Loving the Luxuries

Peter Singer encourages us in his book, The Life You Can Save, is to cut back on your weekly coffee or stop purchasing bottled water and use this money to international organizations working with global poverty. I am in agreement that I personally (and if I can be so bold, so does most of America) have more luxuries than I need. But having luxuries is not wrong. It may be a good idea to have a few less cups of coffee or a few less bottles of water and give that money to nonprofits. But that is not a complete answer. Just the other day, I learned about a bottled water business that, for every bottle of water you buy, provides the equivalent of three times that amount of clean water for the third world. And, you would be hard pressed to find a coffee company that is not giving back to the coffee farmers that supply their coffee. It is often these luxuries that fund our very jobs allowing us to be able to give money back.

But to me, the larger concern is in our own perspective on our luxuries. These luxuries many times fuel the progress of mankind and advance a great deal of social good. Art is a perfect example. To me much of art is exhaustively financially overpriced. But it represents how much we as a culture can value beauty, ingenuity, and creativity.

There has to be a balance between minimalism and extravagance that allows our donors, and the everyday American, to feel okay about having money. Fundraising exists because many Americans have disposable income. I don’t agree with Peter Singer when he talks about giving up a cup of coffee to help someone in need. We will always view our gift from the perspective of what we gave up to give it. Most giving comes after we’ve paid our bills and set our budgets. What if it came before? What if we included charitable giving when we sat down at the table to figure out what we could spend this month? Instead of giving up coffee, what if we took a real look at what we wanted to accomplish and gave to bring about that outcome? People will respond more positively and generously when they have an opportunity to understand what their giving can mean.

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5 Responses to Loving the Luxuries

  1. Beth Ann Locke says:

    Jason, this is a great post. Singer wrote a terrific article some years ago in the NYT Magazine (What Should a Billionarie Give – And What Should You). He explores issues such as how much the wealthiest could give and the effect that would have on reducing global poverty and “Is there a line of moral adequacy that falls between the 5 percent that [Paul] Allen has given away and the roughly 35 percent that [Bill] Gates has donated? Worth a read. How much do we really need to “live well” and still be able to meet the needs, collectively, which are both local and global?

  2. Janet Levine says:

    As usual, Jason, you are right on the–well–money. Singer has not taken into account the law of unintended consequences so he hasn’t, as you have, followed his suggestions to their logical and real ends.

  3. Jason – well said. This is a perspective that many often don’t appreciate.

  4. Jason Dick says:

    Beth Ann great thoughts I know my paster often talks about wealth not as who has the most money, but as who has the largest margin. Cost of living is so different in many areas. Buying a home in Washington is way more expensive that rural North Dakota. Freeing ourselves from obligations of debt and toys can allow us to be more generous regardless of if we are wealthy or not.

    I am often surprised at how my commitment falls short. I think about the kind of giving and personal sacrifice that is needed to solve the problems in the world and I realize I’m not always that committed. Dealing with issues of local and global poverty or personal neglect or abuse can take a lifetime of commitment. Am I really willing to do what is needed to make a real difference?.

  5. Lalia Helmer says:

    Jason,
    Nice to discover you and your blog.
    This is a very insightful post that addresses the question of individual decisions about where and how much to give. I haven’t read the book, but will put it on my list as I am interested in helping small businesses, that think they can’t afford to give find creative ways to give back to local or global causes that they care about. Often it doesn’t take much, and often in the case of small and large businesses, involving the customers in the giving back can generate even more donations for the charity. As an example, in this case it would be reverse of what Peter Singer recommends, instead of giving up a bottled water and donating the money to a cause, buying one and giving one to someone in need. This creates a greater win-win for everyone.

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