Effective Altruism is about Getting Rich with a Clean Conscience

“It’s my big number.” I tell people it’s OK to be rich.”

I don’t necessarily claim to be an expert in this area, and I’m sure there are things I’m missing or unaware of here, but based on what’s been doing the rounds in the news of late, and some quick reading I’ve done on the topic, here’s my take on effective altruism: I think it’s a justification for being ambitious, for getting as rich as possible, and (in many cases) by any means possible, and keeping your conscience clear along the way.

I think the motivation for the effective altruism movement is best explained in this passage from the book So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, one of the books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 'trilogy' by Douglas Adams. Let me quote the relevant passage at length.

Ford was walking north. He thought he was probably on his way to the spaceport, but he had thought that before. He knew he was going through that part of the city where people’s plans often changed quite abruptly.

‘Do you want to have a good time?’ said a voice from a doorway.

‘As far as I can tell,’ said Ford, ‘I’m having one. Thanks.’

‘Are you rich?’ said another.

This made Ford laugh.

He turned and opened his arms in a wide gesture. ‘Do I look rich?’ he said.

‘Don’t know,’ said the girl. ‘Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you’ll get rich. I have a very special service for rich people . . .’

‘Oh yes?’ said Ford, intrigued but careful. ‘And what’s that?’

‘I tell them it’s OK to be rich.’ …. ‘You what?’ he said.

The girl laughed and stepped forward a little out of the shadow. She was tall, and had that kind of self-possessed shyness which is a great trick if you can do it.

‘It’s my big number,’ she said. ‘I have a master’s degree in social economics and can be very convincing. People love it. Especially in this city.’

I think some people have moved on from ‘get rich quick,’ to ‘get rich quick—with a clean conscience (or at least the outward projection of one), and that’s what effective altruism is all about.

#effectivealtruism #sbfftx #h2g2


I write about technology, user experience, product design, and more. I also review some (not all) of the books I read.