Ineffective Altruism

Effective Altruism (EA) is a movement that promotes an analytical approach for helping others. Instead of “doing what feels right”, the emphasis is on “finding the very best causes to work on” or “doing the most good in our lives”.

Here is a short introduction to EA by Peter Singer and here a longer TED Talk about the topic.

The words to highlight here are “best” and “most”. It is not sufficient to do good: You should do the most good.

We learn from EA that you can maximize your impact in the world, for example, by earning a high salary (e.g., in banking) and donating most of it to charities that are proven to have the highest global impact (e.g. Against Malaria Foundation).

Steven Pinker, endorsing the Effective Altruism movement, writes: “.… Efforts that actually help people rather than making you feel good or helping you show off…“.

Now, I’m spending a month in Uganda helping an awesome institution in the microfinance space strengthening its financial risk framework. My employer has committed resources for this work and I have invested time and money to come here and do something that I am sure can have an impact. I am proud and happy of this work.

But from an EA perspective, I am wrong. If I wanted to help others, I should have better stayed in London and donated one month of my salary, plus any of the other expenses in which I have incurred for this trip, to the top organization in GiveWell’s ranking of charities. How I feel about my involvment is irrelevant. Sharing my views about this experience is just showing off.

Of course, the problem is that EA is blinded by the illusion of thinking world problems are fungible, micro and macro scales don’t exist, and the biggest challenges of human kind can be posed as a global optimisation exercise, waiting for the army of philosophers, economists and mathematicians to solve it.

It would be unfair to dismiss EA in just one single post, so I will come back to this topic in some future entries.

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