In the modern world, the gap between rich and poor is widening. According to the World Bank, the US’ GINI index rose from 34.6 in 1976 to 41.5 in 2016. In the meantime, most countries' GINI index is rising. When the wealthy are gaining more fortune, they are less willing to donate. Some people say that the wealthy earned their fortune, and they have the right to decide how to use it. However, the wealth gap raises a voice that the wealthy have a moral obligating to contribute to the alleviation of poverty. “…if the upshot of the American’s failure to donate the money is that one more kid dies on the streets of a Brazilian city, then it is, in some sense, just as bad as selling the kid to organ paddlers,” says Peter Singer, a philosopher at Princeton University and the writer of the solution to world poverty. While Singer persuades many readers that not donating is equal to killing, I argue against Singer that the wealthy do not have a moral obligation to help the unfortunate on the grounds that people are born to focus more on self-interest than the general social welfare, and donating is actually against nature.
Take a stance
The wealthy should distribute money to the poor to maximize total happiness. The marginal utility of a-thousand-dollar varies significantly between the wealthy and the poor. A decrease of a-thousand-dollar in wealth will have little effect on a wealthy person’s total happiness, but an increase of a-thousand-dollar in wealth would greatly increase a poor person’s total happiness.
Imagine John being a billionaire, and he has everything he ever wants. John walked past a low-income family who ran out of food for days, and he pretended to overlook the situation and walked away. Would John be moral in this case? If you agree that John should help the family, you should also agree that John has a moral obligation to help the poor universally by donating.
Being wealthy and disinterest the welfare of the poor is equal to passively killing those poor people. When people are starving to death, or they commit crimes to support their families. It is not only their blame; the wealthy should be partially responsible for it. Peter Singer gives a great example in his article. A Brazilian sold a boy to organ peddlers for $1,000, while rich people spend much more money on luxury goods. Some might argue that the Brazilian saved that boy in the end, but similar scenarios with sad endings are happening every day. There is no ethical distinction between organ seller and people spend money on unnecessary luxuries. When the wealthy are lying on a yacht in the Caribbean Sea and enjoying their lives, they are killing the poor by ignoring them and letting them die.
The wealthy do not have a moral obligation to the poor.
Donation to the poor can maximize total happiness, but it does not mean that the wealthy have the moral obligation to do that. Suppose it is immoral for the wealthy not to maximize total happiness. In that case, it is also immoral if a household with a fifty-thousand-dollar annual income does not donate to its neighbor with a forty-thousand-dollar annual income and maximize total happiness.
Helping people suffering in front of us is not equivalent to helping people suffering somewhere we cannot see. People tend to care for those who are close to them, and people have more empathy when they see people suffering. When we see a person in trouble in front of us, most of us will try to save them. However, if the person is far away from us, we feel less empathy. What is more important, others can help them before us. If the wealthy have the same moral obligation to the poor right in front of him and the people he could not see, then the wealthy are responsible for all people in poverty and their only solution to be moral is to donate most of their income to the charity.
In another way, the wealthy earn their fortune as a reward for their effort. The wealthy earn money by investing their time, effort, and money in specific areas, and they take the risk of failure. Let us use the example of billionaire John. John is an investor, and he made his fortune by studying and investing in the market. Meanwhile, his neighbor does nothing besides partying and drinking. In this case, John creates value for society when his neighbor does nothing beneficial. If the wealthy have the moral obligation to help the poor, then the wealthy are being punished for their hardworking, and lazy ones get rewarded.
The wealthy are behaving morally by paying taxes. Some might argue that an unfortunate background also causes poverty, and the wealthy should make donations since destiny favors them. However, the wealthy have an obligation to pay taxes to the government, and the government pays health care to the poor. The wealthy paying taxes are like sellers, and the poor are buyers, while the government is the distributor. If the sellers give the goods and the distributor fails to send them to buyers, it is the distributor's fault. The sellers do not have an obligation to deliver goods again to the buyers at their own expenses.
The objection that the wealthy are moral by paying taxes needs to be discussed further. There are so many ways for the wealthy to avoid paying taxes legally. For example, President Trump pays $750 in taxation, and the amount is even lesser than a high school teacher.