Effective Altruism

I can’t have a blog without plugging Effective Altruism, one of my favorite movements.

Effective altruism is about answering one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most?

Rather than just doing what feels right, we use evidence and careful analysis to find the very best causes to work on.

But it’s no use answering the question unless you act on it. Effective altruism is about following through. It’s about being generous with your time and your money to do the most good you can.


Basically, EA is like applying the principles of triage to philanthropy. If you’re a doctor on a battlefield full of injured soldiers, you have to make choices about who to treat first. You try to maximize the number number of lives you can save. The same approach can be used to save more lives from our philanthropic efforts and to help guide the world towards progress. Others have written about effective altruism better than I can, so I’ll suggest reading this excellent introduction:

Efficient Charity — Do Unto Others

Or this one:

Introduction to Effective Altruism

Some people are turned off by EA because they feel that it is too logical and dispassionate. It’s funny, but I had exactly the opposite reaction. One thing I love about the movement is how optimistic it is (while remaining realistic). It promotes the fact that lots of our world’s problems are tractable. I’m used to seeing problems like poverty and hunger and disease portrayed as never-ending afflictions that will be with us always. I used to have the sense that donating money to charity was a kind of hopeless endeavor. I had the feeling that the donations might help some people, but they wouldn’t solve any of the long-term root causes of suffering. The EA movement requires a radical shift in perspective from this: Progress is possible! Poverty and hunger have have been plummeting in recent decades! There have been many success in beating back diseases and reducing health risks! We’re winning a lot of battles around the globe, and if we focus our efforts wisely, we can speed up this progress even further.

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