Pay-it-forward tithing is underrated

Tithing has a long history. However, most people wouldn’t consider charity and money they give to researchers and creators on platforms like Patreon in the same category. I’d like to suggest that this perception is wrong.

While the idea of tithing is old, Sometimes there are new things under the sun. Specifically, two things that were created long after tithing are corporations as a primary unit of economic production and technological advancement as a mechanism to both alleviate humanity’s suffering as well as expand our knowledge and ability.

We should adopt the idea of tithing to this new world by normalizing “pay-it-forward tithing” where organizations and people who are leveraging past research use 10% of their incomes to support research so that there is more research to leverage in the future.

The most profitable companies in the world indirectly leverage research and It is hard to capture value from research. This research isn’t necessarily of the “very serious people in lab coats” type - it could just be someone like Andy Matuschak thinking, writing, and prototyping things that have never been done before. Also consider that There is a significant class of innovations that would create drastically less value for the world if their value had been captured by their creators (eg: Personal computing, the transistor, etc.) We find ourselves in a situation where for the good of humanity it would be ideal to have people and organizations doing work whose results were spread as far and wide as possible.

At the same time, it would be ideal if those people and organizations received some of the value they created, for both practical and ideological reasons. tensions.

A quick aside on what I’m not advocating. I’m not arguing that Alan Kay (or anybody who invented the technologies that tech companies are built on top of) should be as wealthy as Mark Zuckerberg. That would basically boil down to value capture through another means. We stand on the shoulders of too many giants to give them all credit and it’s not feasible to divide up spoils more fairly than the market already does.

However, it is feasible for companies and people who benefit from low-value-capture research to pay it forward.

One of the sticking points in giving money to someone doing technology research is that it’s often unclear whether the most valuable result will be low-value-capture research or high-value-capture research. It is nebulous a priori which research should produce public goods vs private goods

Pay-it-forward tithing could resolve the tension between the potential public-good and potential profit in research.

Angel investing in Silicon Valley is like pay-it-forward tithing writ extremely small. Successful startup founders have a long tradition of funding future founders, often focusing less on potential returns than on paying-it-forward and status. The possibility of a huge return (we’re all suckers for gambling) would need to be sacrificed but the status would not be. We should celebrate the people who funded CRISPR work or expansion microscopy just as much as we fawn over early investors in Uber.

In an ideal scenario, we could quickly reach a steady state where technology-generated wealth is being propagated forward into research that probabilistically generates more wealth.

Pay-it-forward tithing need not only be about technology. While The linear innovation pipeline is overly simplistic, it’s hard to argue that tech companies today aren’t reaping the benefits of the semiconductor physics work that led to transistors, general relativity work that enabled GPS accuracy, and even the math that formalized all of it.

Speculatively, Pay-it-forward tithing could combine nicely with quadratic funding.

There are many questions and issues with the idea of pay-it-forward tithing.


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