In my undergraduate studies one of the courses that most influenced my later thinking was an introduction to moral reasoning. I came out of it a committed utilitarian which only made life more difficult as given my favoured position in society – especially given global economic inequality. In principle I still believe I am morally obligated to give all but the bare minimum of what I own to help those in greater need elsewhere, but few of us can manage that.
So I was pleased to see one of the most well-known contemporary utilitarians, Peter Singer, writing a piece to help us figure out what it is reasonable to give: What Should a Billionaire Give – and What Should You?
He points out that even if only the top 10% of the US population (those on at least $92,000) gave a sizeable (10%+) proportion of their income annually (sums he implicitly contends they would not miss) that in itself would provide 8x the shortfall in the amount needed for the world to reach the UN’s millennium development goals. It certainly gives me something to shoot for once I am no longer a student.
See also this blog post of mine about Singer and Zell Kravinsky.
I dont follow- 8X the shortfall/ Does that mean it would be good or Bad? does he really mean that giving by those would overcome the shortfall by 8x?
It is interesting to note that the US by population gives to charitable causes many more times that given by any other society. That is sometimes sluffed off by some who say “well, they get huge tax relief dont they” and they do , but the vast majority of US giving comes from individuals who are in very modest tax brackets. Perhaps Bill Gates is not a good example-or Warren Buffet, but people who create great fortunes in the new world have had (we hope it continues)quite a history of giving it away: carnegie, Loeb, Frick,and even that old bandit Rockefeller, who earned it all in the first 40 years of his life and then spent the next 50+ giving as much of it away to worthy causes as he could find. The Duke of Westminster who ownes a gret deal of downtown London could take a page out!
Comment by russ — 25 December 2006 @ 5:05 pm
To be clear, according to Singer’s calculations donations of that size would be sufficient to tackle the shortfall eight times over. Gates is in my view an excellent example of the scale of giving that is needed – if memory serves me his donations already amount to a third of his personal fortune and he has said he intends to give away most of the rest. But there are not enough Gateses around.
Comment by David Brake — 25 December 2006 @ 10:51 pm