FTX Future Fund

Crypto is a lot of things- a store of value, a means of payment, a building block for other tools on the web. But while much of its value as a tool is yet to be realized, one big effect we see already is that it has made a lot of nerds very rich very young, even by the standards of tech and finance generally. These newly minted millionaires and billionaires have started giving their money away in very different ways than the traditional older philanthropists.

The latest, and I believe biggest example is the FTX Future Fund. It plans to give away at least $100 million this year, funded primarily by 30-year-old Sam Bankman-Fried, the CEO of crypto exchange FTX. I recommend that everyone read their full list of the 35 types of projects that they’d like to fund, but I’ll highlight a few you wouldn’t see from older foundations:

Demonstrate the ability to rapidly scale food production in the case of nuclear winter

Biorisk and Recovery from Catastrophe

In addition to quickly killing hundreds of millions of people, a nuclear war could cause nuclear winter and stunt agricultural production due to blocking sunlight for years. We’re interested in funding demonstration projects that are part of an end-to-end operational plan for scaling backup food production and feed the world in the event of such a catastrophe. Thanks to Dave Denkenberger and ALLFED for inspiring this idea

Prediction markets

Epistemic Institutions

We’re excited about new prediction market platforms that can acquire regulatory approval and widespread usage. We’re especially keen if these platforms include key questions relevant to our priority areas, such as questions about the future trajectory of AI development.

Critiquing our approach

Research That Can Help Us Improve

We’d love to fund research that changes our worldview—for example, by highlighting a billion-dollar cause area we are missing—or significantly narrows down our range of uncertainty. We’d also be excited to fund research that tries to identify mistakes in our reasoning or approach, or in the reasoning or approach of effective altruism or longtermism more generally.

They also seem to be borrowing some of Tyler Cowen’s approach to Fast Grants and Emergent Ventures- the application is relatively short and simple, and they promise response times that will be measured in weeks, rather than the months or years typical of large funders.

But they expect applicants to be fast too- this fund was just announced a few days ago, and applications are due March 21st. Economists will be natural fits for some of their project ideas, since their areas of interest include “economic growth” and “epistemic institutions”. I’ll be applying with my book project on why US health care spending is so high. But they are clearly casting a wide net to find the best ideas, so I encourage everyone to check it out and consider applying.

Health Insurance Benefit Mandates and Health Care Affordability

My article on benefit mandates was published today at the Journal of Risk and Financial Management. It begins:

Every US state requires private health insurers to cover certain conditions, treatments, and providers. These benefit mandates were rare as recently as the 1960s, but the average state now has more than forty. These mandates are intended to promote the affordability of necessary health care. This study aims to determine the extent to which benefit mandates succeed at this goal

I began my research career by writing about these mandates, and my goal with this article was to tie up that whole chapter. I realized that all my articles on benefit mandates, as well as most of what other economists write about them, simply try to measure their costs- how much they raise health insurance premiums, raise employee contributions to premiums, lower wages, lower employment, or harm smaller businesses. Its good to know their costs, but to really evaluate a policy we should learn about its benefits too so that we can compare costs and benefits.

One key benefit that had yet to be measured was how much a typical mandate lowers out-of-pocket health care costs. In this article, I estimate that the average benefit mandate lowers costs by 0.8%-1%. I argue that combining this with a measure of how mandates affect total health spending by households could provide a sufficient statistic for the net benefits of mandates for households. I’m not totally confident this works in theory though, and it has a big challenge in practice- one of my empirical strategies finds that mandates reduce total spending, but the other finds they don’t. So I think the main contribution of the article ends up being the first estimate of how the average state health insurance benefit mandate affects out-of-pocket costs.

I’m currently planning to move on from writing about mandates- other topics are catching my eye, state policymakers don’t seem to particularly care what the research says about mandates, and changes in how economists use difference-in-difference methods are making it harder to publish articles like this that study continuous treatments. But I think there are still big opportunities here for anyone who wants to take up the torch. First, the ACA Essential Health Benefits provision changed the game for state mandates in a way that I have yet to see the empirical literature grapple with. Second, there are more than a hundred separate types of state benefit mandates; in most of my articles I aggregate them but they should really be studied separately. A handful have been, such as mandates for autism treatments, infertility treatments, and telemedicine. But the vast majority appear to be completely unstudied.

P.S. Writing this article gave me two wildly varying opinions of our federal bureaucracy. I tried to get both data and funding from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for this article. The data side worked well- they were surprisingly fast, efficient and reasonable about the process of accessing restricted data. On the other hand, I applied for funding from AHRQ in March 2019 and still have yet to officially hear back about it (it is “pending council review” in NIH Commons). This sort of thing is why nimble organizations like Fast Grants can do so much good despite having much smaller budgets.

P.P.S. This article is part of a special issue on Health Economics and Insurance that is still accepting submissions. I’m the guest editor and would handle your submission, though my own got handled by other editors and put though multiple rounds of revisions.