Based on his research at the Uehiro Centre in Oxford University’s Philosophy Faculty, William Crouch calls on those who want an ethical career to consider maximizing their earnings so that they have more money to give to charity.
William Crouch, who is launching an organization called 80,000 Hours, said: ‘You will typically spend 80,000 hours of your life working, so it’s crucial that you really think about your career. The careers traditionally considered the most ethical might not actually have the biggest impact. Aid workers are usually regarded as doing the most good because they directly benefit people in need. But their jobs are in high demand, so if you don’t become that aid worker, someone else is likely to take your place.
‘In contrast, bankers are generally not seen to be ethically minded, and typically donate a very small proportion of their income. So if an ethically-minded individual can enter the banking profession and donate a large proportion of their earnings to charity, they will have made a difference that wouldn’t have happened anyway. The direct benefit a single aid worker can produce is limited, whereas the philanthropic banker's donations might indirectly help ten times as many people.’
He added: ‘We are calling on people to be like Robin Hood, but by earning the money rather than stealing it.’
Over their career, William Crouch said, the typical investment banker will earn more than £6 million. His research shows that it costs £300 to save a life by treating tuberculosis in the developing world, so by donating 50% of their income, a banker would save 10,000 lives while still living comfortably on an average income of at least £100,000 a year.
He added: ‘We are not criticizing aid workers, who do valuable work, nor are we endorsing the banking system. Many people think that bankers are paid too much, but if money is in the right hands, it has the power to do a lot of good.'
William Crouch currently gives 20% of his graduate stipend to charity and has pledged to donate 50% of his future earnings. As president of 80,000 Hours, he plans to stay within academia in order to encourage others to lead a high-impact ethical life. To find out more about 80,000 Hours, visit their website.
You can listen to an interview with William Crouch and Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, on BBC iplayer.