The Most Good You Can Do is a book written by Peter Singer about a philosophy known as effective altruism. Those who follow the philosophy are characterized by making large donations and directing greater than 10% of their income to charities and organizations that make meaningful changes in the lives of those who are the most disadvantaged. Effective altruists are focused on making sure that the good they do by making financial donations is maximized. In this pursuit, they look for new ways to save their money for donations, and for charities that direct almost 100% of the donations they receive toward their cause as opposed to administration, fundraising, or lobbying.
Singer argues that more Americans should move toward the lifestyle of effective altruism even though it would mean we would have more people moving away from the standard focus of capitalism which is buying more goods with the money we have for our own happiness. Throughout his book he shares the stories of effective altruists who make large scale donations despite having modest or average incomes. He shows that a life focused on helping others builds a sense of purpose that is greater than the joy we receive by owning things. He advocates that Americans should better budget their money and make more stringent decisions about what they choose to purchase if they want to live happier and more fulfilling lives.
“An in-depth study of thirty-two families in Los Angeles found that three-quarters of them could not park their cars in their garages because the garages were too full of stuff. The volume of possessions was so great that managing them elevated levels of stress hormones in mothers. Despite the fact that the growth in size of the typical American home means that americans today have three times the amount of space, per person, that they had in 1950, they still pay a total of $22 billion a year to rent extra storage space.”
Singer uses this example to show that our spending and purchasing is getting in the way of our true happiness. By having so much stuff we are building more stress in our lives, and repurposing space to better accommodate all of our possessions. Rather than enjoying our space and having leisure time, many Americans are crammed into cluttered spaces and must spend a large amount of time organizing, cleaning, and managing their stuff.
“Perhaps we imagine that money is important to our well-being because we need money to buy consumer goods, and buying things has become an obsession that beckons us away from what really advances our well-being.” Singer writes this passage to explain that our purchasing power and habits have not helped us have richer lives, even though our lifestyles may be richer. What he would advocate for, I believe, is a better use of our financial resources, stricter uses of our money, and a refocused interest in helping others.