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While a lot has been said about the failures of effective altruism as an ethic, few see a fundamental flaw in its design: The assumption that the wealth referred to in the concept was fully owned by the wealthy donors – like Peter Singer – who kindly would choose to give it away.

That’s incorrect. There is a baseline error at work in the movement.

Extreme concentrations of wealth today do not reflect the costs the creation of that wealth imposed on others, fundamentally, the costs its production imposed on our ecologies and climate (creating the deadly crisis), and the way it was produced through unsustainable population growth that was achieved by not ensuring children the expensive birth and development conditions – including racial equity – they are promised under the Children’s Rights Convention.

Instead family policies treated children as consumers, irrespective of their political voice, and cheap future labor in whom we did not have to invest much. That allowed growth, which fundamentally created the climate crisis.

Given that the Convention spells out the minimum standards necessary to ensure children what they need to build legitimate systems of human rights and democracy, our governments were never authorized to assign the property rights wealthy people – like those who conveniently favor Effective Altruism – think they have to their wealth. They would first have to pay the proportional costs, through things like family planning reparations to future generation, to own that wealth.

Be effective.

People like Elon Musk may be bemoaning falling population numbers, but the children of his native South Africa – and intending mothers – actually have a claim to his wealth to bend the arc of de-growth even further. He certainly owes it, born a rich white kid who fled South Africa with wealth during apartheid.

How those families take what they deserve, the distraction of effective altruism aside, is another matter.

But those trying to redistribute the wealth that was stolen, and to make a better future, are the freedom fighters of today and any form of effective altruism must begin with a better accounting of who owns what.


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