A Supererogatory Provision
By Bryan Caplan
I incline to the view that giving charity to deserving strangers is morally good but not morally required. To use philosophical jargon, I hold that charity is supererogatory.
However, the fact that I consider charity to be above and beyond the call of duty does not mean that I am unwilling to give. I go above and beyond the call of duty every day. I aspire to moral excellence. Millions of people around the world suffer through no fault of their own. I have plenty of resources to help them, so I am glad to help. As an economist, of course, I don’t just want to express good intentions; I want my donation to do as much good as possible. And while I expect economic growth to gradually reduce global poverty, I seriously doubt that dire poverty will disappear in my lifetime.
Lately I’ve been writing my will to reflect this judgment. From the current draft:
I give and bequeath to
whatever charity is currently ranked #1 by GiveWell, the sum of $100,000
adjusted for inflation since 2013 using the U.S. Consumer Price Index, or 10%
of the total value of my estate excluding our primary residence, whichever is
smaller. If GiveWell no longer exists, I
give and bequeath the same sum to another charity, selected by my wife and
children, dedicated to helping the deserving poor in the Third World in a
maximally cost-effective manner. I
request that my wife and children consult my friends Robin Hanson, Alexander
Tabarrok, Fabio Rojas, James Schneider, Michael Huemer, William Dickens, and
Jason Brennan to help them select the most cost-effective charity with this
mission. If possible, funding for this
bequest should come from my tax-deferred 403(b) retirement accounts.
If you have constructive advice on how to improve this provision, I’m all ears.