November 19, 2009

Giving what we can

HouseleekAccelerating Future » Toby Ord on BBC for Giving What We Can - a post on my saintly colleague Toby's very worthy project Giving What We Can.

Michael writes:

"Toby is participating in what I glibly call “utility war” — a worldwide war not for money or power, but to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number (positive utility). This could be the war to end all wars. A war we can be pleased to fight."

However, what we really should try for is a utility arms race. The more people are efficiently giving (I expect most charity to be driven by social signalling rather than a rational desire to improve things) the better things will likely become. Note that Toby's very utilitarian approach doesn't hinge on getting everybody to go along with it: the more the better, but every rational donation is on the plus side. The trick is likely to hi-jack the signalling by making it possible to signal strongly and honestly through the charity, but ensuring that the donations actually go to efficient goals.

Dominic uses Toby as a nice example of that at least some ethicists are ethical. And I have been deeply impressed by the enormous range of cost-effectiveness of charities - if it is true there, it might be true in a lot of other social domains too. There could be enormous improvements just waiting to be found.

Posted by Anders3 at November 19, 2009 08:44 PM