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Acting Now to End World Poverty

by Peter Singer

Pub Date: March 10th, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6710-7
Publisher: Random House

Controversial philosopher Singer (Bioethics/Princeton Univ.; The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush, 2004, etc.) lays out the haves’ moral obligation to the have-nots.

The author’s goal is to reduce, if not eliminate, extreme poverty in the world. He presents life-and-death situations that pose moral dilemmas, then leads the reader through arguments stemming logically from these dilemmas to arrive at the conclusion that it is morally wrong not to give aid to those suffering from lack of food, shelter and medical care. Subsequent chapters counter the arguments commonly made against giving aid, e.g., that philanthropy undermines real political change, and that giving food or money makes people dependent. Next Singer investigates the psychological factors that work against giving to the distant poor: parochialism, a sense of futility, diffusion of responsibility. He seeks to make readers think seriously about their obligations to the world’s poor and to increase their charitable donations. To that end he considers what can be done to create a culture of giving. He examines the positive effects of specific actions by corporations, organizations and individuals, noting that a corporate nudge in the right direction can increase employees’ philanthropy and that speaking openly about giving encourages others to do the same. To help prospective donators, Singer introduces GiveWell, which investigates the work of charities and ranks them by their effectiveness. Returning to his introductory question—what is one’s moral obligation to others?—he answers that to save the lives of those in extreme poverty, people should give until it hurts. However, acknowledging that a more realistic approach is needed, he proposes that for most Americans, five percent of their income is a reasonable starting point, with a sliding scale for the rich and super-rich.

Persuasive arguments and disturbing statistics, laced with stories of some generous and selfish people.