Free enterprise is the most ‘effective altruism’

Anne Bradley and Jay Richards — two scholars at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics — argue in this column against the notion of philanthropy as the greatest form of altruism. Instead, the greatest altruism is produced by businesses in the free-market economy. They explain:

“Effective Altruism” encourages young and old to pursue the jobs that earn the highest paycheck for the sole purpose of giving most of their income away philanthropically.  This treats philanthropy as if it were the only, or at least the most effective, way to act altruistically—that is, for the benefit of others. It also implies that business pursued for its own purpose is morally suspect.

In reality, the primary way widespread poverty is alleviated is with plain vanilla factors such as business, hard work, property rights, a reliable dispensation of justice, and enterprise.

The Gates Foundation has saved an estimated 5 million lives thus far. But we rarely hear of the countless lives saved or improved by the profit-seeking activities of Microsoft. It’s not clear how we could even measure the total effects.

One effect is the Foundation itself. To be able to start such a large aid organization Bill Gates first had to be a successful entrepreneur. As a philanthropist, Gates is not “giving back” to the world, as if he had taken from it in the first place. His philanthropic giving is possible only because he first “gave” as an entrepreneur.