Sunday Links #3: Effective Altruism

Welcome to the third edition of Sunday Links! This time, I want to explore links on one particular concept: effective altruism, a concept near and dear to both my heart and utilitarianism.

Peter Singer summarizes effective altruism in his recent TED Talk.

What’s the key idea? Will Crouch defines effective altruism as starting with a “how” (a desire to do as much good as possible) and moving to a “what” (whatever does the most good), instead of the typical model of altruism, which starts with a “what” (ending cancer) and moving to a “how” (whatever campaigns end cancer). It’s very closely related to the idea of issue-agnostic philanthropy.

Perhaps the biggest take away is that philanthropy involves trade-offs, because donating in one place means we’re not donating in another place. However, because our money could have gone further elsewhere, we end up hurting people unintentionally. My favorite case for understanding the need for effective altruism involves Scott Siskind’s summary of efficient charity, which I referenced before. To make the idea of opportunity costs in spending apparent, Scott Siskind also jokingly suggests we adopt dead child currency.

One example of effective altruism is to focus more on the developing world than on the developed world. This might seem unintuitive at first, but when I think about it in terms of triage or Julia Wise’s notion of worst subjects, it makes sense to me. Jeff Kaufman’s debate with a pro-local friend of his also helps.

But wouldn’t this be really hard? Well, the secret is that we’re rich, compared to the developing world. But even so, it doesn’t have to be hard. You could just start somewhere, for some amount.

Where should you start? I recommend a few places, like GiveWell, The Life You Can Save, Giving What We Can. 80000 Hours, and Effective Animal Activism.

There’s much more that needs to be said, but this should be enough to get you going. A whole world of helping more by “working smarter, not harder” awaits.