Polity 1 (52):88-115 (2020)

Authors
Theodore Lechterman
Oxford University
Abstract
Critics of private charity often claim that the well-off should instead assist the disadvantaged through political reform. The present article explores this idea with reference to effective altruism, a powerful new paradigm in the ethics of philanthropy. Effective altruism presses the relatively affluent not only to give generously, but also to subject their practical deliberations to rigorous evaluations of impartiality and cost-effectiveness. The article contends that the movement’s sophisticated methods are not sufficient to overcome the worries of institutionalist critics. At the same time, it shows that a transition from assistance to advocacy faces underappreciated and serious limitations. The measurement-based methods that allow effective altruists to identify promising assistance programs do not carry over well to political reform. In addition, unleashing greater private wealth into politics may exacerbate unequal opportunities for political influence. The article closes with preliminary suggestions for overcoming these concerns and connects them to broader developments in the politics of philanthropy.
Keywords philanthropy  effective altruism  international development  social equality  global justice
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