Giving isn’t demanding*

Christmas is about giving. But giving how much? £50 might seem like a lot for a Christmas present. But how about giving 50% of your annual wage?

There are now-familiar arguments that we in rich countries ought to give a lot more to the developed world than we typically do. In fact, Peter Singer and Peter Unger argue that we ought to give a lot. They don’t specify a figure, but let’s pick, just for the sake of having a nice round number, 50% of one’s annual wage.

The standard response to the views of Singer and Unger, in the philosophical literature, is that giving such extortionate sums is just too demanding for it to be plausible as a moral requirement.

But is giving this much really too demanding? I’ll suggest not, for two reasons.

First, you’re probably richer than you think. If you are earning £40 000/​yr, you’re easily in the richest 1% of the world’s population; if you were to give half that, you’d still be in the richest 2%. If you’re earning £20 000 and were to give 50%, you’d still be in the richest 8%.

Imagine if, before you were born, when you didn’t know who you were going to be in society, you got told you were going to end up in the richest 10% of the world’s population. Would you be happy? You’d be over the moon! But if that’s true, how could we complain about merely living in the richest 10%?

You might think that, well, the money goes much further in poor countries – so having a lower wage isn’t so bad if you live there, and so the figures I’ve given are skewed. But those figures I’ve given are ‘purchasing power parity’ adjusted – that is, they’ve already taken into account the fact that money goes farther in poor countries. Some people are poor!

Second, the latest psychological research suggests that, despite what you may think, income level really doesn’t make much of a difference to your overall happiness. Once we’ve got the basics in life – food, water and shelter – then other things, like health and relationships, become much more important. In particular, it’s been found that ‘prosocial’ spending of money – for example, giving the money to people more in need – provides a ‘warm glow’ that can keep you happy for weeks.

In fact, rather than being insanely demanding, giving away large chunks of your income will actually have very little effect on your wellbeing, and may well be a net benefit.

So giving really isn’t demanding. This year, let’s put ethics into practice, and make the world a little better: http://​​​​schisto/​​donate

Merry Christmas!

*More information on these and related topics can be found at