Earning to give: an annotated bibliography

A while ago, I did a quick survey of the literature on earning to give—the pursuit of a high-earning career with the express purpose of donating a large portion of one’s earnings to high-impact charities. Given the recent interest in the topic, I thought I should turn those notes into a proper bibliography. If I’m missing anything, please let me know.

Andreev, Alexei. Maximizing your donations via a job, LessWrong, May 5th, 2013.

Chronicles the author’s experience in finding a job as a software engineer with the goal of earning to give.

Brooks, David. The way to produce a person, New York Times, June 3rd, 2013.

If your profoundest interest is dying children in Africa or Bangladesh, it’s probably best to go to Africa or Bangladesh, not to Wall Street.

Carter, Joe. The vocation of Earning-to-give donor, Action Institute PowerBlog, June 6th, 2013.

Working to fund one’s philanthropic ventures is certainly noble. But we shouldn’t downplay the value of the income-generating work just because we can’t see as directly how it helps others.

Farquhar, Sebastian. The replaceability effect: working in unethical industries part 1, 80,000 Hours blog, March 26th, 2012.

When we look at the consequences of our actions, and consider whether to take a job in a harmful industry, the harm of our taking the job is somewhat less than it first appears. There is still a harm, though, so you shouldn’t take the job unless you think you can do something pretty good with it.

Farquhar, Sebastian. Collective action: working in unethical industries part 2, 80,000 Hours blog, July 29th, 2012.

You need to pay attention to what other EAs are doing. But it doesn’t mean that we should always avoid working in harmful industries, or thinking in general about how to individually make the most difference.

Farquhar, Sebastian. Universalisability – immoral industries part 3, 80,000 Hours blog, July 31st, 2012.

We recommend earning to give only because we look at the way the world is and we reckon it makes a positive difference. If the world became different, and lots of people naturally decided to do earning to give, we’d recommend something else.

Hallquist, Chris. Why earn to give?, Effective Altruism Forum, September 19th, 2014.

An engaging, informal introduction to earning to give. Recommended.

Hoskin, Ben. How much do taxes matter if you’re giving to charity?, 80,000 Hours blog, March 1st, 2013.

Suppose you’re looking to donate as much as possible to charity, and are choosing between two jobs. Should you worry about the taxes in each location?

Hurford, Peter. What is earning to give? Everyday Utilitarian, June 9th, 2013.

A survey of the field.

Karnofsky, Holden. Our take on “earning to give”, The GiveWell blog, June 26, 2013.

We’re excited about “earning to give” as one option among many.

Kaufman, Jeff. How much should you give, Jeff Kaufman’s blog, August 9th, 2011.

Earn and give as much as you can for the level of personal suffering you are prepared to accept.

Kaufman, Jeff. What about non-work time?, Jeff Kaufman’s blog, October 17th, 2011.

Even in your spare time, which you usually can’t turn into money to donate by working additional hours, you should still not engage in local charitable activities.

Kaufman, Jeff. Professional philanthropy, Jeff Kaufman’s blog, August 15th, 2012.

A brief discussion of the convenience of using that expression, before ‘earning to give’ had became established.

Kaufman, Jeff. History of earning to give, Jeff Kaufman’s blog, September 18th, 2012.

Credits Brian Tomasik with the first formulation of the idea.

Kaufman, Jeff. Summaries of earning to give, Jeff Kaufman’s blog, March 11th, 2013.

Earning to give involves four main ideas: (1) donate; (2) donate to the most effective organizations; (3) earn more so you can give more; (4) spend less so you can give more.

Kaufman, Jeff. Arguing about banking, Jeff Kaufman’s blog, June 3rd, 2013.

Examples of people in clearly beneficial jobs like Boris Yakubchik (high school math teacher) and Julia Wise (social worker at a prison) are both much less controversial and much more attainable for the typical reader.

Kaufman, Jeff. History of earning to give II, Jeff Kaufman’s blog, August 25th, 2013.

Quotes an exchange between Singer and an early proponent of earning to give.

Kaufman, Jeff. History of earning to give III, Jeff Kaufman’s blog, October 1st, 2013.

Claims that John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, was an early advocate of earning to give.

Kaufman, Jeff. Earning to give, Effective Altruism Global, August 6th, 2016.

Earning to give is a career path that is well suited to people who are good at earning money, who are still exploring cause areas, who prioritize interventions that are funding-limited, who are early in their careers and want to build their skills, or who want to balance altruism against other things in their lives. I find that it suits me well, but I also can imagine myself doing something else five years from now.

Kuhn, Ben. Downgrading confidence in earning to give, Ben Kuhn’s blog, April 5th, 2013.

Concludes that (1) doing high-paying highly-skilled careers might be dominated by doing directly charitable things and that (2) effective altruists should probably be spreading a broader message.

Kuhn, Ben. Common objections to earning to give, Ben Kuhn’s blog, June 1st, 2013.

Discusses five objections to earning to give.

MacAskill, William. Banking as an ethical career, Practical Ethics blog, November 22nd, 2012.

Altruistic bankers earn a lot, aren’t likely to be replaceable, and can support the very best charities. They are likely to do more good than someone in an “ethical” career.

MacAskill, William. Following in Schindler’s footsteps, 80,000 Hours blog, June 29th, 2012.

Uses Schindler’s example to discuss the morality of working for an evil corporation.

MacAskill, William. To save the world, don’t get a job at a charity; go work on Wall Street, Quartz, June 27th, 2013.

Earning to give is often the best career option because of (1) discrepancy in earnings, (2) replaceability and (3) high variations in charity cost-effectiveness.

MacAskill, William. Replaceability, career choice, and making a difference, Ethical theory and moral practice, vol. 17, no. 2 (April, 2014), pp 269-283.

Defends the idea that deliberately pursuing a lucrative career in order to donate a large proportion of one’s earnings is typically ethically preferable to a career within the charity sector.

MacAskill, William. 80,000 Hours thinks that only a small proportion of people should earn to give long term. 80,000 Hours blog, July 6th, 2015.

80,000 Hours never claimed that most people should earn to give; and now thinks that even fewer people should pursue this path to impact than it did before.

MacAskill, William. Should you switch away from earning to give?, Effective Altruism Forum, August 25, 2016.

When considering whether to do direct work or earn to give, you could ask yourself: am I in the top 15% of people in terms of comparative advantage at earning to give?

MacAskill, William. Banking, in David Edmonds (ed.), Philosophers take on the world, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 84-86.

Condensed version of ‘Replaceability, career choice, and making a difference’.

Matthews, Dylan. Join Wall Street. Save the worldWashington Post, May 31st, 2013.

A popular, engaging piece, with profiles of many prominent advocates and practitioners of earning to give.

Peñalva, Lucas Ariel. ¿Qué es ganar para donar?, Altruismo Eficaz, July 29th, 2015.

An engaging introduction for Spanish-speaking readers.

Redwood, Zander. The flat margin effect, 80,000 Hours blog, May 13th, 2012.

Argues that if you take a job that seems to have a strong (positive or negative) impact on the economy, the actual difference it makes to social welfare will be minimal.

Salam, Reiham. The rise of the SingeriansNational Review, May 31st, 2013.

A criticism from a conservative perspective. Claims that people motivated by curiosity and novelty or a desire for recognition may have a much bigger positive impact than people who try to do good deliberately.

Sinick, Jonah. Earning to give vs. altruistic career choice revisited, LessWrong, June 2nd, 2013

Responds to MacAskill’s Quartz piece on earning to give.

Shulman, Carl. Entrepreneurship: a game of poker, not roulette, 80,000 Hours blog, February 19th, 2012.

It would be a mistake to think of the returns to entrepreneurship as predictably stemming from just showing up and taking a spin at the wheel of startup roulette. Instead, entrepreneurship is more like poker: a game where even the best players cannot predictably win over a single night, but measurable differences predict that some will earn much more than others on average.

Shulman, Carl. Software engineering: Britain vs Silicon Valley, 80,000 Hours blog, February 21st, 2012.

How attractive is the software industry for those who want to make money and use it to do good? In some ways, the British statistics are misleading, but they also reflect a real difference: software engineers in the US, and especially Silicon Valley, really are better compensated. The post lays out the supporting data, and discusses ways people outside the United States can make their way to Silicon Valley.

Shulman, Carl. Salary or startup? How do-gooders can earn more from risky careers, 80,000 Hours blog, January 8th, 2012.

Altruists have stronger reasons to pursue risky careers because the standard arguments for risk aversion do not apply.

Todd, Ben. Show me the harm, 80,000 Hours blog, July 31st, 2013.

Makes some very rough estimates of how harmful finance would have to be in order for its harm to outweigh the good realized by the donations of someone who earns to give.

Todd, Ben. A comparison of medical research and earning to give, 80,000 Hours blog, December 13th, 2013.

Earning to give in finance is slightly better than medical research.

Todd, Ben. How much do people pursuing earning to give actually give?, 80,000 Hours blog, April 9th, 2014.

Attemps to estimate how much people pursuing earning to give donate, how much they can be expected to donate in the immediate future, and how much extra giving was caused by 80,000 Hours.

Tomasik, Brian. Why activists should consider making lots of money, Utilitarian Essays, 2006.

A pioneering essay.

Xodarap. Political skills which increase income, LessWrong, 2014.

An annotated bibliography of a few recent meta-analyses of predictors of income.

With thanks to Imma Six.