Could systemic change be catalyzed by effective altruism?

Dear Prof. Peter Singer,

I would like to convey my utmost gratitude for your extraordinary efforts related to the relief of animal cruelty and poverty. I applaud the approach of programs like Give what we can because I think every dollar spent on things like malaria prevention, de-worming, girl’s education or clean drinking water as morally superior to lavish consumption.

You will certainly have heard of the (in my view only) plausible objection to the practice of philanthropy, which is that it diverts our collective attention from much needed systemic change. Apart from allegations that institutions like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation are effective ways to minimize taxation (to which I think the notion that people in the global south need it more than the IRS, is a legitimate response) there are people who claim that philanthropy gives moral justification to the status quo of structural and radical inequality and thus contributes to the inertia and numbs any revolutionary zeal towards overthrowing a system that is geared only towards the production of infinite growth, regardless of the social and environmental cost that by definition cannot be offset by philanthropy.

To avoid misunderstanding, I have donated a modest inheritance myself to charitable causes during a journey to local charities in the global south in 2009, that I undertook after I realized that the PhD-thesis I wrote on our responsibility for future generations was mere theory. I went on to create a website,, connecting the ‘least connected’. This endeavor was miles away from fancy charities with glossy websites and central Manhattan office space. It was also largely ignored because it was not an incorporated, ‘authorized’, official, trickle-down institution. It was (and is – I run it at near-zero marginal cost) just an open source platform for and by the people to enable and encourage sharing of resources, mainly knowledge. This is not to say it is morally superior to the ‘charity-industrial complex’ (it isn’t). The vision behind my project is merely more radical in that it anticipates the necessary systemic change away from the neoliberalist status quo that, I believe, reproduces the very structural inequality it provides band-aid for through well-intended philanthropy.

Of course large-scale philanthropy is infinitely better than the IMF-imposed structural adjustment or the debt bondage of entire countries and the effective appropriation of their resources by the wealthier lender countries. Philanthropy, necessary as it may be during the transition to an economic system that is compatible with our planet, should always have a clear and realistic idea about the systemic change that is needed to render itself, ultimately, unnecessary.

Thus, my question to the effective altruism community is as follows: Could necessary systemic change be catalyzed by effective altruism? Which long term vision for the world is upheld among its advocates and how do they describe the path to get there? Do effective altruists welcome ideas that principally question neoliberal dogma, such as the Commons and peer production movements?

I would welcome a discussion of these issues with people involved with the effective altruism movement, who I hold in high esteem for both the intentions and the consequences of their actions.

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