“Effective Altruism” is Just Rich People Donating Money

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

According to a recent study on Public International Radio, the concept of “effective altruism” is the next big thing in charity. A former Princeton student named Matt Wage had the brilliant idea that, instead of working for non-profits or volunteering, he could do a lot more good if he landed a Wall Street job and just donated a lot of his money.

And he has kept his word, and has donated about half his salary every year in the fours years since he graduated, usually about six figures each year. That money provides a great amount of help to a lot of people. According to Peter Singer, the Princeton philosophy professor who inspired Wage, this model of effective altruism is better than working for low-paying non-profits or volunteering in a soup kitchen, because if you make more money you can donate more.

This model works great if you’re a Wall Street guy who can donate half his salary and still be giving away six figures. But guess what? That’s not really applicable to most of us. Singer makes the point that the hours you volunteer at a soup kitchen are hours you aren’t working, but that assumes you’re taking time off of work to volunteer instead of, you know, doing good when you aren’t at work anyway.

And what about those low paying non-profit jobs? Maybe they are low-paying, but without those non-profit workers and volunteers, who’s going to be managing all the money that gets donated? Who makes sure it gets used?

Donating big sums of money is great, it’s really appreciated and, by all means, if you can afford to, please do so. But this “effective altruism” model only makes sense for classic philanthropists, namely rich people who want to help out. It doesn’t apply to the vast majority of people who want to help, and if we all spent all of our time chasing paychecks so we could donate money, nobody would actually be putting that money to use.


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