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  • History of "Earning to Give"

    September 18th, 2012
    earning_to_give, giving  [html]
    In making a subpage for giving I wanted to link to places where people have advocated "earning to give". That's the idea that educated first worlders can generally most improve the world by earning as much as they can and donating heavily to effective charities. The oldest formulation of this idea I can find is Brian Tomasik's Why Activists Should Consider Making Lots of Money from 2006. I've found lots of older writing saying we should help others, but none advocating an "earn more, give more" approach. Is there any I'm just not finding? Did Brian come up with the idea?

    Update 2012-10-01: David Barry points out that Peter Unger talked about this some in Living High and Letting Die (1996), sending in an excerpt:

    "Because we enjoy our academic positions, many of us earn significantly less than if we did work that, though we'd enjoy it less, is much more remunerative. For example, a senior professor specializing in corporate law could leave her intellectually fulfilling post at a major university's prestigious law school, earn far more at a top corporate firm and, while being less fulfilled, also donate the lion's share of her much higher income toward helping save distant youngsters' lives. If she did all that, how bad would things be for our able lawyer? Well, not only would she be better off than old one-legged Bob, hobbling about barely making ends meet, but she'd be far better off than the many millions who're each much worse off still. So, at the least, she'd still be very modestly well off. So, for many able academic lawyers, it's seriously wrong not to exchange their present posts for much more lucrative jobs and, then, to contribute about as much as they can toward the morally most imperative ends. Even if somewhat less dramatically, much the same holds true in the case of many able academic economists, and for many in the mathematical sciences, and the natural sciences.

    Closer to home, what's a decently behaved academic philosopher to do? Since most readers are likely to be in that position, or to be preparing for it, I should give this at least a brief discussion: Those not yet very well established should seek employment in fields where there's markedly more money to be made. Now, since he's not well equipped to earn much more doing something else, and it's hard for an old dog to learn new tricks, it's just possible that the well-established philosopher may best stay in his post. But, even if that's actually so, things certainly won't be nice or easy for the old philosopher; rather, he'll have to change the focus of his work so enormously that, in short order, he'll enjoy little intellectual satisfaction. For example, on one of the few paths morally open to him, not only must he forever forsake the philosophically central site of metaphysics for the relatively peripheral domain of applied ethics, but, in the far less central field, he'll mainly produce writing that, in aims and effects, is more socially beneficial than it's philosophically revealing.

    (Emphasis mine.)

    Update 2013-08-10: People were curious about the origin of the term. 80000 Hours had been calling this "professional philanthropy", but that seemed misleading to me so I posted asking for suggestions for a clearer name. In discussion on a mailing list Brian suggested: "How about 'Earning to Give' or 'Earning to Donate'?" and "Earning to Give" was immediately obvious as the answer.

    Update 2013-08-15: Brian says he got the idea partly from Vegan Outreach cofounder Jack Norris who wrote in 2004:

    Many activists view money and wealth as evil. As a source of power, money can be used to promote either evil or good. Just think how much better the animals would be if vegans had significant amounts of money. If each vegan had enough money to buy and distribute multiple copies of educational materials, the animals would greatly benefit. Someone who works a job that isnt directly promoting animal rights, but who can use their money to fund the resources needed by our movement, will be doing much to help the animals.

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