[This comment is partly an update of my April 2020 post about my donation plans.]
Where I’m giving: This year, I plan to give 10% of my income (as per my Giving What We Can Pledge), and “invest to give” a larger portion.
I gave ~2% of my income to CEEALAR (formerly known as the EA Hotel). I currently plan to give another ~4% to GCRI and ~4% to ALLFED.
I’m open to feedback on these plans :)
Why mostly investing to give + giving 10%?
Ultimately, I plan to give away a very high proportion of the income I earned over my lifetime. But I find it very plausible (~30-80% likely) that marginal EA dollars would do more good if invested and given later (with interest) than if invested now. And “investing to give” arguably maintains more option value than “giving now”, which is relevant because I expect there’ll be additional useful work on the “giving now vs later” question over the coming year, which can inform my decision then.
But this is a complicated matter; see this post, this comment, and this post for more details and caveats.
But I currently still plan to give 10% this year anyway. This is partly just because I want to, and partly for secondary benefits—e.g., maybe many EAs “putting their money where their mouth is” helps with movement-building and with EA’s external reputation. (That said, “investing to give” via a donor-advised fund rather than regular investments may also capture those secondary benefits.)
Why CEEALAR (aka the EA Hotel)?
When I decided in April to give to CEEALAR, I had three different types of rationale.
First, I spent a month at CEEALAR in Jan/Feb. I was a “grantee”, so I didn’t have to pay for my stay. But I was able to pay, and it seems like probably a good norm for those who stay at CEEALAR and are able to pay to do so. And I enjoyed my time there, and it was useful to be able to stay there (in order to have my first month of work for a previous employer be in-person).
Second, my understanding was that CEEALAR had a fairly limited runway, such that, if they’d received little donations for something like 3-12 months, they might have had to make hard-to-reverse decisions that’d lastingly damage its ability to have an impact in future. I thought it was plausible that COVID could cause this. (I haven’t checked since then whether that seems to have been an accurate assessment and how much runway they now have.)
Third, I think the marginal impact of donations to CEEALAR in general is plausibly fairly high. This is mostly based on the sorts of arguments that have been discussed in the links given here; I don’t think I have much in the way of separate knowledge or insights to add, and I’m fairly uncertain about this (as I am about most important things!).
See also Summary of 2020-2021 GCRI Accomplishments, Plans, and Fundraising
Some potential arguments for giving to GCRI:
I think I’ve been impressed/very impressed with all of the work I’ve seen from Seth Baum (usually with coauthors).
In particular, I thought Long-Term Trajectories of Human Civilization and Quantifying the Probability of Existential Catastrophe: A Reply to Beard et al. Seth D. Baum Global Catastrophic Risk Institute were excellent, and would be keen to see more things like that.
On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve read very many things from Baum or other GCRI people.
It also seems like they produce a lot of output. And I have no particular reason to believe the portions I haven’t read will be of notably lower quality than what I have read.
I seem to see Baum’s name a lot in acknowledgements on other good work.
GCRI / Baum seem to do some work that helps build the longtermist research talent pipeline. For example, they ran a Advising and Collaboration Program in 2019. And a friend of mine reports having received a lot of helpful career advice and connections over the years from Baum (unrelated to that program).
Some potential arguments against giving to GCRI:
I’m not really sure what, specifically, they’d do with more funding. And maybe they’re fairly well funded already?
I haven’t actually looked into their current runway or what they plan to do with more money.
See also ALLFED 2020 Highlights
Some potential arguments for giving to ALLFED:
It does seem like something like ALLFED should exist, and it seems quite surprising and strange that there had previously been so little other similar work. It seems like their niche really was very neglected, and I can’t see good reasons for that neglect.
It also seems that there’s substantial neglect even of the broader category of work ALLFED fits into, with that category roughly being “work to make it less likely that a ‘disaster’ would turn into a civilizational collapse or GCR, or to improve our odds of recovery”
That said, earlier this year, Open Phil granted $3,064,660 to a non-ALLFED research project on emergency food resilience, and wrote “Our interest in emergency foods first came from encountering the work of David Denkenberger and his colleagues at the Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters” (source).
So arguably the neglectedness has now decreased.
But arguably that also suggests ALLFED’s work may have indirectly helped build the field.
ALLFED seem to have a lot of ideas for concrete activities they could do with more funding (see here)
That said, at first glance, some of these proposed activities strike me as perhaps less promising from a longtermist perspective than other work ALLFED has previously done (see also my comment here)
They seem strangely underfunded. E.g., I don’t believe the EA Long-Term Future Fund or Open Philanthropy have funded them, and SFF appears to have given them only 10,000USD. Coupled with the above, this suggests marginal donations may be quite valuable?
I’ve generally been impressed or happy with what I’ve seen of ALLFED / Dave Denkenberger’s work or reasoning (though I haven’t examined it in great detail). It also seems like they manage to get much of their work through peer-review. And at least according to ALLFED’s own post, they seem to have achieved various other successes this year. This all seems to suggest additional work from them may tend to be useful.
They run a large volunteer program, which seems to involve conscious efforts to benefit the volunteers and set them up for further impact later. I have a positive impression of this program (based on this post, talking to people involved in running it, and talking to a friend who’s in it), and think it might help improve the longtermist/existential risk research talent pipeline.
Their board of advisors includes people whose work/reasoning has often seemed good to me.
Their cost-effectiveness estimates seem remarkably promising (see here and here).
But it does seem quite hard to believe that the cost-effectiveness is really that good. And many of the quantities are based on a survey of GCR researchers, with somewhat unclear methodology (e.g., how were the researchers chosen?)
I also haven’t analysed the models very closely
But, other than perhaps the reliance on that survey, I can’t obviously see major flaws, and haven’t seen comments that seem to convincingly point out major flaws. So maybe the estimates are in the right ballpark?
Some potential arguments against giving to ALLFED:
Their work seems less useful in relation to non-extinction existential risks (e.g., suffering risks) than some other existential risk work (e.g., many AI alignment efforts).
See here (not about ALLFED)
Somewhat relevant points are made in Which world gets saved? (not about ALLFED)
As noted above, some of their work or proposed work strikes me as not especially relevant to long-term trajectories of civilization (even if potentially very useful for humans in the near-term).
Perhaps them seemingly not having been funded by the EA Long-Term Future Fund, Open Phil, and various other funders is evidence that there’s some reason not to support them, which I just haven’t recognised?
I’d be interested to learn (a) whether ALLFED has reached out to the LTF and Open Phil, or been reached out to by them, and (b) if so, why ALLFED wasn’t funded by them (if indeed they haven’t been). But I’d also understand if that sort of info wouldn’t be made public.
I’d be interested in hearing from people in general who have actively decided not to fund ALLFED, and why they made that decision.
What might I do otherwise/next year?
I think it’s pretty plausible that I should do one of the following things instead of my current plan:
Increase or decrease how much I “invest to give” relative to how much I give this year
Invest via a donor-advised fund rather than a regular index fund
Give to the EA Long-Term Future Fund or to a donor lottery rather than directly to specific charities
Give to a different specific charity
Note: I haven’t mentioned organisations which I work for or previously worked for, but you shouldn’t interpret that as a signal of my opinions about them. I think that there should probably be a weak norm against donating to one’s employers—even if they seem like they could use marginal dollars well—for the reasons outlined here (e.g., donating to one’s employer could introduce biases and conflicts of interest).
Update: I ended up giving ~5% of my income from this year to GCRI, ~2.5% to ALLFED, ~2% to CEELAR, and small amounts to some other places.
Part of why I gave more to GCRI was simply that I offered donation swaps for my giving to both GCRI and ALLFED (since I’m in Australia), and the GCRI offer got a match first, and for the full amount.
Here are two additional potential reasons for giving to ALLFED, which didn’t seem important enough to include in my already-long parent comment:
Funding ALLFED to complete more of its proposed activities seems likely to provide substantial value of information regarding ALLFED, alternative foods, and the GCRs ALLFED focuses on.
But maybe this benefit is reduced now that Open Phil have made the above-mentioned grant.
ALLFED/Denkenberger appear thoughtful and open to counterarguments and feedback.
E.g., Denkenberger’s statement here.
And two additional potential reasons against, which again seemed insufficiently important to mention above:
Perhaps work on alternative foods could have a “moral hazard” effect, increasing the likelihood of GCRs and agricultural shortfalls?
But a substantial effect of that nature seems quite unlikely to me. And ALLFED do already account for this possibility in their cost-effectiveness model.
ALLFED have gotten some coverage in media outlets (e.g., here, here, and here). I mostly see this as impressive and probably good, and my impression is that they’re pretty thoughtful about this. But I guess there could be risks of low-fidelity communication and reputational harm (see also memetic downside risks).
In particular, some of their ideas could be mutated by the media into something like fringe survivalist/prepper ideas. (Though maybe the coronavirus pandemic reduces this risk, as that fringe might seem a little less fringey now…)
Thanks, MichaelA! On neglectedness, it is true that $3 million is very large in this space. However, the Open Phil funded group decided to propose to work on alternative foods that they already had expertise in. This includes cellulosic sugar, duckweed, forest products including inner bark, mushrooms, and sprouts. With the exception of cellulosic sugar, these alternative foods are higher cost than the ones that ALLFED is prioritizing. Low cost is important for feeding nearly everyone and maintaining stability of civilization. Therefore, we don’t believe that the highest priority sun-blocking solutions (cellulosic sugar, methane single cell protein, hydrogen single cell protein, cold tolerant crops, greenhouses, seaweed, and leaf protein concentrate) are significantly less neglected now. Furthermore, the Open Phil funded project is generally not working on interventions for losing electricity/industry, so that remains highly neglected.
That’s useful info, and sounds to me like a fair point. Thanks :)
But then this strikes me as tying back into the idea that “Perhaps [ALLFED] seemingly not having been funded by the EA Long-Term Future Fund, Open Phil, and various other funders is evidence that there’s some reason not to support them, which I just haven’t recognised?”
Here that question can take a more concrete form: If Open Phil chose to fund a group that’d work on alternative foods that ALLFED thinks will be less promising than the alternative foods ALLFED focuses on, but didn’t choose to fund ALLFED (at least so far), does that mean:
Open Phil are making a mistake?
ALLFED are wrong about which foods are most promising?
Perhaps because they’re wrong about the relative costs, or because there are other considerations which outweigh the cost consideration?
ALLFED are right about which foods are most promising, but there’s some other overriding reason why the other team was a better donation opportunity?
E.g., perhaps at the present margin, what’s most needed is more academic credibility and that team could get it better than ALLFED could?
There’s some alternative explanation such that Open Phil’s decisions are sound but also ALLFED is a good donation opportunity?
E.g., perhaps there’s some reason why Open Phil in particular shouldn’t fund ALLFED at this stage, even if it thought ALLFED was a good opportunity for other donors?
I don’t really know how likely each of those possible implications are (and thus I don’t have strong reason to believe 2 or 3 are the most likely implications). So this is just a confusing thing and a potential argument against donating to ALLFED, rather than a clearly decisive argument.
I’d be interested in your (or other people’s) thoughts on this—but would also understand if this is inappropriate to discuss publicly.
(Btw, I wouldn’t want readers to interpret this as a major critique or an expression of strong doubt. I’d expect to have at least some doubt or reservation with regards to basically any place I choose to donate to, work for, etc. - prioritisation is hard! - and I’m still planning to give ~4% of my income this year to ALLFED.)