Want to Give Back? Get a Job on Wall Street

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during morning trading on August 10, 2011 in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty)

According to Oxford ethicist and Quartz contributor William MacAskill, the most effective route to "making a difference" in the world is not to work for a charity but to donate loads of cash instead. The best way to do that? Get a job on Wall Street.

MacAskill's argument has three parts. The first is monetary. He notes that donating half your salary from a high finance job could fund two full-time charity employees and give you a sizable cushion to live on.

The second has to do with how big a difference you can make. People vying for the same charity job will likely do similar work. But someone vying for the same Wall Street job as you is unlikely to donate half their salary to charity. You can buck the trend and make a bigger difference if you take the finance job.

The third is industry-related. Charities vary widely in the amount of good they do and it's a very difficult industry to work in. You can't easily change jobs or choose where you work. But if you "earn to give," you can donate directly to charities you care about that will have the largest impact.

Do you agree that the best way to make a difference is to make a lot of money, and then donate it? Let us know in the comments below.


William MacAskill

Produced by:

Joe Hernandez

Comments [9]

Bobby from Austin, TX

This reasoning is ridiculous and a shallow spin on the unsustainable capitalistic and monetary systems we're living in. To think of going into investment banking to do an eventual good is to overlook where that wealth came from in the first place. Money doesn't grow on trees... it is most often extracted from the poor and from the environment. What do banks invest in? Whether it be glaringly destructive industries such as mountaintop coal mining, tar sands extraction and nuclear power plants or more mundane markets, like trading in commodities futures that drive up the price of food around the world, or, famously, in shady mortgage backed derivatives whose risk falls inequitably on the poor, taking part in that system is not just robbing Peter to pay Paul, it's foreclosing on both of them only to turn around and offer them a meal voucher, then patting oneself on the back for doing such a good deed.
Thoreau says on the matter: "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce the misery which he strives in vain to relieve."
While Emerson offers: “Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed”
To say nothing of the soul-crushing nature of that work environment that others have hinted at, it's downright untenable to buy our way to good without doing net harm.
I believe a much healthier path towards helping others is to start with oneself, by taking stock in where one is directly or indirectly complicit in the suffering of others and have the courage to change our lives to correct that. Direct actions and interactions with other human beings is always going to trump handing out money in tangible benefits. So grow some food, hug a stranger, meditate or trade your car for a bike, all will be immediately more helpful than embarking on a career in finance if your goal is actually bettering the world.

Mar. 01 2013 03:59 PM
John C Armbruster from Washington State, USA

Where is Quartz on the web?

Feb. 28 2013 07:48 PM

Are you aware of how difficult it is to not only get, but to maintain and become rich by--a job on wall street?
This sounds great in theory, but is very unrealistic.

Feb. 28 2013 07:03 PM
John A from outside Wall St

This is almost circular reasoning territory. But good, what we're trying to rebuild by coincidence is the 'virtuous circle' in society. Start the process. Get hired and then hire those people. The main thing is to drive out that 'profits are the only goal' mentality, its very very narrow minded and a betrayal to society as a whole.

Feb. 28 2013 04:05 PM
Mike from Portland, OR

I taught my daughters (now huge paid high tech workers) to give back early. One works for a company that pays her to volunteer, so she does a lot. Neither has a car yet (and are approaching 30 in age.) Both know that their high tech skills might go away and have been packing away retirement money so they can do the opposite of what your quest calls for...working later for what ever social good they desire. They seem quite happy doing this.

Feb. 28 2013 01:57 PM
dorothy slater from porttland oregon

once again the mainline press in the form of david leonhart from the nytimes threw social security into the deficit basket - ss is not the cause of the deficit and could easily be funded forever if the ceiling was raised beyond the current 110,000 -

Feb. 28 2013 01:24 PM
Rebecca Carr from Effingham, SC

There aren't unlimited job opportunities on Wall Street or other highly lucrative fields either, for that matter. Not everyone has the ruthlessness that seems to be a prerequisite for success on Wall Street. For someone who has a heart for making a difference, Wall Street could be soul-killing. The nonprofit sector needs people of vision, intellect, creativity and passion, as do other professions. Not everyone who goes into it is equally equipped - they're not interchangeable parts.

Feb. 28 2013 10:56 AM
Rebecca Carr from Effingham, SC

The Rev. David Beckmann left a career at the World Bank overseeing large development projects to become president of Bread for the World, a Christian organization that advocates for policies to end hunger in the US and abroad. He also founded and is president of the Alliance to End Hunger, which brings together interfaith and secular institutions to work toward such policies. I think there are very few people who could have made as much of an impact as he has done in the nonprofit world. I don't think the money he could have donated as an economist in the private sector could replace what he has done working in the nonprofit sector.

Feb. 28 2013 10:38 AM
Margaret Fell from Queens, NY

No, no, there is a basic logical fallacy to the statement, "If you don't go into a nonprofit job, someone else will." In fact, far fewer go into the NFP sector than for-profit. Plus, how do you control for the balance-- e.g., what if we all decide to get rich rather than staff NFP's? The orgs will die and then to what will you donate your filthy lucre-- only already rich universities and hospitals?

Feb. 28 2013 09:54 AM

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