Interactive Article: HLSGives

This article asks readers to consider an argument and either act on it or anonymously share why they disagree. A second article will follow with a full list of objections and our best responses. Now consider the argument that you should give at least 1% of your income to “effective charities.”

The Simple Case for Effective Giving:

You have everything you need that money can buy. More than a billion people live on less than $1.25 a day and, for that reason alone they lack basic nutrition, health, and security. The latter group is not responsible for their circumstance: they were just born into it. Similarly, you were just born in the set of circumstances that made an HLS education a possibility. Now that you’re here, your future is bright. Debt, no debt, Public interest or BigLaw, you will be fine. We repeat: YOU WILL BE FINE. You will never experience hunger or malnutrition; easily preventable diseases will never take your life or the lives of your children. The overriding reason you made it to this point was that you were born into the right circumstances. The people that still face these problems weren’t.

You can give people basic nutrition, health, and security at a trivial cost to yourself. $1,800 is 1% of a BigLaw salary. It’s marginal for us. For most HLS students, it’s less the cost of our phone + computer. We could replace either of those items if they broke this year, before we start drawing checks. For the world’s poorest people, that 1% would be a 300% increase in their annual income. It could buy them years of food security or protection from disease. Our vacation or Macbook-repair funds don’t measure up. We weren’t counting on the extra 20,000 that came our way in 2016 and no one is counting on their first-year bonus to make ends meet in 2019.

It’s not as if this inequality is just a fact of life we just have to accept either. Certain health and welfare interventions have enormous impact on the global poor. These range from simply transferring 89-91 cents of every dollar donated directly to the world’s poorest people to distributing bednets that guard families against malaria or deworming medication that protects children from parasites in dirty water. Independent randomized controlled trials have shown these interventions to be more cost-effective at producing health/wealth outcomes than any others. The impacts are large, the difference is real, and these programs can scale with additional funding.

We now ask that you IMMEDIATELY do one of two things:

Make a real commitment to support these interventions through One for the World.


Anonymously explain to us why you’re not doing so in a sentence or more.

With our thanks for your attention, we now present some objections we have encountered in our years of running effective giving pledges at HLS:

I Should Pay Off My Loans First

Our debt figures seem scary because they’re totally alien to how we lived before law school, but our salaries/LIPP benefits are just as alien. In reality, loans will just be one other financial obligation we have, like rents, taxes, insurance — and they’ll be manageable. At some point most of us will have mortgages too. We don’t let loans foreclose on too many other spending decisions and helping world’s most vulnerable people should be among the last exceptions to that principle, not the first.

I Contribute to Other Causes

Most other causes will succeed in doing a lot more good than your next night out or name-brand fashion accessory and so should be celebrated. It’s always worth asking whether you could be doing more, though. The average American gives around 3% of their income to charity. How high above that mark are you? How much impact can you confidently say your contributions are having? We don’t doubt your intentions or judge anyone for their decisions. Morality is not about putting people into buckets of ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ It’s about trying to decide what to do next. In that sense, we’re eager to hear egalitarian, evidence-based, and quantitative arguments for interventions that might warrant inclusion in One for the World. We should mention, however, that analyses like Givewell’s have set the bar very high.

I Give Back Through My Public Interest Work

Public interest work also hands-down beats time spent on personal consumption and we encourage everyone to think about how to use their time to improve others’ lives. Time is not the only resource at our disposal, however. And though you’ve definitely got the “good” vote from us on the question of which bucket we’d put you in, even public interest salaries are roughly ten times the global average, and our 1% ask is more manageable for public interest lawyers in absolute terms. We think these two factors best explain why SPIF and LIPP recipients have been overrepresented in our past pledges.

Matt Reardon and Carolyn Killea are 3Ls, and Cullyn O'Keefe is a 2L. They are members of HLS Effective Altruism.