Marcus Rademacher

5 karmaJoined Nov 2022


Thank you for given voice to this perspective. I'm frustrated it took this much scrolling through the comments to find someone who addressed the fairly odd framing the OP took.

I think it should really be turned on its head. Note I think much of this critique of EA is most relevant when talking about UHNW EAs. Can someone pledging to give away mass sums of money be trusted to do so if they're unwilling to give up at least some significant control? We have now way to force them, but a there could be a new norm in EA which says they have to put a significant percentage of the pledge into a trust that's partially controlled by other people before the community (and hopefully the press) gives them the social credit.

This is the bit I think was missed further up the thread. Regardless of whether buying a social media company could reasonably be considered EA, it's fairly clear that Elon Musk's goals both generally and with Twitter are not aligned with EA. MacAskill is allowed to do things that aren't EA-aligned, but it seems to me to be another case of poor judgement by him (in addition to his association with SBF).

Dustin and Cari at Open Phil may be exceptions, I have zero inside knowledge about them. Assuming you're right and they're paragons of EA-ness, which would be quite laudable, I see that as the exception that proves the rule. Maybe they don't need to give up the reins because they live the values of EA so well, but that isn't true of most people, and there's no reason to think that'd be true of most UHNW people.

EA hasn't pushed Musk and Thiel away nearly strongly enough for me. I know EA isn't a top down movement, but there are individuals with lots of EA credibility who can and should be making it more clear that what those two are doing isn't EA.

On my point 2, I'll admit I don't have a clear solution in mind. There needs to be a way to ensure there are good people in charge who will apply EA principles toward the organization's goals, and maybe the funder can have some initial influence. However, I'm highly suspicious of people who got billions and now claim to want to give it away but only if they can control it. Concentration of power is dangerous in every other aspect of society, I think it's obvious that EA is no exception. If someone truly believes in the principles of EA, then they must be willing to at least dilute their control considerably.

I found this quote to be particularly salient: “Having a handful of wealthy donors and their advisers dictate the evolution of an entire field is bad epistemics at best and corruption at worst”

I agree that these foundations should "secure their bags" much better than FTX Future Fund did. In fact, I think the EA community should be skeptical of pledges that don't include a substantial transfer of the funds in some way early on. When reporting how much a donor has pledged, perhaps we also ought to also note how much has actually been given. We're apparently just learning that we shouldn't count our chickens before they hatch, and I think we should find ways to withhold the social credit that large EA funders get until they've actually made good on the pledge.

While I won't necessarily endorse your specific governance proposals here since I think it warrants serious thought about a good strategy, I like your goals and I wholeheartedly agree that EA needs to consider the impact of letting a small group of UHNW individuals control the direction of the movement. I also agree that the OP is excellent, and something I've been scrolling looking for here and in the EA subreddit hoping to find someone taking a harder look at the issue.

If a person were really on board with EA principles they should be willing to admit that their own judgement is fallible, so much so that it would be good to relinquish control of the money they're giving away to a larger, more diverse group of people. Certainly the funder could decide on the larger goals (climate change  vs. AI safety, etc.), but I find myself questioning the motives of people who can't give up a large amount of control. 

Was SBF legitimately on board with EA or was he doing it to launder his image? We may never know for sure, but there's a long history of billionaires doing exactly that through charitable giving. From Carnegie to the Sacklers, and I suspect even the recent announcement from Bezos, this is common practice among UHNW folks. 

We as a community need to realize the danger this poses to the movement. Already, there is a negative perception of EA due to the embrace, and sometimes outright worship, of charismatic billionaires. Billionaires who do not live the values that EA is supposed to be pushing: epistemic humility, collaboration, and the belief that every person's interests deserve equal weight. The acceptance from the community of billionaires like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel jump out at me as giant red flags.

I will remain quite skeptical of any UHNW pledges that don't include the following:

  1. A transfer of a substantial amount of the pledge to a charitable organization in the short term, and a structured plan for how and when the balance of the pledge will be transferred. I understand that for people like SBF this wasn't possible because it wasn't liquid, but that just indicates that we should consider the pledge as unlikely to actually come to fruition. As the OP noted, we shouldn't consider a big pledge that's built on a highly volatile asset to be money in the bank.
  2. The receiving organization gains control over how the funds are dispersed, and the funder does not have control over leadership. They may specify a general goal for the money, but once pledged the funder should no longer have outsized impact on how the money is dispersed.

Pledges that don't follow this might certainly still be overall good uses of money and count as good philanthropy, but I think we ought to push that they aren't doing EA. If we really believe in the principles of EA, then we should hold our most visible funders to them.