Being Open to Bribes for your time (for charities); or Charitable Bribes as Solving a Signaling Problem

post by Brad West · 2022-08-04T04:41:10.937Z · EA · GW · 2 comments


  valuable signaling function our EA networks need.
  Brad's Dilemma- Need a Way to Reach Sam Harris
  Solution- Charitable Bribes
  Potential Issues:

TL;DR:  A system in which people could buy another's time with a charitable donation to evaluate an idea and consider whether/how they might help develop it could be very valuable because it could help charities, but also serve a valuable signaling function our EA networks need.


Brad's Dilemma- Need a Way to Reach Sam Harris

I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. I have what I consider to be an incredible idea [EA · GW]for how to leverage consumer sentiment to channel the profits of economies to effective charities. I am reasonably confident that thought leader Sam Harris would be interested in my idea, given that he endorsed Humanitix stating "This an inspiring idea for a company — and a great ethical advance over the competition", and the charitable organization that I started is working to create the infrastructure for a world of Humanitixes (which I call Guiding Producers). However, it is unlikely that I have much of a method to communicate with him on a reasonably short time scale.

And it is perfectly reasonable for Sam not to read my email. His time is extremely valuable and if he were to read every idea from every fan that wanted to reach out he would not be able to engage in the many important tasks he has to. It occurs to me that many EAs are in a somewhat similar situation to me and Sam. On the me side, many people have great ideas  (none as great as mine, of course) and need the intellectual feedback, connections, or money from brilliant, influential, and/or rich people. And regarding these brilliant, influential, and/or rich people: their time is incredibly valuable, especially if they are EA.  For such people in EA like Sam Harris, Will MacAskill, or Sam Bankman-Fried, to not be selective with their time- thus ignoring the great many- would be a failure to use their time to achieve the greatest positive impact. An unfortunate consequence of this incapacity of the nobodies like me and the responsible use of time by the somebodies, many connections that would be fruitful will be missed.

Solution- Charitable Bribes

A potential solution would be to provide a monetary means of signaling the degree to which attention is sought. Time-starved bigwigs (or anyone really) could set an amount to be donated to a charity of their choice to buy an increment of their time. For instance, perhaps Sam Harris could make me donate $5k to the Malaria Consortium for him to spend 15 minutes reading my short paper (or even an employee of his, to determine whether it is worth Harris's time, as long as this intermediate step was made clear). This seems like it could facilitate connections between those with very different degrees of social status.

This also would enable anyone with money to create a mechanism for evaluating ideas and then funding others, with ideas they think have promise, to connect with the people they need to. 

Potential Issues:

Potentially gives the wealthy a larger voice: One concern is that this would enable the wealthy to have a communication advantage over the poor. However, those with money and influence already have an outsize ability to get in rooms with the people they need to. And essentially charitable rates could be set that they would make the less well off pause before paying the fee, but could enable them to save or pool money to get an audience with a key person. The status quo is likely worse for such people, whereas it would require sacrifice for them to obtain an audience through a charitable bribe, it might be impossible for them to obtain an audience otherwise.

Could prove corrosive to an environment of social generosity: One concern might also be that if such a system was broadly used, people would be less generous with their time with others than they are in the status quo. I would hope that people would view the charitable bribe as a system on top of an environment where we try to respond to people if we can. The community could emphasize that such a tool is not meant to eviscerate social helpfulness and generosity, but rather something to grease the wheels of our EA social machine especially for time-starved people. The fact that individuals themselves would not be the direct beneficiaries of others' sacrifices somewhat mitigates this concern.

People could cheat? This could probably be remedied by the person being visible on Zoom or something. In any case, I would hope that if someone donated a significant sum of money to a charity an EA valued, that they would try to earnestly spend that time for the person's benefit.


Conclusion: Some iteration of a charitable bribery system would be immensely valuable because it could facilitate discussions by allowing seekers to credibly signal their expected value of a connection.

If you know how to get Sam Harris in touch with me, or otherwise want to help me with my project that will end global poverty and factory farming, please check out The Consumer Power Initiative's first newsletter.


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comment by Kirsten (Khorton) · 2022-08-04T10:07:27.505Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Isn't "buying time" more commonly known as "payment" or "wages"? "Bribery" is usually reserved for corruption

Replies from: Brad West
comment by Brad West · 2022-08-04T10:25:56.424Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, it could be thought of as a "consulting fee" too.