What is Effective Altruism? - Part II
Updated: Jul 5, 2022
In a previous article, we gave a definition of Effective Altruism and explained what particular causes we think are the most pressing social causes of our times. In this article, we will discuss some of the practical principles of Effective Altruism and explain how to collaborate with our movement.
By moral impartiality, we refer to the fact that we ought to treat the interests of all people as equal, regardless of their different characteristics, such as their gender, race, beliefs, country of birth, or country of residence. There is consensus among most moral theories that the suffering of all people should be avoided and their well-being promoted regardless of who they are. All people in the world deserve equal moral consideration, which requires supporting the most disadvantaged in situations of great need, vulnerability, or abandonment.
If we can help others in an important way without incurring a great cost to ourselves, this is a moral action that we should always take. The beginnings of the Effective Altruism movement took when we realize that this principle is being fulfilled on a global for the first time in the history of humanity. With the rise of international trade and the development of technologies such as a global digital banking system and the internet, it is possible to benefit people who live far away from us. For the first time, our circle of moral consideration reaches every point on the planet. As a result, we can confidently say that few people in the history of humanity have had the opportunity to help others as much as we do. [i]
The Decreasing Marginal Returns of Money
Elaborating on this point, there is a universally accepted theory by economists and psychologists: the theory of diminishing marginal returns of goods, including money. This theory means the following: when there is an accumulation of goods, the benefit in terms of well-being that these goods provide to the person decreases as they accumulate. While the concept might sound abstract and difficult to understand, it is extremely simple.
Consider an extremely wealthy person, such as a billionaire. If this person receives a thousand more dollars, it will not benefit them greatly in terms of well-being. This amount is so small for them that they may not even realize they have them, and their life will not noticeably improve at all.
However, let's think about what happens if a person in extreme poverty receives these thousand dollars. For them, this can mean the difference between being hungry and being able to feed their family for even several months. It can mean the difference between not having medicine and being able to prevent disease. In many cases, it can save a life.
Therefore, distributing our resources and material goods in a way that benefits those most in need should be seen as something morally urgent. While the richest have their needs covered and additional money provides little benefit, the poorest are unable to meet their needs and would benefit greatly from additional resources.
We are richer than we think: We are the 10%
If you are a middle class or even lower-middle class person in the developed world, you may not have realized that you are one of the richest people in the world, probably in the richest 10% of the world. This places you in the privileged position of being able to save the lives of hundreds or thousands of people throughout your life, work, or professional career, and even make decisions that can affect the long term of humanity. In fact, you can calculate how your level of wealth compares with the rest of the world by using the following calculator: https://howrichami.givingwhatwecan.org/how-rich-am-i
We understand that the ultra-rich of the world, often called "the 1%", are exponentially richer than everybody else. In fact, they currently possess more than 50% of the world's wealth. Therefore, the ultra-rich are in an extremely privileged position to give most of their wealth to other people, without even noticing a change in quality of life.
However, we also uphold that the claim at the political level for distribution of wealth does not exempt us from the individual duty to help that we all have. Obviously, we cannot demand that people give away all their money, income, and savings acquired throughout their lives to urgent and priority causes.
This would seem effective at first glance, since the money of one person from the developed world could help several families in extreme poverty. But, if we think on a deeper level, we will realize that this would not be the most effective way of action, since it would plunge another person into the misery of poverty and leave them without the possibility of having a positive effect throughout their life. Therefore, we consider that it is wiser and prudent to commit ourselves to giving away a percentage of our salary or income throughout our lives, which can range between 1% and 50%, depending on our income level and our social commitment, to help people in situations of extreme poverty, to improving the quality of life of animals, and to dedicating themselves to shaping the long-term future of humanity in the right direction.
We believe that, if the people of the developed world gave and demanded to give a large part of their wealth to the poorest countries and other priority causes, we could have absolutely transformative effects in our world, such as:
The elimination of hunger and extreme poverty in the world in a matter of a few years.
A radical effect on the quality of life of the poorest people on the planet.
The radical transformation of the animal exploitation industry, particularly factory farming and trawling.
Preventing an extreme climate change scenario.
The prevention of great global existential and catastrophic risks, which currently place humanity in a precarious position, and which does not ensure the continuity of humanity or its well-being beyond this century or a few centuries. This would destroy the potential to bring human beings into the age of space exploration. It would therefore end a future of billions or trillions of people who could potentially exist in the future, and who would also have a radically higher quality of life than ours.
The ethical regulation and development of international protocols for emerging technologies, including developing forms of Artificial Intelligence that are ethically aligned with human interests, as well the regulation of biotechnology and the combination of digital technology with the human body (transhumanism).
How to collaborate?
There are many ways to collaborate, participate, and with Effective Altruism. Among others:
Particularly if you are young, and because we spend around 80,000 hours of our lives working, it is particularly useful to choose a professional career in a discipline that contributes to having a great positive effect on the world.
In order to help us achieve this goal, 80.000 Hours is a website dedicated to analyzing what are the best jobs and professional options. Their findings surprise many, as there are careers that one would expect to be particularly effective for social causes (such as medicine or social worker), which are not so effective in practice, and vice versa.
Committing to giving a part of your salary to highly effective causes, which, among other things, would change the lives of entire families in developing countries, save the lives of millions of animals, or support research into safe technologies to prevent risks for the future of humanity.
If you are interested in this way of collaborating, you can pledge to donate part of your salary at Giving What We Can, and choose your cause and proven effective philanthropic organization to which to donate at GiveWell for world poverty and global health, and Animal Charity Evaluators for animal welfare.
Learn more about Effective Altruism and collaborate with our community and social movement. You can find information on a large number of web pages, such as EffectiveAltruism.org. Much of the conversation takes place on their Effective Altruism Forum.
Spread and raise awareness about this type of knowledge and actions to your friends, family, and colleagues. The more people that want to improve the world, but who might be unaware of all the things that they might be able to do to improve the world. The more people are aware of these issues, the larger the positive effect we can potentially achieve.
Finally, if you want to promote more articles like this and the international dissemination of Effective Altruism, you can collaborate directly with Futurosophia with donations and with your work as a collaborating volunteer with your ideas and articles.
[i] These ideas are developed in an article by Peter Singer that inspired the roots of Effective Altruism: Singer, P. (1972). Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 229-243.