In "What Should a Billionaire Give- and What Should You?" Peter Singer discusses the huge charitable donations of two of the world's richest men, whether their contributions (which amounted to over $67 billion in 2006) are enough, and what this all means for those earning more modest incomes. For instance, the world's richest man, Bill Gates, has given 35% of his $53 billion fortune to charitable causes. In contrast, real estate mogul Zell Kravinsky has given away the vast majority of his $45 million worth to medical charities. Singer argues that one ought to help to alleviate suffering caused by extreme poverty, especially if it causes little or no additional suffering on one's own part. Donating to charities can alleviate suffering of those in poverty through the distribution of necessities such as food, clean water, and medicine. Singer thinks that the the top 0.01% of U.S. taxpayers, those making more than $5 million annually, ought and could easily donate 33% of their income. Furthermore, those making at least $1.1 million each year ought to donate 25% of their income, those earning over $400,000 ought to give 20%, netting at least $276,000 should equate to donations of 15%, and everyone who earns at least $92,000 should give 10% to charity. Singer admits that the levels and percentages are subject to argument, but insists that these levels of charity are unlikely to impose hardship on the contributor and very likely to help those beneficiaries of the charity. Singer ultimately believes that "it should be seen as a serious moral failure when those with ample income do not do their fair share toward relieving global poverty."
Singer's argument is based upon his utilitarian perspective and in this case shows how charitable donations on part of the wealthy (relative to those in extremely impoverished conditions) impose very minimal hardship but greatly benefit the living conditions of the poor, thereby minimizing world suffering. Based upon previous works by Singer, I was surprised that he only recommended donations of 33% of income from top earners be donated, considering most could get by quite happily with far, far less than 66% of $5 million. However, I think his more moderate stance is prudent in this case considering that his audience consisted of all New York Times readers and not those who are necessarily accustomed to reading deep philosophical works. Thus, his main point seems to be that most people could easily give far more to charity than they currently do- and so they should. I think one issue with Singer's argument is that much of the aid given to developing nations seem to have no effect or even adverse outcomes in relieving poverty. For instance, donations of food to the starving definitely relieve the immediate suffering of those beneficiaries, but it also allows those families to have and care for more children than they would otherwise be able to- in other words more and more mouths to feed than the charities can keep up with. With the population of starving able to increase in part because of the donations of food, suffering has increased due to the same charity. Perhaps Singer would reply that those who consider this scenario to be a problem should instead donate their money to an organization specializing in distributing birth control to the same populations, but then those people would continue to starve and their current suffering would not be alleviated. Furthermore, many of those living in extreme poverty are there because of the state of their corrupt governments, and without a change in regime, will continue to do so even with great influxes of foreign aid.
Singer, Peter. "What Should a Billionaire Give- and What Should You?" New York Times, 17 Dec 2006. Web. 14 Sept 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/magazine/17charity.t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1