Zachary Brown

155Joined Jul 2021


So the question is 'what governance hurdles decrease risk but don't constitute a total barrier to entry?'

I agree. There are probably some kinds of democratic checks that honest UHNW individuals don't mind, but have relatively big improvements for epistemics and community risk. Perhaps there are ways to add incentives for agreeing to audits or democratic checks? It seems like SBF's reputation as a businessman  benefited somewhat from his association with EA (I am not too confident in this claim). Perhaps offering some kind of "Super Effective Philanthropist" title/prize/trophy to particular UHNW donors that agree to subject their donations to democratic checks or financial audits might be an incentive? (I'm pretty skeptical, but unsure.) I'd like to do some more creative thinking here.

I wonder if submitting capital to your proposal seems a bit too much like the latter.


I think this is a great post, efficiently summarizing some of the most important takeaways from recent events.

I think this claim is especially important: 

"It’s also vital to avoid a very small number of decision-makers having too much influence (even if they don’t want that level of influence in the first place). If we have more sources of funding and more decision-makers, it is likely to improve the overall quality of funding decisions and, critically, reduce the consequences for grantees if they are rejected by just one or two major funders."

Here's a sketchy idea in that vein for further consideration. One additional way to avoid extremely wealthy donors having too much influence is to try to insist that UHNW donors subject their giving to democratic checks on their decision-making from other EAs. For instance, what if taking a Giving What We Can pledge entitled you to a vote of some kind on certain fund disbursements or other decisions? What if Giving What We Can pledgers could put forward "shareholder proposals" on strategic decisions (subject to getting fifty signatures, say) at EA orgs, which other pledgers could then vote on? (Not necessarily just at GWWC) Obviously there are issues: 

  • voters may not be the epistemic peers of grantmaking experts / EA organization employees
  • voters may not be the epistemic peers of the UHNW donors themselves who have more reputational stake in ensuring their donations go well
  • UHNW donors have a lot of bargaining power when dealing with EA institutions and few incentives to open themselves up to democratic checks on their decision-making 
  • determining who gets to vote is hard
  • some decisions need to be made quickly
  • sometimes there are infohazards 

But there are advantages too, and I expect that often they outweigh the disadvantages:

  • wisdom of crowds
  • diversified incentives
  • democracy is a great look

This comment seems to be generating substantial disagreement. I'd be curious to hear from those who disagree: which parts of this comment do you disagree with, and why?

Hi Cesar! You might be interested to check out the transparency page for the Against Malaria Foundation:  

I'd be interested in surveying on whether people believe that AI [could presently/might one day] do a better job governing the [United States/major businesses/US military/other important institutions] than [elected leaders/CEOs/generals/other leaders].

I don't think this is true. Dunbar's number is a limit on the number of social relationships an individual can cognitively sustain. But the sorts of  networks needed to facilitate productive work are different than those needed to sustain fulfilling social relations. If there is a norm that people are willing to productively collaborate with the unknown contact of a known contact, then surely you can sustain a productive community with approx Dunbar's number ^2 people (if each member of my Dunbar-sized community has their own equivalently-sized community with no shared members). 

Thanks for contributing this critique, your invitation for argument, and your open-mindedness! 

I think one important inequality in the distribution of power is that between presently living people and future generations. The latter have not only no political power, but no direct causal power at all. While we might decry a world where we have to persuade or compel billionaires  -- or seek to become billionaires ourselves -- to have much hope at large-scale influence, these tools are much better  than anything future generations have got. Our power over future generations is asymmetric and  terrifying: their mere existence may depend on our present choices. To the extent that we might care about the distribution of power intrinsically and not just because of the effects on welfare (I don't personally find this view compelling), it seems like the highest priority redistributions of power are to those who have the least at present. One avenue of EA research I am excited about focuses on how we can build institutions and new systems of power to represent the interests of future generations in present political arrangements.  You might also be interested in this analysis of opportunities for improving institutions by the Effective Institutions Project -- which I think is very good EA writing on power.

Animals find themselves in a somewhat similar political situation to future generations: that is, basically powerless. Albeit for different reasons, of course.

Yes, and how many people we project will have this association in the future. I think it's reasonably likely that this view will pick up steam among vaguely activisty people on college campuses in the next five years. That's an important demographic for growing EA.

Great piece, I thought. I think Carrick Flynn's loss may in no small part be due to accidentally cultivating a white crypto-bro aesthetic. If that's right, it is a case of aesthetics mattering a fair amount. Personally, I'd like to see EA do more to avoid donning this aesthetic, which anecdotally seems to turn a lot of people off.

I'd be a little bit concerned by this. I think there's a growing sentiment among young people (especially on university campuses) that classicism is aesthetically: regressive, retrograde, old-white-man stuff. Here's a quote from a recent New York Times piece: 

"Long revered as the foundation of “Western civilization,” [classics] was trying to shed its self-imposed reputation as an elitist subject overwhelmingly taught and studied by white men. Recently the effort had gained a new sense of urgency: Classics had been embraced by the far right, whose members held up the ancient Greeks and Romans as the originators of so-called white culture. Marchers in Charlottesville, Va., carried flags bearing a symbol of the Roman state; online reactionaries adopted classical pseudonyms; the white-supremacist website Stormfront displayed an image of the Parthenon alongside the tagline “Every month is white history month.”"

Edit: this is a criticism of classicism as a useful aesthetic, not of the enlightenment. Potentially they're severable.

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