Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) affirms the right of each individual to a “standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family” (qtd in Morsink, 2000, p. 146). Health here is to be understood as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO, 1946, p. 100). Within the context of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health, the aforementioned article thereby encompasses the related rights for the realization and maintenance of an individual’s “physical, mental, and social well-being”.
Guinn (2007) notes, The legal imports of this broad definition is that States not only have a duty to prevent or remove barriers to the realization and maintenance of (an individual’s) well-being, they also have the obligation to promote health, social, and related services, along with cultural reform to remedy potential social harms. (p. 56) If such is the case, the implementation of this right requires the elimination of poverty since poverty affects the promotion of this right as well as other rights (Alegre, 2007, p. 37). For the sake of clarity poverty as it is used in this paper should be understood as “the standard of living far below the mainstream standard of the larger society” (2008, p. 224). Given that this standard is set by the larger society and society in itself is characterize by various forms of income disparities, the question arises as to the corresponding duties and obligations that each individual holds in order to ensure the eradication of poverty.
Given that the eradication of poverty stands as a condition for the fulfillment of human rights claims other goals and preferences should stand subordinate to it which leads to the conclusion that it will lead to a competition between preferences, policies etc. However, such is not the case. Poverty may be eradicated through the redistribution of resources within society. Such redistribution, however, does not necessarily entail the drastic change in the economic structure of each society.
On the other hand, according to Singer, it entails a reassessment of each individual’s charitable responsibilities. He notes, “In the real world, it should be seen as a serious moral failure when those with ample income do not do their fair share toward relieving global poverty” (Singer, 2006, p. 58). The basis for Singer’s claim is the assumption that the eradication of poverty stands as each individual’s duty as opposed to a morally optional form of charity.
In lieu of this, the task of this paper is to layout and critically analyze Singer’s aforementioned claim as it is stated in his article “What Should a Billionaire Give-and What Should You? ”. The paper is divided into two parts. The first part of the paper outlines Singer’s argument whereas the later part of the paper provides a support of Singer’s view using Nozick’s entitlement theory of justice. The presentation of Nozick’s views aims to show that Singer’s assumption is not only valid on moral grounds but on political grounds as well.
In the aforementioned article, Singer claims that human life holds a primary value over other values. If such is the case, “differences of sex, ethnicity, nationality and place of residence (does not) change the value of a human life” (Singer, 2006, p. 58). In addition to this, he notes that each individual should consider it his duty and obligation to ensure the realization of this value and since poverty affects the realization of this value, individuals should consider it their duty and obligation not only to alleviate but to eliminate poverty.
This is possible if individual’s practice “philanthropy as a means for fighting global poverty” (Singer, 2006, p. 58). However, for Singer, acts of philanthropy are not limited to the rich. He argues that for the ordinary members of society the “obligations are limited to carrying the fair share of the burden of relieving global poverty” (Singer, 2006, p. 58).
By fair share, Singer refers to the percentage of an individual’s income that is not necessary for ensuring the continuance of an individual’s basic necessities (Singer, 2006, p. 8). In a previous article entitled “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, Singer states, “If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it” (1972, p. 233). He supports his argument with the following claims. First, “our obligation to the poor is not just one of providing assistance to strangers but one of compensation for harms that we have caused and are still causing them” (Singer, 2006, p. 58).
These harms stem from developed countries’ acquisition of natural resources from the Third World nations. Singer argues that it is not sufficient to remedy these problems through public policies. Philanthropy is necessary since “private donors can more easily avoid dealing with corrupt or wasteful governments. They can go directly into the field, working with local villages and grass-roots organizations”. Singer notes, “Private philanthropists are free to venture where governments fear to tread” (Singer, 2006, p. 58).
Second, Singer argues that since “at least 90 percent of what people earn in wealthy societies” are dependent upon their societies’ social capital wherein social capital refers to the “natural resources…, the technology and organizational skills in the community, and the presence of good government” it follows that the income of an individual is partially dependent upon the society in which he resides in and therefore it is incorrect to argue that individual’s are entitled to their wealth as a result of hard work. In addition to this Singer holds that motives should not be considered in acts of philanthropy.
It is important to note that Singer adheres to a utilitarian theory. Within the aforementioned theory, the end has greater value than the means through which the action is performed. If such is the case, the reasons as to why individual chooses to engage in acts of philanthropy does not matter, what matters is whether the end [eradication of poverty] may be met with such actions. As I reckon, the appeal of Singer’s approach on the issue lies on its stand as a moral obligation as opposed to a political obligation.
However, it is also possible to be support Singer’s view if it is implemented as a political obligation. Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia argues that obligation ought to based upon consent. Nozick holds that the only legitimate state is the minimal state, whose activities are confined to the protection of individuals and their property and to the enforcement of contracts. This state is unique among social organizations in having the right to force residents to pay for its services whether or not they have consented to do so.
Citizens may band together for whatever other purposes they may desire-to provide education, to aid the needy, to organize social insurance schemes. Such schemes however must necessarily be purely voluntary and the state must enforce anyone’s right not to be compelled to contribute to them. Nozick reaches these conclusions by adhering as closely as possible to the idea that, in economic life all valid obligations derive from consent. Since consent alone cannot be theoretically basic something must determine the conditions under which the consent counts as morally binding.
In addition, the obligations and entitlements one person acquires through voluntary agreements can affect the alternatives open to others who have not been parties to these agreements. Something must determine when such side effects make an agreement void. In Nozick’s theory, these conditions and limits are set by a skeletal framework of rights derived from Locke. The minimal role allowed to the state, the great scope left to voluntary agreement, and consent in his theory are direct consequences of the particular character of these rights.
Nozick’s theory of justice is based on unpatterned historical principles. This theory is an entitlement conception of justice. Its central tenet is that any configuration of holdings that results from the legitimate transfer of legitimately acquired holdings is itself just. Many theories of justice will give some role to considerations of entitlement. Such theories recognize some processes as conferring legitimacy on their outcomes. What is special about Nozick’s view is that it makes entitlement principles the beginning and end of distributive justice.
While his principles are not described in detail, it appears that his theory differs from other pure entitlement conceptions chiefly in admitting fewer restrictions on the acquisition and exchange of property. One such restriction [in fact the only restriction] is called the Lockean Proviso. The aforementioned proviso states that any acquisition, transfer, or combination of transfers is void if it leaves third parties worse off than they were in the state of nature. Such a worsening might occur, for example, if someone were to buy, in simultaneous secret transactions, rights to all the available sources of water.
The aforementioned restriction [Lockean Proviso] could be substantial were it not for the fact that the baseline for its application is set by conditions in the state of nature. According to Nozick, the productivity of the capitalist system in improving our material condition makes it unlikely that anyone could acquire holdings that would leave others below this standard. Nozick clearly feels that the distinction between historical [un-patterned] principles of justice and end-state [patterned] principles is of fundamental importance.
He emphasizes that almost all of the principles of justice commonly offered are end-state and are clearly mistaken. Singer’s proposition for the alleviation of poverty is highly dependent upon an individual’s consent to enact his moral obligation and duty towards his fellowman however if one conceives of his proposition within the context of the Lockean proviso as stated above it is possible to give strength to Singer’s claim thereby allowing the possibility of its transformation into a political duty.
Within the context of the Lockean proviso, Nozick claims that morality does not ensure that the right to tend to one’s business [in this context the economic conditions within one’s society] is not affected by the circumstances of other individuals since there exists a duty to ensure the welfare of others.