Toby Ord is a moral philosopher at Oxford University. His work focuses on the big picture questions facing humanity. What are the most important issues of our time? How can we best address them?
Toby’s earlier work explored the ethics of global health and global poverty, demonstrating that aid has been highly successful on average and has the potential to be even more successful if we were to improve our priority setting. This led him to create an international society called Giving What We Can, whose members have pledged over $1 billion to the most effective charities helping to improve the world. He also co-founded the wider effective altruism movement, encouraging thousands of people to use reason and evidence to help others as much as possible.
Toby has advised the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, the US National Intelligence Council, the UK Prime Minister’s Office, Cabinet Office, and Government Office for Science. His work has been featured more than a hundred times in the national and international media.
I study ethics because I really care about the suffering in the world.
In his TEDx Talk (see below), “How to Save Hundreds of Lives,” he says, “I study ethics because I really care about the suffering in the world . . . and so I want to find out more about how we can do that and what we should be doing.”
In this talk, he discusses what he calls the most important chart in economics: world income distribution. If all incomes were equal, the line would be flat, forming a neat rectangle under it. As you can see, income soars when you hit the top 10%.
The spike on the far right shows the wealthiest people on the planet. If you earn more than $52,000, then, speaking globally, you are the 1 percent. Because this chart only goes to $100,000, it is somewhat deceptive. If the chart was extended so even the very wealthiest were included, this page would have to be as tall as a twenty-three story building!
If you earn more than $52,000, then, speaking globally, you are the 1 percent.
As you can see from the chart, if your annual income is $20,000 USD, you are in the top 10% of the wealthiest people in the world. Half of the population of the USA and the UK is in the richest 5%.
The bottom 1.22 billion people on this planet earn less than $1.50 per day. You might assume that “$1.50 per day” means that every day the extreme poor live on the equivalent of $1.50 in their local currency. But it actually means they live on an amount of money equivalent to what $1.50 could buy in the United States. Think about it: that’s a candy bar.
If you follow this link to Giving What We Can, you can fill in the numbers to see where you stand in terms world income distribution. Give it a try, and take a bit of time on the site. It may mean a lot to one or more people.
And take the time to watch this 16 minute video. I think you will find it as exciting and challenging as I did.