[EDIT as of Nov 2022: this post was published before the FTX bankruptcy and associated scandals in November 2022. The EA funding situation now looks markedly weaker, so parts of this post may no longer be relevant.]
In this post I'll first argue that we may look back at 2021-2022 as a time when EA entered a new phase (a "third wave" or "adulthood" could be appropriate terms). To be more specific, this phase shift would entail a sustained increase in money moved by the EA movement (say, by 2-5x or so? I haven't dug into the data enough to make a proper forecast), as well as the attention that people who don't identify as effective altruists pay to the movement.
We are already seeing some of this acceleration (with e.g., Open Philanthropy and GiveWell scaling up significantly in 2021, good growth for CEA in 2021, the FTX Future Fund launching in 2022 (leading to record high funding numbers) and attracting significant attention for donations to congressional candidate Carrick Flynn, record-breaking numbers of EA Global participants in 2022, and the recent publication of Will MacAskill's book What We Owe the Future, with associated media attention), so I don't expect this to be a controversial claim.
Then, I'll list some implications for 1) people who identify as (aspiring) effective altruists, 2) leaders in EA-aligned organizations, and 3) people with influence strategy and cultural norms at the movement level (a "movement leader"). In short, many effective altruists can take this moment of positive momentum to raise their ambitions; however, it is also a precarious moment of where the risk of values drift is elevated, so movement leaders should invest more than usually in steering the EA movement in the right direction.
Many of these thoughts have already been expressed more eloquently elsewhere; please consider this post my 5 cents chiming in - and for some, perhaps it can serve as a convenient summary.
A short history of EA
First, one may (somewhat simplified) consider the history of EA in roughly two waves: one may trace the origins of the movement to the first wave ("the infancy" of the movement), which I'll limit to pre-2011, and the second wave (the "youth phase" of the movement), which I'll consider to have lasted around a decade. I'll give some more details below, but since I only learned of EA in 2014 myself, I'm not the best to give a detailed account of the early days. The following paragraphs are a summary and an interpretation of the events described by CEA, Wikipedia, and various Forum articles on the history of EA, and so may be skipped by some readers (though they form some of the context for the argument further down).
During the first wave, organizations such as GiveWell (2007), Giving What We Can (2009) and 80000hours (2011) were launched. Peter Singer published his book The Life You Can Save (2009), and the rationalist community grew up around the Overcoming Bias/LessWrong blogs (2006). Individuals within these various communities and organizations sometimes interacted with each other, but there was no explicit unifying umbrella.
2011 marked a pivotal year, with the founding of the Centre for Effective Altruism (and the invention of the term effective altruist), and the launch of GiveWell labs, which later became Open Philanthropy. This is why I've used this as the pivotal year from wave 1 to wave 2.
During the following decades, the amount of funding in the EA movement increased substantially, and many new organizations and projects were started. Some projects took names that explicitly showed a link to the EA movement, such as EA Funds, EA Global (which started as the EA summit in 2013), and the EA Foundation, and local effective altruism groups all over the world. Others, Like Longview Philanthropy, Effective Giving, Charity Entrepreneurship, endorsed many of the same values and ideas, and were started by people affiliated with the movement, but did not put the link explicitly in their name. Some organizations in this category focused on specific related cause areas, such as the Lead Exposure Elimination Project, Animal Charity Evaluators, Centre for the Governance of AI, the Global Priorities Institute, and Guarding Against Pandemics, to mention a few. Books like The Most Good You Can Do (2015), Doing Good Better (2015), 80000hours (2016) and The Precipice (2020) were published, and Vox launched a column called Future Perfect, covering various EA-related topics.
Entering the third wave
As described in the introduction, there are now signs that Effective Altruism is entering a new phase, where it attracts more public attention, and is able to move larger sums of money. In parallel, the culture in the movement is evolving, from a cost-efficiency mindset in the past, to an ambition mindset going forward (see e.g., Ben Todd arguing for this, Nathan Young raising the call for potential megaprojects, and Stefan Schubert arguing for raising salaries in EA).
The reason why I believe this shift will happen, is that in the short term, grantmakers seem to be less constrained by available funding, than by projects to fund. And the number of available projects does not seem to be limited by available ideas - in fact, grantmakers often have lists of ideas that they want to fund. Using a simplified model of how the EA community creates impact (see visual below), this means that either talent, or our ability to deploy inputs to impactful projects and convert them to impact, are the limiting factors. This is likely to intensify going forward, as the additional attention generated by the recent book launch may attract money faster than it attracts talent (since it will take some time to build the relevant career capital to do direct work for people who encounter EA for the first time now).
When talent or deployment are the limiting factors, it is a good time to be either 1) an experienced effective altruist or 2) a leader in an organization working on deploying EA resources:
- If you identify as an (aspiring) effective altruist, but you're not working for an EA organization yet, now is a good time to consider applying for a role, or for funding to start an organization. The tailwinds from new funding, attention and community infrastructure may help you leapfrog into roles of high impact that could take a long time in less favorable environments (especially since you are deeply familiar with the movement and have trust-based relationships with leaders in the movement; if so, you'll be able to help the movement in ways that people discovering EA for the first time are not yet positioned to do)
- If you are a leader of an EA-aligned organization, consider how your organization can 1) use this favorable environment to scale your impact (e.g., should you be recruiting more, raise your ambition level, or start new initiatives?), and 2) help others in the EA movement use this positive momentum, e.g., by providing critical infrastructure that help others start new projects.
- If you are a movement leader however (think: someone who holds talks at EA Global, runs a high-profile blog about effective altruism, appears on high-profile podcasts, and/or influences how our resources are allocated; say, Ben Todd, Holden Karnofsky, or Sam Bankman-Fried) now may be a precarious moment where extra consideration is required. As the movement grows, the values that shaped the movement may be put under pressure.
For instance, should EA aim to be a big tent movement, spanning different cause areas, including members with different levels of commitment to altruism, and with distributed decision making for how to allocate funding; or, should EA maintain a relatively concentrated base of grant-makers, double down on a few top cause areas, and uphold high norms of altruism from its leaders (such as having taken the Pledge, being vegan, or otherwise willing to make life-altering decisions to maximize impact)? How do we maintain high epistemic standards in a rapidly growing movement? How do we avoid creating resentment in an environment where, even though capital is abundant, the funding bar is still very high, and many still will not get funding for their projects? The right answer may not be to simply try to prevent values drift; some values that served EA well in the past, such as a cost-efficiency mindset, may be less relevant with more influence, where it may make more sense to adopt an ambition mindset focused on the total impact, even if that impact is costly to achieve.
Disclaimer: I have not invested a lot of time in quantitative research for this post. It is based on my rough impressions absorbed over the last few years, and I am therefore not confident in all of the conclusions. I have not tracked the Forum closely lately, so some of it will likely be duplicative of existing posts. In some cases, I've listed examples of organizations and projects; all of these lists are incomplete, I intend no insult to those omitted. Finally, the people mentioned by name in this post have not been consulted ahead of posting; any mistakes or misrepresentations are purely my own. I still chose to post it as I am trying to get back into a habit of posting on the forum, which won't happen if I start out with a too high bar.