Spending your privilege budget

Philip Morgan

If you have privilege, what should you do with it? Spend it helping others. How you do that is up to you, but if you spend your privilege helping others, I think you'll truly be able to say of yourself that you did the best you could. This simple idea about how to live gets much less simple if you are investing in anything. Relationships, a business, becoming more healthy, or anything with an uncertain future payoff. How do you decide how to allocate your privilege budget between immediate-payoff things and future-payoff investments? There's this idea in coffee roasting called "area under the curve", or AUC. If you log the temperature of the beans you are roasting over the duration of the roast, you get a curve expressing the bean temp over time. The area under that curve is a representation of how much heat energy went into the beans.

With all such things, there is debate about how valuable a metric AUC is for roasting, but it's an interesting idea to apply to our businesses. If we think of the AUC for our business as a measure of how much we are able to help others through our business, what can we do to maximize this metric?

My answer is: invest. Invest in ways that maximize the AUC. Investments always involve uncertainty. That's why portfolio theory exists, it's why we regard people who take personal credit for winning some sort of social lottery as smug assholes, and it’s why those folks should hold themselves to a higher standard. I can't be certain that the investments I'm making in an effort to maximize the AUC of my business will pay off. It's worth it anyway. In contexts where we are rewarded for visible, guaranteed-return ways of spending our privilege budgets, we'll feel less anxious about spending it on the visible, on the short term. We'll get to say we did something. We'll probably get social reward for doing so. The uncertainty around this payoff is lower. The incentives that reward it are clear. But will we maximize the AUC -- the total-over-time-potential-for-positive-impact -- of our businesses by investing in this particular way? Maybe. Maybe we can use the portfolio approach to invest a privilege budget in both short term, visible, guaranteed-return ways and less visible, less certain, long term ways. Maybe we have the resources and flexibility to spend a privilege budget in this way. But if you have to make choices; if the way that you spend your privilege budget is oriented towards maximizing AUC but doesn't generate social kudos in the short term, please keep investing. The future needs you to keep investing. -P