Emil Salageanu's Reviews > Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference

Doing Good Better by William MacAskill
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When scientific methods are used to evaluate the effectiveness of charity programs, the results show that some charities can be up to 100 times more effective than others.
A relatively small donation from a citizen of a rich country to an effective charity can do a lot of good.
The book develops this idea, shows how charity programs are evaluated, and provides advice on how one could maximize his own impact on the world.
The book starts by presenting a very ineffective altruistic program - a pump powered by energy developed by children playing, that costed considerable amount of money. Proper scientific investigation showed how poor the results were.

The first part defines a framework to measure Effectiveness of altruistic programs, in 5 questions:

How many people benefit and by how much ?
- Introduces a unit, the QALY, for measuring the net benefit of a program. The QALY takes into account life extension ('saving lives') as well as quality of life (providing treatment for a disease).

Is this the most effective thing you can do ?
By choosing the most effective programs, the cost of saving one life is $3400

Is this area neglected
The more an area is neglected, the bigger the impact you make by donating in that area. Do no not donate to disaster relief that attracts a lot of attention anyways

What would have happened otherwise
It is not enough to count the good you make, but to compare it to whatever the situation would be without it. If you become a doctor, you need to consider the difference that you make compared to whom would have become a doctor in your place.

What are the chances of success and how good would success be
The expected value of an action is the risk multiplied by the value if the event does happen. Several examples are given that deal with very small probability of achieving a very high outcome. For instance trying to become a prime minister. Or going to vote for the event that there will be a perfect 50/50 and your vote will be the one that makes the difference for one of the parties. I found this last example not only counterintuitive but also hard to defend.

The second part is a set of guidelines of how to behave to make a bigger difference.

* A framework is proposed for evaluating charities and a couple of most effective charities are being evaluated.

* money spent in buying fairtrade goods would better spent by just donating the difference to effective charities

* offsetting gas emissions (donating to projects that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) is more effective than reducing your own emissions

* one should do a lucrative job and donate rather than follow one's passional

Things I learned I did not know before

* extreme poverty is defined at around the level of $1.5 a day. That I knew. What I did not know is that this actually means what someone could buy in US with $1.5, and not in their poor country. This also takes into account goods someone may produce (for instance agriculture) and consume, and considers them as income.

* doubling the income will increase subjective well being by the same amount: giving $1K to someone who makes $1K a year is equivalent to giving $50K to someone who makes $50K a year. Does this scale to daily or weekly income ?

* there is a unit used for measuring altruistic programs: the QALI (Quality Adjusted Life Year). It measures extension of life as well as improvement in quality of life.
1 QALY is 1 year someone gained, in good health. If someone's quality of life improved from 50% to 70% during one year, that makes 0.2 QALY. The subjective well-being (quality of life) is measured by asking people the questions such us:"For how many years in good health would you exchange 10 years with dialyse". If the answer is 7, then the quality of life with dialyse is considered 70%.

* eradication of smallpox in 1977 (saved 60 - 120 million lives) beats world peace since the same epoch (3 million people a year). This event by itself is enough to tell that, overall, money spent in charity in the developing world had a good impact.

* de-worming children had a huge impact on improving education comparing to education-centric programs

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Reading Progress

May 18, 2016 – Shelved
May 18, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
November 12, 2016 – Started Reading
November 21, 2016 – Finished Reading

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