Thursday, November 3, 2011

Good news: you're rich!

I'm a graduate student with no income. My husband and I live on his salary, which puts us a bit above the median household income in the United States. Pretty normal for where we live.

Worldwide, that puts us in the richest 3% of the world. We are 23 times richer than a typical person. How rich are you? You can find out with this calculator.

Meanwhile, let's look at what's going on elsewhere. 2.7 billion people - that's more than a third of the world's population - live on less than $2 a day. Eleven million children die each year from what I think of as "stupid diseases" - malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia. (Source) We know how to treat these things. It's not that expensive. It makes no sense that children are still dying for lack of them.

What do you feel when you think about those numbers? Guilty, maybe. But guilt itself doesn't help anything.

I feel angry about it at times. We, as people in the first world, should be doing better than this.

But how about hopeful? Excited, even? Because we can do better than this.

The cost of basic education for everyone in the world is less than Americans spend on cosmetics. For what we spend on bottled water, we could ensure safe water and sanitation for the one billion people who don't have it. (Source)

Have you saved any lives this year? Maybe, if you're a firefighter or doctor. But most of us don't do anything so spectacular. Here's our chance!

The best charities can save a life for about $380. (Source That's one person who didn't die of something stupid like tuberculosis. Someone who's still talking, working, singing. That's one family that didn't have to bury a loved one.

What are you doing with $380 that's more exciting than that?

Edited Nov. 4 to reflect work done with adults, rather than children.


  1. Nitpick: Stop TB's money mostly goes to treatment of adults with TB, rather than children, and the cost per life saved that you cite is for adults.

    But that aside, it's always nice to see a GiveWell / Giving What We Can fan turn up on the Internet. We seem to be a much smaller niche than we should be....

  2. Good, I want nitpicking. Thanks for the correction.