Every year I write a blog post about how much I gave to charity. I do this with the hopes of (ever slightly) increasing a culture of giving.
This year, I gave 8% of my gross income.
Some reflections below.
How much does it cost to save a life?
GiveWell makes rough estimates that the most effective charities save a life for around $1,000-$3,000.
That means most readers of this blog could save the lives of multiple people this year.
Where did I give? Why?
I gave my money to GiveWell and told them they could allocate it across any of their preferred charities, save for Give Directly.
My giving is based on the following:
(1) I understand that peace, economic growth, technological advancement is what really matters most over the long-haul.
(2) I have no idea how to donate to charity in a manner that helps the above.
(3) There are many people who face acute suffering right now.
(4) I have some modest hopes that charities can help with this acute suffering.
(5) Giving internationally is the most effective way to ease the most acute suffering per donation.
The reason I do not give to Give Directly (direct cash transfers to poor people) is not that I think it’s a bad idea; rather I just don’t think we have enough evidence to prove that it alleviates suffering as well as GiveWell’s others recommend charities.
What worries me the most about my giving strategy?
I am open to the idea that making high-risk bets on existential issues (war, climate change, A.I., pandemics, etc.) will have more long-term utility than lower-risk bets that ameliorate current human suffering.
But I don’t trust myself to evaluate how to give to these causes, nor have I found experts that I fully trust that could guide my giving on these causes.
GiveWell is trying to mature this space with its Open Philanthropy initiative, but I don’t yet have enough confidence in their analysis to shift my giving.
Given the current turmoil in our country, why didn’t I give domestically?
I do think that the United States could do incredible global harm by starting an ill-advised war, radically reducing its commitment to climate change efforts, or erecting massive trade barriers that severely slow the global economy.
Because of this, I made political donations throughout the year (which I did not include in my charitable giving).
However, right now, I’m not really sure how to donate in a manner that would lower the risks of our government making any of the aforementioned grave errors.
If there is a way to do so, I will consider giving to these causes next year.
Should you calculate your giving rate based on pre or post tax income?
I go back and forth in how one should figure taxes into this.
On one hand, about 10-20% of taxes go to the poor (I think, it’s very hard to get clear answers on this), which feels like charitable giving of some sort.
On the other hand, charitable giving is also tax deductible; moreover, I surely reap the fruits of living in a functioning country, and, in modern times, some form of welfare state is part of what creates domestic stability.
So I’m not sure that pre-tax is exactly the right baseline for calculation.
But I’ll stick to the hard line and calculate pre-tax: so 8% it is.