The GiveWell Blog

Animal welfare charities

Added 7/15/21: This blog post reflects the personal views of GiveWell’s co-founder in 2010; it does not represent GiveWell’s organizational view on animal welfare as a cause area. For more on why we don’t currently focus on animal welfare, see here.

We’ve gotten some questions about whether we plan to research charities working on animal welfare, so I wanted to share my thoughts on the cause.

  • It’s easy for me to believe that animals often are treated horribly, and live in horrible conditions, relative to people (even people living under the international poverty line). I believe this applies both to animals in factory farms (one resource on this topic is The Way We Eat, co-authored by Peter Singer, (disclosure: Prof. Singer has actively promoted GiveWell)) and to stray animals, particularly in the developing world (such as those I saw throughout my recent stay in India).
  • It is unclear to me whether charities are good at improving conditions for these animals. Much of what animal-welfare charities seem to focus on is political advocacy, which introduces a substantial set of complications.
  • However, it seems likely to me that there are at least some groups that radically improve the condition of strays, such that if one valued the lives of animals equally to those of humans – or even in the same ballpark – these groups might be competitive with our best charities in terms of what you accomplish for your donation.
  • I do value the lives of animals somewhat. I am very disturbed by what I’ve heard of their treatment in factory farms, and I’m interested in “ethical eating,” i.e., adjustments to eating habits that could create less incentive for this treatment.
  • I do not value the lives of animals equally to those of humans – not even close. I couldn’t bring myself to give money to animal welfare charities that could be spent on global health instead, given what I understand as the realistic range of cost-effectiveness for the two.
  • I recognize that there is a tension between the two points above. One could argue that if I spend more money – or even more time – on my food so that I can eat more ethically, this money or time could have been redirected to helping people in the developing world, and that it’s therefore inconsistent to be interested in “ethical eating” but not animal welfare charity. This argument might be correct, though I believe it is not, and may lay out my thoughts more thoroughly at a later point.

Those are my personal thoughts. For most of GiveWell’s history, the only full-time staff have been myself and Elie Hassenfeld, and Elie values the lives of animals far less than I do. We strongly prefer to research causes that we’re personally interested in, because it’s harder to ask a charity the right questions if you can’t really get behind what it does – so we haven’t given serious consideration to animal welfare charities.

However, we now have an employee who cares more about animal welfare, enough (in our judgment) to potentially do good work researching animal welfare charities. We aren’t yet ready to commit to researching this cause – we need to draw up our plan for next year, which we will be doing soon – but a report on animal welfare charities is a possibility in the next year, and very likely to happen eventually if GiveWell stays in existence.

It’s also possible that we will (eventually) produce content on “ethical eating,” which may be a way (aside from charity) that individuals can spend more money in order to accomplish good. Whether this content fits with our core mission is debatable; it won’t be happening under the GiveWell name in the short term.


  • Chuck S'r on December 27, 2010 at 1:22 pm said:

    IF GIVEWELL STAYS IN EXISTENCE!!! (a toss away phrase from the above post)

    What is the threat to its existence? It is my top-rated charity evaluator. How can we lessen the threat?

  • Daniel Dorado on December 27, 2010 at 1:42 pm said:

    Hi all.

    This is an interesting essay that tries to compare the current situation in which humans and those nonhuman animals raised to be eaten are:

  • Ian Turner on December 27, 2010 at 1:52 pm said:


    I’m not affiliated with Givewell, but I’ll take a shot at your question.

    Givewell is a charity and survives on the generosity of a few large donors, along with the willingness of the staff to work for much less than they could get in the private sector. Pretty much all these people (donors and staff) are trying to improve the quality of nonprofit work. The “theory of change” behind Givewell is that if you provide high-quality research, people will donate better, which will allocate more resources to more effective organizations, which will improve the quality of nonprofit work.

    The problem is that the amount of money moved by Givewell isn’t considerably more than the amount of money that has been invested in Givewell. So unless you think that donors using Givewell’s research (or giving to givewell directly) would have wasted their money (or, perhaps, not given at all) if Givewell were not around, it’s not clear how much good Givewell is actually accomplishing.

    In other words, Givewell is still an experiment, which may or may not lead to someplace useful.

    One of the chief challenges that Givewell faces is that most donors aren’t interested in research, and certainly not in reading the kind of detailed reports that Givewell produces. And the vast majority of donors are satisfied with the places they already give, and are not looking for new information. Givewell doesn’t try to change this environment; it just tries to work within it. It may be that the market for Givewell-style research is too small to justify an organization of Givewell’s size, in which case either the environment has to change or Givewell would fold.

    Hope that helps! I’m sure the Givewell folks will be publishing an annual report in the next few months that goes into these issues with far greater clarity and rigor than I could.



  • Alan Dawrst on December 27, 2010 at 2:08 pm said:

    I’m very glad to hear this, Holden. I donate to an animal charity (Vegan Outreach) and would be very interested to see a general GiveWell analysis of animal organiztions.

    Would GiveWell consider not just humane efforts but also, e.g., promotion of vegetarianism? If so, would the analysis extend to considerations about vegetarianism’s impact on wild animals? Would it consider more abstruse projects like research on which animals are sentient? Feel no need to reply to these questions — they’re just some ideas to think about.

    Even within more conventional animal-welfare efforts, I think there’s enormous room to improve cost-effectiveness. For instance, consider two farm-animal campaigns by the HSUS: one promoting improved conditions for veal calves, and another lobbying the USDA to include poultry under the Humane Slaughter Act. There are 700,000 veal calves killed per year, compared against more than 9 billion chickens and turkeys. This is to say nothing of even more superficial issues, like banning dog fighting. (I’m told that mainstream animal organizations need to take on such issues in order to appeal to a group of donors who would be otherwise unmotivated to give. However, the segment of donors that GiveWell informs is precisely not that group!)

    As far as “I do not value the lives of animals equally to those of humans – not even close,” I don’t think the issue is the value of life. My metric for assessing animal charities is definitely something like DALYs prevented, not lives saved. I take Singer’s view that humane killing is not morally problematic in the case of many animals.

    Anyway, thanks again for considering the possibility of work on animal welfare!

  • Alan Dawrst on December 27, 2010 at 2:12 pm said:

    Would it consider more abstruse projects like research on which animals are sentient?

    To clarify, I was suggesting the idea of philanthropic funding for research laboratories to investigate such issues, rather than implying that GiveWell should study the matter directly.

  • Carrick on December 27, 2010 at 3:54 pm said:

    Holden, I concur completely. Because animals are innocent (and frequently adorable) creatures, I used to put them ahead of humans in terms of priority, but I have since completely changed, although I’m not sure why (honestly, it may have been seeing Slumdog Millionaire).

    Sentience and intelligence, to me, are total game changers. I’m sorry, but because of that, I hold the pain that humans experience on a much higher level than the pain animals experience. That’s not to say that I think it’s okay to harm animals, but it’s a question of priority. If I had a choice between rescuing a dog and rescuing a human, I would choose the human. And I think anyone who would choose otherwise is flat-out wrong, and possibly amoral.

    Once global poverty is solved, then I’ll start worrying about animals.

  • Daniel Dorado on December 27, 2010 at 4:35 pm said:

    Hi Carrick.

    Even if you hold the pain that humans experience on a higher leve than the pain animals experience, the consequence isn’t necessarily do not worrying about animals until global poverty is solved.

    Most farm animals suffer more than most poor humans in this world. A lot of animals are mutilated, their bones are broken… The important issue isn’t if humans can potentially suffer more than animals, but who suffer more now in practice.

    Moreover you can save a lot of more animals than humans with money. GiveWell wrote about VillageReach (the most cost efficient charity according to GW):

    “If the Disease Control Priorities Report is correct to estimate that $15 per fully immunized child corresponds to $200 per death averted, this would imply that VillageReach is averting a child death for every ~$545 it spends, still well within the range discussed on our overview of cost-effectiveness estimates.”

    Even it’s a highly tentative analysis, Alan Dawrst wrote about Vegan Outreach:

    “In other words, a single dollar donated to Vegan Outreach is expected to prevent between 100 days and 51 years of su ffering on a factory farm.”

    I think an animal suffer more on a factoy farm than a child in rural areas in Africa.

  • Michael on December 27, 2010 at 7:16 pm said:

    When setting priorities that you feel are not arbitrary, you have started the slide down the slippery slope. Which is more important providing food to a hungry child or preventing environment erosion so food can be grown to continue to feed the child? or, I will worry about animals when illiteracy is solved. The day comes when illiteracy is solved but now there are no animals. You do not cure the world’s woes in a bubble.

  • Sam Gardner on December 28, 2010 at 1:37 am said:

    A very good article. Ethical choices are difficult to explain, and in the daily life, normal people make compromises made on all them.

    Me too, I notice that I give to human rights organisations, but I try to promote ethical eating for my own meals.

    But even in my choices for ethical eating, it is difficult to separate conventional wisdom (local food is environmentally superior) from reality (the transport with the car from the local market to the home might be the worst part of the environmental impact for this tomato. There is more on this on my blog.

    So yes, I would make the same choice as Holden, but this should not stop anybody to develop the same kind of initiative on animal rights.

  • I appreciate your addressing this – even though I’m personally more committed to animal welfare, I accept that it’s not everyone’s priority, and putting your focus where your hearts are is what we all do, after all. That said, I like and echo Michael’s point above about not approaching all problems discretely.

    One point I would make around the financial impact of ‘ethical eating’ is that the default western approach to food is not a neutral one – in buying meat, eggs, etc., from factory-farm operations, we support those farms and whatever methods they use. For those of us who find those methods to be problematic, changing our approach to food is not moving to have a positive impact rather than a neutral one, it’s alleviating the current negative impact we make.

  • Ian and Chuck: Ian is correct on some of the basic issues – we need a certain level of influence to justify our existence and we want to see that grow from where it is now. However, I should be clear that this is false: “The problem is that the amount of money moved by Givewell isn’t considerably more than the amount of money that has been invested in Givewell.” Our annual budget is around $300k; we moved over $1 million in 2009 and expect that number to be higher for 2010 after all the figures are in. More details in our upcoming self-review.

    It is true that we would shut down GiveWell if we felt we weren’t having enough influence (ultimately measured as “money moved”) to justify our expenses. We would also shut it down if we felt we were no longer providing the best research for our target audience (possible if a better-resourced research group emerged). Finally, of course, we would shut GiveWell down if we couldn’t attract enough operating funding.

    None of these three should be considered an imminent concern. Right now we feel that we have strong unique value-added and are seeing strong growth in our influence, and while we may soon be seeking more funding to expand, we are able to cover our basic costs.

    Alan Dawrst, a couple responses:

    • As with our other research, when entering a new cause we want to start with the simplest interventions possible. We would probably steer clear of any political advocacy and of research into what forms of life are sentient. We might consider public advocacy (i.e., persuading individuals to change eating habits).
    • When I said “I do not value the lives of animals equally to those of humans,” I also meant I do not value changes in their quality of life as much as I value changes in humans’ quality of life.

    I took a quick glance at the paper linked by Daniel Dorado arguing that “a single dollar donated to Vegan Outreach is expected to prevent between 100 days and 51 years of suffering on a factory farm” and my first impression is that it’s more optimistic and less well-grounded than the estimates we’ve used for health interventions (problematic as those are). If we look into this cause we will certainly give the estimate more careful scrutiny.

  • Jason Fehr on December 28, 2010 at 10:20 pm said:

    “Our annual budget is around $300k; we moved over $1 million in 2009 and expect that number to be higher for 2010 after all the figures are in. More details in our upcoming self-review.”

    I thought the numbers Elie posted last week seemed very encouraging, it seems the amount of money moved by GiveWell has grown substantially year after year. I’m not nearly as pessimistic as Ian about donors’ lack of interest in research. I really think there are plenty of donors out there who would be very interested in GiveWell’s findings, but simply haven’t heard of it yet. This may be partially an issue of search engine optimization, is this something you guys have considered addressing? GiveWell can be hard to find with Google!

  • J. S. Greenfield on December 30, 2010 at 9:15 am said:

    Alan Dawrst:

    Perhaps offtopic here, but I cannot help but note that the essay you linked to begins with a quote from Peter Singer and the premise that, in essence, all money other than required for absolute needs should be donated to charitable causes.

    This is effectively just a restatement of Marx’s principle “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

    By now, it should be quite obvious to all serious persons that this approach is nowhere near optimal. In fact, it is much closer to the (if not the) worst possible approach for allocation of resources.

    This, for me, is one of the most serious problems with charitable efforts, and with evaluating such. It is clear to me that economic development is, by far, the most effective long-term antidote to poverty (as well as a raft of other social problems). But we currently have a dearth of efforts aimed at economic development that one could feel highly confident in — and such efforts would certainly be the most difficult to evaluate for impact, given their long-term nature, and the impacts being predominantly indirect.

    What we seem to be able to effectively evaluate are largely near-term, direct impacts.

    To put it in terms of a well-known cliche…it seems we can effectively evaluate, and have numerous options for confident, impactful giving when it comes to giving a man a fish, but we have much less ability to evaluate, and few or no giving options in which we can be highly confident, when it comes to teaching a man to fish.

    (Perhaps not the optimal cliche for this particular topic…but personally I haven’t eaten a fish for more than 25 years. πŸ˜‰

  • Madeleine Ball on December 30, 2010 at 12:48 pm said:

    As a recent donor to Givewell (albeit a trivial amount compared to your budget) I am really happy to hear about your interest in doing animal welfare research.

    We found your organization through Singer’s mention of it. My husband Chris is vegan for ethical reasons; I eat meat but attempt to purchase meat that was treated well. I doubt these lifestyle choices are an efficient way to make an impact; we hope you’re able to guide us to something more effective.

    I empathize with any “treading-water” feelings you might have and based on my own experience in such situations, I’m sure you struggle with the illusion others have of your organization being larger than it is. Thank you for your work. I think it *is* effective and useful – it guided our choices! Good luck!

  • Alan Dawrst on December 30, 2010 at 10:50 pm said:

    J. S. Greenfield,

    I agree (and I think Singer does as well) that direct giving to those in need isn’t optimal. As Singer explained in the Postscript to his 1972 essay, “the fact that I started from a famine situation, where the need was for immediate food, has led some readers to suppose that the argument is only about giving food and not about other types of aid. This is quite mistaken, and my view is that the aid should be of whatever type is most effective.” I don’t see how uncertainty about the effectiveness of longer-term solutions to poverty is relevant. As long as the expected impact of such efforts is at least as good as the impact of immediate giving, then doesn’t Singer’s point apply?

    Moreover, there are many types of charity that don’t involve poverty-related issues at all, at least not directly. Giving to Vegan Outreach in order to prevent large amounts of suffering on factory farms seems to me comparable in moral urgency to saving a drowning child. And if there’s another cause you think is better, then the obligation to donate is only strengthened, not weakened. Concrete examples like these are just lower bounds on the good that can be accomplished through giving.

  • J. S. Greenfield on December 31, 2010 at 11:19 am said:

    Alan, first, let me correct an error. Another person actually posted the link to your essay, above. I incorrectly stated that you had linked to it.

    Now to substance. My intended point was something different. Granted, I made a few different points, so my meaning was probably not clear. So let me try to be clearer.

    Point 1:

    Contrary to the Peter Singer quote at the beginning of your essay, redirection of all discretionary wealth/spending to charitable donation would not produce the greatest possible good (and accordingly, is not a categorical imperative).

    The argument that such would produce the greatest possible good is a theoretical argument based on a fallacy: the assumption that all else is equal, and gross societal productivity will be identical whether discretionary funds are put toward personal wealth/spending or charitable donation.

    We have ample empirical evidence by now to know that presumption is false. Individuals, and as a result, society, is far more productive when incremental work generates incremental personal wealth.

    This is similar to a tax. Assuming that maximimizing revenues is the goal, a 100% tax rate (e.g., of discretionary funds) produces a maximum in the very short-term. In the long term, it produces something very sub-optimal, and probably close to a minimum.

    Likewise, a 0% tax rate produces a minimum. The optimal rate to generate maximal revenues is somewhere between 0 and 100%. For these purposes, the point is that it is not 100% (or even close to that). Accordingly, the argument that it is an absolute good and categorical imperative to donate all discretionary funds is simply wrong.

    Bill Gates is, of course, now a major philanthropist. I won’t attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of his philanthropy. Let’s just assume it’s quite effective.

    Regardless, I would argue that Gates made a much larger and more impactful contribution to the world via Microsoft’s impact on economic development. If we had to choose just one, from the perspective of world betterment, clearly, we should choose Microsoft over Gates’ 50 or 60 billion in eventual charitable spending.

    Furthermore, if Gates’ (not to mention everybody else) had adopted a policy of donating all discretionary income/wealth each year, along the way, the world would have experienced major losses relative to both aspects of the contributions the world today receives:

    1) Microsoft would have been much less productive, and it’s impact on economic development would have been vastly reduced, and

    2) (less importantly) Gates’ personal accumulated donations would have been vastly reduced compared to what they are/will be today.

    Bottom line, in general, allocating all discretionary funds to charitable giving is a bad misallocation of resources, not an optimal allocation of resources. As with many things, second-order effects dominate over the long term.

    Point 2:

    When it comes to charitable giving, directing resources to short-term needs/impacts is almost certainly not as effective/impactful as directing resources to long-term economic development.

    The impact of immediate giving is more easily observed and measured, and to a great degree is more gratifying, but is almost certainly far from optimal in terms of achieving good (and/or reducing suffering) over the long term.

    In both regards, I think a key question for donors to consider is how does it make sense to allocate one’s own resources. How much of one’s discretionary wealth/spending should be redirected to charitable giving? And how much of one’s charitable giving should be directed to immediate aid vs. longer-term-oriented developmental aid?

    To my view, even viewed as pure optimization problems, these are difficult questions (like most optimization problems). The latter question is made that much harder by the seeming dearth of knowledge about what kind of longer-term charitable interventions are highly effective.

  • Holden on January 4, 2011 at 7:50 am said:

    J.S. Greenfield, a couple of comments:

    • I agree that if Peter Singer managed to create a social norm strong enough to make people give away every penny of discretionary wealth (often wishing they weren’t doing so, but feeling compelled by social norms), the results would likely be bad. However, he tends to appeal to people’s inner morality rather than creating coercive norms, and so in practice I think he ends up getting people to “push themselves” to give more without getting to the point where they lose their incentives to make money.
    • Given that we know so little about how to aid economic development, I currently favor direct aid because I oppose the attitude that aid is responsible for everything. My basic thought is that people have a strong track record of solving their own problems and creating their own economic development without help; this doesn’t mean we should provide no aid, but that we should concentrate our aid on what aid can do well. To extend the fishing analogy, I think about people who would have a much easier time teaching themselves to fish tomorrow if they had a bit more to eat today.

    Madeline, I don’t think we’re treading water – we’re seeing strong growth on the metrics we care about. We’re not yet at the level we want to see eventually, but that’s reason for patience, not pessimism. Very glad to hear that our research was helpful to you in your giving choices!

  • J. S. Greenfield on January 4, 2011 at 9:40 pm said:

    Holden, by now we’re quite far fromt he original topic, but continuing to pull the string…

    I’ve been trying to be careful to refer to the Peter Singer quote (in Alan’s paper), because I’m not directly familiar with Peter Singer’s writing, myself. I understand from very quick research online that Singer, himself, donates 25% of his income, which certainly seems unlikely to represent 100% of his disposable income. So I would think that either he has changed his view, he misstated his case in this particular quote, or the quote is out of context. All I can say with certainty is that the quote provided seems quite clear in stating a pretty extreme position, which I think is fundamentally wrong.

    Regarding your second point, conceptually I have difficulty with the notion that we know little about how to aid economic development, given that from a private sector perspective, we actually know quite a lot, and politics aside, I think that from an economic perspective, we understand quite a bit about the kinds of policies and public actions that foster such.

    I also have difficulty with the notion that people in the third world are likely to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, given that we have decades of history showing little or no improvement. Absent political tyranny and corruption, I could believe they would, like all others. But I think the record is pretty clear that it doesn’t happen organically in the presence of political tyranny and corruption. So if nothing else, I would think it worthwhile to investigate what are the most effective ways to foster economic development in the presence of such political problems.

    So far as direct aid goes, let me be clear, I support such, and currently that represents the vast majority of my poverty-oriented donations, for lack of good alternatives. But it with some non-trivial regret that I do so, because of the lack of what I believe would be, ultimately, more effective aid.

    In a real sense, I sometimes wonder whether much direct aid is little more than shoveling shit against the tide. Seriously, if you save lives, just so that they can be even more miserable down the road, or so that the population can increase producing even more people living in misery, have you done something beneficial, or have you actually made things worse? It’s a ugly path to travel down, but I can’t help but think it’s an important philosophical question: if an intervention will relieve suffering in the short term, but as a result increase suffering in the long term, is the intervention justified?

    In some sense, it feels as if perhaps one shouldn’t engage in near-term interventions (i.e., typical direct aid) without also engaging in longer-term interventions, designed to effect self-sustaining quality of life improvements.

    In any case, as I said previously, the only confident position I take away from such is that it’s a non-trivial issue to decide how one’s resources and efforts should be divided between near-term interventions and long-term interventions.

  • Ian Turner on January 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm said:

    J. S.,

    I’d be cautious about claiming that we already know everything about how to create development through policies. Clean government is not adequate to ensure economic development (think Uruguay), and corrupt government is not adequate to prevent it (think India or China). Likewise with personal freedom, farm productivity, education, ethnic conflict, or any other factor you care to name. The reality is that while economically successful countries do seem to have much in common, poor countries each have their own unique story of failure. Unfortunately, we really don’t know what causes economic development or how to ensure it, from a policy standpoint or an aid one.

    Givewell has blogged about this before.

  • Spencer Schein on January 9, 2011 at 8:58 pm said:

    Carrick writes that sentience and intelligence are “game changers” when
    thinking about rights. Would anyone agree that intelligence
    determines the rights owned by or owed to a being? Should we
    conclude e.g.,that humans with Downs syndrome have fewer
    rights than normally gifted humans? Or that those with higher I.q.’s
    have more rights? This line of reasoning is not only flawed, it is
    morally repulsive. As Jeremy Bentham put it, ” The question is not
    can they think, it is “can they feel?”

  • Holden on January 10, 2011 at 4:05 pm said:

    J.S. Greenfield, I think we disagree on the facts (or their correct interpretation) regarding economic development.

    • I do not believe we have any prescriptions for economic development that are considered reliable.
    • I do believe that there are many cases of countries’ emerging from poverty organically, and/or organically overcoming tyranny and corruption, even when outsiders would never have predicted this occurring.

    More on my view is at this 2009 blog post (Ian also pointed here). The work of William Easterly has also been compelling to me on these fronts. If you do feel there are reliable prescriptions for helping countries develop – or demonstrable cases of aid helping countries develop – I’d be interested to take a look.

    I share your concern about doing harm with health interventions via increasing the strain on resources. We have been searching and examining literature on this issue for a while now, and at some point (as a lower priority) we plan to publish a writeup on it. My impression from what I’ve seen so far is that there is some broad evidence and agreement undermining this concern, and very little (perhaps no) evidence concretely demonstrating this concern. If we felt differently we would have a higher priority on this investigation and more hesitance about health interventions.

    All of that said, I have some of the same nagging concerns you do, and I agree that the decision short- and long-term aid is not easy or trivial. We continue to investigate the potential concerns around health aid and continue to look for great organizations that seem more oriented toward economic empowerment and development.

  • J. S. Greenfield on January 10, 2011 at 5:55 pm said:


    I think there’s a gargantuan difference between “claiming we know everything” (your words) and saying that “we understand quite a bit about the policies and public actions that foster” economic development (my words). πŸ˜‰

    I perhaps chose my words poorly regarding “in the presence of political tyranny and corruption.” The corruption is the more important aspect, in my view, and the type of corruption is significant.

    From a lay perspective, I think Tim Harford did a good job in _The Undercover Economist_ of summarizing the economic theory that dictatorial/corrupt regimes’ behaviors are consistent with what one would expect of people seeking to maximize their own corrupt enrichment. Where the regime does not feel secure in its position, it is likely to take a short-term approach to maximization: simply plundering as much as it can. Where the regime does feel secure in its position, it will often take what would be expected as a long-term approach to maximization, which requires plundering less in the near-term in order to foster growth, so that more can be plundered down the road.

    Accordingly, the worst case scenario for a country is unstable tyranny, where a series regimes in an ongoing succession, each plunders as much as it can, for short-term maximization, inhibiting economic development.

    Btw, Fareed Zakaria, in _The Future of Freedom_, makes the related observation that wealth in terms of natural resources is actually negatively correlated with economic development. And I think that it’s fairly clear that wealth in natural resources attracts both corruption and instability, because many are motivated to seek control of those resources, for personal enrichment.

    In any case, there are certainly examples of stable tyrannies with prospering economies — modern China, as you mention, as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein, as noteworthy examples.

    So to the degree the words I chose suggested I didn’t believe it possible for economic growth to occur in the presence of any tyranny/corruption, that was not my intention.

    On the other hand, I don’t believe I said anything to suggest that the mere absence of such ensures economic growth. I think it’s quite clear that is not the case. Tyranny or not, sufficiently bad public policies will stymie growth. No country, not even a relatively free one, is going to prosper under sufficiently bad policies. (Mao’s Great Leap Forward, and central economic planning, generally, come to mind.)

    What’s more, in _The Future of Freedom_, Zakaria makes a pretty compelling argument that a minimum level of economic development is necessary to achieve stable, liberal democracy — and suggests that stable, liberal democracy is likely to come into being as a result of sufficient prosperity (and the social structures created by such).

    Accordingly, where we have tyranny and poverty/growth-inhibiting policies, we should probably be more concerned with economic development than with tyranny/human rights, as an immediate concern. Zakaria suggests that attempts at liberal democratization absent economic prosperity are doomed to failure, while economic development eventually drives liberal democratization. So if we want to achieve both prosperity and freedom/human rights, we should focus on driving economic growth, first.

    (And accordingly, I am personally confident that democratization of China is, by this point, a foregone conclusion. It is simply a matter of time.)


    I very specifically did _not_ assert that we have prescriptions for economic development. Rather, I objected to your characterization that we know very little about how to aid economic development.

    As I said, given how much we clearly _do_ know about economic development — both in private sector knowledge, and in knowledge of what kinds of policies aid such — I have great difficulty with the assertion that we know very little.

    I would assert that we have a good understanding of public infrastructure that is essential to economic development — e.g., good roads, which facilitate commerce.

    We have a good idea of the basic systems of governance necessary to economic development — in particular, an effective system or law/courts, to enforce private agreements, so that individuals can rely on contracts.

    I would assert that we have a good understanding at least of regulatory policies that are bad for economic development — pretty much anything that complicates, or more likely inhibits, the creation and running of a business, ranging from business licensing requirements, to all kinds operating regulations. Such regulation is the domain of those who are already established and prosperous. They are refinements for the successful. Among nations still impoverished, they are merely a mechanism to enable corruption, which quashes development.

    And we know a lot about the kinds of policies in established countries that undermine economic development in impoverished countries — i.e., price controls and protectionism of all sorts invariably hurt impoverished countries (not to mention the established countries).

    We have an enormous amount of experience in successful economic development from countries that have been already achieved success at such.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t many challenges in learning how to implement such beginning with the kind of circumstances that exist today in impoverished countries. But I think it goes too far to say that we know very little.

    What’s more, I think the empirical evidence has so clearly established the importance of economic development in achieving virtually every other social goal one could imagine (ranging from human rights/freedom, to health, to education, to environmental safety) that we ignore it at our peril, in any long-term charitable endeavor.

  • Holden on January 12, 2011 at 9:29 pm said:

    J.S. Greenfield, I’m not sure that we disagree very much. What I meant by “prescriptions for economic development” is probably close to what you mean when you say “how to implement such beginning with the kind of circumstances that exist today in impoverished countries.” In other words, while we may have good knowledge about some of the dynamics of typical successful economic development, we have little to no knowledge of sorts of aid we can provide that would reliably lead to (or even substantially raise the probability/speed of) economic development.

  • Animal Welfare Charities are not often on a business or individual’s donation list… that is why if there are any animal welfare non-profits out there that need money they should check out the PETCO Foundation. They have helped a number of 501(c)(3) non-profits in my area with pet supplies and financial support for buildings (they also do animal welfare projects)… if you even need dog food and qualify the chance of getting help is worth the minimal time it’ll take to fill out an application. !!!. Good luck to all and keep caring.

  • Holly on June 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm said:

    If it’s worth your time to research which charity is the most cost-effective for the “US early childhood care” cause, then surely it’s worth putting some time into researching which charities are the most cost-effective for the “animal welfare” cause?

    The estimates in Alan Dawrst’s essay are obviously sketchy (though I wouldn’t say optimistic), bit it still seems that donating to Vegan Outreach is going to do more good (/relieve more suffering) in the world than e.g. donating to Nurse-Family Partnership.

    PLEASE make a start on this research!

  • In relation to the question of animal welfare, suffering and sentience, there has to be considerable doubt that we know as much about other animals as we think we do. To take, as a case in point, dogs, recent research has highlighted one dog which recognizes more than 1000 words (which is about the vocabulary one needs to read the average newspaper) and another who not only knows the names of 200 individual toys, but, presented with an unfamiliar name, is capable of sorting through the toys to find the new one. And then we have more “real life” examples, like the dog that risked his/her life on a busy highway in Chile to pull to safety another dog that had been hit (this was captured on surveillance camera and can be viewed here: .

    These examples argue both for an as yet poorly understood intelligence in dogs and for a moral sense — more moral sense, perhaps, than the drivers who drove past the injured animal without stopping.

    I’m not a vegan and I’m not completely opposed to the humane killing for food of a limited number of species so long as (a) the species involved are limited to the minimum number and comprise at maximum only those traditionally raised for food; and (b) the animals in question have led comfortable lives in an appopriate environment (cows are herbivores and should be pastured on grass not kept in overcrowded concrete feedlots and fed grain, which their stomachs are not designed to digest, necessitating the continuous use of antibiotics).

    Nevertheless, the ways in which humans treat many animals is nothing less than appalling, speaks badly of the morality of many people, who are either abusers, consumers of abuse, or indifferent to it, and is not devoid of linkages to the way in which humans treat other humans. It is a well-known fact that most sociopaths begin their careers with animal torture. Improving the lives of humans, from both a day-to-day and a long-term environmental prospect, cannot be severed from improving the lives of animals.

    And, to answer your question, if I had too choose between saving my dog and saving Hitler, Hitler would drown. Of course, we rarely get such extreme choices, but I don’t think we can arbitrarily say that all human life, no matter what, is worth more than all animal life. And more to the point, it may not be worth more to me: I would also save my dog in preference to a homophobic fundamentalist extremist, for example. If nothing else, at least my dog does no-one any harm and does quite a few people good (he’s an excellent amateur therapy dog), which is more than you can say for a lot of fundamentalists.

  • Christine on December 2, 2011 at 2:19 pm said:

    Some of us value animals far more than people. People are the destroyers of this planet and I don’t believe in helping create or coddle more destroyers.

    For the person on your staff who doesn’t value animals I would just like to say that I do not value her or her families existence. Hearing about people like her just make me more adamant to NEVER donate to human charities.

  • Ha, I was just thinking the same thing as Christine (except I do give to charities for human causes). I came across this discussion looking for charities to donate my bonus to. After reading the article, I feel even more compelled to give to animal welfare charities. I think Alexis had many good points. I would also like to add that the world’s problems cannot be solved one at a time (poverty, then animals). By that logic, how do we decide which disease is more deserving of attention? Do we fix leukemia and then move on to breast cancer? Who decides the order? Does hunger come before medicine? Furthermore, a majority of human poverty is related to corrupt governments and greed. Giving to food charities may alleviate some of the suffering, but it’s not going to end poverty. The only way to do that is by overthrowing dictatorships and regulating corporate exploitation on an international scale.

  • The discussion of human vs. animal suffering reminded me that in the 19th century, the same people often crusaded against slavery and vivisection and for woman suffrage, the settlement movement (rich and poor living together), and humane societies.

    Separating these issues or assigning priorities based on some form of “human fundamentalism” — the belief that humans are the only beings worthy of concern — is simply not humane.

  • W Taylor on February 6, 2012 at 5:38 pm said:

    The HSUS pretends to be a shelter group…when gives less than half a percent of its budget to direct animal care. It is an animal rights group with a misleading name. They are all about wanting to end domestic animals, be they pets or live stock. They would even like to see domestic species and breeds extinct. If they told the truth when advertising people would not give…so they mislead. Dont give one red cent to the HSUS, give to your local shelter!

  • Alan Dawrst on February 14, 2012 at 11:02 am said:

    W Taylor, I think the fact that HSUS gives little to direct animal care is an argument in its favor, because advocacy (especially on behalf of factory-farmed chickens) is far more cost-effective. That said, I prefer donating to Vegan Outreach or The Humane League, where all the funds will go toward the most efficient channels for reducing factory-farmed suffering.

  • Pablo Stafforini on August 22, 2012 at 2:34 pm said:

    Readers of this post may want to take a look at the organization Effective Animal Activism, which does research on the cost-effectiveness of animal charities.

  • I think you are in danger of disappearing up your own bottoms!
    The issue is simple. Take a brief look at what goes on in slaughterhouses in the world (particularly ritual slaughter) and ask yourself if that is right.
    Then vote with your wallet.

  • Sarah Miller on October 7, 2013 at 4:33 pm said:

    I do not follow your reasoning for excluding animal interests in your charities, and find it to be an excuse to close your heart to something that may seem bigger than you are willing to face. Your “preference” for helping humans over helping animals does not match the spirit of philanthropy, an act of giving regardless of knowing or personally “liking” the subject. You reveal your own biases and judgements about who is more “worthy” of getting help — but what is this based on? Research does NOT conclude that animals suffer less than humans. Many adult animals are actually MORE intelligent than young humans. Moreover, intelligence is not a determinant of suffering. We actually may use our intelligence to counteract suffering, by escaping into our minds, making meaning of our situation, etc. Animals do not have this capacity. Furthermore, would you argue that a mentally retarded human should be allowed to suffer more than a gifted one? Your “preference” for human issues holds no water, and undermines the very spirit of philanthropy. If you allow yourself this preference, where does it stop? Why not decide which humans are more intelligent, sensitive, or to your liking, and only donate funds to them? What about humans who are developmentally disabled and never surpass the intelligence of animals? Or infants? I encourage you to look more deeply in your heart — your boundary between humans and animals is artificial and points to a place where you are not willing to open further to the suffering in the world.

  • Ian Turner on October 8, 2013 at 5:03 am said:

    Sarah — If a human child has a deadly disease which can only be cured by a bovine product, how many cows is it OK to kill in order to save the child? It sounds like you think the answer is zero.

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