Peter Singer has been described by the New Yorker magazine as the world’s most famous living philosopher. In his new book, The Life You Can Save, he argues that people in rich countries have a moral duty to give money to help people in extreme poverty in developing countries.
His argument is compelling. As summarised on the accompanying website, it is this:
If we could easily save the life of a child, we would. For example, if we saw a child in danger of drowning in a shallow pond, and all we had to do to save the child was wade into the pond, and pull him out, we would do so. The fact that we would get wet, or ruin a good pair of shoes, doesn’t really count when it comes to saving a child’s life.
UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, estimates that about 27,000 children die every day from preventable, poverty-related causes. Yet at the same time almost a billion people live very comfortable lives, with money to spare for many things that are not at all necessary. (You are not sure if you are in that category? When did you last spend money on something to drink, when drinkable water was available for nothing? If the answer is “within the past week” then you are spending money on luxuries while children die from malnutrition or diseases that we know how to prevent or cure.)
I find this argument compelling, though it leads to the unsettling conclusion that almost all of us should be doing more than we are already to give up part of our income to help people in developing countries. (Basically: if you are buying mineral water in a country where it is safe to drink water out of the tap, you should give that money to a charity that will use it to reduce poverty instead.)
I spoke to Peter Singer about his book on Development Drums. His message is important, and I hope you’ll listen.