comment by aogara (Aidan O'Gara) ·
2022-03-31T20:59:51.195Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Some thoughts on FTX copied from this [EA · GW] thread:
One way to approach this would simply be to make a hypothesis (i.e. the bar for grants is being lowered, we're throwing money at nonsense grants), and then see what evidence you can gather for and against it.
Thinking about FTX and their bar for funding seems very important. I'm thrilled that so much money is being put towards EA causes, but a few early signs have been concerning. Here’s two considerations on the hypothesis that FTX has a lower funding bar than previous EA funding.
First, it seems that FTX would like to spend a lot more a lot faster than has been the EA consensus for a long time. Perhaps it's a rational response to having more available funds, but the funds are nowhere near unlimited. If the entire value of FTX was liquidated and distributed to the 650 million people in extreme poverty, each impoverished person would receive only $49, leaving global poverty as pressing a problem as ever.
It also strikes against recent work on patient philanthropy , which is supported by Will MacAskill's argument that we are not living in the most influential time in human history. (EDIT: See additional section below.) It seems that this money is intended to be disbursed with much less research and deliberation than used by GiveWell, OpenPhilanthropy, and other grantmakers, with no visible plans to build a sizeable research organization before giving out their money. Using the Rowing vs Steering analogy [EA · GW] of EA, FTX has strapped a motor engine to the EA boat without engaging in any substantial steering of the boat.
On the object level, the Atlas Fellowship for high schoolers looks concerning on a few levels. The program intends to award $50K to 100 fellows by April 10th of this year. The fellowship has received little major press and was announced on Tyler Cowen's blog only 2 days ago. This does not seem like enough time or publicity to generate the strongest possible pool of applicants. The selection process itself is unusual in a number of ways, requiring standardized tests but not grades or letters of recommendation, and explicitly not pursuing goals of diversity in race, gender, or socioeconomic status. The program is working with a number of young EAs with good reputations for direct work in their respective cause areas, but little to no experience in running admissions processes or academic fellowships (bottom of this page). Will this $5.5M given to high schoolers for professional development really do more good than spending it on lifesaving medication or other provably beneficial interventions?
There's a lot to cover here and I've raised more questions or concerns than I've offered answers. But FTX is a massively influential development within EA, and should receive a lot of time and attention to make sure it achieves its full potential for positive impact.
More Thoughts on FTX
I'm confused by FTX's astronomical spend on PR and brand awareness. Wikipedia gives a good breakdown of the spend, highlights include renaming an NBA arena, a college football stadium, an esports organization, and the Mercedes Benz Formula One team; sponsoring athletes such as Tom Brady, Steph Curry, and Shohei Ohtani; and making donations to the personal charitable foundations of celebrities Phil Mickelson, Alex Honnold, and Bryson DeChambeau. The marketing spend has been on the order of hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars. This would all be wonderful if it's a profit-making strategy that creates more funding for good causes on net. But I would ask both how this will be perceived publicly, and the object-level question of whether this spending is, say, 8x better than donating directly to people in poverty through GiveDirectly.
Separately, I think there's a real tension between the fact that FTX is headquartered in the Bahamas to avoid paying taxes and the fact that Sam Bankman Fried was the second largest donor to the Joe Biden campaign. They care enough about American politics to spend millions trying to influence the outcome of our elections, but don't feel any responsibility to pay taxes? You can make the pure utilitarian argument, but I think most people would object to it.
EDIT: Spending Now as Patient Philanthropy
Thank you to several people who pointed out that spending now might be the best means to patient philanthropy, particularly for longtermists. Here is Owen Cotton-Barratt's explanation of why "patient vs urgent longtermism" has little direct bearing on giving now vs later [EA · GW] that conceptualizes some forms of current grantmaking as investments that open up greater opportunities for giving at a more impactful time in the future. FTX is specifically interested in these kinds of investments in future opportunities, with five or more [EA · GW] of their focus areas potentially leading to greater opportunities in the future. Lukas Gloor also points out that there is significantly more disagreement [EA · GW]about the Hinge of History hypothesis than I realized, much of it about priors and anthropic reasoning arguments that I don't quite understand. This all seems reasonable, particularly for an organization that is trying to find giving opportunities to fulfill their mission of longtermist grantmaking. Replies from: Stefan_Schubert, Linch, casebash, Aidan O'Gara
↑ comment by Stefan_Schubert ·
2022-04-02T11:07:35.525Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
First, it seems that FTX would like to spend a lot more a lot faster than has been the EA consensus for a long time. ... It also strikes against recent work on patient philanthropy, which is supported by Will MacAskill's argument that we are not living in the most influential time in human history.
I don't think fast spending in and of itself strikes against patient longtermism: see Owen-Cotton-Barratt's post "Patient vs urgent longtermism" has little direct bearing on giving now vs later [EA · GW].Replies from: Lukas_Gloor
↑ comment by Lukas_Gloor ·
2022-04-02T12:15:08.671Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
In addition, the arguments for not living in the most influential time in human history are rejected by many EAs, as you can see in the discussion section of MacAskill's orginal article and here [EA · GW].
(In general, I think it's legitimate even for very large organizations to bet on a particular worldview, especially if they're being transparent to donors and supporters.)
(That said, I want to note that "spend money now" is very different from "have a low bar." I haven't looked into FTX grants yet, but I want to flag that while I'm in favor of deploying capital now, I wouldn't necessarily lower the bar. Instead, I'd aggressively fund active grantmaking and investigations into large grants in areas where EAs haven't been active yet.)
Replies from: Aidan O'Gara
↑ comment by Linch ·
2022-03-31T23:04:23.290Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
This would all be wonderful if it's a profit-making strategy that creates more funding for good causes on net. But I would ask both how this will be perceived publicly, and the object-level question of whether this spending is, say, 8x better than donating directly to people in poverty through GiveDirectly.
The second sentence seems to be confusing investment with consumption. Replies from: Aidan O'Gara
↑ comment by aogara (Aidan O'Gara) ·
2022-04-01T00:51:27.404Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
The investment in advertising, versus the consumption-style spending on GiveDirectly? Just meant to compare the impact of the two. The first’s impact would come by raising more money to eventually be donated, the second is directly impactful, so I’d like to think about which is a better use of the funds.
↑ comment by Chris Leong (casebash) ·
2022-04-02T09:40:25.545Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I suggest caution with trying to compare the future fund's investments against the donating to global poverty without engaging with the long-termist worldview. This worldview you could be right or wrong but it is important to engage with it to understand why FTX might consider these investments worthwhile.
Another part of the argument is that there is currently an absurd amount of money per effective altruist. This might not matter for global poverty where much of the work can be outsourced, but it is a much bigger problem for many projects in other areas. In this scenario, it might make sense to exchange apps to seeming amounts of money to grow the pool of committed members, at least if this really is the bottleneck, particularly if you believe that certain projects need to be completed on short timelines.
I agree being situated in the Bahamas is less than deontologically spotless but I don't believe that avoiding the negative PR is worth billions of dollars and I don't see it as a particularly egregious moral violation nor do I see this as significantly reducing trust in EA or FTX.