Learn how to do essentially the most good potential | The Economist

published on July 3, 2020

Doing good

Give me the knife

is increasingly about more than giving away money

I have a spare kidney Why not share it?

A new movement is driving people to choose altruistic careers

We’re just seeing a general upswing in

care about ethical career choice

And altruists are looking further than ever before into the future

We’re trying to make sure humanity survives

Katie Acosta is about to go under the knife

People either think I’m kind of completely nuts or

some saint of a human being

She’s giving away one of her kidneys

I have a spare kidney

why not share it?

But Katie isn’t giving her organ to a friend or family member

but to save the life of a complete stranger

She’s in good hands

I will be what’s called a “non-directed” donor

So I’m giving to somebody that I don’t know who they are yet

It’s a possibility that I’ll never meet them

Most kidney donations in America

come from people who have just died

but Katie is part of a rising altruistic trend

The number of living kidney donors

has increased by 16% since 2014

And from 2017 to 2018

donations to complete strangers rose by 31%

It’s just a feeling of purpose

This idea that something I’m doing

could have such a big impact on someone else’s life

But for living donors like Katie

saving a stranger’s life is not without risks

Nearly one in 3,000 people die from the procedure

So that’s the kidney right there That’s the one he’s gonna be taking out

We are going to prepare the kidney for transplant

This will most certainly either save someone’s life

or increase their quality of life sort of exponentially

And the cost at least to me is nothing when you think about

you know, the kind of effect it can have on someone’s life

Like Katie an increasing number of young people in Britain

say they want to lead more altruistic lives

Research suggests that almost two-thirds of British millennials

want to work for a company that makes a positive difference

We’re just seeing a general upswing in

care about ethical career choice

This Oxford University professor co-founded 80,000 Hours

a charity that gives career advice to altruistically minded people

It’s part of the effective-altruism movement

that takes a scientific approach to calculating ways of doing good

The kind of old-fashioned career advice was

this idea of just, you should follow your passion

You figured out what cause you really care about

and then you go and work in that sector

Whereas I think the most important thing

is to figure out what problems are most important

And then secondly what does that cause need

Increasingly the charity is suggesting careers in new fields

such as AI and synthetic biology, that are shaping the world’s future

Some of the areas like novel technologies are much more in need

of just very talented and sensible and altruistic people

and so what we tend to recommend is people going into policy careers

often research careers and often working directly in non-profits

in some of these key-cause areas

So far the charity says it has helped 3,000 people make major changes

in their career plans, affecting 80m hours of work time

The effective-altruism movement also encourages people to

give away a minimum of 10% of the money they earn

Now I’ve made the decision to donate most of my income

over the course of my life In fact, everything above

£25,000 per year after tax

Over 4,000 people have signed up to Professor MacAskill’s initiative

“Giving What We Can” And so far over $126m has been donated

It’s just becoming much more the norm that people think

yes everyone on this planet is equal in their moral worth

This thinking is leading some in the effective-altruism movement

towards a new focus

the lives of people who will be born in the centuries to come

We need to save humanity, end of story

Funded by wealthy philanthropists

these scientists are researching threats to the survival of the human race

We are trying to look at risks and problems

that may be facing us now that may have a long-term effect

on the far-term future

This team at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute

works in an area known as existential risk

They identify dangers both natural and man-made

that could wipe out humankind altogether

I work with mathematical models to look at pandemic risk

that could be a threat to our species

And try to decide on different counter-measures

How would we prevent deliberate biological events from occurring

How would we deal with pandemics that might be much larger

than something we’ve ever prepared for?

These scientists argue that altruism could be most effective

when focused on the value of human life in the far future

So why should we care about people who might live in a thousand years time?

Just as we shouldn’t be discriminating against people who are

physically far away in space from us

we shouldn’t discriminate against people who happen to be far away in time

The future human population dwarfs the current population enormously

If we look around us the world is valuable

But it was valuable yesterday and it will be valuable tomorrow

so we better make sure tomorrow comes

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