11/19/09

Giving Away Money

I am soooo busy with various and sundry that I've been unable to post or respond to comments lately. But here's an article I've been thinking about:

Academic pledges to give away £1m

Dr Toby Ord
Dr Toby Ord says his donations will improve people's lives
An Oxford University academic has pledged to give £1m of his earnings to charity during the course of his life.

Dr Toby Ord, 30, who researches ethics, believes his donations to charities in developing countries could save 500,000 years of healthy life.
He is launching a society to encourage others to follow his example.
Giving What We Can wants others to pledge at least 10% of their earnings to help tackle poverty in the world. The first to join has been his wife.
Dr Ord will give up 10% of his annual salary, plus any yearly earnings above £20,000 for the rest of his career.
"I was living very happily as a student and worked out what I'd need to continue living like that through my life - or a little bit better, to allow some room for improvement - and then I worked out how much I could do with that amount of money.
"I could save thousands of people's lives, and saving one person's life is often thought to be an amazing kind of thing you can do over your whole career," he said.
Sacrifice 'extras'
He said he had been thinking for a while about how he could make a difference in the world.
He has predicted he should be able to earn about £1.5m over the course of his academic career, and has decided to donate about £1m of it to charities fighting poverty in the developing world.
Dr Ord said said he was happy with his life and did not mind missing out on material wealth in the future.
He said he had a "wonderful wife", and enjoyed books and seeing places and people.
"I've got all of that and I just miss out on these various extras of having a bigger house or something like that. But that doesn't really bother me," he added.
Obviously this is a wonderful thing to do...but at age 30 and so publicly?  Do we know enough about our future selves and lives at 30 to make such a pledge?

5 comments:

Faust said...

How about marriage at the age of...X. Do we really know enough about our future selves to pledge spending the rest of our lives with a single individual who may change as much as we do?

More generally: when is it OK to make lifelong commitments of any kind?

Wayne said...

He says that saving one person's life is generally recognized as amazing...

And true it is... however the circumstances are usually different. Often times we think of it as amazing because one might have to put their own life in great jeoprady in order to do so.

Giving up a few bucks (or in this case a significant portion of his income) doesn't quite have the same heroic ring to it.

That said, I'm just about to go off and lecture about giving money to charity, and then hit my students up for charitable donations to Unicef, and I'm sure as heck going to couch the argument in those terms.

amos said...

At age 30, sure. In fact, most people have already selected a spouse and a profession by that age, which seem like more important choices than how much money one will save and how much money one will give away.

Jean Kazez said...

We do get married and make other commitments at an early age, but this seems different. We all know that marriages can end in divorce. It seems to me it would be a very different thing being caught violating this type of pledge. That's really the point of the public nature of the pledge--or part of the point. The idea is to make it very visible and embarrassing to stop giving.

What I'm thinking is that at 50 you are more aware of death and disease than at 30 and will want to make sure you save what you might need. This feeling may be more pronounced in the US, where we don't have universal health care. You're also aware that you're not always going to be there to provide for your children, so the idea of handing down wealth starts to be attractive.

In short, I find myself more concerned to have a healthy savings account now than I was 10 years ago. At that time I nudged up my giving after reading a Peter Singer article, but I find myself less inclined to nudge as I get older.

All that has nothing to do with whether the pledge is a good thing, ethically. Surely it is.

amos said...

It's hard to anticipate at age 30 the extra expenses that ageing brings on, although Dr. Ord does live in a country with free public healthcare. Still ageing costs more: for example, the taxi I took this morning because I was late. At age 30 I would have just walked faster, almost at a trot, but I no longer can walk fast: that I did not foresee.
However, I did make ethical commitments, not the same one as Dr. Ord, at age 30 or so, which have meant lower income and less savings, and I live at ease with myself, without some things that would make ageing more comfortable, but with the knowledge that I did the right thing or tried to do the right thing. I imagine that Dr. Ord will feel comfortable about his decision for the same reasons.