Improving incentives and governance for global public goods
Our overall view
Working on this problem could be among the best ways of improving the long-term future, but we know of fewer high-impact opportunities to work on this issue than on our top priority problems.
Table of Contents
Why might developing better incentives for global public goods be particularly high impact?
Many of the biggest challenges we face have the character of global ‘public goods’‘ problems — meaning everyone is worse off because no particular actors are properly incentivised to tackle the problem, and they instead prefer to ‘free ride’ on the efforts of others.
If we could make society better at providing public goods in general, we might be able to make progress on many challenges at once. Also, the space for possible interventions here seems enormous.
One idea we’ve discussed that both has promise and faces many challenges is quadratic funding — which is a funding scheme governments could implement that would create incentives for everyone to help make public goods happen by paying only the amount that reflects how much it would benefit them, such that no one would be required to altruistically shoulder more of the burden.
Another potential approach here is improving political processes generally. Governments have enormous power and are the bodies we most often turn to to tackle public goods problems. Shifting how this power is used even a little can have substantial and potentially long-lasting effects. Check out our podcast episode with Glen Weyl to learn about current and fairly radical ideas in this space.
A particularly helpful kind of intervention might be improving global governance — many big problems come from our inability to coordinate and cooperate across national boundaries. Fixing this seems extremely difficult but high impact if it succeeds.
The Biological Weapons Convention is an example of one way institutions like the UN can help coordinate states to reduce global risks — something in everyone’s interests — by trying to provide some incentives for refraining from developing biological weapons. But it also demonstrates current weaknesses of this approach: the convention is underfunded and has weak enforcement mechanisms.
There doesn’t seem to be as much work on improving global governance as you might expect — especially with an eye toward reducing global catastrophic risks. We’d be keen to see more work on governance reforms that might be best for improving the long-run future.
If you’re interested in tackling these issues, gaining experience in politics or governance, studying economics, or learning product design may all be useful first steps.
Learn more about global public goods and global governance
- Podcast: Vitalik Buterin on effective altruism, better ways to fund public goods, the blockchain’s problems so far, and how it could yet change the world
- China-related AI safety and governance paths
- There are some ideas for global governance and oversight focused on reducing existential risk in the appendix of Toby Ord’s book The Precipice
- Major UN report discusses existential risk and future generations (summary)
- Preventing great power conflict is a related issue
Read next: Explore other pressing world problems
Want to learn more about global issues we think are especially pressing? See our list of issues that are large in scale, solvable, and neglected, according to our research.
Plus, join our newsletter and we’ll mail you a free book
Join our newsletter and we’ll send you a free copy of The Precipice — a book by philosopher Toby Ord about how to tackle the greatest threats facing humanity.