Is grave silence on the part of the affluent justifiable, when millions of children die of malnutrition and hunger in the third-world countries? E. F. Schumacher in his book “Small is Beautiful” writes, “The existence of inordinately rich people in any society today is a very great evil. Some inadequacies of wealth and income are no doubt natural and functionally justifiable. Excessive wealth and power tends to corrupt even if the rich are not ‘idle rich’, even when they work harder than anyone else, they work differently, apply different standards, and are set apart from common humanity. They corrupt themselves by practicing greed and they corrupt the rest of society by provoking envy.”
The pages of human history are full of gory incidents of deaths of men, women and children because of poverty related illnesses and malnourishment. Such incidents are on the rise in the world impacted by materialistic civilization, internet and industrial revolutions. It is morally imperative for citizens of developed countries to donate substantially for the cause of the poor. There are shortcomings and corrupt practices in the implementation of the projects related to poor, but the imperative need to help the poor cannot be neglected.
In his essay “The Singer Solution to World Poverty”, Peter Singer blames the American consumers for such happenings and gross inequalities in the society. The drawback of most of the wealthy is that they think that happiness is a product, an individual achievement. Consumerism threatens to destroy our world. James M. Houston, in his book “The Fulfillment: Pursuing True Happiness” writes, “The commodity mentality breeds self-interest, turning us against each other in suspicion and selfishness. Instead, happiness is the fruit of a gifted life, of goodness received from others, and love given and shared. Happiness can come our way only when we have a strong life in relationship with others.” The human approach, the ethical ways, the moral attitudes and truthful disposition, can solve many issues that threaten to destroy the harmony in the society. One can donate through organizations like UNICEF or Oxfam America.
The important question is why should Americans cut their standards of living to support the breeding of people in third world countries, because it is morally right? Americans work very hard for their money. Why the Americans or any rich man should be blamed for the societal values of the poor countries? Reformation and rehabilitation is required there; it is the responsibility of the leadership in those countries to educate the parents, go for family planning if necessary, and strive to raise the standard of living. Doles and donations cannot be the foundations for building a strong society. Americans pay high taxes to protect their lifestyles. They are the masters of their money. Importantly, American economy is dependent on the surplus spending of the Americans.
The fact is, the average family in USA spends more than one-third of the income in the things that are not strictly necessary. Visiting restaurants, discard the old clothes to go for the latest styles, vacationing at beach resorts–these are not necessary for preservation of life and health. If the same amount is donated to charitable agencies, the money means the difference between life and death for children in need. Singer earnestly pleads to spare $200 and send it to an overseas aid agency. According to UNICEF, nearly 10 million children less than five years old die each year from causes related to poverty. The problem is too big to be ignored by any right thinking individual. The rich nations and the UNO agencies need to intervene strongly to take remedial measures.
No religion eulogizes or highlights poverty as a desirable virtue. No political or religious philosophy has been able to tackle the issue of poverty. Poverty can only be solved by the poor man, with the determination, grit and hard work, to become rich. The world today does not lack great projects to attack poverty; the need is of great, efficient and above all, honest and committed individuals that see the poor people not as voters, but as part of humankind that needs support.
1. Houston, James M. The Fulfillment: Pursuing True Happiness; Victor; 2007
2. Schumacher, E.F. Small is Beautiful; Blond and Briggs Ltd, London; 1977
3. Singer, Peter. The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty; Random House; 2009.
4. The Singer Solution to World Poverty, by Peter Singer; Article in ‘The New York Times Sunday Magazine’ (September 5, 1999, pp.60-63)