This article is released on the first day of Christmas. I am not religious, but I do celebrate Christmas. And for me, Christmas revolves around gratefulness and being with family. Gratefulness for the privileges I have, while others do not. And aspirations for a happier world, for peace. That’s why I chose to write an article related to a better world and peace on earth. I want to tell you about effective altruism. It’s the most ethical way to live in our capitalistic system.
For me, the core of effective altruism is best explained by a philosophical thought experiment by Peter Singer. It goes as follows: what if you were near a lake and you see a child drowning? There’s no one around and you’re the only one who’s able to help. Most people’d answer that they would try to rescue the child. It would be immoral to let the child drown if you could save the child. But what if you were wearing your new, really expensive shoes? You know that the shoes would be totally ruined if you’d save the child. You have to pay that price to save the child. Would you still do it? Most people would then say: that’s a ridiculous question. The shoes don’t matter to me, I can save the child, so I will. It would be immoral not to.
Peter Singer’s argument
With this in mind, Peter Singer argues: it is immoral to let people die when we have the money to save them. Millions of children are actually dying today. And they’re dying of diseases that we can cure, if only we were willing to carry the costs that are needed to save them. A good example of this is malaria. With a couple of hundred euros (the same worth of an expensive pair of shoes), you have a very good chance of saving someone’s life. Therefore, it is immoral to spend money on things you don’t need, when you can save a life.
Doing good is a moral obligation
Most people think of donating money to charity as something that is a nice extra. When there’s some money left at the end of the month (which there usually isn’t), then we give a small amount of money to charity. The average Dutch family gives 0,4% of their income to charity. With Peter Singer’s argument in mind, that is mind-blowing. As we’ve seen before, it’s not a nice extra to give to charity, it’s a moral obligation. It’s already immoral to spend money on a second pair of shoes, because you could save a life with that money (and you honestly only need one pair of shoes to walk on).
Richest people in the world
This means that we have the moral obligation to spend the most money as possible to charity. We should only spend our income on the things we absolutely need and give the rest to charity. Spending 0,4% of our income to charity is a joke. If you have a model income in the Netherlands, you belong to the richest 3,5% in the world. And that’s just based on income. If you look at it from a capital perspective, we’re even richer. It’s us who have to make the world a better place and make peace on earth.
What charities are most effective?
So, we just realized it’s our moral obligation to give as much money to charity as we can. But which charities do we give to? Most people have little trust that the money they give to charity actually does good. That’s why the effective altruism community arose. This community spends thousands and thousand of hours, trying to figure out where your money is spend most effectively. Curious about it? Check out the website of Giving What We Can. They have lists of the most effective charity for any cause. This way you know for sure that the money you give actually does good.
The Giving What We Can community is a group of people from all around the world who’ve taken the pledge to donate at least 10% of their income to charity. I think that’s a great starting point.
How much to give?
I want to take the pledge of 10% as well, but I am not there yet. I used to be at about 7% when I started giving, but my income rose and right now I am at about 5%. This means that I give about 1600 euros each year to charity. Compared to the average Dutch person I give a lot of my income to charity. But compared to my moral standard I give way too little. Like I said before, the most moral thing to do is live very sober and give all the rest to charity.
I can’t do that (yet?). I am selfish. Right now, I spend money on holidays, snacks, clothing, the cinema and what else. That’s all immoral if you think about it. But I guess it’s just too hard for me to live 100% moral. The coming years I am increasing my donations so that I give at least 10%, but 10% is still not much. That means I spend 90% on myself and just 10% on others. I guess I’ll just have to see how high I can go with. But it’s hard.
If you want to learn more about effective altruism you should read Doing Good Better by William MacAskill.