Blog post

Rutger Bregman on Effective Giving: Interview with Effektiv Spenden

4 min read
14 Sept 2022

Our friends over at Effektiv Spenden in Germany recently interviewed bestselling author and Giving What We Can member, Rutger Bregman about effective giving.

This interview is full of great quotes and insight from Rutger and is well worth reading in full.

Read Rutger Bregman on Effective Giving German version Spanish Version

Below are some highlights from the interview:

On global inequality:

“Basti: So how did this decision to donate so generously come about?
Rutger: Well, actually, I think it all started with the realization that we, in rich countries, are very rich. Most people in rich countries have no idea just how rich they are. But, historically speaking and globally speaking, they’re very, very rich…we all know about inequality, but we usually think about it from a national perspective. Well, you know, the biggest inequality is international.”

“We all remember the Occupy Wall Street slogan about “We are the 99%”. And that may be true on a national level, but on a global level, we’re more like the 1%. And I think that gives us an enormous responsibility to do good.”

On the amazing opportunity we have to do good:

“So when we try to do good, we should ask ourselves, how do we use our limited time and resources? And because we live in such a crazy world with so much low hanging fruit, any individual from a very rich country can do an enormous amount of good. And by the way, the way I look at this is both from a perspective of obligation, I think we have a moral obligation to do this, to donate at least 10% of our income. But it’s also from a perspective of excitement. It’s just really awesome. It’s probably one of the most significant things we can do in our lives, right? Many of us have these boring jobs, right? We write reports that no one’s ever going to read. We send emails to people we don’t like, and then suddenly we realize that we’re in a situation where you actually can save other people’s lives. It is extraordinary!”

On individual vs systemic change:

“But the thing is, the people I admire in history, they haven’t just been talking about how we need to change the system or whatever, but they’ve always also been doing it. I think it’s incredibly important to actually practice what you preach. There’s now this discussion going on amongst progressives and people on the left like, “Oh, we shouldn’t talk about individual change because that’s neo-liberal. We should all talk about system change”, but obviously we need to do both.”

On influencing each other for good:

"Of course, it’s also about the individual, because he knew that he would be much more convincing if he actually did what he preached. Because human behavior is contagious. We’re not individuals, we’re not lone atoms, but we influence each other all the time by our behavior. It’s just contagious. I think that giving can be like that as well. That’s why I think it’s important to be public about your giving, not to show off and you need to be a little bit careful there. But that’s also why I signed the Giving What We Can pledge to say. Look, people, if you like my work, this is what I find really important. And it has made a big difference in my life to donate at least 10% of my income to highly effective causes. And I think that actually, you know, as a best seller author, you can go a little bit higher than 10%, but 10% is a good place to start."

On effective altruism as a question:

"Sometimes people can get the impression that, “Oh, so you know what all the effective causes out there, right? And you are very dogmatic about that.” That’s not the case at all. Effective altruism is a question. It’s not an answer. It’s all about continuously asking yourself the question, is this the best use of my time, resources and money? That’s what it’s really about. And I think intellectual humility is a really important value, and I think that’s also quite present in the movement."

Rutger donates to GiveWell’s recommended charities and also donates to the Effective Altruism Funds. You can donate to these charities and funds through our donation platform.

If you’re in Germany, visit Effektiv Spenden to donate to highly effective charities.

Photo of Rutger Bregman taken by Maartje ter Horst