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Honors Thesis-Unrestricted

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Chris Suprenant


In his well-known 1972 article, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality," and in subsequent books, Peter Singer argues that we can and should prevent the needless suffering and death of the global poor by giving to foreign aid. This call for charity and assistance is mostly uncontroversial. However, foreign aid's effectiveness is highly contested among the aid literature. As the first part of this paper shows, all aid encounters inefficiencies, with the major problems being diversion of funds and perverse incentives. I look at each of these in turn, concluding that most aid is ineffective and sometimes even harmful—with the possible exception of short-term humanitarian aid. Consideration of aid evaluation and emerging forms of aid like microfinance and unconditional cash transfers provides no solution to aid's problems. In the second part of the paper I consider potentially superior methods for preventing the suffering and death of the global poor. Free trade, open immigration, and increased consumption all seem like promising ways to alleviate poverty and grow developing economies, but only increased consumption of disposable luxury goods fulfills Singer's obligation for the individual to prevent bad things from happening. To show that this idea stands, the rest of the paper will focus on increased consumption's relation to manufacturing, so-called sweatshop labor, economic growth, and alleviation of poverty. Finally, I will address potential limitations and objections to my approach, concluding that consumption of disposable luxury goods is the best way to fulfill Singer's obligation to aid the global poor.


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