Absolute Poverty Peter Singers characterization of absolute poverty is defined by using the criteria given by World Bank President, Robert McNamara. McNamara states that absolute poverty is, a condition of life so characterized by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to beneath any reasonable definition of human decency. This form of poverty affects human life on all levels of existence. A comparison is given between the relative poverty of industrialized nations versus the absolute poverty of developing nations. Relative poverty means that some citizens are poor, relative to the wealth enjoyed by their neighbors. Absolute poverty, on the other hand, plagues the entire population of the nation or state.
This particular type of poverty transcends all boundaries. There is poor health, poor education, poor food resources, poor housing and all other fronts of human existence. It is in essence absolute poverty. Singer suggest that the world can began to abolish absolute poverty by, redistributing the produced food and other resources that are needed throughout the world in more equal proportions. He argues that industrialized nations like the United States, produces well more than enough food to feed its population, but its excess is given to feed its livestock rather than other people who are in need.
The great amounts of grain given to the livestock for food is used to continue the production of meat, milk, and egg products. Singer feels that this over feeding of animals is an inefficient process, wasting up to 95% of the food value of the animal feed. This makes the people of rich nations responsible for the consumption of vast amounts of food that could otherwise be utilized elsewhere. Such waste continues to perpetuate absolute poverty, and with just a simple act of redistribution, can some alleviation of absolute poverty be seen. Singer states that because industrialized nations do not contribute enough resources that are needed by poverty-stricken countries, the citizens of these wealthy countries are allowing those in poor countries to suffer from absolute poverty.
He argues that every absolutely affluent (wealthy beyond necessity of human survival) individual is responsible. For each individual who lives affluently has an opportunity to do something about absolute poverty. Singer suggest that allowing someone to die is not intrinsically different from killing someone. Thus, those who live affluently and do nothing to alleviate the suffering and death of those in absolute poverty, in essence have, murdered them. An opposing argument is presented by stating, there are two distinct motivations in deliberately killing a person and spending money lavishly on luxuries instead of using it to save lives.
On the one side, in killing someone deliberately, one must have a motivation and desire to see the person dead; they perhaps may go to great extremes to meet their end result. Their motivation to kill is one of enmity and malevolence. On the other side, an individual who spends money on luxurious items desires to possess luxurious things in life. Though the money was spent for the individuals own comfort and not for the saving of another life, it is nonetheless not a unthinkable act. Singer suggest that this individuals motivation could be defined at worst, as, an individual who is selfish or indifferent to the plight of others and seeks personal comfort and well-being. This person does not want to purposefully do harm to another or see them dead.
There is no comparable characteristic between two such individuals that would make their acts intrinsically similar. Singer presents this argument as one of a few examples given, that are held as commonsensical beliefs. Singer responds to this particular commonsensical belief by presenting the example of a speeding motorist. He states that a speeding motorists usually has no desire no desire at all to kill anyone. They just enjoy driving their vehicles at high velocities and are indifferent to the potential pedestrians that may cross their path.
They are not mindful of the consequences and repercussions of their driving very fast. Singer says, despite their lack of malice, those who kill with cars deserve not only blame but also severe punishment. Therefore, though the motorists are not wishing to kill anyone when they drive at high speeds, when a death does occur because of their actions, they are responsible for that death. In the same respect, when an individual spends lavishly for personal comfort and selfish reasons, even though this individual does not wish to cause a death by not spending money on saving another life; when death occurs this individual is also responsible for killing another person. In arguing the point of an obligation to assist those in need, Singer presents the premise of comparable moral significance.
Within this premise it states, that if it is in the power of a person to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance, the person ought to do it. The example given by Singer is, a child falling in the pond. Within this example Singer is on his way to give a lecture and observes a child who has fallen in a pond and is in danger of drowning. The question is then posed whether anyone would deny that he ought to wade in and pull the child out? Granted, this will mean getting his clothes muddy, and either canceling his lecture or delaying it until he finds something dry to change into; but compared to the avoidable death of a child, these reasons become insignificant. Thus, he claims that less the comparable moral significance of an individual is compromised, one must be obliged to extend the necessary aid if it is within his means.
In the case of the affluent individual and poverty-stricken person, it is the duty of the affluent person to administer the proper service to the one in need. The opposing argument to Singers premise for comparable moral significance, is the right to property, by Robert Nozick. This argument states that, if one has acquired ones property without the use of unjust means like force or fraud, one may be entitled to enormous wealth while others starve. Nozick rejects the belief that a wealthy person is obligated to give to those in need, but rather, the poor can and may be help through voluntary measures. His rejection goes in so far as the implication that the poor have a right to the aid of the wealthy.
Singer believes that such a theory leaves to much to chance to be an acceptable ethical view. For if it is left up those who have, to volunteer aid to those who do not have; there will always be the possibility will continue as they do now and do nothing. This would be done because perhaps they do not know of the suffering of their fellow humans or they do not feel that such things concern them. Their life is fine. Concerning Hardins lifeboat analogy, that the rich nations are like the occupants of a crowded lifeboat adrift in a sea full of drowning people.
If there is an attempt to save the drowning people by bringing them aboard the boat, the boat will be overloaded and all will perish. Within this theory it is better that some survive then none. In todays world, Hardins lifeboat ethics suggest that the rich should allow the poor to starve, for if they do not, they will eventually starve along with the poor. The reasoning behind this assessment is, that their are limited amounts of resources. Therefore, Triage Ethics (aid those who will benefit from the assistance) must be imposed. This is because, if the rich nations give to all in need; there will be some countries that will not benefit, but become worse off.
This in return, perpetuates absolute poverty rather than alleviating it. Another big point that advocates of this theory make is, the continuation of population growth in these absolute poverty-stricken countries. With the administration of aid to a country in need, the population will grow with the new found resources. This brings about more mouths to feed in an already famine environment. Thus, the cycle would cease to end, and the people of that country would continue to go hungry and die of starvation. Therefore, the rich nations should not perpetuate a hopeless cause, but allow the implementation of triage ethics to consume those who have fallen overboard, so that they may drown within the cesspool of absolute poverty for the sake of population control. Singer rejects this theory, for he states, the consequences of triage on this scale are so horrible that one should be inclined to reject it without further argument.
The concern with population control is examined by Singer. He says that population control by famine and disease would mean that tens of millions would die slowly and hundreds of millions would continue to live in absolute poverty, at the very margin of existence. Even a greater possible tragedy may occur. The same process of famine and disease, within a time duration of fifty years; would bring about the potential of the worlds population being three times its present level which would potentially cause absolute poverty to be that much greater. In the end a greater amount of death and suffering at a very slow rate. Singer then proposes the question; how probable then is this forecast that continued assistance to those in need will lead to greater disasters in the future? He states that any forecast concerning future population growth and the factors that affect it are all plausible and remain speculative.
For the most part, as countries receive proper aid and resources to survive, initially the population growth will be on a steady increase. But as the death rate diminishes, and life expectancy increases, the need to have more children to ensure the survival of the country is no longer needed. Singer states that the industrialized nations are present examples of this leveling off of the population, and the rate of population growth within these countries is very slow. With Singers argument there is no reason why the same affect can not take place within the absolute poverty-stricken nations. With proper education and medical practices, these nations can learn to alleviate their suffering and sustain healthy populations. But if we (all of us who live affluently) as fellow human beings of those who are suffering do nothing, we do condemn and carry out their sentence of death.
The example of the child who has fallen in the pond is a pure example. Yes, I personally could walk by and do nothing to save the child. Perhaps my own thoughts would be, I may drown as well. This would be of a great possibility if I were bereft of the ability to swim; but if I am endowed with the ability to swim, I must attempt to save the child. In no way does this cause me to sacrifice any of my comparable moral significance.
Therefore, if I do not, I then willingly make a decision to let the child die and am as guilty as the pond which causes the childs death. Lets say for instance, that I am bereft of the ability to swim, am I now justified to do nothing because I am unable to jump in the pond and save the child? No, I am not. Even within my inability to swim can I seek some other means to save the child, be it finding another person. As long as I am in some fashion am able to do something, I must! Social Issues.