The Exponential Impact of Socially-Contagious Philanthropy

If doing any significant amount of good was basically intractable, it would be more permissible for individuals to ignore the utilitarian imperative to do the most good. However, doing incredible amounts of good is in the reach of many of us. We don’t necessarily have to research and contribute to Multiverse-wide Cooperation via Correlated Decision Making in order to do our part; doing good can be as simple as donating 10% of one’s salary to the EA Funds, which, if used for causes as effective as the Against Malaria Foundation, can avert a year of lost health (a DALY) for $29. One may be able to do far more good than just this though. Consider the power of exponential growth:

If you commit to convincing two other people per year to donate 10% of their income to the EA Funds, and convince them to convince two people to do the same themselves, etc., you can expect to have 27 people donating 10% of their income within three years. Considering a simple model based on a mean US income of $72,000, one can expect to be responsible for averting 814,097 DALYs within 7 years. This assumes that these people would not do anything productive with that 10% of their money if they did not donate it, that none of these people would have discovered effective giving over this time period, and that the $29 per averted DALY rate would hold. Even accounting for more realistic estimates of these factors, it is likely that one could still claim responsibility for averting over 500,000 DALYs over a 7 year period.

This is a substantial amount of good. Frankly, I struggle to imagine how these 2187 people’s discretionary income could be better spent. To say it would be better for people to not deliberately spend part of their discretionary money on charity and research via the EA Funds is to suggest that the EA Funds managers are ineffective at choosing organizations and causes to give to, or that each person could get about 247 years worth of pleasure by spending that 10% of their income on themselves. I think both of these are unlikely to be the case.

If this inspired you, I encourage you to take a giving pledge and share your reasons for taking the pledge on social media! Like all habits, giving is contagious πŸ™‚

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