6.03.2013

Make Money, Save the World

People Who Have Well-Paying Jobs And Give Most of their Money Away.I was intrigued by this article in WashPo about a young man who chose Wall Street in order to make as much money as possible . . . in order to give away as much money as possible.  [Hat tip: Marginal Revolution.]  Some quick reactions:

(1) If you want to maximize the good you can do in the world, it does matter how you actually make the money you're making.  If what you do causes just as much harm as the good you'll do with the money you're giving away, that's a wash.

(2) There's nothing inherently evil about Wall Street, so kudos to this young man for wanting to do good and deciding that Wall Street was the best vehicle for him to do it.  Too often we quickly label careers as either virtuous or soul-sucking, instead of knowing that it's largely in our power to make them one or the other.

(3) If you're smart and good-hearted, you should think about how you can leverage your job itself to do the most good in the world as possible (e.g. be a doctor, work on policy).  But that doesn't preclude that some of you conclude that the best way to  leverage your job is, like this young man, to extract as much money as possible and then deploy it to charities that save and improve lives.

(4) It is absolutely possible to give much more of a percentage of our salaries than we currently do.  And it is awful how little we do actually give. 

(5) It is also awful how much of that little giving that we do give goes to high-leverage charitable situations that can literally save thousands of lives.  You would think that we would be smarter about making sure our dollars have maximum impact, and yet we are shockingly lazy when it comes to picking who to write a check to.

(6) See also "Why Activists Should Consider Making Lots of Money."  The premise is that instead of taking a lowly non-profit job, you should let someone else have that job and you should get the highest-paying job possible and then fund such non-profits.  This I have a quibble with, because while it is efficient to think this way, sometimes I believe that (for a season or for a lifetime) we can be called to a downwardly mobile line of work, at which you can be maximally deployed for the greatest good.  That said, it seems a deeply personal decision, and there is nothing universally better or worse about making money and giving it away, so long as you can hang in there and not give in to the usual trappings (financial, ego, lifestyle) that come with those jobs and those salaries.


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