The Poor Essay, Research Paper
Robbing the Rich to Give to the Poor
Poverty has conquered nations around the world, striking the populations down through disease and starvation. Small children with sunken eyes are displayed on national television to remind those sitting in warm, luxiourious houses that living conditions are less than tolerable around the world. Though it is easy to empathize for the poor, it is sometimes harder to reach into our pocketbooks and support them. No one desires people to suffer, but do wealthy nations have a moral obligation to aid poor nations who are unable to help themselves? Garrett Hardin in, “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping The Poor,” uses a lifeboat analogy to expose the global negative consequences that could accompany the support of poor nations. Hardin stresses problems including population increase and environmental overuse as downfalls that are necessary to consider for the survival of wealthy nations. In contrast, Peter Singer’s piece, “Rich and Poor,” remarks on the large differences between living conditions of those in absolute poverty with the wealthy, concluding that the rich nations possess a moral obligation to the poor that surpasses the risks involved. Theodore Sumberg’s book, “Foreign Aid As Moral Obligation,” documents religious and political views that encourage foreign aid. Kevin M. Morrison and David Weiner, a research analyst and senior fellow respectively at the Overseas Development Council, note the positive impact of foreign aid to America, a wealthy nation. Following the examination of these texts, it seems that not only do we have a moral obligation to the poor, but aiding poor nations is in the best interest of wealthy nations.
Hardin’s graphic depiction of a lifeboat with limited space for additional passengers contrasts Singer’s view of moral obligation to prevent some absolute poverty. Hardin attacks financial support to poor nations as he metaphorically compares it to the lifeboat scenerio in which the best situation is one in which no people are saved from the water thereby providing a better living condition for those already positioned in the boat. Singer acknowledges Hardin’s arguments of property rights and population growth, yet combats the ethics of triage and suggests that one has a moral obligation of preventing some absolute poverty. Singer points out that absolute poverty is bad and it is within one’s power to prevent some absolute power without “sacrificing anything of comparable significance.” Each author critiques whether one can have a moral obligation considering the impact of helping others out, yet in each position, global issues that encompass not one wealthy nation but all nations are coming into play.
Religious and political views support Singer in his position that people ought to help out the poor. Singer proposes three premises that lead to the conclusion that one has a moral obligation to help out the poor. The first premise encourages one to sacrifice in order to aid another, if the sacrifice is appropriate. The second premise concludes that absolute poverty is a negative situation. The third premise that then leads to the conclusion that one should prevent some absolute poverty points out that it is within our power to prevent some absolute poverty. Singer is not alone in this view. In 1949, Harry Truman, in an effort to encourage foreign aid stated, “only by helping the least fortunate of its members to help themselves can the human family achieve the decent, satisfying life that is the right of all people.” Sumberg in addition cited Pope Paul VI noting his statement, “we must repeat once more that the superfluous wealth of rich countries should be placed at the service of poor nations. The rule which up to now held good for the benefit of those nearest to us must today be applied to all the needy of this world…” In the Christian faith, one could review the life of Jesus Christ, who fed and loved the poor. Aiding the poor can be seen secularly as a moral obligation as well when one considers the golden rule. If everyone followed the golden rule and considered the poverty stricken individuals’ emotions, they would be following a moral obligation to aid the poor.
Contradicting the moral standards of “aiding” the poor are the possible negative consequences that could arise from an increased living standard around the world. Authors such as Hardin express concerns including population growth, property rights, and land overuse. However, Singer combats these views with facts on past financial aid to poverty stricken countries and the differences between rights and moral obligations. Setting these negative arguments aside, authors Kevin M. Morison and David Weiner in, “Declining Aid Spending Harms U.S. Interests,” documented that the United States has encouraged the positive movement to democracy in 36 nations in the last ten years. The authors further discuss the importance of financial aid to the United States as globalization places new hurdles for America to face and new challenges to overcome. In fact, the previous arguments, including population growth and land overuse are certainly global in nature and will require the cooperation of nations around the world. The wealthy nations have an obligation to aid those in need, but it will take a cooperative effort to alleviate suffering worldwide. The methods in which the wealthy nations aid the poor should also be considered. Medical attention is not the only way that wealthy nations can become involved in the alleviation of suffering in poor nations. By providing technological methods and equipment to aid in the production of food, for example, a nation can become more self-sufficient and independent.
It is necessary to consider both positions in the decision of foreign aid. Should nations have to share their fortunes with those that are needy? Will aiding the poor nations of the world result in an overcrowded and demolished earth? The authors presented here have expressed that aiding the poor nations of the world can be carried out without devestating results. In actuality, aiding poor nations has been presented as a moral obligation for every wealthy nation. Though the arguments against helping the less fortunate are of concern to the future of the world and should be taken seriously, it is important to consider the arguments in the appropriate context. They are global concerns in which every nation needs to cooperative to improve conditions. As humans, however, we all have moral obligations to help those around us who are living in conditions of suffering and misery.
Hardin, Garrett. “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping The Poor.” Taking Sides, Moral Issues. (Dushkin/McGraw Hill: Guilford, 1998), pp344-351.
Morrison, Kevin M. and David Weiner. “Declining Aid Spending Harms U.S. Interests.” http://www.odc.org/commentary/cbpprpt.html.
Singer, Peter. “Rich and Poor.” Taking Sides, Moral Issues. (Dushkin/McGraw Hill: Guilford, 1998), pp 334-343.
Sumberg, Theodore A. Foreign Aid As Moral Obligation? (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, Inc.,1973), pp 1-5.