[Question] Could EA be ideas constrained?

1. Could an “ideas” constraint make sense, in theory?

  • A production function often looks something like Value= f(K,L), where inputs (e.g funding (K) and people (L)) generate impact.

  • But within EA,[1] we could potentially be constrained by (I): the number of ideas.

  • An “Idea” could be both at the cause level (i.e. Cause X), or at the intervention level (e.g. a mega-project)

  • I think it could be clearer and more useful to separate out ideas as their own input—theoretically it seems possible to have great people and lots of money, but no ideas about what to do with those resources, and hence have no impact.

  • But maybe ideas are just a multiplier of both capital and labour—ideas can increase impact, but they ultimately can’t be a constraint. This seems to be the theory behind Ben Todd’s talk at EAG.

  • I feel like ideas as a separate input makes sense. But does this just confuse things?

2. If so, is EA idea constrained today?

  • It seems like early on, EA was funding constrained. This seems no longer true.

  • Then, EA was “people” constrained, in various capacities.[2]

  • Now, EA could be ideas constrained. Is this true?

And (if I can squeeze a 3rd question in), what can be done about this?


  1. It’s also possible similar constraints exist in an economy more broadly—e.g. Entrepreneurship ↩︎

  2. E.g. “talent”, “management”, “network”, “skills”, “risk”. ↩︎

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