The concept of the book is that we have the ability to eliminate extreme (absolute) poverty in the world. There are several different types of poverty according to Jeffrey Sachs (another author I am currently reading): extreme poverty, moderate poverty and relative poverty.
The following definitions are from Sach's article in the New York Times, which I've included at the end of my post.
Extreme (Absolute) Poverty: defined by the World Bank as getting by on an income of less than $1 a day (scaled to USD). This type of poverty only occurs in least developed countries, and means that people cannot afford to meet even the most basic of needs for survival.
Moderate Poverty: defined as getting by on an income of $1 to $2 a day (scaled to USD). This type of poverty means that certain basic needs may be met, but only barely.
Relative Poverty: defined as having a household or personal income level below a given proportion of the national average. This type of poverty means that people in relative poverty do not have the means to enjoy things that a middle class takes for granted.
So, as I have stated, extreme poverty is the type of poverty Peter Singer discusses in his book and claims can be eliminated. He sets up the book in four parts, logically discussing all sides of the argument about the ability to eliminate extreme poverty.
He first sets up the argument in chapters 1 through 3. He then discusses human nature in his next two chapters, where he brings up the concepts of fairness, our affluent culture, and what money does to our brains. In the third part of his book, he discusses the facts about foreign aid. This is where he gives numbers, statistics, and which charities are the best ones in terms of using the money where it's intended to be used, instead of administrative costs, etc. He also discusses ways to improve aid, which I really enjoyed learning about.
His final part was the most compelling, I feel. In his last three chapters, 8 through 10, he discusses the realistic approach to giving aid, and when asking becomes too much. He explains the difference between what one does, and what one ought to do, and that the difference does not mean that you can't discuss the most extreme ways of giving aid while not doing them yourself.
I highly recommend the book. I guarantee it will change the way you view your life.
We all talk a lot about money, especially with the way that the economy has been in the past two years, but the talk is all relative to the United States economy. When compared to the economy of Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries, even some of the United States' poorest citizens could be perceived as affluent. After all, people have access to food, clean water, sanitation, shelter and medical care when they need it. Granted, people have lost their homes, people might not have medical insurance, people have been laid off; however, there are plenty of services and amenities in the United States that serve those people in ties of crises like the one we are in. Those services and amenities serve even when there is no overwhelming crisis in the market.
Singer discusses in his last chapter a realistic approach to eliminating extreme world poverty. The United States alone could make this possible. He explains a sliding scale based on after-tax income where certain income brackets are placed in certain donation percentages.
Income Bracket: $105,001 to $148,000
Income Bracket: $148,001 to $383,000
Donation: 5% of first $148,000; 10% of remainder
Income Bracket: $383,001 to $600,000
Donation: 5% of first $148,000; 10% of next $235,000; 15% remainder
Income Bracket: $600,001 to $1.9 million
Donation: 5% of first $148,000; 10% of next $235,000; 15% of next 217,000; 20% remainder
Income Bracket: $1.9,000,001 to $10.7 million
Donation: 5% of first $148,000; 10% of next $235,000; 15% of next 217,000; 20% of next 1.3million; 25% remainder
Income Bracket: Over $10.7 million
Donation: 5% of first $148,000; 10% of next $235,000; 15% of next 217,000; 20% of next 1.3million; 25% of next $8.8 million; 33.33% of remainder
If we were to do this, it would yield $471 billion every year. And keep in mind... This is just for the top 10% of the United States' affluent families.
Extending Singer's plan to all affluent families/people of the entire world would yield more than $1.5 trillion every year. That is 8 times the amount needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Granted, it's a lot more complex than stating numbers and a sliding scale donation plan. However, it goes to show that it is absolutely possible to eliminate extreme poverty in the world.
It blows my mind. It's also made me a lot more conscious about how I spend my money and what I waste every single day.
Jeffrey Sach's article: The End of Poverty
(He also has a book by the same name, which I am currently reading.)