Meeting an altruistic investment banker

Recently I went to a meet-up event which was also attended by effective altruists from various investment banks. The moment one of them revealed that he is one of those individuals who has gotten a high-earning career to donate a significant proportion of his income to cost-effective charities the silent “well-done” rippled through the air. The interlocutor highfived him. If I am ever caught in a similar moment I will just break into applause.

What a difference effective altruism makes to an impression. I suspect bankers don’t often get highfived for revealing their trade.

I get warm fuzzies when I am thinking about a person griding away at a stressful job in order to save lives. He mentioned that 2000£ saves a life, though I know some charities claim $1000 per life ratio. He must have saved dozens of lives already and will save many more. This gives me a reason to feel good about humanity.

But it gets even better: he told us that about 10% of new-hirers are effective altruists: they peruse GiveWell website for poverty-alleviation cost-effective charities, some read LessWrong’s1 effective altruism posts and some find Peter Singer’s Ted talk/book influential. I am sure there’s plenty of other resources out there I just named the ones which were mentioned.

The 10% figure is just amazing. This post is for spreading the “feel-good” sensation which I am currently feeling. It ties in nicely with something else which was on my mind for some time: when asked “What place would you go to if you could go anywhere?” I said “Space.” I never got round explaining why going to space (or International Space Station) was my answer.

When I catch a flight I still experience “yay for humanity” emotion. Everytime. When I get home I read wiki about ailerons, about history of commercial aviation, about types of jet there are. It fascinates me that we invented jets and made flights accessible to the general public. Arguably I should feel the same about smartphones and internet daily, but I don’t.

And I would get the exact same “yay for humanity” feeling if a rocket accelerated my body to a delta-v speed of 9.4km/s and put me in the low orbit. Moreover I’d be given access to a permanently manned space station and I’d feel even more awesome. Hell, I might actually die from all the awesomeness I’d feel stemming from what humans are capable of.

On the contrary, I would be rather upset about travelling through a poverty-stricken area. It is the opposite feeling that would embrace me: how humanity is not awesome. Down-right terrible in fact. I feel enough of that.

I used to exhibit just-world bias and “diss” charities but I am changing now. Moreover, the recent encounters motivated me too look into the effective altruism movement more carefully. May be, one day, I will join it too.

  1. the Effective Altruism posts are not tagged, just searching for “altruism” results in 10 pages though