30+ quotes from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference by William MacAskill

Quotes from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference

William MacAskill ·  272 pages

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“The challenge for us is this: How can we ensure that, when we try to help others, we do so as effectively as possible?”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“When thinking about risk from transport, you can think directly in terms of minutes of life lost per hour of travel. Each time you travel, you face a slight risk of getting into a fatal accident, but the chance of getting into a fatal accident varies dramatically depending on the mode of transport. For example, the risk of a fatal car crash while driving for an hour is about one in ten million (so 0.1 micromorts). For a twenty-year-old, that’s a one-in-ten-million chance of losing sixty years. The expected life lost from driving for one hour is therefore three minutes. Looking at expected minutes lost shows just how great a discrepancy there is between risks from different sorts of transport. Whereas an hour on a train costs you only twenty expected seconds of life, an hour on a motorbike costs you an expected three hours and forty-five minutes. In addition to giving us a way to compare the risks of different activities, the concept of expected value helps us choose which risks are worth taking. Would you be willing to spend an hour on a motorbike if it was perfectly safe but caused you to be unconscious later for three hours and forty-five minutes? If your answer is no, but you’re otherwise happy to ride motorbikes in your day-to-day life, you’re probably not fully appreciating the risk of death.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“One additional unit of income can do a hundred times as much to the benefit the extreme poor as it can to benefit you or I [earning the typical US wage of $28,000 or ‎£18,000 per year]. [I]t's not often you have two options, one of which is a hundred times better than the other. Imagine a happy hour where you could either buy yourself a beet for $5 or buy someone else a beer for 5¢. If that were the case, we'd probably be pretty generous – next round's on me! But that's effectively the situation we're in all the time. It's like a 99% off sale, or buy one, get ninety-nine free. It might be the most amazing deal you'll see in your life.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“Responding to bereavement by trying to make a difference is certainly both understandable and admirable, but it doesn't give you good reason to raise money for one specific cause of death rather than any other. If that person had died in different circumstances it would have been no less tragic. What we care about when we lose someone close to us is that they suffered or died, not that they died from a specific cause. By all means, the sadness we feel at the loss of a loved one should be harnessed in order to make the world a better place. But we should focus that motivation on preventing death and improving lives per se, rather than preventing death and improving lives in one very specific way. Any other decision would be unfair on those we could have helped more.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“Another common recommendation is to turn lights off when you leave a room, but lighting accounts for only 3% of household energy use, so even if you used no lighting at all in your house you would save only a fraction of a metric ton of carbon emissions. Plastic bags have also been a major focus of concern, but even on very generous estimates, if you stopped using plastic bags entirely you'd cut out 10kg CO2eq per year, which is only 0.4% of your total emissions. Similarly, the focus on buying locally produced goods is overhyped: only 10% of the carbon footprint of food comes from transportation whereas 80% comes from production, so what type of food you buy is much more important than whether that food is produced locally or internationally. Cutting out red meat and dairy for one day a week achieves a greater reduction in your carbon footprint than buying entirely locally produced food. In fact, exactly the same food can sometimes have higher carbon footprint if it's locally grown than if it's imported: one study found that the carbon footprint from locally grown tomatoes in northern Europe was five times as great as the carbon footprint from tomatoes grown in Spain because the emissions generated by heating and lighting greenhouses dwarfed the emissions generated by transportation.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“We don’t usually think of achievements in terms of what would have happened otherwise, but we should. What matters is not who does good but whether good is done; and the measure of how much good you achieve is the difference between what happens as a result of your actions and what would have happened anyway.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“We should certainly feel outrage and horror at the conditions sweatshop laborers toil under. The correct response, however, is not to give up sweatshop-produced goods in favor of domestically produced goods. The correct response is to try to end the extreme poverty that makes sweatshops desirable places to work in the first place.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“In buying Fairtrade products, you’re at best giving very small amounts of money to people in comparatively well-off countries. You’d do considerably more good by buying cheaper goods and donating the money you save to one of the cost-effective charities mentioned in the previous chapter.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“Effective altruism is about asking "How can I make the biggest difference I can?" and using evidence and careful reasoning to try to find an answer. It takes a scientific approach to doing good. Just as science consists of the honest and impartial attempt to work out what's true, and a committment to believe the truth whatever that turns out to be. As the phrase suggests, effective altruism consists of the honest and impartial attempt to work out what's best for the world, and a commitment to do what's best, whatever that turns out to be.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“People who had previously purchased a “green” product were significantly more likely to both lie and steal than those who had purchased the conventional product. Their demonstration of ethical behavior subconsciously gave them license to act unethically when the chance arose.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“When it comes to doing good, fat-tailed distributions seem to be everywhere. It’s not always true that exactly 80 percent of the value comes from the top 20 percent of activities—sometimes things are even more extreme than that, and sometimes less. But the general rule that most of the value generated comes from the very best activities is very common.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“We very often fail to think as carefully about helping others as we could, mistakenly believing that applying data and rationality to a charitable endeavor robs the act of virtue. And that means we pass up opportunities to make a tremendous difference.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“According to the most rigorous estimates, the cost to save a life in the developing world is about $3,400 (or $100 for one QALY). This is a small enough amount that most of us in affluent countries could donate that amount every year while maintaining about the same quality of life. Rather than just saving one life, we could save a life every working year of our lives. Donating to charity is not nearly as glamorous as kicking down the door of a burning building, but the benefits are just as great. Through the simple act of donating to the most effective charities, we have the power to save dozens of lives. That’s”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“If the international response to natural disasters was rational, we would expect a greater amount of funding to be provided to larger disasters and to disasters that occur in poorer countries, which are less able to cope. But that’s not what happens. Funding seems to be allocated in proportion with how evocative and widely publicized the disaster is, rather than on the basis of its scale and severity.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“Ironically, the law of diminishing returns suggests that, if you feel a strong emotional reaction to a story and want to help, you should probably resist this inclination because there are probably many others like you who are also donating. By all means, you should harness the emotion you feel when a natural disaster strikes, but remind yourself that a similar disaster is happening all the time—and then consider donating to wherever your money will help the most rather than what is getting the most attention.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“The good I do is not a matter of the direct benefits I cause. Rather, it is the difference I make.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“Cancer treatment receives so much more funding than malaria treatment because malaria is such a cheap problem to solve that rich countries no longer suffer from it. (It was eliminated from the United States in 1951.) The fact that cancer treatment receives so much more funding than malaria treatment means that, on the margin, each of us can provide a far greater benefit for other people by funding the most effective malaria treatments in the developing world than we can by funding the most effective cancer treatments in the developed world. In”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“We’re about one hundred times richer than the poorest billion people in the world, and we can do several hundred times more to help them than we can to help others in the rich countries we live in.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“This isn’t just a theoretical argument. Economists have studied this issue and worked out how, on average, a consumer affects the number of animal products supplied by declining to buy that product. They estimate that, on average, if you give up one egg, total production ultimately falls by 0.91 eggs; if you give up one gallon of milk, total production falls by 0.56 gallons. Other products are somewhere in between: economists estimate that if you give up one pound of beef, beef production falls by 0.68 pounds; if you give up one pound of pork, production ultimately falls by 0.74 pounds; if you give up one pound of chicken, production ultimately falls by 0.76 pounds.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“Before making a decision, don't merely try to weigh all the pros and cons as you currently see them (though that is a good thing to do). Ask yourself: What is the single most important piece of information that would be most useful for my career decision? Now, what can I do in order to gain that information?”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“We should certainly feel outrage and horror at the conditions sweatshop laborers toil under. The correct response, however, is not to give up sweatshop-produced goods in favor of domestically produced goods. The correct response is to try to end the extreme poverty that makes sweatshops”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“Even in what seem like “unquantifiable” areas like political change and disaster prevention, we can still think rigorously, in an evidence-based manner, about how good those activities are. We just need to assess the chances of success and how good success would be if it happened. This, of course, is very difficult to do, but we will make better decisions if we at least try to make these assessments rather than simply throwing up our hands and randomly choosing an activity to pursue, or worse, not choosing any altruistic activity at all.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“What does this charity do? How many different types of programs does it run? For each of these programs, what exactly is it that this charity does? If it runs more than one program, why is that? How cost-effective is each program area? Is the charity focused on one of the most important causes? How cost-effective does the evidence suggest the program to be? How robust is the evidence behind each program? What is the evidence behind the programs that the charity runs? Are there trials showing that the program is effective? Does the charity rigorously monitor and evaluate the success of its programs? How well is each program implemented? Do the leaders of the charity have demonstrated success in other areas? Is the charity highly transparent? Does it acknowledge mistakes that it’s made in the past? What are the alternative charities you could give to? Are there good reasons for supposing that this charity is better than others? Does the charity need additional funds? What would additional funding be used to do? Why haven’t other donors already funded the charity to the point it can’t use extra money?”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“One of the most damning examples of low-quality evidence concerns microcredit (that is, lending small amounts of money to the very poor, a form of microfinance most famously associated with Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank). Intuitively, microcredit seems like it would be very cost-effective, and there were many anecdotes of people who’d received microloans and used them to start businesses that, in turn, helped them escape poverty. But when high-quality studies were conducted, microcredit programs were shown to have little or no effect on income, consumption, health, or education.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“Because cash transfers is such a simple program, and because the evidence in favor of them is so robust, we could think about them as like the “index fund” of giving. Money invested in an index fund grows (or shrinks) at the same rate as the stock market; investing in an index fund is the lowest-fee way to invest in stocks. Actively managed mutual funds, in contrast, take higher management fees, and it’s only worth investing in one if that fund manages to beat the market by a big enough margin that the additional returns on investment are greater than the additional management costs. In the same way, one might think, it’s only worth it to donate to charitable programs rather than simply transfer cash directly to the poor if the other programs provide a benefit great enough to outweigh the additional costs incurred in implementing them. In other words, we should only assume we’re in a better position to help the poor than they are to help themselves if we have some particularly compelling reason for thinking so.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“The only quantitative estimates of farmed animal welfare I’ve been able to find come from Bailey Norwood, an economist and agricultural expert. He rated the welfare of different animals on a scale of –10 to 10, where negative numbers indicate that it would be better, from the animal’s perspective, to be dead rather than alive. He rates beef cattle at 6 and dairy cows at 4. In contrast his average rating for broiler chickens is –1, and for pigs and caged hens is –5. In other words, cows raised for food live better lives than chicken, hens, or pigs, which suffer terribly.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“if people hear the environmental or health arguments and then decrease their beef consumption but compensate even a little bit by eating more chicken, those animal-welfare advocates may have caused more animal suffering than they eliminated.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“Yale University has estimated that innovators only collect 2 percent of the value they generate; that is, for every dollar an innovative company makes in profit, society has benefitted by fifty dollars. By becoming an innovative entrepreneur, you are, on average, producing benefits to society that far exceed your paycheck.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“How can anyone live on such little money? Surely they’d die? And the answer is . . . they do.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


“If, for example, encouraging someone to buy fair-trade causes that person to devote less time or money to other, more effective activities, then promoting fair-trade might on balance be harmful.”
― William MacAskill, quote from Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference


About the author

William MacAskill
Born place: in Glasgow
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