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Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Help Others, Do Work that Matters, and Make Smarter Choices about Giving Back Paperback – August 2, 2016
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“Beautifully written and extremely smart. Doing Good Better should be required reading for anyone interested in making the world better.”—Steven D. Levitt, #1 New York Times bestselling co-author of Freakonomics and When to Rob a Bank
“This is the most valuable guide to charitable giving ever published. Even readers who disagree with MacAskill’s conclusions about the value of particular charitable donations will make smarter decisions by learning from his analysis.”—Paul Brest, co-director, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and former president, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
"A straightforward guide to help anyone make the largest possible difference in the lives of others." —Sue Desmond-Hellman, CEO of the Gates Foundation
"We research hotels and headphones and sushi bars—but not charities. That is lunacy. And in this powerful and persuasive book, William MacAskill shows us how much we stand to gain from a little bit of thoughtfulness: The same donation could do hundreds of times more good if given to the most effective charities, rather than the least"—Dan Heath, co-author of the New York Times bestsellers Made to Stick, Switch, and Decisive
“Effective altruism—efforts that actually help people rather than making you feel good or helping you show off—is one of the great new ideas of the twenty-first century. Doing Good Better is the definitive guide to this exciting new movement.”—Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of The Better Angels of Our Nature
“Doing Good Better is a superb achievement. This must-read book will lead people to change their careers, their lives, and the world, for the better.”—Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, author of Animal Liberation and The Most Good You Can Do
“Doing Good Better is a must-read for anyone with both a heart and a brain. MacAskill demolishes the lazy myths of nothing-you-can-do-ism and demonstrates the power of asking the right questions. This is an important book. It's also surprisingly fun. Figuring out what really helps people is a challenging scientific puzzle, and these pages are full of unexpected twists—enlightening and invigorating.”—Joshua Greene, director of Harvard's Moral Cognition Lab, author of Moral Tribes
“Humanity currently spends more money on cigarette ads than on making sure that we as a species survive this century. We've got our priorities all wrong, and we need effective altruism to right them. If you want to make a real difference on the biggest issues of our time, you need to read Doing Good Better.”— Jaan Tallinn, cofounder, Skype and Kazaa
“Doing Good Better has rare combination of strikingly original ideas, effortless clarity of delivery, and a thoroughgoing practicality that leaves the reader inspired to get out of their chair and take on the world. Humanity faces some big challenges in the 21st century; this is a much-needed manifesto for social change, and Will MacAskill is the ideal ambassador.”—Eric Drexler, founder of nanotechnology and author of Engines of Creation
“MacAskill tackles a monumental question: how can we make the biggest difference for the greatest number of people? His answer is a grand vision to make giving, volunteering, spending, and working more worthwhile.”—Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take
“Are you interested in giving away money more effectively? This is the very best book on how to do that.” —Tyler Cowen, Holbert C. Harris Professor of Economics at George Mason University and author of Average is Over
“I wish I'd had this structure and insights twenty years ago!”—Caroline Fiennes, Director, Giving Evidence
About the Author
William MacAskill is an associate professor in philosophy at the University of Oxford and the cofounder of the nonprofit organizations Giving What We Can and 80,000 Hours. These nonprofits have raised more than $400 million in lifetime-pledged donations to charity and have helped spark the effective altruism movement. MacAskill is a contributor to Quartz, the online business magazine of The Atlantic, and he and his organizations have been featured in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and on NPR and in a TEDx Talk. He lives in Oxford, England.
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Doing Good Better is an excellent introduction to effective altruism.
As a 78 year old codger, I've spent the almost five years since my wife's death mourning and then selling off real estate and other assets to simplify my life, being sure my family's and my own needs are met, and devoting the balance to charitable giving -- something my wife and I agreed on throughout her long illness -- we had plenty of discussions about the matter.
Doing Good Better is superb at introducing some basic concepts. So far I've worked out a three step program to determine my own "effectiveness", using four different charitable organizations as training wheels. I plan to take a long ocean trip next January to decide on how to proceed on this life journey next year and for as long thereafter as possible.
Step one -- raise money with the goal of obtaining additional funds from others. For example, issue a one for one challenge grant -- for each dollar you donate, I will match with one dollar. Financial ratio: 1.0 -- your funds divided by my funds donated, both of us to the same charity (although I am going to experiment with a criss/cross, where you donate to my charity and I donate to your charity). So far, in 18 projects, my financial ratio has ranged from a negative 1.0 to an average of 6.4 -- trending higher as I gain experience.
Step two -- take into account my time invested. Compare time invested with financial return ratio. It takes almost no time to subscribe to Amazon's great Smile program which matches my purchases with a donation of 0.5% from Amazon at no cost to me. Small potatoes, sure, but a great financial return -- infinite really -- with only ten minutes invested. And, talking the program up with others. So far, $38 donated this year to the Trail Conference. Obviously, bigger returns are worth more investment of time; but small returns with big investment of time is not so good, unless there are other factors in play.
Step three -- rate each project on intangibles from 1 to 5 stars. A 1 for a miserable return on investment of time and money and a failure to analyze the failure for what went wrong and how I could do better in the future. 34 years of caregiving taught me that I make many, many mistakes, but if I analyze the reasons and find a way to do better in the future, I can turn that 1 into a 2.
5 stars means a great financial and time return and a great intangible feeling of success -- whatever that feeling may have come from.
I will apply additional lessons from this fine book, and report on my progress or lack thereof as time goes on.
Robert C. Ross
My guess is that many people reading this review are charitable people who want to know if their hard earned money is well spent when they give it to their favorite charity. In his new book, William MacAskill, cofounder of the Effective Altruism Movement, gives us a thoughtful method for determining what charities will make best use of our contributions and make a genuine difference for good in the lives of desperate and destitute people.
In Part One of his book he answers these questions:
1. How many people benefit, and by how much?
2. Is this the most effective thing you can do?
3. Is this area neglected?
4. What would have happened otherwise?
5. What are the chances of success, and how good would success be?
In order to accurately answer these questions, economists have developed a metric called the quality-adjusted life year (QALY). Time and again MacAskill will use this metric to highlight effective and ineffective organizations. Toward the end of his book he gives us a list of those charities that pass the QALY muster such as GiveDirectly, Deworm the World International, Against Malaria Foundation, etc.
Part Two of MacAskill's book shows us Effective Altruism in Action. From beginning to end he tells us interesting stories about people who make a difference for good. He makes the point repeatedly that even small contributions that are well placed can significantly impact the quality of life of poor and sick people. He often challenges our assumptions about strongly held beliefs such as that we should avoid purchasing products made in sweatshops. We are not wrong about the dreadful conditions in many of these workplaces, but the true fact is that work in a sweatshop is much to be preferred over even worse alternatives.
As we think about our own pattern of giving to charity, MacAskill encourages us to establish a regular habit of giving and to evaluate carefully whether our time spent serving in a charitable organization or working to earn money to give the organization is more valuable. We need to plan carefully what we will do to incorporate altruism into our everyday lives. MacAskill suggests that we join the effective altruism community (effectivealtruism.org), put our name on their mailing list, and invite our neighbors to do the same.
From beginning to end Doing Good Better is about enlightened behavior; that is, thinking less about self and more about connecting with networks that make a difference for good in the lives of the poor and unfortunate people of this world. People who read MacAskill's well written and thoughtful book have a game plan for action, not only in how to contribute meaningfully to worthy charities, but also to consider how to structure their lives to get the most from their talents and the best opportunities to use these talents to help others.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that Americans are a giving people. William MacAskill gives us a plan and a program to channel our best tendencies and motivations in directions that will do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Highly recommended.
Without explicitly asking ourselves MacAskill's Second Key Question of Effective Altruism, "Is this the most effective thing you can do?" we may end up having a "merely very good" impact with our lives, which surprisingly is nowhere near as good as the best impact we potentially could have.
As MacAskill writes, "When it comes to doing good, fat-tailed distributions seem to be everywhere. It’s not always true that exactly 80 percent of the value comes from the top 20 percent of activities—sometimes things are even more extreme than that, and sometimes less. But the general rule that most of the value generated comes from the very best activities is very common" (p. 50).
If we don't consciously try to achieve the most good we can and purse that challenge with careful reasoning, then it's likely we won't achieve anywhere near our potential. That's why effective altruism is important and why I was very happy to learn that there is a growing community of people who agree about the importance of this sort of thinking.