Individuals who want an ethical career should consider a career in banking rather than the voluntary sector, according to an Oxford University academic.
William Crouch, a research associate at Oxford's Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, argues that "professional philanthropists" - who earn a high wage and give a slice of it away - may help more people than those working directly for a charity.
He is launching an organisation called 80,000 Hours - a reference to the average amount of time people spend at work in their lifetime - to maximise charitable donations. It will provide members with a database on charity cost-effectiveness.
According to Crouch a typical investment banker will earn more than £6m over the course of their career. His research shows that it costs £300 to save a life by treating tuberculosis in the developing world, so by donating 50 per cent of their income, a banker could save 10,000 lives.
"The direct benefit a single aid worker can produce is limited, whereas the philanthropic banker's donations might indirectly help ten times as many people," said Crouch in a statement.
Crouch also pointed out that some charity jobs are in high demand. "If you don’t become that aid worker, someone else is likely to take your place," he said. However, bankers "typically donate a very small proportion of their income", he said. "So if an ethically minded individual can enter the banking profession and donate a large proportion of their earnings to charity, they will have made a difference that wouldn’t have happened anyway."
Crouch claimed that he is neither endorsing the banking system nor criticising charity workers, but said "in the right hands, [the money bankers earn] has the power to do a lot of good." His argument is laid out in full in a draft paper, The Ethics of Career Choice.
Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the chief executives’ body Acevo, defended charity workers. "Unlike in the States, I know few leading bankers in the UK who have made a significant contribution to changing society," he said. "Yet I speak to hundreds of third sector leaders doing exactly that every day of the year."
A spokesman for Oxfam said Crouch’s proposal did not go far enough: "We can’t rely on each individual banker doing the right thing. We believe the financial sector as a whole has a responsibility to pay its fair share to society - that’s why we support the Robin Hood Tax campaign for a tax on financial services which would raise around £20bn in the UK."
Crouch said he gives 20 per cent of his graduate stipend to charity and has pledged to donate 50 per cent of his future earnings.