Setting our salary based on the world’s average GDP per capita

by Joey26th Aug 201723 comments



A lot of people in the EA movement have a large say over their salary, whether it be earning to give where you can donate down to a certain amount or working for a nonprofit where you take a lower salary. EAs are a unique group in that many of them are taking a salary they feel is ethical instead of the average amount the market would pay for someone of their skill set. So what amount is ethical?

One model I really like the idea of, and Katherine and I have decided to use for now, is taking a look at the world average GDP per capita(1,2). This comes out to about 10k USD per person or about 20k USD for a couple, although estimates vary and there are other plausible models (e.g. this number does not take into account PPP adjustments). This approximate world average has a very strong intuitive appeal to us, because it’s what somebody would get paid if there was complete equality. It fits well with utilitarianism and the veil of ignorance arguments. It also nicely goes up over time (as world poverty is going down and inflation happens) and is currently achievable for a couple with no children in many first world cities (I personally live in Vancouver but have also lived off similar/less wages in Oxford). I personally do not feel this model impairs my work productivity (I pay for many time saving luxuries such as having a dishwasher, premade vegan meals and getting my groceries delivered) nor is it is a strong self sacrifice (I live in a safe part of town at a decent level).  

For people interested my monthly budget breaks down roughly like this (per person USD)

Rent $220, Utilities $37, Phone bill $19, Internet $25, Food $170, Transportation $50, Other spending $150, Saving $100, Taxes $35.

There are some things that are specific to my life that is not replicable. For example having no healthcare costs due to living in Canada, sharing a room with my wife, and having no student debt. There are some sacrifices for sure. I do not own a car (although I do have a car-coop membership); I do not eat out often (maybe once a month); I don’t do expensive activities (like rock climbing), the basement suite we are renting is old and things occasionally break down; I live with a roommate as well as my wife; and I do not travel often.

But I really feel far from deprived, especially after seeing poverty first hand in India. I never feel hunger or live without heat. I never live paycheck to paycheck and always have thousands of hours of entertainment at my fingertips. I end up living like a lot of people lived in college. I’m posting this because I think a lot of other people can do this too if they try and want to show that it’s possible.