Effective altruism - intro

From an effectiveness point of view, I should probably have written this a week earlier, just before Christmas. I'm on time for the new year resolutions though!

It's about effective altruism. Many people like to feel that they are contributing something to the world. Like making a donation to a charitable cause. But wouldn't it be great if you not only feel like you're helping people, but you actually are?

How do you know if you hard-earned euros/dollars/... are accomplishing something? You might have seen some news about charities that aren't successful in helping people. How can you uncover the truth? The answer, of course, is with science! Some charities collect a lot of data about their operations, so a reasonable estimate can be obtained about how much good they do with each dollar/euro/... This lets them continuously improve themselves, and allows charities to be compared.

Obviously you and I are far too busy to compare hundreds of charities. This is where GiveWell enters the picture! They have already done extensive research, and from among a great many charities they have selected the few (four at this time) most effective ones. These are not cool charities, like sending a big expedition to rescue a cute panda. Instead, they do things like stopping mosquitoes and worms from killing people. Which is pretty un-cool to be honest, but it really, really helps. Mosquitoes alone kill well more than half a million people a year through Malaria, and it's relatively easy to prevent.

I don't mean to say that other charities are bad. Most charities do have a positive impact on the world. And donating to any of them likely improves the world more than buying a new phone each year, joining the lottery, drinking expensive wine or getting a seventh pair of shoes. So if you donated to any charities: good job! But given the choice, wouldn't you rather save 10 or even 100 babies instead of just 1? The difference can be that big.

A practical consideration: GiveWell is in the USA, so it might be expensive for you to transfer money. It also might not be registered as a tax-deducible charity in your country. For the second problem, you might want to get in touch with your country's effective altruism movement and/or a tax lawyer. For transfer fees, have a look at the options. Also, maybe Transferwise is useful and cheap (recipient info). I've tried it and it seems cool, though it's too recent for me to have gotten a confirmation from GiveWell that the money arrived. edit: it worked well!

I'll probably write more about this topic in the future. In the meantime, there's a lot of info if you search online for "effective altruism". Or leave a comment! You might also be able to find an effective altruism community in your country (e.g. Netherlands).

Update jan 5th: The Transferwise payment made it to GiveWell! There was some delay because I had entered bank details that weren't up-to-date anymore, but everything was handled well. Transferwise seems like a great system if "in a few days" is fast enough, I recommend it.


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