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Doing Good Better (at Scale?)

Will MacAskill’s excellent new book, Doing Good Better, is now on bookshelves. The book lays out the thinking behind the Effective Altruism movement, with thoughtful perspectives on how to do the most good with both money (donating) and time (choosing a career). GiveDirectly features throughout as a highly effective way of working and giving.

We expect lots of great discussion to follow. Three initial thoughts:

  • Will is really good at expositing common sense. The book does a wonderful job explaining basic points that we sometimes forget, like “thinking about the counterfactual.” (We talk about this all the time at GiveDirectly. For example, all dollars of revenue are not equal: it’s better for us to receive a dollar that would otherwise have been spent on a Ferrari, than one that would have gone to another nonprofit.)
  • Huge inequalities create huge opportunities. Will drives this point home forcefully: the fact there are people living on just $1 per day in the world means that you could give up just $1 per day and literally double someone else’s standard of living – even assuming they did nothing but eat the money, which isn’t the case. That’s staggering power to do good – far more influence than most of us have individually over other aspects of our world – and should make us all pretty excited.
  • Effective Altruism faces a scale challenge. We hope this book will massively increase giving to EA organizations – but will their capacity to deliver keep up? Based on GiveWell numbers, for example, their recommended charities had only $65M of unused room for funding in 2014 ($30M of which was at GD). That’s just 0.4% of US giving to international development, and just 0.02% of overall giving. For EA nonprofits to absorb the kind of growth in giving we all want to see, they will need to be able to scale fast.

Read and discuss the book – it’s well worth it.