Can and Should We Save the Children?
By Alice Temnick
In this week’s episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes philosopher Peter Singer to the program to discuss the 10th anniversary of his book, The Life You Can Save. Roberts questions Singer’s plea to all of us with disposable income to overcome our nature of caring most for those close to us and to see foreign children suffering as a moral issue to act on. Why should we do this? Singer claims, “because it is a bad thing [for children to die]”. The simplicity of this argument leads Roberts to ask many intriguing questions about Singer’s intentions and methods for how we might address world poverty and save more children. The questions below only scratch the surface of what to ponder from this provocative episode. We hope to hear your thoughts.
1- What might be missing from the drowning child analogy that would equate that dilemma to helping unknown poor children in foreign countries? Do you agree or disagree with the sufficiency of Singer’s answer to the question of ‘why should we?’ (He answers, ‘because it is wrong not to do it’).
2- Singer suggests our need to develop an ethic that can go beyond what is natural for us- standards that can be justified in terms of reason. Does he discount Adam Smith’s social and political implications of the synthesis of self-interest, our care for community and for society?
3- The Life You Can Save can be downloaded in digital or audio format at zero cost; the website connects viewers to curated charities and donation programs. Do you believe digital ease will significantly increase contribution to the effective altruism movement? Will the income-based giving table take off? Why or why not?
4- Roberts is concerned about the Hayekian knowledge problem, while Singer feels strongly that we have better scientific methods to assess what does work to help those living in extreme poverty. When poverty reduction is achieved in the next decade or more, will the acquisitive mix of economic growth, engineered development, private or institutional aid matter to us in hindsight? Explain.
5- Russ considers, “it’d be a weird thing to be working most of your life to devoting your labor to others that you don’t know. And that would be a strange and interesting world.” Do you agree or disagree? What other ways might we realize “the becoming use of one’s own”?