Acting under empirical uncertainty is hard, and acting under moral uncertainty is often even harder. We may feel that many aspects of our global society is bad for some people, but we don’t know exactly what’s going on or what our obligations are to contribute to solutions.
In recent years, many organisations have started to work hard to analyse these problems, and to provide us with quantitative estimates for which problems society currently faces are the largest, which of those large problems are neglected by most humans alive today, and how we can go about solving them or reducing their negative effects.
Different problems require different solutions, and it may be the case that the most promising solutions are highly counterintuitive and go against our assumptions about how to do good. Some charities claim to be incredibly impactful per pound donated, potentially over 100 times more “cost-effective” in terms of impact than other charities, while others argue that charities are inherently bad solutions for some of the world’s problems like global health and poverty.
In this final session, we will be evaluating the arguments that some charities are significantly better than others and the implications for ourselves if this is the case, whether we should be trying to “maximise” impact or not, and whether a significant number of people giving a portion of their income to effective charities is a good solution to the problems we’ve been discussing throughout this fellowship.
Core Reading (~120 minutes)
Read through the core reading, and a few of the additional articles, papers and podcasts in the "other ideas about ending poverty" and "arguments against charitable interventions" sections.
Other ideas about ending poverty
Arguments against charitable interventions
Questions to think about when reading and reflecting upon this literature
- If an intervention is not backed by strong evidence, could there still be reasons to pursue it?
- What kind of problems can we run into when we try quantifying cost-effectiveness? What features are not captured by such estimates? Are there important features of an intervention that are not captured by cost-effectiveness estimates? Which?
- If there is such high variance in effectiveness, how much effort should we put into figuring out what to do? 10% of the total? 50%? 90%?
- What are the strongest arguments in favour of more individuals in high- and middle-income countries donating to effective charities? How about the strongest arguments against this position?
- What are the greatest barriers to inspiring more people to use their own power and influence to reduce wealth, education, healthcare etc. inequality?