias and understanding probability, rather than domain-specific expertise.