Institutions I Would Fund

If I had $100mm today, one thing I’d consider is funding the creation of an institution that uses unconventional measures to accomplish an underrated social need. Here is a list of institutions I would like to exist. If these already exist, please send me a link.

Propagreenda: A green / solarpunk future art & science fiction collective. I would pay very high salaries (six figures) for a plucky band (~10) of artists, visual engineers, digital marketers, and a couple pure misfits to live together (in Brooklyn, Shanghai, London, or somewhere) for a year. They would make propaganda posters, science fiction novellas, Soundcloud rap, tiktok videos, and public performance art that visualize a green, solarpunk future for society. A 3D mockup of a glimmering, 0-carbon metropolis in 2060, explorable in VR. Or Soviet-style posters for maglev trains. They’d have free reign within the scope of the mission. \$100k x 10 for stipends, \$10k/month for rent, \$10k/month for incidentals. “Artists saw it first.”

Pulse: a teen polling organization. What is the consensus voice of the next generation? We barely understand Gen Z but by any measure they are the most culturally productive generation ever. We should have a high-fidelity signal of what future humans think about so we can make good choices with them. They should be polled over Insta.

BigBrain: A psychological hacking centre for learning to think long term. It is very hard, for biological reasons (NB: I know nothing about evolutionary bio), for humans to think about big, long-term problems. How do you have empathy, in your daily decisions, for the 7.7 billion people who make up human race? How do you visualize the social effects of climate change? The centre would be a building where you would spend 3 days combining meditation and exercises to shape your brain towards complex ideas. Plenty of dark rooms, information visualizations, incense, and plants. Any visitor would be allowed to visit semiannually for a tune up.

The Table Grand Prize: A Manhattan Project for extracting data from old PDF tables. So much of our historical information is stored in PDFs/images of tables that optical character recognition (OCR) still has a hard time with. $50mm is awarded towards the team of engineers who develops open source software to solve 98% of the remaining challenging cases, once and for all.

Future News: a future news show. A 3 minute YouTube news show that describes news from the future in as mundane, normal a way as possible. The Onion uses satirical news to highlight a poignant criticism of the current day. Future News would use realistic, speculative storytelling to highlight a poignant criticism of our relationship with the future.

Alottery: a progressive lottery for the wealthy based on their psychological weaknesses. The US spends ~\$70B a year on state lotteries; just 5% of purchasers make up 54% of sales; lower quartile players are disproportionately likely to make up these purchasers. Scratch-cards and lotteries appeal to the fleeting pleasure that comes from believing that in the near future you might be very wealthy. The wealthy don’t care because they’re rich now. Let’s ask what the wealthy are psychologically weak to, and then build a lottery-like mechanism on it. This would be a progressive, redistributive funding system. We’ll spend the money on critical social services or underfunded long-term research.

How We Do: An organizational behaviour study of how to replicate the best of (e.g.) Silicon Valley, Cambridge (MA), and Tokyo. These areas (and others) are often studied because of the economic, political, and human geographic forces that make them exceptionally productive, interesting, or well-functioning. What are the replicable psychological and behavioural aspects of these that can be exported?

Index Group: a non-profit that designs and publishes indices on important things that don’t have indices yet. Indices and rankings are like brain candy. Despite being reductive, they often end up shaping human action. Here’s a Marginal Revolution post calling for the same.

Leontief.AI: Another 2-year investigation into how to do central planning with AI. An essence of Hayekian thought is that central planning is inefficient because centralizing a market’s ability to coordinate information via prices is intractable. Surely we now live in a world of far more information and far more ability to automate decisions about it. I propose we set up a meta-institution that sets out the questions and research we should fund to attempt this question.

Burn it Down: a fellowship to turn ex-industry professionals into cynical, biting journalists. You’re a stock trader / ICU nurse / starchitect / poop-infrastructure engineer / pilot for wealthy people. I want you to be paid a very comfortable salary to spend a couple years writing searing insider takedowns of the unseen hypocrisy, self-interest, lack of safety awareness, and hideous nature of the industry you’ve just been paid to leave. You can remain anonymous. (Build it Up: this, but for the positive angle.)

Three notes. First, it should be more possible, as the years go by, for anyone young and ambitious to make building any of these their first job after college. Second, if you liked this, here are some other posts you might like.

  1. My post on “Papers you should write
  2. A Marginal Revolution post titled “Work on these things
  3. If you have ideas for other institutions, tweet them to me.