Sunday, December 17, 2006

One-sided argument

Today's NY Times Magazine includes "What Should a Billionaire Give -- and What Should You? (A philosopher's case for donating more than you're comfortable with.)"

It's a worthy topic and an interesting read. But, just as with foreign aid, there are huge agency problems that are never even mentioned. Poor countries are poor because of lousy institutions, including staggering corruption. Pouring extra billions into these settings is likely to incite extra thievery.

This is not to argue against generous giving but, rather, to raise the question that Singer misses. I expect that people at the Gates Foundation and many others grapple with this problem constantly.

Singer's tone is one-sided. He wants us all to be more generous but many would gladly be if they had reason to be optimistic about what happens after the check is put in the mail. Lord Bauer had plenty to say about all of this.