Friday, February 12, 2010

The Life I Can Save

I was very relieved when I finally came to the conclusions in Peter Singer's The Life You Can Save. He is not telling me to strip from my life the occasional dark French mint or lunch at Skyline Chili (note the emphasis on food). His arrows are aimed at those much richer than me. His carefully argued conclusion is that if America's affluent give even moderately, they can change the desperate poverty that exists on this planet. He does describe the positions of some thinkers who would be more demanding than him, but he also understands human nature - that is, ask too much of us and we'll give up. He is aware that those of us living on pensions or modest salaries may be able to give very little.

Singer discusses the enormous wealth, and annual incomes, of the very rich - you did know that Larry Ellison of Oracle lives in a 50,000 square foot house? - and describes a sliding scale that asks Americans who earn at least $105,000 a year to give 5 percent of their gross. Those who are paying off college loans, or have lost their jobs may not be able to do that. It is the super-rich whom he argues should give much more than they do. Did you know there are almost 15,000 Americans who earn over $10.7 million a year? If these people gave a fair share of that income, it would generate more than twice the money needed to meet the Millenium Development Goals set by the UN. It would be enough to end extreme poverty.

When I finished this book I started to think, I want to get those super-rich to read it. So far I haven't thought of anyone I know who could remotely qualify. Anyway, no one ever reads a book you give them, do they? So I have focused on what I want to do. Looking at my half of our gross income, I feel I can give 1% of that. I can do that and still support my church, an important enhancement to my life.

Singer's discussion was presented tidily in this article from the NY Times.
Or you can go directly to the book's website -
Doing that myself, I see that only 5130 people have pledged on this site since the book came out a year ago. That's a surprise. Not so many in the American midwest, only 14 in the Columbus area.

The site is rich with possibilities. It can lead you to a list of organizations vetted by GiveWell doing work of every kind. I am interested in the Fred Hollows Foundation, which can save one person's eyesight for $25, and by the Worldwide Fistula Fund, which does equally lifesaving surgery for young women who have had to bear children before their bodies were ready for it.
Since I began this post two people have pledged to give their fair share to end extreme poverty. One of them was not me.


  1. I doubt my 1% can end extreme poverty, but I made my pledge anyway. Thank you for this.

  2. But maybe your pledge can inspire one other person . . . and so on.