Book Review: A Plea to End Poverty by Giving to Charity
Singer suggests a sliding voluntary donation scale, beginning at 1 percent for those making up to $105,000 a year, and ending at 33 percent for income above $10.7 million. Under his plan someone earning $100,000 would pledge to give $1,000. If everyone went along, the plan would raise half a trillion dollars yearly in the United States alone.
One of Singer's most intriguing proposals involves the so-called opt-out system. Employers would announce their intention to deduct 1 percent of an employee's salary to fight world poverty unless the employee opted out of the plan. The book encourages readers to ask their employers to institute the practice.
Singer surely courts controversy when he suggests that philanthropy for the arts and cultural activities is "morally dubious" in the face of dire poverty. He notes that New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art paid $45 million for a painting, an amount that could have restored the sight of 900,000 people needing cataract surgery, a procedure that costs a mere $50 per person.
Singer is not new to controversy. He has written 20 books, including "Animal Liberation" -- his 1975 manifesto asserting that animals have rights, too.
It is fair to note that this latest book comes in the middle of the worst economic recession in recent memory, which undoubtedly will crimp charitable donations.
Singer has created a website, TheLifeYouCanSave.com, which invites people to pledge to give the minimum amounts he has suggested to reduce world poverty. Where to give? Singer has suggestions, including Boston-based Oxfam America. Many readers who finish this tightly written and well-argued book are likely to get out their checkbooks.
Bill Williams is a freelance writer in West Hartford and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.