So Giving What We Can is the big organization for effective altruists, it’s the one that lets you take a pledge to give for life (which they’ll verify). They have incredibly dedicated staff and do a ton of research and are very very serious.
Their recommendation for students and people without a regular income is to give 1%.
Is this because the world would actually be better if students gave 10%, but they don’t really care that much about the world being better so they just invented a different number?
I think that’s super unlikely. I think that probably if the most committed EA people in the world think giving 1% is in fact a better way to live your values than giving more, they’re right. Why?
building your savings will be good for you - and I mean good for you on every possible level. Having a few thousand dollars in your bank account is really hard to do on babysitting money, but it provides a sense of security and confidence. It’ll enable you to get out of a bad situation fast or quit a toxic job without another thing lined up or make emergency repairs on a vehicle. It’ll enable you to take more chances down the line, move to a new city where there are more opportunities, and experience a lot less financial stress. I think it’s morally good for anyone who wants to be an effective altruist to build several thousand dollars in savings before they start giving.
this is your time to invest in yourself - Let’s say you can choose between taking a part-time job or, as a student, spending the extra time going to office hours and impressing your professor so you get a recommendation, or doing more homework so you get a good grade in the class, or hanging out with friends so you’re happier and emotionally healthier and can get more out of your experience. The second one ‘pays’ better, in the long run. I know a lot of people (haha, I am one of these people) whose mental health got in the way of finishing school. No amount of money is worth putting ahead of that. I mean, even from an entirely money-focused perspective, taking care of yourself as a student so you’re in a good place when you graduate is financially smarter than feeling obligated to work so you have money to donate right now.
EA shouldn’t be a source of misery - this one’s a hard sell. It’s hard to say ‘people are dying because we’re short on mosquito nets, you can buy some, but don’t feel sad about that or anything, just feel empowered! by how many nets you can buy! because of the vast differential between the West and the rest of the world!’ But, like, the fundamental Only Rule That Matters is that happiness and fulfillment are good and suffering and pain are bad. I think I’m a more generous EA when I have time and emotional space to cultivate the ‘I’m going to change the world! From a position of joy and kindness and emotional security! Which means first I’m going to build that!” then when I’m approaching it from a place of ‘buying that latte was Literally Murder, instead of ‘that’ll be 4.25′ Starbucks should have just said ‘that’ll be two insecticide-treated bednets, please”.
I have no idea if it’s historically accurate, but there’s that story that the first guy who ran from Marathon to Athens covered the distance and then died on the spot. Whereas now lots of people run marathons, but they train for them for years, and also they don’t train by constantly running, they also train by getting lots of sleep and relaxing and stuff. Donating as a student is trying to run from Marathon to Athens on no training, and if we want to cover as much distance as possible we want to give ourselves those years to get stronger first.
Buy lattes. Don’t take on extra jobs or extra debt in school. Save money to empower yourself later. All of these are the right things to do, all of these are things that we want EAs to do. Because, I mean, the fundamental principle behind EA is ‘having what you need to be healthy and happy is Really Really Important’ and it wouldn’t do to lose sight of it ourselves.