1. That human suffering and death from lack of food, medicine, and shelter is bad.
2. That "if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it."
Do you agree with these two assumptions?
Most people will answer yes. If so, Singer maintained, you ought to give to prevent hunger, disease, and other suffering until it becomes morally painful to give.
In his much later book, One World, Singer cited 1995 and 2000 studies conducted by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Issues (PIPA). Americans were asked in both studies whether they thought too much of the federal budget went to foreign aid and whether such aid should be cut. The majority (64%) answered yes in the first study; 40% answered yes in the 2000 study.
In response to the question of how much of the US federal budget is spent on foreign aid, the median answer in 1995 was 15% and in the 2000 study, 20%.
When asked what percentage of the budget should go to foreign aid, the median answer was 5% in the 1995 survey and 10% in the 2000 survey.
The actual percentage of the US federal budget that goes to foreign aid is under 1% (somewhere around 0.7%).
Now, put these two elements together - the 1972 argument, and the later PIPA surveys. What does this suggest to you?
Now, what if we add this anecdote from today's NY Times Sunday Magazine article by Singer?
...A few years ago, an African-American cabdriver taking me to the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington asked me if I worked at the bank. I told him I did not but was speaking at a conference on development and aid. He then assumed that I was an economist, but when I said no, my training was in philosophy, he asked me if I thought the U.S. should give foreign aid. When I answered affirmatively, he replied that the government shouldn’t tax people in order to give their money to others. That, he thought, was robbery. When I asked if he believed that the rich should voluntarily donate some of what they earn to the poor, he said that if someone had worked for his money, he wasn’t going to tell him what to do with it.
At that point we reached our destination. Had the journey continued, I might have tried to persuade him that people can earn large amounts only when they live under favorable social circumstances, and that they don’t create those circumstances by themselves. I could have quoted Warren Buffett’s acknowledgment that society is responsible for much of his wealth. “If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru,” he said, “you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.” The Nobel Prize-winning economist and social scientist Herbert Simon estimated that “social capital” is responsible for at least 90 percent of what people earn in wealthy societies like those of the United States or northwestern Europe. By social capital Simon meant not only natural resources but, more important, the technology and organizational skills in the community, and the presence of good government. These are the foundation on which the rich can begin their work. “On moral grounds,” Simon added, “we could argue for a flat income tax of 90 percent.” Simon was not, of course, advocating so steep a rate of tax, for he was well aware of disincentive effects. But his estimate does undermine the argument that the rich are entitled to keep their wealth because it is all a result of their hard work. If Simon is right, that is true of at most 10 percent of it.