Blow thirty mill' like I'm Hammer
December 23, 2010 5:01 PM   Subscribe

What job should I take to make as much money as possible, in order to donate it to charity?

A few days ago I read an article about >Oxford philosophy academic Toby Ord who is attempting to give £1 million of his salary to charity over the course of his life. I'm considering doing the same thing - but choosing a career that would maximise my income in order to maximise the amount I could give after living expenses.

My question is: What career should I pursue to achieve this?
posted by Mike1024 to Work & Money (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
In case my qualifications should be relevant, I have a PhD in engineering, I'm experienced at computer programming, and I can turn my hand to a few different manual trades.

However I'm also interested in general answers, so that answers aren't just applicable to people in my (somewhat unusual) circumstances.

Thanks for reading my question!
posted by Mike1024 at 5:07 PM on December 23, 2010


That depends entirely on where your talents lie. The best way to make a lot of money generally is to start your own business, but that's a crapshoot.

Why not choose to work for a company/organization that matches your charity goals, therefore giving the gift of your time, which converts into money?
posted by xingcat at 5:07 PM on December 23, 2010


therefore giving the gift of your time, which converts into money?

I've spent a lot of effort trying to find problem-solving charities that just want bodies, and it is damned hard. Most want money to pay for specialists and for local labor.
posted by curious nu at 5:11 PM on December 23, 2010


A potential problem in evaluating jobs the way you intend to is that the jobs with the highest lifetime expected value of compensation are not necessarily the most lucrative in absolute terms. In other words, to "make as much money as possible", you may not want to pursue the highest-paying job because many lucrative professions have significant downside risks (educational debt, professional liability) that eat away at your expected return.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:16 PM on December 23, 2010


Be an investment banker or quant.
posted by novalis_dt at 5:25 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You could become a very good poker player.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:27 PM on December 23, 2010


What job should I take to make as much money as possible, in order to donate it to charity?

Three options:

1. Get a high-paying engineering job where you know you can achieve with your current knowledge base.
2. Start a technology venture and eventually cash out.
3. Start a philanthropic technology venture and run it forever.

You may also want to listen to the twenty conversations from the Long Now Foundation's Long Conversation. Long Now is engineer and artist heavy and there is a lot of very interesting talk about philanthropy over there.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:32 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've heard that the best way to make a ton of money is to buy a fast food franchise. Obviously only applies if you have some business skills, are willing to learn, and are willing to work 80 hour weeks counting sandwich buns until the wee hours of the night or whatever. (And there's that pesky business of the start-up costs.)
posted by ErikaB at 5:41 PM on December 23, 2010


Warren Buffett's stock answer for anyone looking to make a lot of money is to hold your nose and go to Wall Street.

But would that be right for everyone? Clearly not.

Prof. Ord is in the happy position of having a job that (I assume) he likes, perhaps loves, and tenure to help him plan out the rest of his days. Best of both worlds.

Working just for money, even if the end use of the money is praiseworthy, is a hard life. Don't do it.

Failing that, what's the best option? Consider what it is you find yourself doing even when you don't have to. Fixing the motorbike? Designing apps? Setting crossword puzzles? Ponder these things and follow your nose.

But really, don't get too caught up in what is, after all, an arbitrary, albeit eye-catching and Oxford approved, figure. The universe does not demand it. Just toss ten percent into the pot and be done with it.

(For you in particular, if the big money thing is really the thing, and if you are entrepreneurial and have inventive smarts, then sure, start a business. Build it up. Sell it for big money. Or, more likely, start it up, see it collapse, dust yourself off, start all over again. Repeat ten times. Be aware just how vicious it can be.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:48 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


PhD in engineering? The military industrial complex if you can get a TS/Q clearance.

Look at nat'l labs and other similar contractors.
posted by pseudonick at 5:58 PM on December 23, 2010


Of the highest-paying careers, engineering manager seems like the best fit for your background.
posted by scottreynen at 6:00 PM on December 23, 2010


I.
xingcat: "Why not choose to work for a company/organization that matches your charity goals, therefore giving the gift of your time, which converts into money?"

Because you can create wealth much more efficiently if you do something you specialize in, then donate the proceeds -- than if you do something you're a novice at.


II.
Alternatively, don't donate the proceeds. People badly misunderstand how the economics of donation work.

A)
Suppose you (1) spend a lifetime making money by working at some wealth-producing task (ie, engineering or medicine, which generate wellbeing, rather than advertisement or gambling or theft, which just shuffle money around). Suppose that you then (2) just keep the money perpetually invested in a real-return asset (or indeed just burn the money, but let's leave that aside for the sake of simplicity).

Now you have (1) lowered prices in ways that will spill over to lower prices in general, and (2) created jobs. Both of these effects (primarily) benefit the poor. In net, you've done a small amount of good for a large number of poor people, distributed according to their relative preferences in accessing that good.

If your intuitions are balking at this, consider it this way. Money itself is not wealth. If I create wealth and receive mere money in return, what I've actually received is an IOU from the rest of society that says, "when I cash this in, I can consume some wealth". If I never cash it in at all, then I've basically donated my productivity to the rest of society (and it will be distributed among them through the price mechanism). It's like buying a gift card to an entrepreneur friend's store and then, out of kindness, letting it expire without ever cashing it in: it can't meaningfully be distinguished from a donation per se.

B)
Suppose instead that you (2) donate the money to a specific group of poor people, who spend the money on themselves. Your generating the wealth has lowered prices, but then their consumption of objects has raised prices back up again (consumed the wealth you created). In net, you've done a large amount of good for a small number of poor people, not well distributed at all.

C)
For the sake of completeness, suppose you (1) spend a lifetime earning money, and (2) spend it on yourself. (Perhaps you're following that horrifying advice "you can't take it with you".) Now you've (1) lowered prices (generated wealth), then (2) raised them again (consumed that wealth again), all for the sake of your own leisure.

Which of these outcomes is preferable? C obviously isn't. In C, you did not benefit the general population of poor people; your net involvement in society was simply to benefit one rich person.

B concentrates the giving, which defies all economic logic because -- after it gives the first quantum of the wealth to someone poor -- that person is no longer quite so poor, and so the next quantum of the wealth should ideally be given to someone who REMAINS horribly poor and so will get more out of it.

That's what A does: gives every starving person one meal, rather than give a lifetime of consumption to a lucky few, which doesn't sound so different to me from giving a lifetime of consumption to yourself (scenario C).

You can argue that it's better to concentrate the generosity (scenario B), but most arguments along those lines wind up making some kind of claim like "some of the poorest will die anyway, so let's make a triage call and not bother contributing to them, instead concentrating the wealth among a designated few of the poor". It's for you to decide how comfortable you are with that approach.

Certainly the above reasoning is oversimplified in several different ways -- it omits, for instance, that some professions create much more good than their pay suggests (provision of a college education is probably a great example; certain statesmen accomplish this too). And it omits that the price mechanism is not always a frictionless means of distributing wealth. And taken literally it suggests you should never consume any leisure yourself, which is an unrealistic level of self-abnegation and which nobody reasonable would insist upon.

But it's not at all a bad approximation. I certainly plan to do A. One of its additional advantages: in case you encounter some enormous uninsured disaster, you retain the option of using the wealth to prevent your own destitution.

III.
What job should I take to make as much money as possible, in order to donate it to charity?

On the facts you've given us -- sorry to say, since I get the sense you were hoping for an exciting life change -- probably some variation on engineering. You hold a highly lucrative degree and have already spent years of your life obtaining expertise in a specific field. As an engineer you could easily make six figures for most of your life. And the wealth you'd generate during that time would be real, not merely the byproduct of shuffling dollars from one person's pockets to another's.
posted by foursentences at 6:20 PM on December 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Also, if you go for the non-self-employed route, try to find a company/corp that has employer matching for their employee's charitable donations.
posted by elizardbits at 6:23 PM on December 23, 2010


Start a tech startup. You seem qualified enough to figure something out. Here's the secret - founding a startup, even on that fails will quickly launch you into the upper bounds of management strata. Ironically starting one startup makes people more willing to invest in another startup so you can keep going until you see a nice exit event. Keep going from here as an entrepreneur or you can probably move at some point into venture capital.
posted by bitdamaged at 6:24 PM on December 23, 2010


Failing that, what's the best option? Consider what it is you find yourself doing even when you don't have to. Fixing the motorbike? Designing apps? Setting crossword puzzles? Ponder these things and follow your nose.

But really, don't get too caught up in what is, after all, an arbitrary, albeit eye-catching and Oxford approved, figure. The universe does not demand it. Just toss ten percent into the pot and be done with it.


Er, wow. Someone generous with a lot of human capital wants to try to save literally thousands of lives, and this is the advice you give them? "Just do what you like and don't really worry about it"?

The OP clearly isn't just chasing an Oxford-approved figure, he stated that he wants to maximize his donations. That's a noble goal and your response is really flippant.
posted by ripley_ at 6:27 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you're looking for giving a high percentage of your wealth to a charity, Engineers Without Borders could work out especially if that Phd was in Civil Engineering.
posted by garlic at 6:56 PM on December 23, 2010


Quant, absolutely.
posted by phrontist at 7:12 PM on December 23, 2010


"Blow thirty mill' like I'm Hammer"

If you really think about it, the very highest profit/pay/risk potentials don't generally lie within the usual legal framework. But, if you're willing to do uncomfortable time in uncomfortable places, and consider rate of return before other social cost, you might head for opportunities in areas where jurisprudence is looser, and needs are immediate.
posted by paulsc at 8:14 PM on December 23, 2010


Thanks all for your answers! I've marked a few as best, as I'm told it's bad form to mark them all as best!

xingcat: Most voluntary work I've done so far as left me doing minimum wage work like stuffing envelopes and sorting patient records into alphanumeric order. I don't like to say I'm "too good for that sort of thing" but if I work at twice minimum wage and donate the money I can pay for twice as much minimum wage work as I can do myself.

novalis_dt: That's one idea I'm entertaining, but I've been advised by friends in finance that only a handful of people make the million-dollar bonuses you hear about on the news and that most people make a normal amount of money. However, I am looking into this area.

b1tr0t: Thanks, will look at that link later.

ErikaB: Also a good suggestion, thanks!

IndigoJones: If you have a choice between a job you enjoy paying $40,000 and a job you don't enjoy paying $60,000, the theory of opportunity cost says if you take the lower paid job you're paying $20,000 for the luxury of job satisfaction. I'm not sure I feel comfortable buying $20,000 luxury items when people in Africa are dying of preventable diseases. I realise this is an unconventional view.

pseudonick: What sort of role should I be looking for to rake in the money? Won't demand for bombs and bomb-disposal equipment fall as we get out of Afghanistan in 2014ish?

scottreynen: Thanks, will look at that link later.

foursentences: Interesting ideas. However, let's assume my wealth-producing ability is designing microchips to let smart phones play better 3D games, and my charitable activity is paying for vaccinations for children in the third world.

I don't anticipate an increase in demand for vaccines substantially increasing their price when there's supply competition; due to economies of scale I might even expect unit prices to fall as demand increases. Granted, if producers are working at full capacity there might be diseconomies of scale as new production resources have to be built, but if that should be the case for one type of vaccine, I can always shift funding to another type or disperse funding over a longer period.

I would say the social good achieved by lowering the prices of smart phone game technology is small in comparison to the social good achieved by preventing easily-preventable diseases. And that the social good achieved by spending my money on vaccination is greater than the social good achieved by burning my money. Although I'll be honest and say you lost me with that point a bit, maybe I've misunderstood what you were trying to say.

elizardbits: Good idea!

bitdamaged: That's one idea I'm looking into, but aren't start-ups high risk? I mean, I might have an unrealistic idea of how easy it is to run a start-up because you only hear about the successful ones. I mean, I might join my friends' startup, burn through my savings getting a product working, then find no-one wants to buy it.

garlic: Robotics, I'm afraid. Not a great demand for it in the developing world.

paulsc: A creative answer! I'm not sure I'd make a good mercenary though.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:15 AM on December 24, 2010


Your goal is a good one - but one downside is that many high earning professions come at the cost of the people you presumably want to help. I would consider a combination of donations, fundraising on behalf of your preferred charities (so that you don't have to earn all the income yourself), and donating some of your time to working with organisations. Perhaps even organisations such as Engineers Without Borders as mentioned above. Not necessarily in the field, but the grunt work of calling potential donators, sending letters, and so on. Stuff that when you work in these types of organisations (as I do) everyone pitches in to help on.

This would be I think a more rewarding path, rather than simply giving and having no other association with the charities (note: I have not read the article you refer to).
posted by wingless_angel at 2:44 AM on December 24, 2010


Most voluntary work I've done so far as left me doing minimum wage work like stuffing envelopes and sorting patient records into alphanumeric order. I don't like to say I'm "too good for that sort of thing" but if I work at twice minimum wage and donate the money I can pay for twice as much minimum wage work as I can do myself.

It's not all about opportunity cost in this sector. I earn more than our admin staff. I still pitch in to stuff envelopes when needed. Everyone's work is important, especially if those letters bring in the next round of donations.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:47 AM on December 24, 2010


So design ROVs for deepwater oil exploration. Not terribly fashionable in the US at the moment, and you may wish to consider the implications of working in an industry that has the potential to cause more poverty when things go wrong (as with any military work as well, but in that case its more a case of 'when item is used as designed' ... and I suppose the cost-benefit analysis also varies depending on what your charitable aims are, i.e. weighting of people and environment).

Where was I ... offshore work. Nice money, if you want it. Take all opportunities to actually work offshore rather than staying in the lab, then you'll get some contract where you're working on a rig or drillship or whatever for a month and get a month off. It's up to you whether you spend the month volunteering as a minimum-wage-equivalent envelope-stuffer, or working on a tech startup, but either way you've used half your time and made lots of money. And your living costs are lower, because when you're offshore all your food and electricity etc are paid for, so there's more money to donate.

All that does of course suppose that you're living alone and don't want to trade any potential earnings for family life....
posted by Lebannen at 4:53 AM on December 24, 2010


That's one idea I'm looking into, but aren't start-ups high risk? I mean, I might have an unrealistic idea of how easy it is to run a start-up because you only hear about the successful ones. I mean, I might join my friends' startup, burn through my savings getting a product working, then find no-one wants to buy it.

Well, you could also look at startups as a way of getting your foot in the door to eventually join a venture capital firm investing in other startups. There's a lot more money to be made investing in startups than actually starting them. The process of being involved in a startup puts you in a position where you're in contact with venture capitalists whom you're raising money from. My advice here would be to talk with VCs and ask them how they got where they are.
posted by deanc at 6:54 AM on December 24, 2010


Rather than doing an (arguably) unethical job to earn obscene sums of money then give them away, why not concentrate your effects in directly doing good and making the world a better place?
posted by turkeyphant at 7:58 AM on December 24, 2010


Most voluntary work I've done so far as left me doing minimum wage work like stuffing envelopes and sorting patient records into alphanumeric order. I don't like to say I'm "too good for that sort of thing" but if I work at twice minimum wage and donate the money I can pay for twice as much minimum wage work as I can do myself.

Instead of just volunteering for nonprofits, volunteer to be a board member. Any experience you have in the corporate world will be very useful and appreciated here.

Interesting ideas. However, let's assume my wealth-producing ability is designing microchips to let smart phones play better 3D games, and my charitable activity is paying for vaccinations for children in the third world.

The McGonigal / Shlain talk discusses leveraging gamer skill and motivation to change the world for the better.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:59 AM on December 24, 2010


If you have a choice between a job you enjoy paying $40,000 and a job you don't enjoy paying $60,000, the theory of opportunity cost says if you take the lower paid job you're paying $20,000 for the luxury of job satisfaction. I'm not sure I feel comfortable buying $20,000 luxury items when people in Africa are dying of preventable diseases. I realise this is an unconventional view.

It is, but I've known others who hold it. Don't quite understand it. To view job satisfaction as a luxury, well, it shows a mechanistic view of life, and my background was humanities, so there we are. If all you really want is money, then the options are many.

Be aware, though, just how little a million dollars is going to do. Even the Gates Foundation can't fix everything - and Gates had a hell of a good time getting the wherewithall.

How about this = instead of fixating on the money, find a problem that needs solving that only you can solve. As an engineer, you should have no trouble finding something to work on that in twenty years will change the world a hell of a lot more than just a million dollars ever would. Design a twenty dollar laptop. A cheaper more pleasant means of vaccination. A non-toxic renewable battery. Water desalinization. A better solar panel.

The kicker is, if it works out, you may well have far more than the piddling million dollar goal that the time clocker Prof Ord is aiming at.

Listen to Shai Agassi for some inspiration. I really think he and those like him will do far far more for the world than Prof Ord can ever hope to do.

(PS- those other luxuries are not just luxuries. They are someone's bread and butter. Which is why we must sometimes at least buy our books wholesale from the local independent rather than hit the library or Amazon.)
posted by IndigoJones at 8:32 AM on December 24, 2010


The expected value of a lifelong career is probably the highest with specialist doctors. Once they finish their residency, their income immediately jumps to mid-six figures, and remains there (or higher) for the entirety of their career. We all know how much quants and hedge fund managers can make, and of course the rare entrepreneur who succeeds spectacularly can also make a pretty penny. But the tales of success are few and simply outliers. Also, a handful of very successful quants (excluding the true outliers) may make a few million dollars a year, but rarely can they sustain that rate for more than a decade.

It's true that not everyone has the intelligence, stamina, etc. to be a specialist doctor. But it's far more achievable for someone with higher intellect and motivation. It's also more assured, in the sense that once you choose and enter that profession, your ability to make a lot of money over a long period of time isn't nearly as dependent on luck and happenstance.
posted by ccl6yl at 10:00 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are two complementary mechanisms by which the price of smartphone games redounds to other sectors (such as food). Sketchily, on the demand side: when the price of smartphone games drops, so will the prices of substitutes-for-games, which at least to some extent includes food (or includes things which are themselves substitutes for food). Much more compelling is the supply side: when the price of smartphone games drops (because Mike1024 is competently improving them), the returns to game-making drop, and some entrepreneurs who were considering investing wealth in games have a marginal incentive to make things other than games, including activities that directly {increase the availability of / reduce the price of} food (or indirectly do so, through reiterations of this substitution process).

You raise a great point about vaccines, which are indeed a very strangely-shaped market for several reasons. First, as you observe, current production of vaccines may be more a function of artificial policy constraints (and of the cartelized desire to price-discriminate between 1st world and 3rd world buyers) than of typically-shaped demand curves.

Moreover, vaccines have large positive externalities: I may self-interested-ly value my own immunity at $1M, but my immunity also provides $100k worth of expected survival to each of the fifty unvaccinated people who might otherwise catch the disease through me. Since individuals will therefore systematically underconsume vaccination, we can't count on the price mechanism to cause them to buy the appropriate amount, and a direct in-kind subsidy is a better solution. (And the potential buyer who theoretically takes such externalities and group needs into account and DOES respond correctly to the price mechanism -- the government -- is going to be defunct or corrupt or inefficient in many of these places.) I think this argument gets me on board with you; vaccinations are a really good call. The same is probably true of education.

I do want to caution against predicting an industry's actions by its immediate-term rather than its long-term equilibria (you refer, for instance, to trying to game the production of an individual vaccine so as to demand no more than they are currently able to produce). The industry itself is making choices (eg about whether to build a new factory) based on predicted long-term demand, so unless your proportion of demand is enormous to the point of showing up in their long-term predictions, I wouldn't count on being able to influence their long-term capital choices at all. In other words, they're ultimately going to build the additional factory whether or not you demand a little more, so you might as well ignore their immediate-term economies of scale and let them worry about that.

(As for the burning of money, it's a minor point. If I invest in perpetuity, never withdrawing from those investments, then I've donated my productivity to the world in the form of lower interest rates (which generates more new jobs). If I leave the money under my mattress, or burn it, then I've donated my productivity to the world in the form of lower prices in general. What prevents my heirs from withdrawing and consuming the surplus, reversing my donation? Well, either I could draw up a special trust that evades certain legal vesting requirements, thereby keeping the wealth invested in perpetuity; or I could burn the money, depriving my heirs of any access to it. It's like buying that gift card from your friend's business and destroying it to make SURE it never gets used and the donation "sticks".)
posted by foursentences at 11:37 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are two complementary mechanisms by which the price of smartphone games redounds to other sectors [...] when the price of smartphone games drops [...] entrepreneurs who were considering investing wealth in games have a marginal incentive to make things other than games, including activities that directly {increase the availability of / reduce the price of} food (or indirectly do so, through reiterations of this substitution process).

I don't know - I want to maximise the efficiency with which human lives are improved, but I'm willing to sacrifice some efficiency in exchange for measurable results.

$100,000 given to a charity to spend on vaccines and 6 months later they can present records saying how many people they've vaccinated. I can put that into a spreasheet along with how effective the vaccine is, and I've got an idea of how many lives I'm saving per dollar, and I can use lives saved as a proxy for good achieved in the world.

On the other hand by letting my wealth dissipate through the economy through an indirect process of substitution, in 6 months time I'll wonder how much good has been achieved in the world and all I'll be able to do is shrug. Maybe I'd have done more good than vaccination, maybe less, there's really no robust way of knowing.

Of course, that a person whose life is saved by vaccination could go on to do any number of things - including himself becoming a smartphone game developer.

I do want to caution against predicting an industry's actions by its immediate-term rather than its long-term equilibria

Not at all - but in engineering if you want to make an order that will raise the unit cost of an item due to diseconomies of scale often the manufacturer is willing to work with you. You ask your supplier for 1000 widgets a week at $10 each, they say they can only supply 800 a week then they need a second machine which would put the unit cost up to $11 each, then you say "OK, we'll take 800 a week". Then we just vaccinate people slower.

Of course, I'd be outsourcing most of this stuff to charities, I'm not planning to order vaccines personally.

As for the burning of money, it's a minor point. If I invest in perpetuity, never withdrawing from those investments, then I've donated my productivity to the world in the form of lower interest rates (which generates more new jobs). If I leave the money under my mattress, or burn it, then I've donated my productivity to the world in the form of lower prices in general. [...] It's like buying that gift card from your friend's business and destroying it to make SURE it never gets used and the donation "sticks".

So what you're saying is that by spending money on vaccines I'm benefiting only a small number of people, whereas if I use that same money to lower interest rates a larger number of people benefit, right?

But it seems to me that the very poorest people in the world might see little direct benefit from a reduction of interest rates; I don't imagine people living on a dollar a day have bank accounts and credit cards. Furthermore, the reduction in interest rates from my efforts alone would be near-negligible, and certainly not large enough that banks would pass the rate cut on to customers.

It goes without saying that you can make your own million dollars and you can use it to improve the world using whatever mechanism you like.
posted by Mike1024 at 4:56 PM on December 25, 2010


you don't get a phd in robotics (or anything) without loving it. If you're going to sustain this goal of charitable donations over your lifetime, you'll need to work in a field that you can maintain over that lifetime. Engineering isn't as highpaying as lawyering or doctoring, but you're already currently qualified for it, and presumably like it enough to stick with it (or stick with it long enough to earn another degree in something you like better that pays better). And it's still nothing to shake a stick at. and the opportunity cost to get the training for a different position

and presuming the US keeps spending on defense, they'll keep spending on robots of some sort or other to protect human lives. Barring that, defense experience lines you up nicely for space robot experience, the only smart way to explore space.
posted by garlic at 1:38 PM on December 31, 2010


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