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Doing good by getting rich: the 80,000 hours society

This morning, there was a very interesting discussion on doing good on BBC radio. The provocative claim of one Oxford based community is that you can do more good by becoming a banker than by becoming an aid worker. They very short summary is that by becoming rich, you can easily fund several aid workers’ salaries, so clearly you are doing more good than one aid worker possibly can. Check out their website 80,000 hours – high impact ethical careers for more background.

The question of what is an ethical career choice is important for high flying ladies because I have found that being ethical and doing good is a primary concern for talented women. It is what draws many women into areas such as psychology, teaching, charity, while their male peers strive for better paid careers in business and finance. What if women could be convinced that becoming rich and using their wealth to support good causes and change society was a choice that is morally equal, if not even better?

One way to look at it is that money is only generated in the private sector, and that all publicly funded professions (teaching, nursing…) are funded by taxes raised from the private sector. As such, publicly funded ethical careers cannot be morally superior to private sector careers because they exist only as a result of private funding. When it comes to privately funded charity work, I would argue that you need to maximise your impact, depending on your talents. And the answer could be that you will be better off becoming rich and giving money to charity, or that you could do most good by doing charity directly. From an economist’s standpoint, I would think that if you live in a society that provides large rewards for private sector work, you should pursue that and pass on a part of your wealth to aid workers in countries with fewer opportunities. These local aid workers will likely do a better job in their own community than you would, and if you can fund many of them due to the difference in price level, you can have a large positive impact, far beyond what you could have on your own. It may not feel as rewarding to you, but it might be the choice with a more positive outcome.

It is a very provocative topic and I would love to hear what others think about it! Do you agree? What do you think is a morally good career choice? And if you want to do good already, please support my Christmas appeal in support of CAMFED, a charity dedicated to educating girls in Africa.

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