I believe that we should be using prizes to help innovate and combat the coronavirus. When are prizes better than grants? The case for prizes is stronger when you don’t know who is likely to make the breakthrough, you value the final output more than the process, there is an urgency to solutions (talent development is too slow), success is relatively easy to define, and efforts and investments are likely to be undercompensated. All of these apply to the threat from the coronavirus.
We do not know who are the most likely candidates to come up with the best tests, the best remedies and cures, the best innovations in social distancing, and the best policy proposals. Anyone in the world could make a contribution to the anti-virus effort and it won’t work to just give a chunk of money to say Harvard or MIT.
Progress is urgent. I am still keen on talent development for this and other problems, but the situation is worse every week, every day. It is important to incentivize those who are working on these problems now.
The innovators, medical professionals and policy people at work on this issue are unlikely to receive anything close to the full social value of their efforts.
I therefore am grateful that I have been able to raise a new chunk of money for Emergent Ventures — a project of the Mercatus Center — for ex post prizes (not grants) for those who make progress in coronavirus problems.
Here are the newly established prizes on offer:
1. Best investigative journalism on coronavirus — 50k
2. Best blog or social media tracking/analysis of the virus — 100k
3. Best (justified) coronavirus policy writing — 50k
4. Best effort to find a good treatment rapidly — 500k, second prize 200k
5. Best innovation in social distancing — 100k
6. Most important innovation or improvement for India — 100k
What might be an example of a winning project? What if this attempt to build scalable respirators succeeded? That would be a natural winner. Or a social distancing innovation might be the roll out of more meals on wheels, little libraries, online worship, easier ways to work from home, and so on. The vision is to give to people whose work actually will be encouraged, not to give to Amazon (sorry Jeff!), no matter how many wonderful things they do.
These are not prizes you apply for, they will be awarded by Emergent Ventures when a significant success is spotted. (That said, you still can propose a coronavirus-related project through normal channels, with discretionary amounts to be awarded as grants per usual procedures.) And typically the awards will apply to actions taken after the release of this announcement.
I would love to be able to offer more second and third prizes for these efforts, and also to increase the amounts on offer, and perhaps cover more countries too. Or perhaps you have an idea for an additional category of prize. So if you are a person of means and able to consider making a significant (tax-deductible) contribution, please email me and we can discuss.
In the meantime, the rest of you all need to get to work.