Should Charitable Giving be a Default for Employees?

December 16, 2015

Peter Singer, in his work The Life You Can Save argues for near-compulsory donation:

"If major corporations, universities, and other employers were to deduct 1 percent of each employees salary and donate the money to organizations fighting global poverty, unless the employee opted out of the scheme, that would nudge employees to be more generous and would yield billions more for combating poverty." (73)

This is in direct contradiction with Singer's other arguments. During an interview with the Giving What We Can organization at Cambridge University, Singer testified: 

"I don't favor a law that says everyone must give x percent of their income to charity. I think that if a government wants to do something like this, it can increase the money given to foreign aid. The government can also educate people and make it easier for them to give, as can corporations. I don't want to make it compulsory." (June 18th 2013)

I think where Singer comes into direct conflict with himself is where the evidence lies. Singer looks at organ donations in both Germany and Austria. In Germany, where people must opt-in to organ donation, only a mere 12% of the population is registered to donate organs. In contrast, in Austria the role is reversed--people must opt-out of organ donation. The amount of organ donors in Austria is 99.98%. 

The issue that arises in discussing an opt-out system of charity would lie in the fact that people will be less likely to privately donate, feeling their civic duty and moral obligation to help those less fortunate has been filled by this mere 1%--or less as Singer will move on to argue--thus causing most people to donate significantly less than the 5% goal advocated by most philanthropists. So this begs the question: Is 1% of all income worth more than 5%--or potentially more in cases like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates--of voluntary donors? 

This question--while likely calculable--really does not address the heart of the matter. Is it ethical and moral to implement an opt-out system? Is this a viable, acceptable, and ethical choice the world should make in order to combat global poverty? 

Singer does argue in his text, that the worlds superpowers have a moral obligation to combat the effects of global poverty and care for the underdeveloped nations, because they are a direct cause.

"If we accept that those who harm others must compensate them, we cannot deny that the industrialized nations owe compensation to many of the world's poorest people." (33)

In stating that, why not guarantee reparations to these countries with some form of an opt-out system. After all, would we not then effectively say to people: "You need to live morally, or make the conscious choice to live immorally" -- and who would make the conscious choice to live an immoral life? When something so simple is put in front of you, such as 1% of your income will go to this cause, it is similar to putting a drowning child in front of you. In order to opt-out, you are essentially making a choice to let the child die, to live immoral.  Do the drawbacks of an opt-out system--the potential lack for further donations above 1%--outweigh the vast amount of income 1% would bring to the cause of fighting global poverty?

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