What I liked about this post:
While you began by speculating that movement building received a relatively small fraction of EA resources, you later backed that up with a lot of data. (It would have been nice to present the data earlier, though—it lends more context to your early arguments.)
You bring up specific organizations that might invest more in MB strategy (e.g. GiveWell buying more ads) and list a lot of good, specific ideas.
You present reasons you could be wrong—always a good call!
What I’d recommend changing:
You currently don’t use any headings, which means you don’t get the automatic table of contents that headings would generate. I recommend changing all your section titles to H2, or at least rendering them in bold (the Forum would then treat them as headings).
A few thoughts on the piece itself:
The share of funding directed at MB work may be a bit deceptive, as the main form of MB in EA is very cheap (running local groups, particularly student groups). I expect that a much higher percentage of EA hours goes toward MB than EA funding.
MB likely gets less attention from EA media (e.g. the 80,000 Hours podcast, the EA Newsletter) because it’s not very interesting to broad audiences that aren’t already invested in EA. The podcast has (I think) over 10,000 regular listeners, and the newsletter has over 10,000 regular readers. I expect that the majority of both audiences would not describe themselves as “active in the EA movement”.
I think that many donors have much more extreme views on the relative value of charities/cause areas than in the example you present. For example, someone might think that the Long-Term Future Fund generates 100x the value/dollar as the Global Development Fund, such that trying to grow both funds by giving to the Infrastructure Fund isn’t too likely to pan out. (I think you’d need something like a 4-5x multiplier on MB funding to get better value than with direct LTFF funding in my example, but I haven’t worked out all the math.)
Funding non-MB causes may actually be a good way to build the movement. When I won a bunch of money in front of a large audience this year, I declared that I would donate it to GiveWell, partly because I thought GiveWell’s work would be interesting to many people in the audience. Had I announced that I would give it to build awareness of something called “effective altruism”, those same audience members likely would have been confused. I also have a much easier time pitching EA by discussing ways I’ve helped people in the developing world (going “meta” generally won’t appeal to newcomers).
To take another example, I am personally deeply impressed by the work of Kelsey Piper and Dylan Matthews et al at Future Perfect. But, why did its creation require a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, which is not explicitly associated with EA? If there was a team at CEA flush with money and looking to spread EA ideas, would Future Perfect or a similar project have been started several years earlier?
If I recall correctly (I might not), Future Perfect launched pretty quickly after Dylan/Ezra Klein came up with the idea. The idea of starting an “EA media outlet” would have seemed very limited by available talent until the Vox folks got involved, and once they did, I think they obtained a Rockefeller grant before much time had passed, removing the need to raise further “EA” money. (I also wonder whether Dylan would have preferred not to fundraise from EA donors/organizations, so that Future Perfect could more easily remain neutral in its coverage of the movement.)
In any case, I also think MB is pretty neglected and agree with the general thrust of your post. That’s why I work in the area full-time!
Thanks so much for the feedback—just edited with the improved formatting. Regarding your thoughts:
Point well taken that MB likely receives a higher proportion of hours. However, it still seems plausible that its share of hours is too low; there a lot of people with full time positions dedicated to direct work (though insofar as these people are earning a salary for themselves that they’d have to earn in some position, not all of this time can be thought of as being spent on an EA cause unless we discount their salary from the ‘donation’ side of things). Also, seems that a reason that the main forms of MB are cheap is because MB isn’t well-funded. If AI safety was underfunded, the main forms of AI safety work would be cheap too.
Seems perfectly reasonable that the 80k podcast, etc. should consider entertainment, non-EA engagement, and similar considerations. That said, an unintended consequence might be that people like me get the wrong impression that more experienced folks have concluded that MB isn’t super important/neglected/tractable.
Yeah, the 10 vs 4 utils/dollar example might have been misleading and I agree with your point. One thought: perhaps this might be a sort of coordination problem, where it isn’t rational for an individual to fund MB in isolation, but everyone would prefer that everyone give more funding to MB if they could coordinate. Haven’t given this idea much thought though.
Good point that non-MB work has a sort of MB ‘externality.’ This has to be balanced against the obvious ways that MB helps direct causes.
Probably shouldn’t have used the Future Perfect example, as it was fallacious to think that funding was its main constraint. Thanks for the correction.