The goal is to find and incubate projects with the potential to create the most change for every dollar of funding. Many of the fund’s initiatives tread traditional charitable ground. Good Ventures has backed research on the connection between crime, cannabis and incarceration and helped stop the spread of drug-resistant malarial parasites in Myanmar.
But the group is also broadening its reach into public policy issues, including macroeconomics. It has granted $850,000 to the Center for Popular Democracy over the past year to fund a campaign urging the Fed not to raise its target interest rate until the economy is much stronger. Good Ventures is the single largest backer of the campaign -- dubbed Fed Up -- whose budget this year is about $1 million.
“The central reason we believe that marginally more dovish Fed policy relative to the current baseline would carry net benefits is that, at roughly their current rates, we see unemployment as more costly in humanitarian terms than inflation,” Good Ventures wrote explaining its decision to fund the project. “Dovish” policy generally supports lower interest rates, while a “hawkish” stance would raise them.
The funding has helped the group expand its presence at an annual symposium of economic elite that kicked off Thursday here in the foothills of the Grand Tetons and sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. The group arrived at the conference last year with a handful of workers holding up signs and wearing green T-shirts.
This year, Fed Up held “teach-ins” in a meeting room at the same hotel as the Fed’s conference and drew prominent economists such as Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, University of California-Berkeley professor Brad DeLong and Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Dean Baker.
The campaign also flew in dozens of workers to underscore the disparity in the nation’s economic recovery. Wage growth has remained stagnant for years, and unemployment among black and Hispanic workers is significantly higher than that of whites.
“An economy that doesn’t deliver for most of its citizens is a failed economy,” Stiglitz said in a press conference in Jackson Hole.
Monetary policy has not traditionally been subject to populist activism, and Good Ventures acknowledges that the success of the campaign is uncertain at best. Fed Up is also working to increase public input in the selection of regional Fed presidents, an effort that Good Ventures rates as more unequivocably positive and, at the very least, easier to measure.
But, the funders note, if the campaign works -- and if easy money is indeed the way to go -- the payoff could be massive:
Our best guess is that the campaign is unlikely to have an impact on the Fed's monetary policy, but that if it does, the benefits from a tighter labor market would be very large; we think this small chance of a large positive impact is sufficient to justify the grant.However, this is an unusually complex policy area, and we could be mistaken.