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Jan 31, 2024

"Join Wall Street. Save the world," The Washington Post urged in 2013. "How to Know Your Donations Are Doing the Most Good," The New York Times proclaimed in 2015. "I give 10 percent of my income to charity. You should, too," Vox advised last November.

Each of these headlines tops a piece that extols the virtues of Effective Altruism, a philanthropic philosophy, for lack of a better term, ostensibly dedicated to the pursuit of the best ways to address large-scale, global ills like pandemics and factory farming, informed by “evidence and reason.” The school of thought, popularized by figures like the academic and author Peter Singer and disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, has been widely embraced – or at least uncritically boosted – in mainline media for years.

Superficially, this makes sense. Effective Altruism seems unimpeachably virtuous: It’s great if people want to solve the world’s problems, and so much the better if they’ve done their research. But beneath this surface lies a deeply reactionary movement, predicated on an age-old desire to characterize the wealthy as the solution to, rather than the cause of, the very problems they purport to want to solve.

On this episode, we parse the rise, motives, and influence of Effective Altruism. We look at how the doctrine gamifies wealth distribution, falsely portrays the rich as uniquely qualified to make decisions about public welfare, often provides cover for eugenics and racism, and masquerades as a groundbreaking ethos of data-driven compassion while it merely regurgitates a 100-year-old rich person ideology of supposedly benevolent control over the masses.

Our guest is Dr. Linsey McGoey.