Ethics of personal consumption

The ethics of personal consumption concerns the ethical issues arising from our consumption choices.

A dollar donated to a cost-effective charity can do over a hundred times more good as a dollar spent on personal consumption (MacAskill 2015).consumption.[1] This might seem to lead to the conclusion that all money not spent on the essentials of life should be donated to charity. However, allowing oneself some discretionary spending may well be necessary to happiness, productivity and commitment to giving.  Most members of the community budget reasonable portions of their income for themselves, to stay motivated, prevent burnout, and increase productivity (Kaufman, 2013).productivity.[2]

Some members of the effective altruism community suggest setting a “charity budget”: a clearly defined amount of money to be given to charity each year (Wise 2015).year.[3] This allows people to make a decision once per year, rather than every time they purchase something for themselves, which can help to reduce emotional distress. Others have argued that self-investment (for instance in respectable clothing) can increase one’s efficacy in many ways, and that therefore it may be worth prioritizing a certain level of self-investment over direct donations (Hurford 2014).donations.[4]

BibliographyFurther reading

Hurford, Peter (2014) You have a set amount of “weirdness points”. Spend them wisely, Effective Altruism Forum, November 27.
A discussion of how, for instance, wearing respectable clothes can be a good investment.

Kaufman, Jeff (2013) Keeping choices donation neutral, Jeff Kaufman’s Blog, May 11.

Wise, Julia (2015) Burnout and self-care, Effective Altruism Forum, October 23.
A post on budgeting and preventing burnout.

  1. ^

    MacAskill, William (2015) Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference, New York: Random House.

  2. ^

    Kaufman, Jeff (2013) Keeping choices donation neutral, Jeff Kaufman’s Blog, May 11.

  3. ^

    Wise, Julia (2015) Burnout and self-care, Effective Altruism Forum, October 23.

  4. ^

    Hurford, Peter (2014) You have a set amount of “weirdness points”. Spend them wisely, Effective Altruism Forum, November 27.

The consumption of certain products is likely to have direct harmful consequences. For example, eating meat will, in expectation, increase the number of animals in factory farms.farms. In addition, consuming some of these products may support harmful social norms. For example, eating meat can support the view that the interests of other species should be discounted or ignored.

There are, however, reasons to think that changing one’s own consumption decisions is not a cost-effective way to spend one’s time or money. One such factor is opportunity cost:cost: spending more resources on ethically sourced products leaves fewer resources to spend on even more important projects. And in many cases, one person buying less of something can indirectly lead to others buying more, offsetting some or all the good done.

Further readingBibliography

Hurford, Peter. 2014.Peter (2014) You have a set amount of “weirdness points”: spend. Spend them wisely.wisely, Effective Altruism Forum, November 27.
A discussion of how, for instance, wearing respectable clothes can be a good investment.

Kaufman, Jeff. 2013.Jeff (2013) Keeping choices donation neutral., Jeff Kaufman’s Blog, May 11.

Kuhn, Ben. 2013.Ben (2013) Conversation with Alice Yu on Effective Altruismeffective environmentalism., Ben Kuhn’s Blog, December.
A general discussion of effective environmentalism, including criticism of local and organic food.

MacAskill, William. 2015.William (2015) Doing good better:Good Better: How effective altruism can help you makeEffective Altruism Can Help You Make a differenceDifference., New York: Gotham Books.Random House.
Chapter 1 introduces the idea of the ‘100x Multiplier’, according to which people in developed societies can do at least 100 times more to benefit others as they can to benefit themselves.

Wise, Julia. 2015.Julia (2015) Burnout and self-care.care, Effective Altruism Forum, October 23.
A post on budgeting and preventing burnout.

Zabel, Claire. 2016.Claire (2016) Ethical offsetting is antithetical to EA., Effective Altruism Forum, January 5.
A general argument against offsetting.

Most members of the community budget reasonable portions of their income for themselves, to stay motivated, prevent burnout, and increase productivity (Kaufman, 2013).

The link here is supposed to lead to an EA concepts page called "budgeting for yourself and others". However, when one clicks on that link, one is redirected to this page ("ethics of personal consumption"). So the link seems superfluous.

4Pablo1y
Thanks. It seems that our amazing assistant already fixed this, though the edit is not highlighted in the diffs. (The history page doesn't seem to be working properly: e.g. clicking on links to previous versions results in a 404 error.)
2Habryka1y
I think that's an error fixed on the latest version of LW? Not totally sure though, but I fixed some related issues a few weeks ago.