[[ Free eBook ]] Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a DifferenceAuthor William MacAskill – Carcier.co

Most of us want to make a difference We donate our time and money to charities and causes we deem worthy, choose careers we consider meaningful, and patronize businesses and buy products we believe make the world a better place Unfortunately, we often base these decisions on assumptions and emotions rather than facts As a result, even our best intentions often lead to ineffective and sometimes downright harmful outcomes How can we do better While a researcher at Oxford, trying to figure out which career would allow him to have the greatest impact, William MacAskill confronted this problem head on He discovered that much of the potential for change was being squandered by lack of information, bad data, and our own prejudice As an antidote, he and his colleagues developed effective altruism, a practical, data driven approach that allows each of us to make a tremendous difference regardless of our resources Effective altruists believe that it s not enough to simply do good we must do good better At the core of this philosophy are five key questions that help guide our altruistic decisions How many people benefit, and by how much Is this the most effective thing I can do Is this area neglected What would have happened otherwise What are the chances of success, and how good would success be By applying these questions to real life scenarios, MacAskill shows how many of our assumptions about doing good are misguided For instance, he argues one can potentially save lives by becoming a plastic surgeon rather than a heart surgeon measuring overhead costs is an inaccurate gauge of a charity s effectiveness and, it generally doesn t make sense for individuals to donate to disaster relief MacAskill urges us to think differently, set aside biases, and use evidence and careful reasoning rather than act on impulse When we do this when we apply the head and the heart to each of our altruistic endeavors we find that each of us has the power to do an astonishing amount of good


10 thoughts on “Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference

  1. Sophie Patrikios Sophie Patrikios says:

    Easy to read, well researched, only didn t give it 5 because it proved my husband has been right about everything he s been saying for years Very annoying.


  2. Kony Kony says:

    Doing Good Better is a misnomer Aaccurate title would be Alleviating First World Guilt With More Mathematical Rigor and Enjoying the Delusion that Cost Efficiency Translates to Moral Superiority On the plus side, the book is well intentioned and well written I appreciate the author s desire to discourage wasteful, counterproductive charity, and to promote rigorous reflection about how best to deploy one s privilege He does us all a service by pushing us to rise above emotion an Doing Good Better is a misnomer Aaccurate title would be Alleviating First World Guilt With More Mathematical Rigor and Enjoying the Delusion that Cost Efficiency Translates to Moral Superiority On the plus side, the book is well intentioned and well written I appreciate the author s desire to discourage wasteful, counterproductive charity, and to promote rigorous reflection about how best to deploy one s privilege He does us all a service by pushing us to rise above emotion and think critically about what counts as doing good, about which do gooding strategies are likely to produce desirable outcomes On the minus side, the author reasons as if people are primarily interchangeable widgets Privileged people are interchangeable earners laborers donators, not members of communities Suffering people are interchangeable recipients of help, not potential agents of change to be empowered Doing good boils down to improving quantifiable outcomes doing good better boils down to having a larger quantifiable impact I m not against quantifying certain aspects of the good we seek to do, but unlike the author, I view quantification as a flawed and limited means to nobler ends For this reason, I think his book is not only misguided but harmfully misleading It s worth reading, but with a highly critical eye


  3. Caroline Caroline says:

    Read a fair amount of this book, but did not finish itI really wanted to be bowled over by it but I wasn t There was just too much statistical analysis for me to follow it comfortably The first few chapters are fine, but as MacAskill continues with his arguments of convoluted logic I was lost.This doesn t mean this isn t a great book it just means it isn t a great book for my aged brain Because of this I am not going to award it any stars I m in no position to judge it What did I p Read a fair amount of this book, but did not finish itI really wanted to be bowled over by it but I wasn t There was just too much statistical analysis for me to follow it comfortably The first few chapters are fine, but as MacAskill continues with his arguments of convoluted logic I was lost.This doesn t mean this isn t a great book it just means it isn t a great book for my aged brain Because of this I am not going to award it any stars I m in no position to judge it What did I pick up from the few chapters I read view spoiler 1 The author runs and organisation called Effective Altruism.http www.effectivealtruism.org 2 Yes, there are problems with giving aid, but we have to research those aid agencies who are outstanding, and support them We must look for best practice.3 There is a terrible lack of transparency with a lot of charities, and this has got to change.4 We must try not to give to charities for sentimental reasons, but look at the facts eg it costs 50,000 to train and provide one guide dog for a blind person In the developing world, it costs 50,000 to cure 500 people of blindness caused by trachoma a bacterial infection that causes the eyelids to turn inwards, causing the the eyelashes to scratch the cornea 5 We are muchgenerous with charities close to home Cancer treatments receive a huge amount of funding because cancer is still a problem in the West Malaria prevention like providing mosquito nets receive very little funding, because malaria has been eradicated in the West.6 Even aid sceptics agree that the best sorts of development programmes, especially those within global health, are very effective William Easterly, author of White Man s Burden mentions The elimination of smallpix The near eradication of river blindness and Guinea worm The spread of oral rehydration therapy The WHO vaccination programmes against measles and other childhood diseases.Esterly summarises by saying even those of us labelled as aid critics do not believe aid has been a universal failure If we give you aid agencies grief on failures, it is because we have seen some successes, and would would like to see some .7 It is usually not very constructive to give to disaster funds Aid given to disaster funds is less effective than aid given to better, on going programmes People generally donate muchto disasters than they do to the everyday work of charities.8 The author uses QUALY measurements in order to judge the effectiveness of different programmes These are orientated towards health programmes, so he has modified them to WALY measurements.9 Often it is massivelyproductive to get a high paying job in the West, and give generously to charity, than it is to go and work for charitable organisations in developing countries It is often better to send excess money to charities who work abroad, rather than going to work abroad yourself.10 Money is mucheffective in developing countries than it is in the West eg a glass of beer can cost 5.00 here, but 5 cents in a developing country Any money you donate to organisations in developing countries will go much further than it would in the West.11 Research has shown that a doubling of one s income brings happiness It takes far less money to double the income of someone in a poor country than it does to double the income of someone in a wealthy country.12 If you earn over 16,000 10,000 , per year or , you are amongst the 10% of richest people in the world.13 Until very recently, the West was very pooreg1800. GDP per person per year in the USA 1,400 in today s money 2015. GDP per person per year in the USA 42,000 per person per year hide spoiler Finally, towards the end the author gives the names of charities that his organisation recommends view spoiler Against Malaria FoundationCool EarthDevelopment Media InternationalDeworm the world InitiativeGiveDirectlyThe Schistosomiasis Control Initiative hide spoiler I am very glad this book was written even in the few chapters that I read MacAskill brought up a lot of issues that needed airing.Later add Since reading this book I have found myself discussing it a lot with my friends In spite of me not following all of the author s arguments, I think I got enough of the gist of it for the book to make a big impression on me Macskill s TED lecture on choosing a career that will most help others


  4. Kat Steiner Kat Steiner says:

    Thinking of givingto charity Read this book My personal favourite book on effective altruism so far I have also read The Life You Can Save and The Most Good You Can Do Will is clear and engaging The book is structured well, with the first half including examples, personal stories, and analogies for example to triage doctors to argue gently towards the basic tenets of effective altruism The second half discusses practical problems choosing a career, deciding between very differen Thinking of givingto charity Read this book My personal favourite book on effective altruism so far I have also read The Life You Can Save and The Most Good You Can Do Will is clear and engaging The book is structured well, with the first half including examples, personal stories, and analogies for example to triage doctors to argue gently towards the basic tenets of effective altruism The second half discusses practical problems choosing a career, deciding between very different causes to support, choosing charities within causes , presenting the real difficulties that people trying to apply these principles face.Not everything will suit everyone I am not particularly interested in choosing a career in this way, although I gotout of that chapter than I expected to , but it is light on abstract philosophy which I see as a plus and heavy on human stories It opened my eyes a littleto the potential cause of factory farming.I was also really interested in his discussion of Fairtrade, sweatshops, and low carbon living These are cases where people are explicitly trying to do the right thing , but actually not doing that may be better for the world I think I disagree with Will on sweatshops, though I will definitely look into carbon offsetting via Cool Earth.To be honest, Michael has better things to say about it on his blog


  5. Andy Andy says:

    There is a desperate need for plain English sources of information that accurately describe what works and what doesn t This book presents a scale for determining the effectiveness of charities, but something on the scale smells awfully fishy.When the author gets to what you should donate to, he and his allies at GiveWell highlight Give Directly Okay fine Except that I looked up the evaluation paper and I also looked up the online supplement for the results There is a desperate need for plain English sources of information that accurately describe what works and what doesn t This book presents a scale for determining the effectiveness of charities, but something on the scale smells awfully fishy.When the author gets to what you should donate to, he and his allies at GiveWell highlight Give Directly Okay fine Except that I looked up the evaluation paper and I also looked up the online supplement for the results If you slog your way through to Table 45 you get to the relevant results, including People who could afford treatment, Sick days, Children who died, Overall Health Index.Give Directly does NOT significantly improve any of these outcomes I m not saying that GiveDirectly doesn t maybe do some kind of good in some way But the author emphasizes how the yardstick to use is health improvement, and he admits that GiveDirectly does NOT improve health Yet he calls it extremely cost effective How can it be cost effective if it s not effective I don t know what s going on here But if it smells like rotten fish, maybe you don t want to swallow it


  6. Robert Wechsler Robert Wechsler says:

    MacAskill convinced me that effective altruism is not the way to go He does make some good points, but his utilitarian philosophical approach is so narrow, it seems like something only Mr Spock would consider appropriate Charity is not just about doing the most good in terms of saving lives There are so many different reasons to give money and one s time And even MacAskill s idea of doing the most good is too narrow, in that he rejects the idea of giving to an organization that is taking va MacAskill convinced me that effective altruism is not the way to go He does make some good points, but his utilitarian philosophical approach is so narrow, it seems like something only Mr Spock would consider appropriate Charity is not just about doing the most good in terms of saving lives There are so many different reasons to give money and one s time And even MacAskill s idea of doing the most good is too narrow, in that he rejects the idea of giving to an organization that is taking various approaches, because some of them won t work Yes, but some of them will work well That s life.This book is not about life And the organizations MacAskill directs the reader to would have to become less effective if a lot of readers followed his advice In other words, his advice is not good Nor does it accept people s humanness It s good to know as much as one can about where one s money and time are going which is a great argument fortransparency in the nonprofit world and less marketing but there s only so much we can know and so much that what we know can influence us, considering all the other variables


  7. Hil Hil says:

    If you re at all like me, you know how important it is to do your part by contributing your money and time to worthy causes, but the decision making involved can be exhausting Whenever you read statistics about global health crises and the number of people living in grinding poverty, it is easy to wind up feeling overwhelmed and guilty, like your efforts would be just a drop in the bucket It can seem much easier to donate to domestic programs where you feel like you may identify with the recip If you re at all like me, you know how important it is to do your part by contributing your money and time to worthy causes, but the decision making involved can be exhausting Whenever you read statistics about global health crises and the number of people living in grinding poverty, it is easy to wind up feeling overwhelmed and guilty, like your efforts would be just a drop in the bucket It can seem much easier to donate to domestic programs where you feel like you may identify with the recipientsand it may seem easier to see the effects of your donation William MacAskill has done a wonderful job of presenting a rational way to evaluate different causes and programs so that you can have the biggest impact with the money and or time you donate He very neatly lays out the argument that if you happen to be born and are living in the developed world, you ve already hit the lottery, wealth wise and by donating part of your income income you likely won t even miss you can vastly improve the lives of the extremely poor in developing nations All of this is done in an upbeat way that makes you realize that you are in a position to make a HUGE difference in the lives of others MacAskill points out that the most efficient programs are a hundred timesable to improve the lives of the extremely poor than good, but less efficient programs For the amount of money that you can easily set aside even if you have a pretty unremarkable job in a Western country, you can save lives and raise the standard of living for someone else substantially He gives one memorable illustration where he states that it is like you are in a bar where you can either buy yourself a beer for 5 or buy someone else a beer for 5 cents As he said, you d probably be buying people a lot of rounds MacAskill also has an interesting chapter about selecting the best career path to make a difference Sometimes this is counter intuitive You might imagine that you would be able to doby getting an M.D and going to work in Kenya, when in fact, you d be better off staying in your own country and donating a larger part of your greater compensation to effective charities It s all fascinating stuff and I found myself tearing through the book in a matter of two days If you are interested in effective altruism, I can highly recommend Doing Good Better


  8. Amy Amy says:

    As someone who works in the social profit also known as the nonprofit sector, I picked up Doing Good Better because the topic is endlessly interesting to me and because of his apparent emphasis on evidence based programming Unfortunately, this book was an all around disappointment Here s a short summary of my issues with this book 1 MacAskill s apparent misunderstanding of programs and causes CAUSES are things that individuals and organizations want to do PROGRAMS are the means by which o As someone who works in the social profit also known as the nonprofit sector, I picked up Doing Good Better because the topic is endlessly interesting to me and because of his apparent emphasis on evidence based programming Unfortunately, this book was an all around disappointment Here s a short summary of my issues with this book 1 MacAskill s apparent misunderstanding of programs and causes CAUSES are things that individuals and organizations want to do PROGRAMS are the means by which organizations and individuals try to affect their cause of choice For example, Mothers Against Drunk Driving MADD is built on the cause of preventing and ultimately eliminating drunk driving In service to this cause, they run several programs such as a victim helpline and a Speakers Bureau for educating the public Causes, organizations, and programs are different but MacAskill treats all these like they mean the same thing.2 MacAskill s emphasis on some causes over others I pejoratively call these his worthy causes It is the worst sort of rankling to read about how some causes are inherently better than others either because they affectpeople, they reduce sufferingnote that this is by MacAskill s definition of suffering , or some combination of the two He consistently refuses to recognize that social profits improve people s lives in a variety of ways via innumerable different causes, and those causes each in turn affect other areas of people s lives unrelated to the original cause None of these are easily quantifiable and they do have ripple effects that are difficult if not impossible to perceive, especially over the long term Plus, there s the ethical issue of effectively saying that some people s suffering as determined by cause isworth trying to fix than another s There s just no getting around this, no matter how much he tries to dress it up with economics vocabulary.3 MacAskill s constant conflating of programs and causes Programs and causes are not the same thing, and looking at multiple programs that all try affect the same cause will show some programs to beeffective than others I agree with him in saying that we should fund the ones and not the ones that don t, and I also agree that if works especially well for its chosen cause that one should be institutionalized, not supported by the charity of others What is misleading is when MacAskill gives an example of an organization with an emphasis on only one of their programs most organizations runthan one program This leads the reader into thinking of that program and that cause as being the same they are not and by extension leads the reader into thinking about the cause whatever MacAskill says about the organization spoiler alert it s probably something bad This is unfair to the cause that has been targeted via a backroad There are some social profits that do not do good work for a variety of reasons, but this does not mean the causes they are meant to serve are unworthy of our concern or effort 4 MacAskill s insistence on comparing causes that target different groups or that serve different areas of well being It is fallacious and misleading to try to compare distributing condoms to distributing bed nets in Africa, for example Not only do the two target different groups sexually active individuals vs everyone , but they attempt to affect different causes stop the spread of STDs, particularly HIV vs stop the spread of malaria from mosquitos to humans and encounter different difficulties for example, condom use is attacked by religious conservatives in Africa as being against the will of god and it has been documented that missionaries preach that condom use will result in the person going to hell 5 MacAskill s assumption that a social profit s overhead ratio or amount has to do with their program s effectiveness There are cheap programs out there that result in very favorable overhead ratio as long as the organization has a decent revenue But those programs may or may not be good programs, ones that positively impact the people they serve There are also organizations that have a very high overhead by amount, but the overhead reflects the size and scope of the organization Big Brothers, Big Sisters, for example, is a multibillion dollar social profit that operates thousands of clubs and serves hundreds of thousands of kids annually The organization has been attacked over the CEO s compensation, which seemed considerable in terms of pure numbers but was actually in line with CEO compensation for similar sized organizations And why shouldn t a social profit pay someone a proportionate, competitive salary that will attract a leader whose job it is to scale up the organization 6 MacAskill s willingness to ignore psychology when it is in his favor to do so, despite claiming to support rationality as applied to everything It s one thing to argue that people should support worthy causes by his standards because it s the most rational thing to do, but it is entirely another to refuse the realities of a very, very irrational world Running evidence based programs is someone is something that every organization should do, but the fact is that most donors want to donate to people, not causes That is why advertising and outreach for social profits are structured around individuals and stories, and evidence is one the organization s website Trying to reverse the emphasis on the two would be an awesome way to alienate potential donors, volunteers, members, or others who could help the organization achieve its cause, something that will definitely not help the people that the organization is meant to serve 7 MacAskill s willingness to ignore the limitations of math and science when it is in his favor to do so It is one thing to bring out statistics to support a claim, analyze the statistical claims of others, and point out flaws in methodology, but it becomes misleading when you refuse to apply the same standards to the stats in defense of your own side of the argument Evidence is extremely limited for some of the claims MacAskill makes about particular causes like one or two studies , but he fails to make clear during that argument that the data may or may not be trustworthy because outliers positive or negative arelikely to present themselves in smaller data sets, despite pointing out that exact flaw with regards to a social profit s data earlier in an earlier chapter 8 MacAskill s apparent refusal to properly cite sources in text Instead of the typical method of in text citation for nonfiction meant for the general public a number at the end of a sentence that corresponds to a chapter specific list of citations, making it easy for the reader to tell what has been cited and where to find the citation , there are no in text citations at all There is a section for citations at the end of the book sorted by chapter, but the lack of in text citations makes it very difficult to tell without constantly flipping back to the citations section, at least what is opinion and where things cited as facts have come from.9 MacAskill s premise and general insistence that economics is the answer to everything He unquestioningly promotes the assumption that altruism can be outsourced to others, and that not only is this good, but it is something that should be admired I understand that not everyone can help in every way not everyone has vacation days or the inclination to go to Africa, for example , but again it is one thing to promote donating to charity and completely another to promote donating to charity as a replacement for acting ethically yourself This is especially important in light of the fact that preliminary studies regarding ethical behavior and economics are not encouraging In the most commonly cited study of this nature, an Israeli daycare service started financially penalizing parents for picking up their children late The fine a financial incentive to pick up kids on time actually caused an increase in the number of late pickups because a norm of the situation changed I pick up my kid on time because it s the right thing to do became As long as I pay the fine, it s not a problem if I pick up my kid late This has major implications for the kind of outsourced altruism that MacAskill is promoting, but he doesn t even mention it Additionally, he refuses to acknowledge the admittedly,fuzzy issue of taking responsibility for oneself and one s own actions It s one thing to donate to a save the rainforest cause, but it s completely another to say this donation absolves me of all guilt for that unnecessary flight All in all, I hated this book The only reason I finished reading it was because I don t feel right about reviewing books that I haven t finished I will definitely not be recommending it to anyone, and the copy that I unfortunately wasted my money on will end up in the trash where it belongs


  9. Simon Eskildsen Simon Eskildsen says:

    Upon closing this book, I immediately changed the charities I support and increased my donations It left me with the empowering feeling that donating can be a very real alternative to doing good in the traditional ways , e.g working directly for those in need or humanitarian organizations For every 3,600 donated to protect people from malaria with bed nets, you statistically save a life For every 100 you donate to the rainforest, you save an acre or 260 tons of CO2 the average North Am Upon closing this book, I immediately changed the charities I support and increased my donations It left me with the empowering feeling that donating can be a very real alternative to doing good in the traditional ways , e.g working directly for those in need or humanitarian organizations For every 3,600 donated to protect people from malaria with bed nets, you statistically save a life For every 100 you donate to the rainforest, you save an acre or 260 tons of CO2 the average North American is responsible for about 20 tons per year, so if you donate 8 right now to Cool Earth you re, statistically, CO2 neutral If you ve been hesitant to donate due to concerns with where your money ends up, the Effective Altruism movement thoroughly analyzes charities to maximize impact The author is the hyper rational economist type, laying out e.g why donating consistently will savelives than becoming a doctor in a first world country That donating now will compound at much higher rates than an index I ve significantly reduced my meat intake over the past two years for environmental reasons, but the again, hyper rational author lays out how donating 5 to the right charity to save rainforest Cool Earth will offset your meat intake if the environment is your primary concern donate , and you can go carbon negative to offset air travel, too It gets a little too quantitative at times which I m sure will set off some people.You need to read this


  10. Kamila Kamila says:

    If everyone read this book and took its message truly to heart, we could live in a very different world The two main takeaway points 1 If you live in the developed world and make over 52,000 a year, you are in the global top 1% No joke You, me, we all are fabulously wealthy, and what s just a few dollars to us can make a huge difference in the lives of people in poor countries 2 The extremity of global poverty is almost unimaginable This is why sweatshops are actually sought after j If everyone read this book and took its message truly to heart, we could live in a very different world The two main takeaway points 1 If you live in the developed world and make over 52,000 a year, you are in the global top 1% No joke You, me, we all are fabulously wealthy, and what s just a few dollars to us can make a huge difference in the lives of people in poor countries 2 The extremity of global poverty is almost unimaginable This is why sweatshops are actually sought after jobs in those countries, and our self righteousness can inadvertently do harm when those workers lose their jobs without having any other viable employment alternatives Fair trade isn t exactly all it s cracked up to be, either He also has an interesting take on career advice the opposite of the standard follow your passion , which may feel counterintuitive but makes a certain logical sense I m a little too old at this point to follow it, but kids in high school and college will hopefully have a chance to read his perspective Check out Give Well