Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp professor of bioethics at the Center for Human Values at Princeton University, in the NY Times Magazine:
For more than 30 years, I’ve been reading, writing and teaching about the ethical issue posed by the juxtaposition, on our planet, of great abundance and life-threatening poverty. Yet it was not until, in preparing this article, I calculated how much America’s Top 10 percent of income earners actually make that I fully understood how easy it would be for the world’s rich to eliminate, or virtually eliminate, global poverty. (It has actually become much easier over the last 30 years, as the rich have grown significantly richer.) I found the result astonishing. I double-checked the figures and asked a research assistant to check them as well. But they were right. Measured against our capacity, the Millennium Development Goals are indecently, shockingly modest. If we fail to achieve them — as on present indications we well might — we have no excuses. The target we should be setting for ourselves is not halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, and without enough to eat, but ensuring that no one, or virtually no one, needs to live in such degrading conditions. That is a worthy goal, and it is well within our reach.
Was it just me, or was Mr. Singer's article a more persuasive argument for a truly progressive tax system, rather than more progressive philanthropy?
Of course, the former probably won't happen in our lifetime, at least in this country, so perhaps he was just being pragmatic, (which he called himself in the follow-up Q&A.) Thoughts?
Fundraising for Nonprofits
Posted by: Gayle | December 27, 2006 at 07:42 PM
It was quite an article. Figure out what the world needs. Denominate in dollars. Divide by the top X percent of wealth holders; everyone to pay his or her fair share. If that fails, have the generous among them take up the remaining slack. What was missing, I thought, was a system for extracting the cash. Sweet reason, exhortation, celebrations and honors, peer pressure, taxes, pillory, expropriation - what would work best?
To Peter's logic, a funder might answer, "So, what happens if I don't give a dime?" I think we need an answer to that, or we have what is called "the free rider problem," or free loader. Unless the transfer of cash for social needs is fair, the more generous may give less than they might, feeling that they are being stuck with the bill by peers who never reciprocate.
Posted by: Phil | December 27, 2006 at 10:54 PM