If you are wondering, this column is exemplary of why I stopped following David Brooks years ago. Commenting on an earlier piece by Dylan Matthews, he introduces the case:
Trigg is a 25-year-old computer science graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has hit upon what he thinks is the way he can do maximum good for the world. He goes to work each day at a high-frequency trading hedge fund. But, instead of spending his ample salary, he lives the life of a graduate student and gives a large chunk of his money away.
And here is the way Brooks introduces us to his cautionary tale:
From the article, Trigg seems like an earnest, morally serious man, who, if he lives out his plan, could indeed help save many lives. But if you are thinking of following his example, I would really urge caution.
You can read Brooks for yourself. But I note the following problems with his analysis:
First, nowhere in the original article is it even suggested that Trigg does not enjoy working at the hedge fund, yet Brooks assumes this must be the case. So he sets up a straw man.
Second, nowhere in Brooks's piece does he provide any evidence that Trigg is becoming less like his philanthropy and more like the (presumed) less appealing parts of his vocation. What life's wisdom is Brooks drawing upon to predict that utilitarianism implies corruption?
Third, and most importantly, Brooks is fighting the basic prescription of the economic theory of comparative advantage (which Trigg has understood and put into practice). In the second quote above, Brooks does acknowledge that by Trigg not working at the hedge fund, fewer people would be saved from malaria. It reads like a grudging acknowledgement. But he should also acknowledge that if Trigg went to a malaria-infested region to do field work, he would compete for resources with someone else who actually wants to do that. His competitor might be squeezed out of the opportunity entirely or simply be paid less to do it.
The effort to achieve good ends requires both human and financial resources. Why fault those who derive value from providing the latter if they have no talent or interest in the former?