We should radically scale genius grants
Interesting. One thing that stands out is how these kind of patronage funds today all focus on business and problem solving. I would like to see more focus on art and basic research. Perhaps they exist and I'm unawares.
Forget the MacArthurs. Despite Rod MacArthur's intentions when he set up the foundation, to give to people missed by the other foundations, to people who really need the money, etc., the foundation gives money to the same people everyone else funds. Yes, the money comes without strings, which is nice, but for the last ten years (which I've been tracking) the majority of the grants go to people who have secure gigs, mostly at universities. They don't need the grant money either to survive or to do good work.
The Mac Fellows program gets the foundation a LOT of press annually, more than any other program by the foundation, or any other foundation for that matter. But it's a relatively small percentage of their annual outlay. Think of it as overhead expense for PR. The "Genius Grant" moniker is worth a lot, and the foundation didn't even come up with it. So they can be coy about it.
I did a bit of research on the "Big Macs" (my term) a decade ago and wrote it up as <a href="https://www.academia.edu/7974651/The_Genius_Chronicles_Going_Boldly_Where_None_Have_Gone_Before">The Genius Chronicles: Going Boldly Where None Have Gone Before?</a> That includes annual updates through 2018, when I stopped doing updates because they were so predictable.
Patronage is a fascinating historical subject, and this'd all be so much easier to discuss properly on the merits if Thiel wasn't a fascist/adjacent. But alas. :-(
I just can't support men like him because I just can't support fascism and other anti-humanistic creeds in tech. (Or anywhere; but especially not in tech, and especially especially not in dear God help us AI.) And if there are ten people on Earth I'd rather starve than be financially beholden to, Thiel's got to have a place of 'respect' on that list. So he could say the freaking sun was rising and I'd rush outside to behold it plunging into his swimming pool. :-/
I'm pretty sure it's worth noting that Vitalik got his Thiel fellowship *after* he helped found Ethereum. (it is true that his net worth and influence have exploded since the fellowship, though)
Post pandemic recovery is now a global game-changer... and rise of 500 million new entrepreneurs on march mostly from Asia and some 500 million existing SME across the world... Entrepreneurialism & Digitalization: Recovery of Midsize Business Economies
Medici had better taste in art and political candidates than Thiel
OMG I’ve been making some of the same arguments to my friends for a year! Here’s a short post making a similar point about Thiel Fellowship scaling (but didn’t touch on patronage).
Nowadays it's much harder to make a contribution to the society as an individual compared to the Medici's days. Funding Kepler or de Brahe could give you huge advances in astronomy, because there was a lot low hanging fruits there that could be discovered with a relatively simple apparatus, such as telescope. Nowadays, you would have to spend tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of mandays to build something like gravitational wave detectors and still, the contribution you get from that are smaller. At least in science, the genius scientist archetype is dead and institutions are the only way to go forward.
Re-think education models: Economic prosperity is largely the "national mobilization of entrepreneurialism". Entrepreneurialism is neither academia-born nor academic-centric. The grassroots prosperity is only a byproduct of entrepreneurial philosophy based real value creation productivity models and not confused with solely money-making-schemes economic models of value-manipulation. Universities and colleges best for academics are simply not qualified to transform entrepreneurialism on a large scale. Observe why it is always the entrepreneurial leadership that builds an enterprise, therefore, not having entrepreneurial representation at major economic decisions is a serious mistake.
The reputational risk and social downside of patronage is a non-starter and borders on the strawman fallacy. The solution is obvious, give anonymously.