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Lots of Americans are in the global 1%. A tenth of their income could transform the world.

How people like you could wipe out extreme poverty and prevent the next pandemic.

6 bundles of US $100 bills standing vertically on edge of white shelf, red background Getty Images
Sigal Samuel is a senior reporter for Vox’s Future Perfect and co-host of the Future Perfect podcast. She writes primarily about the future of consciousness, tracking advances in artificial intelligence and neuroscience and their staggering ethical implications. Before joining Vox, Sigal was the religion editor at the Atlantic.

If you earn $60,000 a year after tax and you don’t have kids, you’re in the richest 1 percent of the world’s population.

If you have a household income of $130,000 after tax and you’ve got a partner and one kid, you’re also in the richest 1 percent.

Or say you have a household income of $160,000 after tax and you’ve got a partner and two kids. Guess what? You’re also in the 1 percent.

You can find out exactly how rich you are compared to the rest of the world by using this fun calculator. If you find yourself in the global top 1 percent, consider that if you and everyone like you gave away 10 percent of your income, even for just a single year, we could end extreme poverty and prevent the next pandemic.

That’s the top-line finding in a new report from Longview Philanthropy, a nonprofit that advises donors who want to address the biggest challenges facing humanity. The report is meant to inspire excitement about what we can achieve if we give more, at a time when philanthropy has undergone a massive backlash.

“Of course we have many reasons to be cautious of, and even cynical about, philanthropy,” the new report acknowledges. “At its worst, it continues to be used for corporate gain; buying influence over and reliance from recipients, reputation laundering, ‘greenwashing,’ and more. In other words, when the very wealthy do give, it is often in exchange for something else.”

But at its best, the authors argue, philanthropy can step in to tackle huge problems that slow-moving governments or risk-averse markets won’t solve. Bold, strategic generosity can alter the course of history. In fact, it already has.

Take the agronomist Norman Borlaug who, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1940s, researched how to improve crop yields and kickstarted the Green Revolution that brought countries back from the brink of famine. Or take the March of Dimes foundation, which funded the development of the polio vaccine in the 1950s thanks to donations from 80 million Americans. Or take the suffragist and biologist Katharine McCormick, whose philanthropy funded the development of the first birth control pill.

We can be similarly ambitious about tackling today’s problems — and you don’t need to be ultra-wealthy to make big contributions.

Here’s what we could achieve if the 1 percent gave 10 percent

According to the report, if the global 1 percent gave away 10 percent for a year — or, if their wealth outstrips their income, they instead gave 2.5 percent of their net worth — they would generate $3.5 trillion over and above what already goes to charity each year.

And with $3.5 trillion, we could do some pretty amazing things. Specifically, we could:

  • Wipe out extreme poverty for a year and lift millions out of poverty once and for all ($258 billion)
  • Prevent the next pandemic through wastewater screening for new pathogens, lab upgrades, and more ($297 billion)
  • End hunger and malnutrition ($341 billion)
  • Give everyone access to clean water and sanitation ($1.22 trillion)
  • Fund contraception, maternal care, and newborn care for all women for at least five years ($175 billion)
  • Massively suppress or eradicate tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV ($219 billion)
  • Massively suppress or eradicate most neglected tropical diseases ($53 billion)
  • Double global spending on clean energy R&D until 2050 ($662 billion)
  • Quadruple philanthropic funding for nuclear weapons risk reduction ($6 billion)
  • Increase tenfold the funding for AI safety ($1.5 billion)
  • Halve the number of animals suffering on factory farms by 2050, especially by creating alternative proteins ($222 billion)

Of course, the scope of these problems is huge and estimates are necessarily non-precise. But still: Not too shabby!

“Within the first year alone, we could rewrite the future of our planet,” said Natalie Cargill, Longview’s founder and president and one of the report’s authors, in a statement. “Far from being doomed, we are closer than we might realize to a radically fairer and better world.”

Philanthropy alone definitely can’t solve everything

While it’s great to give generously, it would be foolish to think that spending can magically solve humanity’s most pressing problems on its own.

For one thing, philanthropy is always in a dance with politics. Remember Borlaug, the guy who got cash from the Rockefeller Foundation and figured out how to feed the world? Well, he wouldn’t have been able to kickstart the Green Revolution if he hadn’t worked in partnership with the Mexican government. Political will is an important ingredient.

Likewise, philanthropy has a tendency to fail miserably when the wealthy presume to know what poorer people need. The history of charitable giving is littered with TOMS shoes and water-pumping “PlayPumps” that no one wants. It works much better when donors trust that people on the ground know what they need.

One great way to get around the issue of paternalism is to donate directly to low-income people through an organization like GiveDirectly, which gives out cash transfers. Longview Philanthropy recommends this option.

If you like the sound of what giving 10 percent can do for the world, you can sign the Giving What We Can pledge, which commits members to donating 10 percent of their annual incomes to highly effective charities. Or take a Trial Pledge, which commits members to donating a percentage of their choice to such charities. If 10 percent is too much for you, you can try 5 percent or 1 percent. The most important thing is just to get into the groove of donating. (Pro tip: Set up monthly payments so it’s extremely automatic and hard to avoid doing!)

No, it won’t transform the world all on its own. But giving a little, regularly, can do a lot.

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