Tuesday, November 23, 2010

If not now, when?

I’m fairly persuaded by the arguments that it would be possible to save the lives of quite a lot of people by giving even fairly modest amounts of money to charities like Oxfam and Unicef. I don’t think it’s wrong for me not to give my money away, but I want to save lives as much as the next guy and if I find myself with a lot more money than I have now I’m certainly planning to give a fair bit away and save a fair few lives. I hardly give anything away now, because I’m a student and don’t have much to give.

I am aware though that if I prioritised things differently I could give some away. I spend money on things like beer, train tickets for journeys that aren’t essential, the occasional curry, sometimes even a flight. Instead of buying some of these things I could give some money to charity and save some lives, but I don’t. I prioritise beer and things instead.

What puzzles me is why I do this. I’m sure I’m not unusual in spending my money the way I do, but that shouldn’t make much difference. I don’t feel I have to spend my money the way other people do, for example I hardly ever buy any clothes. (It’s getting to the point where soon I’ll have to, but I’ll still be well below average.) One rationalisation I’ve considered is that the most important thing by far from a lifesaving point of view is that I’m able to get a good job and get my hands on some serious cash which I can spend on some serious lifesaving, and spending my money along the lines of least resistance now makes that more likely. I don’t know whether that’s true or not. I suspect there’s some truth in it but not much. Even if it is true it’s obviously a fairly callous attitude to adopt towards the people who are dying now, but I’m quite happy to be a bit callous if it means more lives get saved in the long run.

I suppose what worries me more is the possibility that I spend my money on myself instead of on saving lives because of an underlying selfishness which I’m never going to grow out of, and that even when I’m able to save many times more lives than I could at the moment I’ll prioritise things like extravagant holidays, eating out frequently, drinking expensive whisky and running a car. It’s not even beyond the realms of possibility that I might have children whose mother persuaded me to have them privately educated. After all that there might not be enough left to give away more than is normal for middle-class people, and as I’ve said, that conflicts with my plan.

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