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What is the Least Impactful Method to Spend $300 Million?

What is the Least Impactful Method to Spend $300 Million?

2023-04-13 20:40:28

Earlier this week, hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin achieved an embarrassingly spectacular feat: he donated $300 million in resembling a means as to do as shut as potential to zero good with it.

Ken, who made his fortune in finance by founding Citadel and Citadel Securities, and is maybe greatest generally known as one of many chief villains within the Gamestop meme-stock saga, has now donated greater than half a billion {dollars} to Harvard. This most up-to-date donation, which is unrestricted, triggered the varsity to rename their graduate college the “Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences.”

Paying $300 million for a plaque together with your identify on it over a constructing is useless, certain, however not less than it was going to trigger, proper? Furthering “the Faculty’s mission and to advance cutting-edge analysis and broaden entry and excellence in schooling for college students and students no matter financial circumstances,” as framed by Harvard’s press release, is a noble philanthropic purpose. Who would take challenge with that?


Harvard is the richest school in the world. It had an endowment of $50.9 billion as of the varsity’s final annual report. The endowment has distributed roughly $2 billion to the varsity yearly for the previous 5 years. Harvard has the fifth highest per capita endowment ($2,013,622 per pupil) and raised $1.38 billion final yr, even except for its traditionally giant endowment.

Ken’s immense present, then, elevated the dimensions of Harvard’s endowment by ~0.6% or may fund 5.5% of the varsity’s operating expenses for a yr.

Assuming the fund’s historical return of 11%, Ken’s present is the same as 5.4% of the fund’s anticipated return for 2023. In brief, Ken’s present is a rounding error for Harvard. It doesn’t materially change their means to ship on their mission (“to coach the residents and citizen-leaders for our society”) in any means.

Why does this matter? Once more, it’s higher to donate to a college, even an already-rich one, than for Ken to maintain it, proper? I imply, I assume? The true ignominy of this donation, although, is in its alternative value.

Efficient Altruism has had a troublesome yr w/r/t optics. However this type of present is EXACTLY why the motion is vital. Based on GiveWell’s most up-to-date impression estimates (as of August 2022), Ken’s present may have had the next impacts:

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You possibly can critique these numbers. For instance, there has not too long ago been some careful reexamination of the efficacy of deworming. You might additionally, fairly fairly, observe that donating such a big some would probably run into diminishing marginal returns.

Even if you wish to low cost the above numbers by an order of magnitude, although, I feel that it’s laborious to keep away from concluding that Ken’s option to spend $300 million on a plaque feels morally repugnant when in comparison with tens of hundreds of lives that might have been saved.

Even if you happen to reject the EA framework and are particularly involved with larger schooling, there are schools on the brink of collapse throughout the county, schools that lack endowments the dimensions of a small nation’s GDP. Moreover, the scholars at Harvard, in the event that they aren’t already part of the elite, will probably be after they graduate. College students coming from households making lower than $85,000 a yr already wouldn’t have to pay any tuition. No matter tiny advantages Ken’s present would possibly produce are accruing to those that want them the least. Would it not not be higher to assist assist neighborhood schools, commerce faculties, and even state universities which may truly be useful resource constrained or that serve college students which might be extra in want?

I don’t wish to perpetuate the Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics; I’m not placing Ken on blast for the only real motive that he did one thing along with his cash. Billionaires hoarding wealth solely for themselves is simply as morally reprehensible as Ken shopping for standing. However giving much more cash to the richest academic establishment the world has ever seen, in our resource-constrained world filled with so many issues which might be tractable, is, so far as I’m involved, is as near unhealthy as act might be.

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