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Working on Wall Street can help save the world: Peter Singer

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind

In a society that’s still reveling in the Occupy Wall Street, anti-banker spirit, the terms ‘investment banking’ and ‘altruism’ don’t quite seem to go hand-in-hand. But Dr. Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and author of “The Most Good You Can Do” disagrees. He believes that working on Wall Street can be more noble even than being a social worker.

“I don’t think that Wall Street is necessarily harmful at all,” he says. One of Singer’s students, Matt Wage, deliberately got a job as an arbitrage trader so that he could donate more of his money and within a year of graduating from Princeton he was giving six-figure sums to charity.

This isn’t the first example of someone choosing to work on Wall Street in order to earn more to donate to charity. Jason Trigg, an MIT Computer Science graduate took the same path in 2013. He donated the majority of his $100,000 salary to the Against Malaria Foundation where just one $2,500 donation can save a life. He figures he’s making a much bigger impact on the world than he would if he worked in academia. "A lot of people, they want to make a difference and end up in the Peace Corps and in the developing world without running water," Trigg told The Washington Post in an interview, "and I can donate some of my time in the office and make more of a difference."

This is all part of a movement called "effective altruism," which Singer champions. The movement attempts to look at the hard data and be practical when it comes to charity—not emotional, as many tend to be. Instead of giving to a cause close to your heart, give to the cause which will save the most lives, advocates Singer.

“Only a small minority of people giving to charity stop and say ‘is this charity really effective? What are the most effective charities I can give to?'”

Matt Wage and Jason Trigg give a majority of their earnings to charity organizations, but how much do you have to give to be an effective altruist? “Some people start at 10% like a traditional tithe, that’s a nice round number. But even if you only give 1% and say ‘next year I’ll do better’ that’s good.”

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