With this paper, I attempt to explain what global poverty is and how Peter Singer, a renowned philosopher, puts it. One should be able to clearly see, with this thesis, the moral obligation of the rich towards the people in extreme poverty. I will also briefly look at how demands of huge donations might attack incentives of the rich to work further so as to respond to the objection raised to Singer’s argument that there is “no way of telling us when we have done enough” by looking at what really matters.
Extreme Poverty, basically, refers to a state of living where an individual (group of individuals) is deprived of the basic human needs like safe food and drinking water, sanitation facilities, health care, shelter and basic education. Extreme Poverty reduces the standard of living of people and might motivate people towards illegal and harmful activities like stealing, robbery, drugs and other treacherous crimes. People living in such poverty has negative spill over consequences when the families of such people expand without sufficient access to decent level of living facilities. In today’s world, global poverty requires immediate attention to make this place a better place not only for this generation but also for the generations to follow. According to the most recent estimates, in 2015, 10 percent of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day.
Singer has argued over time and which, in my eyes, is the sanest theory that (i) if one can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance, one ought to do it. Furthermore, he establishes that (ii) extreme poverty is bad. (iii) We can prevent (some) extreme poverty without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance. Therefore, Singer’s generalized argument concludes that, given the above premises, we ought to prevent extreme global poverty.
This argument was criticized for not being able to define what “comparable moral significance” is. Even if, out of sense of ethical responsibility, one decides to reduce extreme poverty, when should they be morally praiseworthy or, when do we know they have contributed enough on their part towards fighting global poverty.
Common sense urges that the rich need to stand up to provide for the poor. Is asking the rich to step up for people in extreme poverty our right? Definitely not, it is technically not the fault of the rich people that global poverty exists but as Singer puts out if one can prevent global poverty without sacrificing something of comparable moral significance, one ought to do it. It is not the compulsion for the rich to do so but in the absolute sense, the rich has the proper tools to eliminate poverty. People will have always have the option to donate whatever they were going to spend on inane luxuries anyway. If a man has enough to provide his family with basic human needs, he should be morally required to donate the rest to save lives of people who die out of extreme poverty. Although a subtle point need to be noted, building houses and treating the sick will not end poverty, children living in extreme poverty need to be provided with proper education at minimal costs to stop further extension of poverty.
No matter rich should be morally donating and mitigating the pain suffered by people in poverty, the rich cannot be legally be required to do so. Suppose, the government legally requires the rich to donate the major portion of their income to satisfy the needs of the poor, no one will have an incentive to work because they will always the same standard of living as a person who is not working at all (they will be inclined to not work and still earn the basic needs of living). Hence, the question arises how much should one donate?
For example, the tragedy of Notre-Dame fire enables us to look at how people from around the world voluntarily raised nearly USD $1 billion within two days for it’s restoration. This amount could have saved nearly 285,000 lives or heal the blindness of around 11 million people. Such numbers enable us to look further, it’s nearer than we think, the rich just need to take the initiative to help remove the extreme poverty. If everyone is required to pay just 1% of their wealth, once and for all, it can raise up to USD $92 billion just from the net worth of billionaires in the world.
Singer can argue everyone ought to donate the maximum amount they can without sacrificing the needs of oneself and one’s family. When do we know that we have done enough? We don’t. Objectively, one can never know if he/she has done enough but what matters is has he/she reached the maximum possible potential. What matters is have you donated and saved lives of as many people as possible without sacrificing your or your loved one’s needs. For example, if a billionaire, let’s say, Amancio Ortega, decides to donate three-fourth of his net worth to help children in extreme poverty. One can never say that he could have donated way more than he did or suggest other ways in which he could have maximized the donations because in his opinion, he has reached the level after which he would have to sacrifice the needs of his family or his company (assuming his company might need the funds in order to operate and further donate at some future date).
To conclude, I wish to say that Peter Singer has clearly outlined what one ought to do when it comes to donating one’s wealth in order to help children in extreme poverty. We can extend his argument by also highlighting the fact that one would not be morally blameworthy if one decides to not help the children in poverty and one would be morally praiseworthy if one decides to do the aforementioned. The objection raised that when can one ever know if he has done enough, we earlier established that there is no objective answer to that question but that one ought to do what he thinks is enough. I would end the thesis with what Peter Singer once said, “More often there’s a compromise between ethics and expediency”.