Classics English Literature

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Classics English Literature

The Singer Solution to World Poverty

The article “The Singer Solution to World Poverty” by Mr. Peter singer is a critical argument that hits at the wealthy in the society who do not do enough to help the less fortunate. Reading the article on the surface, it is easy to get carried away by the persuasive argument and even feel guilty that you haven’t done your role in helping the poor but a critical analysis of the article from a political and economic angle will reveal several misplaced perceptions that are not even workable. The article is takes a socialistic dimension that would be very tragic to the capitalistic dispensation of the contemporary world.


At first glance, the singer solution to poverty in the world looks like a fine idea, but after a careful analysis, there are problems. The singer believes that one solution to the world poverty would be the donation of the luxuries by people from wealthy counties to the poverty stricken countries (Singer 3). This tends to mean that the wealthy people should not enjoy luxurious lives. They should not spend money on a wide variety of clothes, movies, good foods and fancy cars. He tries to prove his claim by giving a story of a woman from Brazil namely Dora who has an opportunity to earn some dollars by convincing a street boy to accompany her to a certain place where he was to be adopted by a family that was wealthy. After the completion of this task Dora gets compensated and buys a new TV set to enjoy her life, however, later in the day, Dora is informed that the kid she had rescued would be plucked some of his organs for sale. She tries her best to help the child in dire situation to escape. The singer also describes another hypothetical instance involving a man called bob who has invested most of the money he has saved in his life in a very expensive car- a Buggati. He parks the car on the railroads because he wants to go for a walk.  As he is going for a walk, he spots a kid playing on the tracks of the railroads along the path of a run away locomotive. Instead of saving the child by using a switch to divert the course of the train, meaning that it would have rammed into his car, he lets the child to die by throwing the switch in order to save his car. In the view of the singer, what Bob did was morally wrong and he made the wrong choice. How could he have let the child die? Is the life of a child less valuable than a car



An analogy can be drawn from the situation that Bob was in to explain the state of the world that the singer is angry at. this is because the wealthy have the means to save the lives of millions of poor people who are starving out there, others who are suffering from the diseases that can be controlled and others who cannot access basic right such as education (Book Rags 1). The wealthy can donate the excess money they have to institutions like the UNICEF and UNHCR but they would rather spend that money on luxuries. Many contradictions can arise from the situation at hand.


Operating from a utilitarianism point of view, people have an obligation to be happy to the maximum. There is something to maximize our happiness and we fail to do it, then we are doing an injustice to ourselves. The negative responsibility doctrine states that human beings are responsible for the outcomes they cause deliberately or fail to prevent. Thus in Bob’s case, he knew what the outcome of his choice of saving the child would be; a crushed he let the child die to prevent an outcome that would have stolen his lifetime happiness. From a utilitarian perspective, he was right but from a moral point of view, he was very wrong. He did not have to let the child die. On the other hand, the marginal diminishing utility principle states that, the marginal utility of every good or service decreases as the amount increases. This means that the more of something you have, the less value it gives one and this is where singer’s argument seems to hold water albeit on the surface. This means that the excesses of the wealthy have no value to them as they would have if they were being used to alleviate the suffering of the poor. The singer goes on to state that an average family in America spend more than a third of their money on things that are no more essential to their lives than the television that Dora bought (Singer, 3). They include frequenting nice but expensive restaurants, buying clothes to keep up with the dynamic fashion world and taking frequent vacations to expensive destinations. The singer suggests that the prosperous people are making wrong choices that are immoral because they should set their priorities as helping the people in dire need of basic human needs before they can proceed to enjoy their extra wealth on luxuries.



However, this argument needs an analysis for one to make the correct stand. This is because there are some questions that remain unanswered in the argument of the singer. The first question is, if at all the singer is talking about helping the poor, why is he concerned about the poor countries alone as if there are no needy people in developed countries like the USA, Britain, Japan, Sweden, France, Germany and Italy? Charity begins at home before it goes overseas (St Michael 1). This is giving too much power to overseas organizations that aid the poor bearing in mind that they do little to help the needy in the developed countries.

The second unanswered question in singer’s argument is the meaning of the world luxury. This is because the world is very relative and dependent on personality types and also the varying income levels. Television may be a luxury to one person but a need to the other. To many people television is a necessary tool in the house that keeps them abreast of what is happening around the world and is an emergency apparatus, to some people. A toilet paper is a basic requirement while to others especially those who are very poor, it is a luxury. If the singer’s plans can work then they can have a tremendous impact on the lives of those who are poor and very many lives would be saved in the process, but the problem is; if they donate that money as the singer suggest, would that money reach the intended destination? This is because some of the aforementioned aid organizations take part of the donations to cover costs of administration (St Michael 1). The organizations would ultimately have too much power over world affairs, which can breed anarchy that would lead to rising poverty levels. Take an example of some one, lets say John, a computer programmer and a video games designer. He donates some money meant for his luxury to the government of an African country and all his customers do the same. Then he finds out that the government didn’t use the money to alleviate poverty, instead the money ended in the pockets of some corrupt government official who went ahead to buy posh villas in the leafy suburbs. Will not that kill the morale of giving to the poor because, yes, the person has agreed to forgo his luxuries but on the other end his funding the luxuries of a crook?


The other problem with this kind of thinking is technological advancement of the world because if people were to live only by their necessities, they would not need some of these luxurious gadgets. These include fancy phones, Ipods, laptops and Plasma TVs that are afforded by technology meaning that the creativity and the innovativeness of our technologists would go to waste (St Michael, 2). Most of this money that the people in the west make that affords them luxuries, comes from the technology itself. This kind of hypothesis, if it were to work would reduce the space for exploration and the world would become a very boring place to live in.

The singer’s argument is also very shallow because, while it is good to help the poor, is it not better to help the poor with knowledge on how they can feed for themselves? It is more feasible to teach a man how to fish than to give him fish because in the real sense, giving the poor financial help would be very helpful but in the short term meaning that they will constantly require to be given. However, if they were educated on better ways of making a living, using their resources to the maximum, reducing corruption in their countries and promoting market economy, the long-term effects of this would have a better impact than mere dishing out of monetary resources.


That is why the story of Bob makes less meaning to the argument. The question here is, if at all wealthy people stopped wearing fancy clothes, frequenting exotic destinations and buying top of the range cars, what would happen to that fashion designer who makes the clothes? What would happen to that man who works in that exotic tourist hotel? What would become of the technician who assembles the cars? Will not they be all out of their jobs? The implication here is that the argument has a very little foundation because there are some deeper issues that have to be considered (St Michel, 2). All these people are out of job because the wealthy people cannot purchase their expensive goods and services. They are saving to help the poor, they would not even have money to buy their basic things, meaning that the poverty would escalate in the developed countries, requiring the wealthy to even dig deeper in their pockets to help the rising number of poor people both at home and abroad. Industries in the wealthy countries will start suffering due to under consumption that will cause an economic crisis, affecting the ability of the rich to give to the poor. This cyclical pattern is negative because both parties end up losing.


That is the biggest flaw in this argument. Helping the poor is not the option here. The best option is to help the poor to help themselves and if they are in the end able to help themselves, less help would be required from the wealthy and they can continue enjoying their luxuries. It will also be a boom to the world economy because the uplifted poor will now have to consume more variety of products and services thus boosting the status of the wealthy that helped them to help themselves in the first place. This very positive cyclical pattern ensures that both parties benefit in the end (St Michel 2). From a nonprofessional’s perspective, the singer’s argument seems very feasible but to those who have the knowledge in economics and political science, the arguments are mere rhetorics.

This reaction is not against the helping of the poor. It is morally good to help the poor but; the article takes a punitive perspective, one by operating on the premises that make it a crime not to help. Helping is something that comes from the heart and someone should not dictate on to others, how they should do it. Everyone has the liberty to choose what to do with his or her resources and if they feel, they need to use them on luxuries, well and good. If they want to donate to charity, it is their choice because (Book Rags 3).


Works Cited

Book Rags. Student Essay on Faulty Thinking in "The Singer Solution to World Poverty”

Random House. The Singer Solution to World Poverty: Reaction. -

Random House. The Singer Solution to World Poverty: Analysis. St Michael. The Singer Solution to World Poverty – My Thoughts. Retrieved on 14th Dec 2009 from Singer, P.  “The Singer Solution to World Poverty."  Best American Essays:  Fourth College Edition Ed. Robert Aswan.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin (2004): 366-373.





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