Can Effective Altruism Create a More Caring Community of Givers?
Targeted Charitable Giving to Benefit Society
I’ve been hearing a lot about “effective altruism” and decided to do some research and devote today’s blog to the topic. I was particularly struck by the use of the term in a story about Sam Bankman-Fried and the debacle at FTX. When asked about the soaring value of his company’s cryptocurrency and how it vaporized, Bankman-Fried said that he wasn’t in it for the money. Instead, he was a proponent of effective altruism,” or high-return charity, an idea he learned while at MIT from a philosophy graduate student. He said he might keep 1% for himself and give the rest away through his FTX Foundation. I find this hard to believe. I think Bankman-Fried is engaging in “virtue signaling,” where he is intending to demonstrate his good character or the moral correctness of his position on the cryptocurrency matter. This is questionable at best and a matter for a future blog.
What is Effective Altruism?
In 2012, the term “effective altruism” was coined by team members of Giving What We Can and 80,000 Hours when they founded the Centre for Effective Altruism, a charitable organization in the United Kingdom and Wales.
Giving What We Can is a relatively new organization that labels itself as a community of effective givers that inspires people to give more and give more effectively. It is dedicated to creating a culture where people are inspired to give to the world’s most effective charities. The founders believe a great deal of good could be done by carefully combining the head and the heart to analyze and compare charities based on how effective they are at helping others.
Giving What We Can was an early adopter of the effective altruism approach to giving. It is part of a growing community of like-minded organizations focused on effective altruism, which it describes as the project of using evidence and reason to figure out how to best help others and acting on that basis.
There are many ways to effectuate effective altruism. It is a social cause that has elements of social entrepreneurship to it, a process by which individuals, startups and entrepreneurs develop and fund solutions that directly address social issues. A social entrepreneur explores business opportunities that have positive impact on their community, in society or the world. Unlike charitable outreach by Giving What We Can, social entrepreneurship is a for profit endeavor. The idea is to share profits with individuals and communities less fortunate.
The five “Ps” of social entrepreneurship are persistence, patience, purpose, people, and profits. These are values important to the effective altruism movement as well, notwithstanding the charitable endeavors that are not-for-profit.
Millennials and Generation Zers are strong supporters of social entrepreneurship. They seek positive impact through their work. They are likely to be supporters of the effective altruism movement as well.
Examples of Effective Altruism
Giving What We Can identifies three examples of effective altruism as follows.
- Finding charities that are the best in the world at helping others.
- Helping people find careers where they can have a significant social impact.
- Conducting research into what the world’s biggest problems are and how we might prioritize them.
Effective altruism starts by asking how we can be more effective in our pursuit of doing good. This might be phrased as:
- How can we do the most good with our resources?
- How can we maximize our impact?
- How can we ‘do good’ better?
The controlling issue is there are limited resources so careful thinking and planning should be an integral part of how and why resources are provided to support communities.
There is a large and growing list of organizations practicing effective altruism including the following four groups. Additional groups can be found at this link.
- The Humane League that advocates for the end of the abuse of animals.
- The Good Food Institute that promotes plant-and cell-based alternatives to animal products.
- The Clean Air Task Force that promotes technical approaches and policies to prevent the most severe risks from climate change.
- Center for Governance of AI that conducts research and builds the field of AI governance.
Values That Unite Effective Altruism
Effective Altruism Eindhoven is an organization based in the Netherlands that supports students in finding the most effective ways they can improve the world. It has identified the values that unite effective altruism and underlie its search for the best ways of helping others. These values and a brief description are as follows.
- In deciding on the beneficiaries of the group’s work, attention should be given to the scale of that help and find the best ways to help, rather than just working to make any difference at all.
- Impartial Altruism. Targeted beneficiaries’ interests should be given equal weight with a focus on the groups that are most neglected, which usually means they don’t have as much power to protect their own interests.
- Open Truth-seeking. Consider the different ways to help others and support their cause, community, or approach through deliberation and reflection on one’s beliefs.
- Collaborative spirit. By working together, more can be done for communities by being good citizens and working toward a better world.
Effective altruism is not a matter of justifying decisions using an ‘ends justify the means’ reasoning because the way one decides on how to help others and the resources to commit is more important then choosing an approach where the end goal is identified regardless of how it affects others. We could say it is a ‘do no harm’ approach to ethical decision making.
Effective Altruism is an approach to helping individuals and communities whose time has come. The very notion of altruism is the selfless concern for the well-being of others, something that societies across the globe need more of in these troubled times.
Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on December 6, 2022. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/) and by following him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.