Limits of Giving

by jefftkjefftk1 min read4th Mar 20212 comments

17

World Optimization
Personal Blog

A friend recently asked what my goal was in giving: was there some amount of donations that would be enough? If someone give me a large enough amount of money, which I then donated, would I be free of further altruistic obligations?

These questions feel to me like they come from a very different perspective, so I want to try and explain how I think about it. If I continue on my current path, perhaps over the next 40 years I might manage to donate $10M. There's a sense, then, in which I have a target of $10M. If through some unrealistically good fortune my 0.34% of Wave stock options turned into $50M, however, I wouldn't donate $10M and then devote myself to leisure.

The level of need in the world is enormous, far bigger than my personal efforts can address. The poorest billion people need a marginal dollar far more than I do; no one should be dying of malaria; our society's ability to handle a pandemic is terrifyingly bad; we are putting much less effort than we should be into making sure humanity doesn't go extinct.

Now I'm not going to sell all my possessions and live as cheaply as possible, but I am going to be thoughtful about balancing costs to myself against benefits to others and making good altruistic tradeoffs. The more money I have, the larger a portion I can give while continuing to spend money on myself in ways that make me happy.

Considered this way, responding to receiving $50M by decreasing the percentage I gave would be exactly backwards.

Comment via: facebook

2 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 6:24 PM
New Comment

I'm curious how far you go in the other direction. If your Wave stock turned into an extra $50M, would you donate an extra $50M, or an extra $49M, or an extra $40M, or what? As your lifetime earnings go to infinity, is your personal leisure spending bounded?

There's an amount of money large enough that it would get me to quit my job and switch to working full-time on how to distribute that money, not because my ideal job is working at a foundation doing charity evaluation but because small differences in how effectively that money was allocated would be enormously important. But that's not really your question…

I've been giving 50% pre-tax, but you can't just combine this with the top US tax bracket (37%) because giving is tax deductible at the federal level here. It isn't deductible at the state level, and there are some other taxes, so I think this combines two about an effective giving+tax rate of 80% of sufficiently high level increases in income.

More generally, I would probably go above 50%, but not so high as to remove my selfish incentive to keep earning more?