Original Post (Marginal Revolution): Emergent Adventures: A New Project to Help Foment Enlightenment

Today, two new philanthropic projects announced funding.

Jeff Bezos

In the first project, Jeff Bezos gave two billion dollars to fund services for poor families and the homeless. This will be his fourth most valuable charitable project, behind The Washington Post, Blue Origin and of course the world’s greatest charity Amazon.com. He is truly a great man.

In exchange for giving two billion dollars to help those in need, he was roundly criticized throughout the internet for not giving away more of his money faster. Every article I’ve seen emphasizes how little of his wealth this is, and how much less generous this is than Warren Buffet or Bill Gates. The top hit when I googled was a piece entitled “Jeff Bezos donates money to solve problem he helped create,” because he’s a capitalist and exploits the workers, don’t you know? Never mind that he’s the biggest source of new consumer surplus we have.

This isn’t quite as big an abomination as the Peter Singer claim that someone who gives away almost all of their vast fortune is basically the worst person ever for not giving away the rest of it. Or even that they’re the worst person in the world for giving away that money in a slightly less than optimal fashion. Won’t someone think of the utils?

But it’s not that far behind.

That doesn’t mean we don’t wish he’d do more, or that we don’t want to help him optimize to have the best impact. It’s important to help everyone play their best game, and I could definitely think of better uses for the money. The hot takes using that angle will doubtless follow shortly.

But, seriously: If you see someone donating two billion dollars to help the less fortunate and you can’t on net say anything nice about it the least you can do is to shut up.

Tyler Cohen’s Emergent Ventures

Now on to the more exciting project that I suspect will have more lasting impact, despite having funding three orders of magnitude smaller.

Emergent Ventures is brilliant. I heartily endorse this service or product.

One of Tyler’s greatest strengths is his ability and willingness to consume and integrate vast amounts of information. He already reads not only a number of books that boggles my mind, but also everything that arrives in his inbox, which is doubtless a criminally underused way to introduce important things into the public discourse. This is how he has a well thought out interesting answer on almost any question you can ask him, as I’ve observed at two in-person audience Q&A sessions.

Now he’s offering the world a golden opportunity. I beseech you to take full advantage of it!

By applying you get to put a 1500 word proposal in front of a brilliant polymath who will at a minimum seriously think about your proposal, and likely offer you feedback. Maybe a dialogue will start. He’ll also incorporate your ideas into his brain, and then perhaps on to his readership.

That’s if you’re not funded. If you are funded, not only will you get Free Money, you’ll get his support helping you succeed. That’s huge.

Emergent Ventures recognizes at least five important facts about the world.

Fact one: Serious attempts at high upside projects (aka ‘moonshots’) where people attempt to do a big thing have ludicrously good rates of return. It is totally fine to not only have most of them fail, but to have most of them have been bad ideas so long as some good ones are mixed in.

Fact two: Having to fit such proposals into boxes that can be approved by bureaucratic systems that in Tyler’s words would ‘keep the crazy off my desk’ are orders of magnitude more damaging to this than most people realize. Such systems have to be game theoretically defended against attempts to extract money. This forces there to be concrete systems guarding the money, so people get paid for ‘hours worked’ and such – lots is wasted to documentation. These systems force applicants to check off tons of boxes, and to pass multiple layers of convincing people, including convincing them that others will become convinced, forcing all projects to become trapped in signaling games and in looking normal and reputable and credible. Even when you could push through something special, there’s little way to know that without trying. So there’s a huge push to do normal-looking things and to end up with tons of time, effort and money wasted.

Fact three: The judgment of a smart individual human can do a better job, and can use ‘watch out for patterns’ and general paying attention to prevent becoming too exploited. There’s no reason to focus on things being non-profits, or not being attempts to make money, or having formal measurable goals at all, if you trust your judgment and are willing to accept mistakes.

Fact four: If the cost of application and the cost of documentation, before and after the grant, is dramatically lowered, then a lot of stuff that wasn’t viable and wouldn’t have even have been considered, is now on the table.

Fact five: People coming to you with short (max 1500 words) descriptions of their best ideas for what is worth doing in the world creates an awesome feed of cool new ideas and proposals and people, leading to food for thought, to new collaborations and connections, and to unknown unknown upsides. Yes, there will also be a lot of ‘money, please’ in there, but in my experience much less than you would naively expect.

You can apply here. I encourage you to do so.







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FWIW, the first section felt like it was seriously burying the lede. I did a quick skim and felt "hmm, this post mostly seems to be repeating arguments I've heard before" and almost stopped.

Cowen, not Cohen

I have an idea: make a search engine for the non-commercial fragment of the web - only sites that don't sell stuff or show ads. That would still support a lot of great content, like Wikipedia or Project Gutenberg, while excluding most of the crap that plagues the web today. Many users would be curious about such a thing, but it looks like commercial search engines don't want to do it, or it would already exist.

The reason I'm not doing this myself is because I'm happy with my job at Google, which lets me support my large family. So anyone is free to take the idea and run with it :-)

Anyone else have nice ideas to give away?

It doesn't look to me like it would produce any problems for DuckDuckGo to have a non-commercial keyword in their search engine.

Google itself has https://cse.google.com/cse/all . Are you sure you couldn't do such a thing inside of Google as a 20% project if you pitch it right?


"Dogpile may look like a search engine you cobbled together with clip-art, but that’s rather the point as it pulls in and ‘curates’ results from various different engines including Google, Yandex and Yahoo, but removes all the ads".

Haha, try searching for "cellular phone" on Dogpile.