Giving to Charity

December 26, 2006

Peter Singer wrote an article in the NYTimes challenging us all to give more to charity. For the record, his book Animal Liberation convinced me to become a vegetarian, so I’m not immune to his philosophical charms. You’ll have to read his essay for the full argument, but, in brief, he says (1) we have a responsibility to help those in need and (2) we should give as much as possible. His defense of (1) appears to equate the global poor with children, i.e. helpless victims of oppressive, mostly Western, powers. The very poor live under the boot of corrupt, inept and criminal governments that steal their country’s wealth and leave the populace miserable. My view is that the populace implicitly chooses this government by their silence. Furthermore, helping the poor takes pressure off their governments to solve these problems. The only real solution is to remove their governments. Is that realistic? If black South Africans can overthrow a well-armed white government, then surely many others can do the same. As for Western oppression, there is a solid argument that Western trade barriers make it impossible for poor countries to help themselves. Rich countries should immediately remove all trade barriers and subsidies on agricultural goods. This will do far more good than any amount of aid we throw at the poor.

Nevertheless, there are situations where we must give to the poor. His argument for (2) is very strong: we should keep only what we need to live and give the rest of our money to charity. For example, for the price of my new shoes ($150) I could have treated 25 children for measles, intestinal worms, polio and malaria ($6/child). Of course, we have a predictable set of excuses which he quickly disarms. Trust me, there’s no way to argue that your new Wii ($250) is worth more than the lives of 40 children. My defense is that I hate human beings of all ages. To me, little kids are just future criminals: the fewer the better. If you are a cold-blooded misanthrope like me, then you can enjoy your Christmas presents guilt-free as children around the world die of easily treatable diseases and lack of water and simple nutrition. For the rest of you, what would Jesus want you to do on his birthday? Merry Christmas!

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