I can’t speak for why other people down-voted the comment but I down-voted it because the arguments you make are overly simplistic.
The model you have of philanthropy is that on an agent in each time period has the choice to either (1) invest or (2) spend their resources, and then getting a payoff depending on how influential″ the time is. You argue that the agent should then save until they reach the most influential″ time, before spending all of their resources at this most influential time.
I think this model is misleading for a couple of reasons. First, in the real world we don’t know when the most influential time is. In this case the agent may find it optimal to spend some of their resources at each time step. For instance direct philanthropic donations may give them a better understanding in the future of how influentialness varies (ie, if you don’t invest in AI safety researchers now, how will you ever know whether/when AI safety will be a problem?) You may also worry about “going bust”: if while you are being patient, an existential catastrophe (or value lock-in) happens, then the patient long-termist looses their entire investment.
Perhaps one way to phrase how important this knowledge problem is to finding the optimal strategy is to think about it as analogous to owning stocks in a bubble. You strategy is that we should sell at the market peak, but we can’t do that if we don’t know when that will be.
Second, there are very plausible reasons why now may be the best time to donate. If we can spend money today to permanently reduce existential risk, or to permanently improve the welfare of the global poor, then it is always more valuable to do that action ASAP rather than wait. Likewise we plausibly get more value by working on biorisk, AI safety, or climate change today then we will in 20 years.
Third, the assumption of no diminishing marginal returns is illogical. We should be thinking about how EAs as a whole should spend their money as a whole. As an individual, I would not want to hold out for the most influential time if I thought everyone else was doing the same, and of course as a community we can coordinate.
If we can spend money today to permanently reduce existential risk, or to permanently improve the welfare of the global poor, then it is always more valuable to do that action ASAP rather than wait.
This seems straightforwardly untrue, because you may be able to permanently reduce existential risk more cheaply in the future.
I also think (but am not sure) that Will doesn’t include solving the knowledge problem as part of “direct action”, and so your first critique is not very relevant to the choice between patient philanthropy and direct action, because probably you’ll want to gain knowledge in either case.
I agree with your criticism of my second argument. What I should have instead said is a bit different. There are actions whose value decreases over time. For instance, all else being equal it is better to implement a policy which reduces existential risk sooner rather than later. Patient philanthropy makes sense only if either (a) you expect the growth of your resources to outpace the value lost by failing to act now, or (b) you expect cheaper opportunities to arise in the future. I don’t think there are great reasons to believe either of these is true (or indeed false, I’m not very certain on the issue).
There are two issues with knowledge, and I probably should have separated them more clearly. The more important one is that the kind of decision-relevant information Will is asking for, that is, knowing when and how to spend your money optimally, may well just be unattainable. Optimal strategies with imperfect information probably look very different from optimal strategies with perfect information.
A secondary issue is that you actually need to generate the knowledge. I agree it is unclear whether Will is considering the knowledge problem as part of “direct” or “patient” philanthropy. But since knowledge production might eat up a large chunk of your resources, and since some types of knowledge may be best produced by trying to do direct work, plausibly the “patient philanthropist” ends up spending a lot of resources over time. This is not the image of patient philanthropy I originally had, but maybe I’ve been misunderstanding what Will was envisaging.