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Critical Analysis of Peter Singer’s The Solution to World Poverty

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Every day, Americans spend their hard earned money on material things that either satisfy a need or provide some form of gratification or pleasure. Should an individual feel remorse buying such items on a daily basis knowing that those few dollars spared can rescue a child in need? In Peter Singer’s The Singer Solution to World Poverty, he passionately argues that all Americans, especially those who spend lavishly, should donate a significant amount of their income to charity. Although Singer presents an intelligent, honorable and persuasive argument, his intentional use of the devices of morality and human instinct to persuade the reader into the “righteous” act of giving to solve world poverty is flawed and nonsensical.

Singer’s essay illustrates strong arguments that humans possess an innate and natural tendency for kindness toward their fellow man. People should think twice when buying that expensive clothing, car or bag. Are humans inherently selfish? Do we purchase such luxuries in life because we deserve such items for happiness? How about the happiness of the impoverished who have no food, no shelter? Singer asserts that money spent on such luxuries can be better spent on providing aid to a poor child, this in turn will provide true happiness. Man’s basic instinct of helping the less fortunate of society is evident with the popularity and wide acceptance of the acts of kindness seen in social media today. Besides the moral aspect of giving, kindness also imparts a deep sense of satisfaction and gratification. To Singer’s argument, wouldn’t a few dollars donated to feed a hungry child be more gratifying long term than the purchase of an expensive item which can only provide temporary pleasure or gratification? Foregoing the luxuries in life is a simple task that each individual can and should actively participate in.

Singer provides the reader with a well-built argument in addressing the importance of donating and ending world poverty but certainly fails to take into consideration the many complexities of human nature. While man possesses many positive inherent “moral” attributes, man also has inherent character flaws that in many cases will hinder the acts of kindness that should prevail in the idealistic world. We live in a society that is focused on the needs and desires of “me only”, survival of the fittest mentality. In our busy, complicated and competitive society, the needs of our immediate family are our top priority. In most families, meeting the financial needs of our family outweighs the needs of others. Sacrificing and donating money to a world aid organization may result in undesirable outcomes for a man and his family. Is the happiness one achieves from providing for his family not important? Singer’s argument is also flawed in that he underscores the fact that it should be acceptable for people to donate according to their means. He should not put a specific dollar amount to be expected from an individual. If a poor working class family donates less than $200.00, that should be acceptable and not questioned or ridiculed. For example, a middle-class working couple with two teenagers and elderly parents living in a single household, paying a monthly mortgage of $3,500 along with other monthly expenses will compromise their ability to meet their own expenses if they are compelled to donate to charity. In reality, a large percentage of the population is concerned in meeting their day-to-day basic needs struggling to pay their bills and living from paycheck to paycheck. Singer generalizes the population to be collectively able to spare money for the impoverished, which overall hurts his argument.

Singer appears to reiterate “the simplicity” of solving world poverty, “Again, the formula is simple: whatever money you’re spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away”. This statement undermines his argument in that, solving a national issue like world poverty is not as simple as he portrays it to be. In his essay, Singer didn’t take into account the future economy of America or another nation willing to provide aid to poor nations. Garrett Hardin, another psychologist, wrote Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping the Poor which states economic stability can be achieved when nations generously provide foreign aid to needy nations. Both cases, however, present different and opposing arguments. Hardin states that excessive foreign aid can result in the poorer nation becoming dependent upon the privileged nation’s resources, which will ultimately lead to a depletion of resources in both nations over time. Singer’s essay only mentions the obligation of people to contribute to charity but does not provide alternate solutions to world poverty. He is quick to denounce the United States Government for its inability to maintain its “fair share” of overseas aid, “We know, too, that at least in the next year, the United States Government is not going to meet even the very modest United Nations-recommended target of 0.7 percent of gross national product; at the moment it lags far below that, at 0.09 percent,…”. In order to validate his claim, it would have been necessary to provide a more in-depth solution as to how our government can support impoverished communities while providing for its own country’s needs. Singer basically fails to provide specific ideas and solutions as to how to solve the complex problem of world poverty.

Although strong in his argument regarding the very controversial issue of world poverty, Peter Singer’s The Singer Solution to World Poverty, is not realistic and fails to convince the reader that forgoing one’s luxuries are worth the satisfaction of solving world poverty. Human nature and man’s desire for fulfillment is a big factor that hinders and prevents the fruition of Singer’s moral and righteous ideas. Man’s “survival of the fittest” instinct will naturally only allow him to fulfill the needs of his family first. Luxuries or not, man will not accept Singer’s argument that we should sacrifice expendable income for charities. Singer also neglects the Government’s responsibility in solving world poverty and fails to provide any solutions in dealing with such a longstanding problem. Many factors must be considered in order to devise a viable plan to prevent the suffering and poverty that continues to exist in our world. 

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