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hugefish1234 t1_itpvh0e wrote

I think this article presents a reasonable oversight of Singer's ethics, but goes farther than is warranted.

The author seems to treat the decision as one between giving a lot to charity or working toward systemic change. It's true that charitable giving doesn't do much to solve systemic problems and this is an issue with Singer's work. That being said, giving to charity can be done at the same time as working toward systemic change. We can try to eradicate the disease while also treating the symptoms. Thus, it seems that the author sets up a false dichotomy.


NobleOceanAlleyCat t1_itpxwim wrote

Totally agree. Singer is politically very much on the left. I think the authors confuse Singer’s pessimism about systemic change with a lack of desire for it.


NapClub t1_itr5krm wrote

There are charities that work toward systemic change so it's just a false dichotomy.


Vytral t1_itpy8au wrote

It is true that they are logically consistent, but there seems to be a practical tension between the two. By praising billionaires for their charity work, you legitimize deep systemic inequalities. The billionaires that love to do charity are the same ones that lobby against progressive taxation, anti-trust policies, safety and environmental protection...


WarrenHarding t1_itq0q93 wrote

The way billionaires donate to charity operates in a whole other world than how we do though. It is not really “charity” in a genuine or fair sense at all. Billionaires donate specifically because there are laws in place that relieve huge amounts of taxes for people who donate large amounts to charity. In theory it’s supposed to work 1-to-1, but it doesn’t, they end up having to pay way less money out than they’d typically have to. Also, they set up their own fake charities so when they “donate” they aren’t really, they’re funneling it right back into their pockets.

In essence, this sort of charity we say is opposed to change is opposed because it quite simply isn’t charity. It’s a way for the wealthy to sneakily get even wealthier, while simply calling it charity. Real charity, the contribution to real individuals who need help, and organizations that are truly set on helping others, is not at all opposed to systemic change.


Tinac4 t1_itq5jrg wrote

I can buy that some billionaire philanthropy uses charity as a front for tax evasion, but I'm not convinced that's true for all of it. For example, as far as I know, money that gets put into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can't just be taken back out and spent on a superyacht--it's not really Gates' money anymore, and there are rules regarding what he can do with it. Gates doesn't have to pay taxes on the money that he puts in, sure, but he's certainly not making any money for doing this (especially when the donated money is in the form of stock shares that he doesn't have to pay taxes on in the first place). Is the BMGF really turning a profit for Gates, and if so, can I have a source proving this?

Again, I'm not saying that there aren't charities out there that are just fronts for tax evasion--there very plausibly are--and I’m also not saying that billionaires are beyond criticism or that we shouldn't raise taxes on them, but I do think that a decent chunk of billionaire philanthropy is actually philanthropy. Plus, the BMGF is a very salient example of billionaire philanthropy, so if the BMGF isn't a tax evasion scheme I'd be wary of painting with as wide a brush as you are.


WarrenHarding t1_itqg546 wrote

Yes, The Gates Foundation has the best PR out of any charity right now. I'm sure many would have said the same about Red Cross about 20 years ago. But let me ask you this - with Bill Gates' charity giving away billions of dollars constantly, how does he continue to make more and more money every single year? That's a hint that being charitable isn't really doing the same thing for him as it does for you and me. For example, if you look up where he's sending it, do you think he's putting it all directly in the hands of those who need it? Because the charity has also donated billions to other companies, and hundreds of millions to those they have stocks and bonds in. That's tons of money that could have gone into public infrastructure but is essentially being reinvested through the charity. I'm not saying *none* of the money has helped anyone, that would be particularly egregious. What I'm really saying is that with the laws we have in place, charity on a scale like this stops being "charity" as we know it. If a billionaire was truly charitable they would stop being a billionaire, simple as that.


Tinac4 t1_itqsl92 wrote

>But let me ask you this - with Bill Gates' charity giving away billions of dollars constantly, how does he continue to make more and more money every single year?

None of the money he's getting comes from the BMGF, so presumably it's because he owns a huge amount of stock in one of the largest (and still-growing) tech companies in the world.

>For example, if you look up where he's sending it, do you think he's putting it all directly in the hands of those who need it?

Yes, I think so. The foundation doesn't have a 100% perfect track record in every area, but it's pretty darn good, especially regarding vaccine campaigns in developing countries.

>Because the charity has also donated billions to other companies, and hundreds of millions to those they have stocks and bonds in.

Which other companies, specifically, and what amount of that isn't just the BMGF investing its funds in the long term (which is a good choice if they can't spend everything on short notice)? How does Gates get any of this money back, and how does the overall amount invested compare to the ~$20 billion donated to global health causes?


Michaelstanto t1_itr5md4 wrote

You are operating on a massive assumption that the public good is best served by government spending via taxation. The Gates foundation, by any measure, has way more bang-for-buck than equivalent public programs. Viewing wealth as antithetical to charity is a depressing view since the government you love so much has several orders of magnitude more wealth than Gates yet floundered with similar projects. I would much rather polio be eradicated by Gates foundation than wasting that money in a federal pit.


flamableozone t1_itsb9vd wrote

Social security saved more people from poverty than private charity ever did or ever will. The federal government's actually pretty good at it.


Rayden117 t1_itsf7tb wrote

The Gates foundation is a tough one which is why I’m happy to dig in. The Gates foundation in more than one instance has taken public money from counties to create limited research which supports the dismantling of public education in support of charter schools or less efficacious alternatives. This is a big deal. Often county or public money from locally partisan communities is responsible for funding these projects and the research has been repeatedly called into question. The foundation has tremendous PR though with Gates at the helm talking about philanthropic utilitarianism while avoiding talking about our variant of capitalism.

Taking on the comments further below. Charities categorically are catastrophic at dealing with social problems. It’s important to note I didn’t say individually but categorically, non-government organizations and non-profits can be added to the above statement in degrees. IE looking at Christian charities as an easy example but personally many charities in general can be problematic. It’s even more problematic with Publix or McDonalds when they became corporate tax write offs asking for public donations. They do not supplant social programs.

Further: Part of the problem of diffusing charity by 100 entities vs 1 is that much of the wealth no matter how large in magnitude is spent on overhead and that wealth is not necessarily easily regeneratable. Look at the Red Cross as an example of overhead and effective out reach. Many charities are not this effective.

3rdly, the idea that charities or independent organizations are better at independently managing societal problems from an ecological standpoint than say the government is an ideological position and is a wrongful assumption.

The government is evidently better, by virtue of so many effective social programs throughout the world, even for business development. Even social programs decried such as the the UK National Health Service don’t compare to the millions of Americans without access to healthcare; even with insurance and agreements between companies it’s unbelievably difficult to get the treatment appropriately paid for for many people.

And this is true even for charities, the scope of their social outreach is inherently incapable of solving the problems they address in society. Charities are a form of prevarication from the many and destitution for all.


Tinac4 t1_ittnxm7 wrote

I think you’re conflating the Gates foundation in with a lot of other flawed charities that aren’t much like it. For example:

  • “Catastrophic at dealing with social problems”: Outside of some controversies regarding US education, the BMGF doesn’t seem to have caused much harm, while undoubtedly accomplishing a lot of good in global health. Some other charities are useless or counterproductive, but I don’t think that applies here, certainly not on net.
  • Overhead: Unlike the Red Cross, BMGF is one of the charities that accomplishes a lot of good without wasting everything on overhead. I feel comfortable saying this without citation; you can look up their vaccination programs if you want. Moreover, it’s overall effectiveness, not overhead, that matters in the end (and I’m not aware of the BMGF having excessive overhead anyway).
  • The BMGF is not intended as a substitute for government, nor does it substitute for it in practice. Most of its global health programs are done in countries that lack healthcare or social safety nets due to a combination of poverty and corruption; this is unlikely to change if the BMGF disappears. It’s an organization that focuses on improving some short-term aspects of health and well-being, and most of its long-term aspects (I think) revolve around eradicating diseases rather than large-scale economic development.

Regardless of what the BMGF has sometimes done wrong (any sufficiently large and complicated charity will screw up somewhere), they’ve very plausibly saved tens of millions of lives so far. Most of the above criticisms fall flat after taking this into account.


ilolvu t1_ittiknz wrote

>it's not really Gates' money anymore, and there are rules regarding what he can do with it.

It's 100% still his money. He controls what is done with it.


Tinac4 t1_ittmfx9 wrote

I don’t think that’s quite right. Gates does control the Foundation, but as a nonprofit, he can’t just spend its money on anything he wants—I’m pretty sure that it does have to get spent on charity in some way instead of yachts or mansions. (I’d like a source if you disagree.)


2xstuffed_oreos_suck t1_itqgbr7 wrote

A billionaire who donates money to a charitable organization (assuming they do not own the organization) will never be wealthier or better off than they had been if they chose not to donate.

Donations to charitable causes reduce your taxable income as well as your post-tax income.


WarrenHarding t1_itqhow1 wrote

most of the billionaires, the ones we are "praising" for charity who are simultaneously against systemic change, DO in fact own their organizations. Let's bring this back to the original point - are charity and systemic changed opposed? What I'm saying is charity is not opposed to systemic change in an example like yours here, where they theoretically don't own the organization, but in many cases they APPEAR opposed, because of the phony definition of "charity" that these billionaires who own their charities use. When someone that rich uses their own charity to get richer, which indeed happens with at least a few of them, then that's where this appearance of opposition between charity and systemic change appears, an opposition that is ultimately faulty because it's not real charity being pitted against here. I'm sure that there are plenty of rich people who both donate to charity AND believe in systemic change to a significant degree (probably not billionaires because it usually takes a special level of greed to become and stay a billionaire, since the realistic needs of money in any given person's life are never that high). I'm not arguing that a rich person donating to charity and losing money can't exist, or that someone can't do that and also be for systemic change. I'm simply saying that when that joke of a system we also call "charity" because of the mask it puts up, the one fueled by billionaires, when that system is used by someone, then indeed there becomes an opposition between this and the idea of radical change, because like I already stated they're operating in "a whole other world" than us, and what they're doing is not charity.


ddrcrono t1_ittxwmk wrote

To me this whole article would better be written as a "Singer, pay more attention to the details, these aren't real charities," than "Your whole philosophy is the problem." I feel like the central message is just off here.


hugefish1234 t1_itpz1f8 wrote

Yeah, personally, I'm not sure what I would do about billionaires. Praising them definitely rubs me the wrong way and helps entrench systemic issues. But sometimes it's worth dealing with the devil for their power.


NobleOceanAlleyCat t1_itr54u7 wrote

My guess is that Singer knows he’d alienate these billionaires if he came off as too socialist. Given his pessimism about systemic political change, he probably sees the choice as between:

(A) Billionaires donate large sums of money to aid organizations to help worst off + No systemic political change


(B) Billionaires don’t donate their money + No systemic political change.

Perhaps his pessimism is unwarranted and he should reject both (A) and (B) as the only options. But until he’s convinced of another option, (A) is obviously the better choice, and it’s the choice that Singer is making, by not being too critical of billionaires.


ddrcrono t1_ittxzbm wrote

Given this he could also choose a more neutral or mildly critical approach. That would also be a better focus for an article critiquing him here.


SalmonApplecream t1_itrdr9k wrote

How do people like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates lobby against those things?


kgbking t1_its9p2f wrote

Bill Gates literally got taken to court by the US government for actively monopolizing Microsoft and lost.


SalmonApplecream t1_ittkug3 wrote

How do you monopolise your own company?

Also, how is this relevant? Microsoft isn’t saving anyone’s lives?


kgbking t1_ittscke wrote

You can look up the case on google. It is public.


InnateAnarchy t1_itsksxm wrote

While this is true, almost every big company gets monopoly lawsuits both nationally and internationally. Just part of being the head of the industry.


kgbking t1_itslb01 wrote

I agree that greed, attempted monopolization, and ruthless business practices are part of industry


InnateAnarchy t1_itsmgkj wrote

Covid made things so much worse in that regard. Forced all the smaller business to shut down while letting the bigger ones stay open.

Ppp loans galore to the biggest companies.

An absurd amount of mom and pop + smaller franchises shut down.

In other words, the governments of the world basically ensured everything is monopolized.


kgbking t1_itswzfi wrote

It seems we have some disagreements.

>Forced all the smaller business to shut down while letting the bigger ones stay open.

I take it that you perceive the Covid restrictions to have been pretty awful government policy because it benefited some businesses while harming other. Myself, on the other hand, believe that the Covid restrictions were a necessary enactment for the safety of the population, regardless of which businesses did or did not benefit from it. If so businesses benefited more than others during this temporary period of Covid regulation, then so be it.

>the governments of the world basically ensured everything is monopolized.

However, as a general statement, I believe this to be 100% correct. By governments implementing a liberal social organization, governments definitely contribute to the monopolization of industry. This is how capital and capitalism work, the unending movement towards monopolization.


InnateAnarchy t1_itt1x8d wrote

I’m sorry in advance that I’m not sure how to format as well as you.

I did not mean to imply any value judgment on the covid restrictions, merely stating they heavily favored the Titans of the industries and Greatly hindered the smaller companies.

You mentioned capital and capitalism as an unending movement toward monopolization. Are you implying that inherently fiat money and capitilsm always end at a monopoly? If so can you elaborate as to why you think that?

I really enjoy this discussion so I apologize if you’re picking up a negative tone but if I understood correctly, I don’t think I agree with this.

We use fiat money along with changing rates to control both the supply and the worth.

As for capitalism, ultimately there hasn’t been any company that’s infallible through time. Even something like Amazon isn’t infallible. So on the side of the companies, I don’t think theres any proof of a company that’s lasted long enough to accumulate to the point of true monopolization.

Id be much more inclined to agree if there was a finite amount of money.


kgbking t1_itts9pd wrote

> they heavily favored the Titans of the industries and Greatly hindered the smaller companies.

Yes I am in agreement with you. The large corporations definitely benefited while the small businesses suffered.

>I did not mean to imply any value judgment on the covid restrictions,

Alright, my apologies. I wrongly ascribed a normative judgement to you. I believe I ascribed that judgement because during the pandemic I met a lot of people who advocated lifting all restrictions due to the restrictions harming some businesses while benefiting others.

>As for capitalism, ultimately there hasn’t been any company that’s infallible through time. Even something like Amazon isn’t infallible. So on the side of the companies, I don’t think theres any proof of a company that’s lasted long enough to accumulate to the point of true monopolization.

Yes, I agree. I think 'monopolization' is too strong a word for what I was trying to convey. The phenomena I was attempting to describe was merely the decreasing competition and increasing oligopolic market structure. The global market structure is increasingly taking the form of an oligopoly where a fewer number of firms disproportionally capture the majority of the market share. I think capitalism naturally moves in this direction.


Orngog t1_ittu6oi wrote

>while the small businesses suffered

So be it.


C64SUTH t1_itsgmth wrote

I’m not sure about lobbying but Buffett invests in a lot of businesses that aren’t exactly benign (e.g. Coke, body armor, a trailer park that traps the tenants with terrible deals), as well as the companies Berkshire owns. And he basically only pays lip service to income redistribution.


ilolvu t1_itthslr wrote

I think you need to do some digging into why we don't have open source covid vaccines.

(Hint: It's because of Bill's 'charity'.)


SalmonApplecream t1_ittk4q6 wrote

Idrk what you mean by an “open source vaccine,” but Astra Zeneca was open source, no?


ctoph t1_itr1kqh wrote

The problem with a statement like . . .you legitimize systemic inequalities, is how can you measure that result. Even if you could, If you want change you need to justify it within a framework that is congruent with reality, in order to create a theory that will resonate with people and change their mind. This means you must deal with the reality that some billionaires seem to legitimately do things for purely philanthropic reasons. However, that truth should be understood against the role of billionaires inside a system that results in deep and unfair inequalities. After all there are perhaps reasons why concentration of wealth in hands of a coordinated group be it a person Corp or government could potentially be beneficial, but the likelihood that they will use it for good is the critical factor. So that some do good proves nothing, unless we think random billionaires are going to use a given sum for a more beneficial purpose than the government (spoilers they won't).


ddrcrono t1_ittxs9z wrote

If one were to make this criticism, rather than saying that Singer's philosophy is the problem, I would say that his problem is poor judgment in who he endorses. These are completely separable things.


sandcastlesofstone t1_itti3do wrote

We should also note that a lot of the "charity" is really just power imposing its will. Gates spent a lot for "education" in Washington state, but it was to install his version of school choice. It counts as charity, but it's really just cramming a rich guy's vision down everyone else's throat. u/SalmonApplecream this is related to your question below.


SalmonApplecream t1_ittk8di wrote

Sure, and he’s also donating an insane amount to fight malaria and other preventable diseases which is THE most effective way to save lives at the moment


ddrcrono t1_ittxjrn wrote

This succinctly gets at one of the biggest problems, but I want to flesh out the depths of how unsatisfying this critique is a little more:

A big problem here is that Singer's critic isn't offering any details on what the alternative is to Singer's advice to us. What does "solving systemic problems" entail for me, the regular working class person? Talking on social media about injustice? Dedicating my life to working for NPOs?

What exactly is the alternative, and spell out to me exactly how, in tangible terms, that's going to help people more than donating a significant portion of my income to causes that help people?

If you're going to engage in a critique of a consequentialist, you need to be able to spell out what they should be doing and how it better maximizes utility than their current plan.

To me this article almost feels like a hit piece on a good person who's actually trying actively to do something about the problem by someone who's only capable of pointing out the flaws without themselves offering a better plan by people who just want to talk big without actually putting their money where their mouths are.

Also, if you understand Singer as a philosopher from the consequentialist tradition, you know that, ultimately, if you showed him a demonstrably better way of using your time, money and effort, he'd be like "Good point, that does better maximize utility," and would himself make those changes. I'm pretty sure Singer is all for systemic change, but is trying to be realistic about giving the relatively few people who read him tangible, practical advice about actually making a difference. Even if he doesn't advocate for trying to make bigger picture changes, he's most certainly in favour of them if they're possible, and his advice is not, as the above commentor has pointed out, mutually exclusive with that.


ilolvu t1_ittj2ih wrote

>That being said, giving to charity can be done at the same time as working toward systemic change.

Singer doesn't encourage people to do so. His focus is entirely (or close to it) on charity.

Has he ever gone after a systemic problem with the same vigour as animal cruelty? I don't think so.


ddrcrono t1_itty360 wrote

I think if I were Singer one thing I would be concerned about would be politicizing my philosophy too much. So if he solidly aligns too much with <obviously left-wing party social policy plank> he stands to alienate half or more than half of his readers. From his point of view, it may be better to only advocate for voluntary of your own free will charity and hope that people get the hint on the systemic change side of things. Also, considering this stuff came up in the 70s, there's probably a bit of calculation going on regarding that political climate. (Thatcher and Reagan were just around the corner so maybe that relates)