In his paper “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” Peter Singer argues that a lack of benevolence from affluent countries to people suffering from poverty in other countries is unjustified and is comparable to doing nothing if one sees a baby drowning in water a few feet away. In the following paper I will discuss how residing in an affluent country does not put individuals under obligation to donate, and the efforts that are already made by individuals and governments in affluent countries are sufficient enough to be considered benevolent.
I will present the following arguments to provide reasoning for this. First I will explain how singers drowning baby analogy fails to make a proper comparison to donating. Second, I will show how the assumed responsibility that affluent country should give to the needy is flawed. Third will discuss how donating may actually be counterproductive in the long term. Lastly I will give a comparison towards donating to poverty is no better or more beneficial to donating to crime prevention.
The main concern addressed in this essay is the analogy Singer makes when he compares the ease of saving a drowning baby to the ease of making a donation to a country in poverty (Singer, par. 6). Singer’s analogy is only correct on the basis that the baby and people living in poverty are both in circumstances out of their control. The difference though, is that the baby he describes is moments away from death, while people living in poverty are mostly not on the brink of death. I believe the vast majority of people would save the baby, yet only a small percentage of people will take the time to donate.
By being in a “global village” as singer puts it, then a logical thing to do is donate to country that has the most poverty. Looked at another way we already donate through the government. Foreign aid comes from our tax dollars. So, in essence we are donating, but the government takes care of all the work. I call this the apathetic donor. In contrast though, Canada is considered a very affluent country yet still has small but significant part of its population below the poverty line. An argument could easily be made that a priority should be placed towards the homeless and people living below the poverty line within Canada first.
Once dealt with properly, giving the remains out to the rest of the needy world will follow. If Canada cannot take care of the suffering within its own borders, then its priorities should be reviewed. Lastly, if I was forced into a situation to give to a Canadian living in poverty or someone in a foreign country I would place a priority on someone within Canada. A consequence of giving to countries in poverty may actually cause more poverty. Singer claims that the morally right thing to do is to avoid suffering (par. 6).
Yet, by donating to a country in need of food that has a significantly fast population growth rate will lead to future famine. The world simply cannot sustain continued population growth. For example Pakistan has a significant part of its population living in poverty and has a high birth rate. At the same time Pakistan has a space program in place. As a result it appears that Pakistan finds space technology is more important than feeding its poor. Additionally, many nations in Africa have been getting foreign aid for decades yet most of these countries remain poor.
If donations must be made, the most good that can come from it would be to see my money go towards helping a government get itself prioritized, and certain that the money goes to where it is intended, not the corrupt politicians or leaders that have no care for the suffering. A fair extension of Singer’s argument would be to donate money to stopping violent crime or terrorism around the world. Crime results in the death of good and innocent people just like famine. Also, many people are born into crime countries or situations out of their control much like poverty.
Dealing with organized crime in a poor country would certainly save lives, just as dealing with poverty. Also, an individual would be more motivated to take action to donate through fear than sympathy. As noted previously, seeing my money go towards a controllable situation such as crime within my own country of Canada would be a more worthwhile and pragmatic investment. Donating to crime prevention in Canada would naturally have a much more beneficial effect for me than giving my money to a foreign nation.
Essentially various forms of any crime left unabated in Canada are more likely to spread out affect me at home than a person in poverty in a foreign country. In conclusion, I believe the reasons given refuting Peter Singer’s paper show that donating to people in poverty, and the need to change our moral conceptual scheme is unnecessary in our affluent society. His attempt to evoke an emotional and sympathetic response in the reader by describing the mental image of a drowning baby only hurts his attempt to convince a rational person to donate.
Also, if I do choose to donate, does this make me less charitable to donate to someone within my own country, while there may someone needier in another country? Is donating at all even justifiable? especially when some countries only seem to be getting worse off with runaway birthrates, and with corrupt leaders not doing what’s best for their nation. If I was forced into a situation to choose between putting aside money for myself, my family’s future, or giving it to someone whom I’ve never met in a situation less desirable than mine, the choice is easy and clear.