Tag Archives: poverty

Derek Parfit

One thing that greatly matters is the failure of we rich people to prevent, as we so easily could, much of the suffering and many of the early deaths of the poorest people in the world. The money that we spend on an evening’s entertainment might instead save some poor person from death, blindness, or chronic and severe pain. If we believe that, in our treatment of these poorest people, we are not acting wrongly, we are like those who believed that they were justified in having slaves.

Some of us ask how much of our wealth we rich people ought to give to these poorest people. But that question wrongly assumes that our wealth is ours to give. This wealth is legally ours. But these poorest people have much stronger moral claims to some of this wealth. We ought to transfer to these people […] at least ten per cent of what we inherit or earn.

What now matters most is how we respond to various risks to the survival of humanity. We are creating some of these risks, and we are discovering how we could respond to these and other risks. If we reduce these risks, and humanity survives the next few centuries, our descendants or successors could end these risks by spreading through this galaxy.

Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine. In Nietzsche’s words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea.

If we are the only rational beings in the Universe, as some recent evidence suggests, it matters even more whether we shall have descendants or successors during the billions of years in which that would be possible. Some of our successors might live lives and create worlds that, though failing to justify past suffering, would have given us all, including those who suffered most, reasons to be glad that the Universe exists.

Derek Parfit, On What Matters, Volume Three, Oxford, 2017, pp. 436-437

Leif Wenar

[T]he average number of deaths from poverty each day is equivalent to 100 jumbo jets, each carrying 500 people (mostly children), crashing with no survivors. From a human perspective, severe poverty should be the top story in every newspaper, ever newscast, and every news website, every day.

Leif Wenar, ‘Poverty Is No Pond: Challenges for the Affluent’, in Patricia Illingworth, Thomas Pogge & Leif Wenar (eds.), Giving Well: The Ethics of Philanthropy, Oxford, 2011, p. 104

George Bernard Shaw

[D]o not be oppressed by the frightful sum of human suffering; there is no sum; two lean women are not twice as lean as one, and two fat women are not twice as fat as one. Poverty and pain are not cumulative; you must not let your spirit be crushed by the fancy that it is.

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, London, 1828, sect. 84

Thomas Pogge

The resource privilege we confer upon a group in power is much more than mere acquiescence in its effective control over the natural resources of the country in question. This privilege includes the power to effect legally valid transfers of ownership rights in such resources. Thus a corporation that has purchased resources from the Saudis or Suharto, or from Mobuto or Sani Abacha, has thereby become entitled to be—and actually is—recognized anywhere in the world as the legitimate owner of these resources. This is a remarkable feature of our global order. A group that overpowers the guards and takes control of a warehouse may be able to give some of the merchandise to others, accepting money in exchange. But the fence who pays them becomes merely the possessor, not the owner, of the loot. Contrast this with a group that overpowers an elected government and takes control of a country. Such a group, too, can give away some of the country’s natural resources, accepting money in exchange. In this case, however, the purchaser acquires not merely possession, but all the rights and liberties of ownership, which are supposed to be—and actually are—protected and enforced by all other states’ courts and police forces. The international resource privilege, then, is the legal power to confer globally valid ownership rights in a country’s resources.

Thomas Pogge, ‘Severe Poverty as a Human Rights Violation’, in Pogge (ed.), Freedom from Poverty As a Human Right: Who Owes What to the Very Poor?, New York, 2007, pp. 48-49

John Stuart Mill

No longer enslaved or made dependent by force of law, the great majority are so by force of poverty; they are still chained to a place, to an occupation, and to conformity with the will of an employer, and debarred, by the accident of birth both from the enjoyments, and from the mental and moral advantages, which others inherit without exertion and independently of desert. That this is an evil equal to almost any of those against which mankind have hitherto struggled, the poor are not wrong in believing.

John Stuart Mill, Chapters On Socialism, London, 1879, ‘Introductory’

Louis Pascal

Thus we have, I think, a rather complete refutation of those strange people who think life is nice. In the first place, life is clearly not nice for that substantial proportion of mankind (soon to be a majority) who must live from day to day from hand to mouth for ever on the verge or over the verge of starvation. Ask some of the thousands who starve each day how much they enjoy the beautiful birds and flowers and trees. Ask them their opinion of God’s love and His tender mercy. Or if perchance you don’t believe in God, then ask them their opinion of the love and tender mercy of their fellow human beings, the rich gods across the sea who couldn’t care less about their sufferings -at any rate not enough to go out of their way to help them. Ask them those questions. They count too.

Louis Pascal, ‘Judgment Day’, in Peter Singer (ed.), Applied Ethics, Oxford, 1986, pp. 113-114