Here is one way the world could be. By far the best opportunities for making the world better can be supported by philanthropic money. They last for years. They can be invested in a vast number of times. They can be justified using widely available information and widely verifiable judgments.
Here is another way the world could be. By far the best opportunities are one-off actions that must be done by small numbers of people in the right fleeting time and place. The information that would be needed to justify them is half a lifetime’s worth of observations, many of which would be impolite to publish. The judgments needed must be honed by the same.
These worlds illustrate opposite ends of a spectrum. The spectrum is something like, ‘how much doing good in the world is amenable to being a big, slow, public, official, respectable venture, versus a small, agile, private, informal, arespectable one’.
In either world you can do either. And maybe in the second world, you can’t actually get into those good spots, so the relevant intervention is something like trying to. (If the best intervention becomes something like slowly improving institutions so that better people end up in those places, then you are back in the first world).
An interesting question is what factor of effectiveness you lose by pursuing strategies appropriate to world 1 versus those appropriate to world 2, in the real world. That is, how much better or worse is it to pursue the usual Effective Altruism strategies (GiveWell, AMF, Giving What We Can) relative to looking at the world relatively independently, trying to get into a good position, and making altruistic decisions.
I don’t have a good idea of where our world is in this spectrum. I am curious about whether people can offer evidence.