“Giving What We Can” Calls for Sacrificing What We Have - The Objective Standard

An American who considers all the places he might have been born will conclude (if he values his life and happiness) that he was lucky to have been born in America, the Land of Opportunity, the Land of Liberty. Those born anywhere in the industrialized (or even semi-industrialized) world will conclude they were lucky to be born where they were, relative to the impoverished and oppressed regions of the earth.

But is it unfair that you were born in America or in another industrial nation? The answer, according to the charity Giving What We Can (recently discussed by NPR) is yes. The charity argues:

[W]e really are part of a very small and wealthy elite—vastly more wealthy than the poorest half of the world’s population, who all live on less than $4 per day.

Did we earn this position? No. Of those born in the United States, almost all will be in the world’s richest 20%, and control more than 80% of the world's income. This is in large part because they were lucky to be born in the right place. Money is thus distributed both unequally and unfairly around the world. We tend not to notice the unfairness, but for those born into countries where hard work gives only a tiny fraction of our rewards, this injustice is painfully apparent.

The claim here is that because we were born into a wealthy nation, the fact that we have wealth is unfair. The obvious moral conclusion following from that claim is that those with more wealth have a moral duty to (as Obama has put it) “spread the wealth around.” The charity states that, to serve the poor, “we must be prepared to make some real sacrifice.”

The charity calls on people to give a minimum of 10 percent of their wealth to the “developing world,” but that, implies the charity, is the level for the morally weak. The ideal is for you to “work out the smallest amount of money that you can realistically live on, and to give away everything above that level.”

Although the charity claims that giving as much as you “realistically” can will give you a “warm glow,” in fact the altruistic morality at the heart of the charity is a demand for perpetual guilt and self-sacrifice. The charity’s handy calculator reveals that if, as a single person, you earn $50,000 per year, you make “43 times that of the typical person.” So, by the charity’s own stated standards, until you give away 97.7 percent of your income, you are committing the injustice of inequality by having more wealth than others. . . .

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