I hope you are all well. Increasing happiness and alleviating suffering is the goal, so if you are all well we are a little closer to it.
Last weekend I attended the EAGxAustralia conference. A three-day conference where people interested in Effective Altruism gather to share knowledge on how to make the world a better place.
Effective altruism is the philosophy that we should aspire to do the most good we can do and that reason and evidence are the lights that will show us the way.
I consider it common-sense rebranded.
I have already written about the movement and its guiding principles in a previous letter.
That hundreds of individuals would devote a perfectly serviceable weekend to learning more about how they can improve our circumstance is inspiring in of itself.
The sheer fact that such a conference was taking place and that there were so many people that would devote their weekend to learning how they can best tackle the world's problems and alleviate the suffering in it, is already uplifting.
I worry I may have missed the point.
The climate crisis, nuclear proliferation, AI risk and global poverty are all problems we should be taking very seriously.
However, knowing that there are so many very intelligent people completely obsessed with solving these problems seemed to put my mind at ease.
I yearn for the world where the problems that ail us have been solved completely. In this letter, I will recap the conference and provide insight into how we can get a little closer.
Giving more, giving well, giving directly
Julia and her husband are committed to living on only 6% of their income so that they can give away $100,000 a year to effective charities.
With clever budgeting, they have been able to make a substantial impact on the lives of others, live modest lives, raise their two children and still be able to afford what they want to be happy.
She really seems to live up to her last name.
I have quoted this in the past, but as Peter Singer says we should be looking at trade-offs in terms of well-being rather than just money. Money is a means to an end. Not all money is equal; some of the money we spend benefits us greatly, some marginally or even not at all.
It would only make sense that it would be better if we gave it to those that would benefit more.
If there was one slice of apple pie left, and I was with someone that would enjoy it a hundred times more, I should let him have it.
Julia and her husband have been known to say that they believe their income belongs to "whoever needs it most".
In my view, this is the most reasonable position you can have. If everyone held it, there would be a lot less need in the world.
We would all be better off.
Please check out her blog: Giving Gladly
Also, if you have the time watch her 2017 talk; Giving What We Can (it's about half an hour).
In it, she talks about effective charities and makes the case to take this pledge to give at least 10% of your income to them. You should definitely take it.
The second speaker was Michael Faye, the President of GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly is exactly what it sounds like, an organisation where the money is given straight to the people who need it. These are known formally as unconditional cash transfers.
You donate money to the recipient. The recipient receives it. The recipient decides how best to use the money to solve their problems.
It's that simple.
According to Michael, all the evidence points to unconditional cash transfers as the best way to alleviate the problems of the poor.
"You can solve your own problems better than any politician."
A Universal Basic income is essentially an unconditional cash transfer to everyone that ensures that we're all above the poverty line.
The alternative to an unconditional cash transfer is to make decisions on behalf of the recipient of the donation. This means we need to:
- Invest resources into determining how our donation is best spent
- Apply effort to ensure that our donations are being used as we intended
Simply transferring the money directly is the cleanest and most efficient way to improve the lives of others.
We know that this is the best way to provide aid — yet only 2% of aid is in the form of unconditional cash transfer. We can do much better.
To be clear: This means that money that we have put aside to help our fellow people is being wasted.
Another fact from the talk: The amount that we spend on foreign aid per year is greater than the poverty gap.
If I understand this correctly — doesn't this mean that if we get our act together we could solve poverty very quickly?
The goal is in sight.
I believe that poverty is a problem we can solve on our lifetime and unconditional cash transfers and universal basic income will be key to this.
I was going to write more about the problems of nuclear proliferation, AI governance and climate change — but I feel this is enough for now.
The talks at the conference will be available online at a later date. When they are I will provide you with the links and write a little more about them.
For now, I want the takeaway from this letter is that we should be giving more and giving directly.
I want you to have the confidence that you can part with more of your income and still live happily and I want you to have the trust that others can solve their problems.
Throughout history, we have encountered many problems and have made immense progress in solving them. We can improve the world.
In fact, I have written about this last year in my piece: How far we have come
I would heartily recommend you read it if you haven't already.
Speaking of articles, this week I finally published a new one. It's called Insert Label Here and you should have received an email about it.
If you enjoyed the article, I would really appreciate it if you left a comment on the page. If you have yet to read it, please do. I would love to hear what you thought about it.
Thanks for coming to the end of another letter, I hope you enjoyed it.
Please stay well,