Cause X Guide

One of the fac­tors that makes the effec­tive al­tru­ism move­ment differ­ent from so many oth­ers is that its mem­bers are unified by the broad ques­tion “How can I do the most good” in­stead of by spe­cific solu­tions, such as “re­duce cli­mate change.” One of the most im­por­tant ques­tions EAs need to con­sider is what cause area pre­sents the high­est im­pact for their work.

There are four es­tab­lished cause ar­eas in effec­tive al­tru­ism: global poverty, fac­tory-farmed an­i­mals, ar­tifi­cial in­tel­li­gence ex­is­ten­tial risk, and EA meta. How­ever, there are dozens of other cause ar­eas that some EAs con­sider promis­ing. The con­cept be­hind a “cause X” is that there could be a cause ne­glected by the EA com­mu­nity but that is as im­por­tant, or more im­por­tant, to work on than the four cur­rently es­tab­lished EA cause ar­eas. Find­ing a new cause X should be one of the biggest goals of the EA move­ment and one of the largest op­por­tu­ni­ties for an in­di­vi­d­ual EA to achieve coun­ter­fac­tual im­pact.

One ex­am­ple of many of cause X’s posts hav­ing an im­pact is that some of these posts have in­fluenced Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship’s fo­cus on men­tal health. The Cause X dis­cus­sion has also in­fluenced one of the largest foun­da­tions in the world, Good Ven­tures.

This guide, how­ever, aims to com­pile the most use­ful con­tent for eval­u­at­ing new pos­si­ble cause Xs and com­pare them to the cur­rently es­tab­lished top cause ar­eas. Some of the con­tent is old, and some of it does not perfectly ad­dress its ques­tion. How­ever, these were the best sources I could find to de­bate and ex­plain the is­sues. This guide is aimed at an in­ter­me­di­ate EA au­di­ence who already has a solid un­der­stand­ing of EA ideas.

The guide is bro­ken down into three sec­tions. The in­tro­duc­tion aims to ex­plain the con­cepts needed to com­pare cause ar­eas such as “Cause X,” “How a new cause area might be in­tro­duced to the EA com­mu­nity,” “Cur­rent meth­ods used to split re­sources be­tween causes,” and “Con­cerns with some of those method­olo­gies.” The sec­ond sec­tion is fo­cused on com­par­ing top causes and re­view­ing some of the key is­sues that di­vide cur­rent sup­port­ers of the big four cause ar­eas. The fi­nal sec­tion aims to pre­sent sev­eral pos­si­ble can­di­dates for cause X as new ar­eas worth con­sid­er­ing. It is only a small sam­ple of the full list of causes pre­sented and con­sid­ered in the EA move­ment, but they were se­lected to rep­re­sent the ar­eas (other than the big four) that many EAs would con­sider promis­ing. I used three differ­ent meth­ods to de­vise a list of 15 cause ar­eas that might be con­sid­ered promis­ing can­di­dates for cause X, se­lect­ing five causes per method.

Method 1: Cause ar­eas among the top ten listed on the EA sur­vey
Method 2: Cause ar­eas en­dorsed by two or more ma­jor EA or­ga­ni­za­tions
Method 3: Cause pro­files or pitches with 50 or more up­votes on the EA Fo­rum

This guide aims to be a re­source wherein cause Xs can be no­ticed, read about, and more deeply con­sid­ered. There are hun­dreds of ways to make the world a bet­ter place. Given the EA move­ment’s rel­a­tive youth and fre­quently un­sys­tem­atic way of re­view­ing cause ar­eas, there is am­ple room for more con­sid­er­a­tion and re­search. The goal of the guide is for more peo­ple to con­sider a wider range of cause ar­eas so we, as a move­ment, have a bet­ter chance of find­ing new and im­pact­ful ways to do good.

Cause X guide con­tent

-Four fo­cus ar­eas of EA
-EA cause se­lec­tion
-World view di­ver­sifi­ca­tion
-Cause X
-What if you’re work­ing on the wrong cause?
-EA rep­re­sen­ta­tive­ness
-How to get a cause into EA

Com­par­ing top causes
-An­i­mals > Hu­mans
-Hu­mans > An­i­mals
-Long-term fu­ture > Near-term fu­ture
-Near-term fu­ture > Long-term fu­ture
-Meta > Direct
-Direct > Meta

New causes one could con­sider.
-Men­tal health
-Cli­mate change
-Nu­clear war
-Wild an­i­mal suffer­ing
-Meta sci­ence re­search
-Im­prov­ing in­sti­tu­tional de­ci­sion mak­ing
-Im­mi­gra­tion re­form
-Govern­ment policy
-Mo­ral cir­cle ex­pan­sion
-Pain in the de­vel­op­ing world
-Coal fires

If this guide is helpful to a lot of peo­ple, I will up­date or deepen the key posts or con­nect them bet­ter to make a more com­pre­hen­sive PDF hand­book. We will also keep a copy of this guide on Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship’s web­site here so it is eas­ier for peo­ple to find in the fu­ture.