The GiveWell Blog

Is the world getting better?

I recently spoke with Robin Hanson and he proposed that donors invest their money in order to give more in the future.

One question that came up was whether the world is improving such that opportunities to cost-effectively accomplish good are running out.

I think there’s a strong argument that this may be the case, at least when it comes to improving the health and opportunities of the world’s poorest. The following charts illustrate that child deaths have been falling dramatically and population growth has been slowing as incomes have risen. (In the charts, the trails show each country’s changes over time, from the first year noted in the bubble with the country’s name until the present day.)

The graphs below come from The charts below only show several countries for several indicators, but they’re broadly representative of what has happened. To see more, click through to Gapminder.

Child mortality has fallen dramatically since the 1960s as incomes have risen
Population growth has slowed as incomes have risen


  • Robin Hanson on April 16, 2013 at 12:34 pm said:

    I’m happy to admit that the world has indeed been getting better in many ways, resulting in fewer people in great need. The question is just how long that trend will continue.

  • Ian Akers on April 17, 2013 at 2:41 pm said:

    Our knowledge and understanding of cost effective giving is increasing greatly. I expect that in a few years, the top recommended charities will be much more effective than the current ones. I think that’s a factor that needs to be considered when you calculate the interest rate you need to convince you to save instead of donate.

    I thought it was very interesting what Robin Hanson said about borrowing. It makes me wonder whether, as a donor, I am really so confident in the effectiveness of the top charities right now, and the importance of giving immediately, that I would borrow money in order to donate it ASAP. My intuition is that that would be a bad idea, but I don’t really know.

  • I hear you Ian. With lifeboat ethics in mind, you really have to contemplate “The Donors Question.” See

    and if you care for more:

    I do not know. Hopefully, when I soon take Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics course (from the free course site, I understand his perspective better; no one–knowingly–wants to be a bigot.

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