Arjun Yadav

What is effective altruism?

Sep 17, 2021

Birds - British Library Credit for the image above.

Note: This post was last edited on Mar 31, 2022. Disclaimer: As of Dec 15, 2022, I don't fully endorse this post anymore. For some really good introductions to Effective Altruism, see this and this.

Introduction: Becoming a doctor

I was walking with a friend and I was introducing him to the concept of effective altruism.

My friend had some aspiration to go into medicine, and I told him that doctors don't save as many lives as one would think.

In 2012, Gregory Lewis wrote on 80,000 Hours (I'll explain what 80,000 Hours is shortly) on how many lives a doctor saves. In the U.K., an upper bound on how many lives a doctor in their whole career saves is 90.

What if we took a different route to altruism?

A simple question

Altruism is being selfless for others, sometimes towards people you don't even know.

Psychologically, altruism makes us feel good. But, this happiness blinds us from doing the best we can.

Effective altruism asks a simple question, how can I do the most good with the limited amount of time and money I have?

Time, your career and the world's most pressing problems

Time in effective altruism usually refers to your career as that is one of the best platforms you can use to most effectively solve the world's problems.

The organisation which does the most work in this domain is 80,000 Hours which advises people on how to most effectively utilise their career. 80,000 refers to the number of hours on average your career lasts.

If you would like a more in-depth introduction into this topic, read their key ideas page, which talks about strategies and problems to work on among other things.

Now, I want to bring your attention to another question, what are the world's most pressing problems?

Broadly, there are two types of problems:

What if neither of these categories interests you? What if you are late in your career and lack a personal fit for these jobs? Fear not, for there is another way you can partake in effective altruism.

Money and the good you can do with it

Earning to Give is a very powerful way to help the world with your money.

Essentially, if you are in a relatively high paying job (such as quantitative finance or even medicine) and donate some per cent of your salary to effective charities (chosen by an evaluator such as GiveWell), you stand to do a lot of good with your donations.

If you want to learn more about this method, check out Giving What We Can and this 80,000 Hours article.

Conclusion: The future of Effective Altruism

Effective altruism is still a very nascent movement with many, many hurdles to overcome. Yet, in such little time, we have done so much.

There have been global events and effective altruism has had articles written about it on The New York Times and Vox.

The future of effective altruism looks bright and I can't wait to see what happens next.