The Singer Solution to Poverty Does Singer Present a Valid Argument? Peter Singer is an Australian Philosopher and a Bioethics professor at Princeton University. He is the author of Animal Liberation, a book that moved many to become vegetarians, while others were offended at his suggestion that humans and animals be on the same moral plane. In September of 1999, Singer published an article in the New York Times Magazine called ‘The Singer Solution to Poverty’. In his article, Singer argues that people who have money to spare should be giving it to charities, specifically Unicef or Oxfam America.
Although he has a valid point, people should donate money to the less fortunate if they can, his argument is weak on several points. Singer begins his article referencing a movie, called Central Station, in which a woman is given $1,000 to take a homeless boy to a house, under the belief that he will be adopted. She spends the money on a new television, but is later told that the boy, being too old to be adopted, will be killed for his organs. Whether the woman initially knew this or not is unknown, but she vows to get the boy back.
Singer tries to discredit , saying she might try to justify her action by stating there are other people with televisions, or that he was only a street kid. Singer then tries to compare the woman to the average American family, the ones with nice televisions, saying that they’re just as bad buying new TVs instead of donating the money to street kids in third world countries. Then, Singer brings up a man named Bob, and his Bugatti. Bob is an idiot for many reasons, the first being his purchase of a $2 million car, which he has not been able to insure.
Second, he parks his car near the end of a railroad track. After getting out of his car, he spots a runaway train. He looks down the tracks. One way there is a little boy, toward whom the train is running. The other way down the tracks is his parked car. He has the option of either letting the train hit the boy, or pulling a lever to switch the track, in which case his car would be gone. Bob, having invested so much money in his car, chooses to let the boy be hit. Singer has expressed his disgust at Bob, and assumes that we are going to feel the same way. Now, Singer compares the average American to Bob.
Singer now informs the reader that $200 in donations will help a child safely transition fro a sick two year old into a healthy six year old. Singer again compares the average American family to Bob, and Bob is compared to the woman from the movie. He then explains that some people will try to justify their actions by stating that other people do or do not do the same thing that they do or do not do. Again, he compares the average American family to Bob. He states that giving up dining out for a month will be sufficient to save money to donate. But, he asks, how big does the sacrifice have to be to be significant?
His answer was $200,000. He explains that people who are comfortably off will donate 10% of their income to charities, and although that is much more than average, it is still not enough. He claims that people should be able to donate 70% of their income to charities, yet he only donates 20%. In the end, he tries to explain that those who do not donate all this money are not leading a “morally decent life” whatever that means. Singer is correct in stating that people should donate extra money to charities. He is off, however, on how much money that should be.
He says that an American household with a $50,000 income spends only $30,000 annually on necessities. He does not, however, explain what the ‘necessities’ include. nor how big the families from these statistics are. Larger families with the same income would be able to donate less, and families living in more expensive areas of the country would be spending more on rent or their mortgage and would therefore be able to give less. Singer also presents a ‘false dichotomy’ to the reader, saying that if they do not give the $20. 000 leftover from their supposed $50,000 income, that they are not leading a “morally decent life”.
He fails to define what a “morally decent life” is, and fails to realize (or simply fails to mention) that there are many ways to be “morally decent”. A person who may not donate as much as Singer suggests might spend all of their free time volunteering. Singer fails to acknowledge many ways to help the less fortunate. He also compares the average American to just two people: a woman who sold a boy to black market organ peddlers, and a man who let a train hit a child just so he could drive his hideously over-priced car. These are fairly extreme examples to which to compare the average American.
Throughout his article, Singer uses two types of logic to persuade the reader to jump up, grab the phone, and donate money: pathos and logos. He uses logos to try to justify the donation amount of $200, by saying that ‘it’s only $200. ’ Mostly, though, he uses guilt (pathos) to get people to feel as though they should donate. If they donate, then they won’t be compared to the woman from the movie or Bob. They can feel good for having saved a child’s life, rather than feel bad for buying a new television set. If they donate, they can lead a ‘morally decent life’ (according to Singer).
What would happen if everyone were to donate their spending money, rather than to buy new clothes or electronics? Singer fails to look at the other side of the story. Say everyone was to stop spending. Our economy would most likely suffer (more than it is currently). Stores would go out of business if everyone stopped upgrading their electronics and buying new clothes. Is it justifiable to compromise our economy to save children in third world countries? Singer needs to get off his high horse. He thinks his way is the only way, when there are many ways to donate and help others.
I think Singer has a valid point but I think he is rude when he tries to present it. Throughout his article I felt insulted, and yes, guilty. But I reminded myself that I am not Bob, I would rather lose my car than live with the fact that I stood there and let a child die. I am not Maria, the woman from the movie; I did not sell a boy to black market organ venders just for a new television. He tried to argue ‘what if everyone did it? ’ thinking that it might lead people to think their actions are legitimate. I don’t think that way. Just because something is the way it is, doesn’t mean that’s the way it should be.
I do not seek out others actions to justify my own. One person’s actions should be independent from everyone else’s actions. Singer generalizes Americans, rather than pointing out that each person is unique in their thoughts and actions. He tries to turn every American into ‘the average American’ and I am offended by that generalization. Although Singer tries to make a fair point in his article that Americans may spend too much when there are better places their money could go, he fails to argue this is a efficient way. He is biased throughout his article and fails to present all sides to his story.