With 30,000 children dying every day from poverty-related causes, what should Americans be giving?
The New York Times takes a look at that question in What Should a Billionaire Give – and What Should You?
Author Peter Singer takes a close and extended look at the question, and proposes a complex formula where the top 0.01% of US taxpayers (14,400 of them, who earn an average of nearly $13 million a year) should give away one-third of their annual income -- on down to the top 10% (13 million people, who average a measly $132,000 a year) give 10% of their income. (He doesn't mention what the other 90% should give.)
If everyone cooperated with this scheme, it would yield $404 billion. That would sure be nice.
My hat is off to Mr. Singer and to the Times. Talking in public about this is important, and they've done a real service to the nonprofit sector, donors, and causes in need of support. So my disagreements with this article are really just quibbles. And one important purpose of an extended philosophical essay like this is to raise quibbles.
- While obligation (even guilt) has a legitimate role in motivating people to give, the question of what people should give is off point. One of the things that makes charitable giving so powerful is that it's driven by compassion, love, and altruism. Your gift matters more because you can freely choose not to give. More important is how can we spread compassion, understanding, and big-heartedness to more people choose to give more?
- 30,000 children dying a day creates a huge (almost unbearable) sense of urgency. Even so, poverty-reduction in the developing world is not the only legitimate and needful cause.
- The wealthy aren't the only ones who should give. Everyone should. Even the poor. (And the poor do -- as a percentage of their resources, they are more generous than everyone else.)