Linch

"To see the world as it is, rather than as I wish it to be."

I'm a Research Manager on the General Longtermism team at Rethink Priorities. I'm primarily interested in coming up with, prioritizing, and potentially incubating the "longtermist megaprojects of the future," and secondarily interested in strategic clarity for intermediate goals EAs should aim for on a 5-15 year timescale.

I also do some grantmaking on the side.

People may or may not also be interested in my comments on Metaculus and Twitter, though (un)fortunately I'm now less active on them:

Metaculus: https://pandemic.metaculus.com/accounts/profile/112057/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LinchZhang

Clarification on commenting norms

Topic Contributions

Comments

Some unfun lessons I learned as a junior grantmaker

This got me wondering: how much agreement is there between grantmakers (assuming they already share some broad philosophical assumptions)?

I wonder if "grantmakers" is the wrong level of abstraction here. I think LTFF grantmakers usually agree much more often than they disagree about top grants, and there is usually agreement about other grants too. I think  (having not been involved in the selection process) the agreement is in part due to sharing similar opinions because we're (we think) correct and in part because similar judgement/reasoning process/etc is somewhat selected for. 

I suspect there is similar (but probably lower?) correlations with other "good" longtermist grantmakers who do generalist grant eval work. I think some longtermist grantmakers (e.g. a subset of Open Phil Program Officers) specialize really deeply in a subfield, such that they have (relatively) deep specialist knowledge of some fields and are able to do a lot more active grantmaking/steering of that subfield. So they'll be able to spot top grant opportunities that we normally can't. 

Because, if the top grants are much better than the marginal grants, and grantmakers would agree over what those are, then you could replace the 'extremely busy' grantmakers with less busy ones.

I suspect we have different empirical views on how busy (or more precisely, how high the counterfactual value of time) the "less busy" good grantmakers are. But in broad strokes, I think what you say is correct and is a direction that many funders are moving towards; I think the bar for becoming a grantmaker in EA has gone down a bunch in the last few years. E.g. 1) I don't think I would have qualified as a grantmaker 2 years ago, 2) Open Phil appears to be increasing hiring significantly, 3) many new part-time grantmakers with the Future Fund regranting program, etc.

The less busy ones would award approximately the same grants but be able to spend more time investigating marginal giving feedback.

I agree that this will probably be better than the status quo. However, naively if you set up the infrastructure to do this well, you'd also have  set up the infrastructure to do more counterfactually valuable activities (give more grants, give more advice to the top grantees, do more active grantmaking, etc). 

Some unfun lessons I learned as a junior grantmaker

As mentioned in my post, "No because of personal factors or person-project fit reasons" is probably the most common situation in a lot of cases.

Some unfun lessons I learned as a junior grantmaker

Getting feedback from someone because they have expertise feels structurally different to me than getting feedback from someone because they have money.

EA and the current funding situation

Obviously I do not speak for Will or anybody else, but I wrote "Some unfun lessons I learned as a junior grantmaker" partially as a response to what I perceived as misconceptions by some of the comments in this thread and elsewhere on the Forum.

Some unfun lessons I learned as a junior grantmaker

A solution that I'm more excited about is one-to-many channels of feedback where people can try to generalize from the feedback that others receive. 

I think this post by Nuño is a good example in this genre, as are the EAIF and LTFF payout reports. Perhaps some grantmakers can also prioritize public comms  even more than they already do (e.g. public posts on this Forum), but of course this is also very costly.

Some unfun lessons I learned as a junior grantmaker

Something in this direction seems generally right. I think it's reasonable to be grateful for people doing good work in EA (including in grantmaking), and it's unreasonable to expect for rejected grantees to feel grateful (or happy in general). However, a relevant litmus test is whether you'd also thank people for doing evaluations that are entirely unrelated to your work, just because you think grantmaking is valuable work.

I also think saying a polite "thank you, this money will help us do impactful work in XYZ" when receiving a grant seems reasonable, the problem I'm more alluding to is when it feels excessive or repeated (like I was in an event which was attended by many employees of an org that I recommended a grant to, and I think all ~7 of them thanked me at some point during the event). 

A potential alternative is to thank the grantmaking agency and infrastructure rather than the specific investigators of your grant. Another alternative is to express your gratitude much more broadly for the consequentialist value of donating to valuable EA work, rather than making it seem to be about reciprocity or relationships. 

You should join an EA organization with too many employees

Thanks, your reply and expertise is helpful.

Note that the claim of Nordhaus is that companies can't capture surplus

One minor point: What's the causal mechanism here? My naive guess would be that companies can't capture surplus because the surplus will be competed away, which is why I specified "even if the counterfactual entails being cut from Netflix's competitors as well" as a sanity check.  

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