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The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty Paperback – September 14, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Part plea, part manifesto, part handbook, this short and surprisingly compelling book sets out to answer two difficult questions: why people in affluent countries should donate money to fight global poverty and how much each should give. Singer (Animal Liberation) dismantles the justifications people make for not giving and highlights the successes of such efforts as microfinance in Bangladesh, GiveWells charitable giving and the 50% League, where members donate more than half their wealth. Singer alternately cajoles and scolds: he pillories Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who has given less than his former partner, Bill Gates, and lives far more extravagantly: His toys include a large collection of vintage military aircraft and a 413-foot oceangoing yacht called Octopus that cost him over $200 million and has a permanent crew of sixty. Singer contrasts Allens immoderation with the work of Paul Farmer (a cofounder of the international social justice organization Partners in Health) and the cost of basic health services in Haiti ($3,500 per life saved), or malaria nets ($623–$2,367 per life saved). Singer doesnt ask readers to choose between asceticism and self-indulgence; his solution can be found in the middle, and it is reasonable and rewarding for all. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Advance praise for The Life You Can Save
“Part plea, part manifesto, part handbook, this short and surprisingly compelling book sets out to answer two difficult questions: why people in affluent countries should donate money to fight global poverty and how much each should give. . . . Singer doesn’t ask readers to choose between asceticism and self-indulgence; his solution can be found in the middle, and it is reasonable and rewarding for all.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“If you think you can’t afford to give money to the needy, I urge you to read this book. If you think you’re already giving enough, and to the right places, still I urge you to read this book. In The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer makes a strong case–logical and factual, but also emotional–for why each of us should be doing more for the world’s impoverished. This book will challenge you to be a better person.”
–Holden Karnofsky, co-founder, GiveWell
“In The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer challenges each of us to ask: Am I willing to make poverty history? Skillfully weaving together parable, philosophy, and hard statistics, he tackles the most familiar moral, ethical, and ideological obstacles to building a global culture of philanthropy, and sets the bar for how we as citizens might do our part to empower the world’s poor.”
–Raymond C. Offenheiser, president, Oxfam America
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Singer's argument that we should give to the world's poorest people is the same as he has articulated it for many years and this book adds little or nothing on that front. However this book also tackles the questions of why we fail to give and what can be done to encourage people to give. Regarding these issues, this book is perhaps the best available on the subject, especially for mainstream readers. Singer's adept treatment of these questions sets him up well to conclude by asking the reader to pledge to give a minimum portion of their income to world's poorest people.
After reading this book I decided to accept Singer's challenge (look for my name on the website). Indeed, I felt compelled to give at a rate higher than he outlines for my income level. I asked my business partners to read the book. I'm now circulating that copy among other professional contacts. I purchased a second book to circulate among friends and family. I'm working with my payroll service on a plan to help my co-workers to give. It's a modest start, but I'm still proud of it and excited to do more.
It seems that even a cursory review of the facts on the ground and Singer's logic will force one to conclude that the argument is sound. Despite this, I was content to simply be a selfish lout for a long time. This book was a key element in my choice to change my own life in order to help the world's worst off. I highly recommend it to everyone and especially those who are looking for the nudge to get themselves out of complacency.
"The Life You Can Save" is an extrapolation of the above-mentioned argument, and a response to the critics who dismissed his 1971 argument as unfair, unrealistic or simply unnecessary.
His credentials: Singer has been lecturing, writing and researching world poverty for more than 30 years, and, as with his 30-year study and defense of animal rights, Singer is able to convince most any reasonable critic that his positions have unassailable merit.
You can simplify this book's thesis by saying that if you fail to share the part of your income that is beyond what you need for a comfortable life, then that failure to share is a moral wrongdoing. In other words, if you can meet all of your shelter, food, education, transportation and other practical needs with $200 weekly, then any additional dollars you make above $200 should be given to responsible charities like Oxfam or to low-interest micro-lending institutions like Yunus's Grameen Bank.
So, whom do you share your money with? With what Singer calls the "extreme poor"-- those with little access to food or clean water, health care, education, protection from guerrilla warfare, etc. (Check out sites like Give Well and Charity Navigator to help determine which groups make the most of your money.) This is in contrast to Europe's and North America's "relative poor" who are hard-off, but still usually have shelter and clean water/food.
One way I like to describe his thesis is as a `redefinition of luxury.' We may think mostly of sports cars, jewelry, iPods, plasma TVs and the like as the only luxuries, but as Singer points out, if you're drinking bottled water while you read this even though you have access to clean tap water then you are spending money on at least one thing you don't need.
That said, no one, not Singer or anyone else, would argue that money solves all problems. What does help is a cultural mind-shift. If we consume fewer luxuries, we are better off, and if we share our extra wealth with organizations that feed, shelter and medicate the poor, then we are also better off, globally. In this case, money can help get things going, but it's not a panacea; our actions will change the world, not just our cash.
Of course, you can spend locally as well. I prefer to donate time and labor to causes like homelessness and such, because your money gets stretched much farther in Haiti or Cameroon through Oxfam than it does in the U.S. I also think it's worth considering that U.S. shelters do get some gov't assistance from HUD and other sources, whereas a village in Belize probably doesn't get any grants at all.
It's important to understand that this isn't a guilt-focused book. If I teach my children that they ought to refrain from littering, I am not trying to guilt-trip them into environmental stewardship. It's an examination of the consequences of our actions and non-actions.
If, eventually, we agree to accept a lesser degree of entertainment and comfort in order to "make poverty history," then nearly everyone will enjoy a greater quality of life.
Examples: Think of the multibillion-dollar monument New York wants to build to memorialize 9/11 victims, or war monuments or on parades and athletic events. Or the billions we spend sending rockets and satellites to outer space. Or the $5 billion spent on the 2008 election cycle. Is it possible that money for monuments, fountains, statues, public art sculptures, trips to Mars, the Moon, elections, luxurious political and celebrity parties, etc. could better be spent taking care of our world's poor?
A final thought: you don't need to buy this $14 book either. Better to rent it from your library and give the $14 to an impoverished person. Or if you do buy it, share it with at least 10 other people before donating it to a library that doesn't have it.
1.) "Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care are bad."
2.) "If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so."
3.) "By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Conclusion - "Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong."
This argument is valid, and I think sound, so if one is to reject the conclusion, one MUST reject one (or more) of the premises. If they accept the premises, then they MUST accept the conclusion.
Professor Singer's logic is solid throughout. His writing is both lucid and entertaining, making this work accessible, absorbing and crucially important to philosophers and philosophical novices alike. This is simply a must read for everyone.