Book Review: A Plea to End Poverty by Giving to Charity
March 23, 2009, The Boston Globe — Peter Singer is on a crusade to convince Americans that they can play a vital role in ending world poverty, without undue sacrifice.
The Princeton bioethics professor's latest book, "The Life You Can Save," offers a stark indictment of extreme economic disparity in a world where 10 million children under the age of 5 die each year from starvation and treatable illnesses.
Americans are generous with their time and money, but little of it is directed at helping those outside US borders. Among industrialized nations, the United States ranks near the bottom in the proportion of national income given as foreign aid.
Like a veteran debater, Singer weighs the reasons why people do not give more, cites examples of noble generosity, and offers a voluntary plan that could raise $510 billion to combat poverty.
One of Singer's favorite examples of American excess is bottled water, which has become a staple in many households. Meanwhile, millions of people do not have access to clean water, sanitation, medical care, and enough food to maintain health.
Some people balk because they think the scale of extreme poverty is so great that small donations would not make a difference, or they are more likely to help the needy closer to home, or they wonder what happens to their donations.
Singer agrees that strong oversight is essential to determine which programs actually advance the goal of reducing poverty. For guidance, various websites such as Charity Navigator and GiveWell evaluate charities on their transparency and effectiveness.
The book cites inspiring case histories of extraordinary giving, such as the work of Paul Farmer, the Harvard-trained physician who founded Boston-based Partners in Health to provide medical care to the poor in Haiti and other Third World nations. Another example is the 50% League, whose members agree to donate either half of their wealth or half of their income to charity.