T Nation

What Do We Owe to Others?


I just attended a lecture by one of my GSIs (graduate student instructors). He talked about a lot of things, but mainly about how EVERYBODY who makes enough money to live comfortably should give a much more substantial percentage of their money to help others.

He mentioned that he estimates that a basic necessity (in this country) is around 20,000 dollars. That's low honetly. But, regardless, he said that anybody who does not make 20,000 dollars should be helped. We should institutionally tax people more in order to help these people.

I can already hear the uproar! I felt the same way until I heard more of his argument. He talked less about the how and more about the why of the issue. Instead of who should receive the money, how we could implement higher taxes, etc..he talked about our moral duty to others. He borught up a lot of good points.

His first example brought up how ~25,000 kids die EVERY DAY from things that are easily preventable, such as diarrheal infections, etc. He said that a 15 cent drink packet could cure this kind of sickness and save lives. He then asked how we can justify spending 3 dollars on a latte when 15 cents would SAVE a life?

Now, I'm usually oppose to bleeding heart liberal mumbo jumbo. Every college student out here loves to get on a soapbox and preach for equality, yap yap yap. But, he really did make a good point. He is not arguing that we should give up the things we enjoy, or even all of our excesses. He just says that if, for example, you make 100,000 a year and live comfortably, then maybe you should be taxed more (taxed being equivalent to charitable donations).

Maybe instead of the ~15,000 you'd be taxed now, you should be taxed ~30,000. Yes, that sucks. But if you think about how your cutting out some things strategically (like trips to starbucks when you can brew your own coffee, or perhaps a cheaper car), then how can you really deny that this argument holds weight?

I'm going to look into ways to help in my own way. I don't think that after what I heard that I could justify inaction. I'm not talking about throwing bottles at Wall Street investors, but rather donating a few dollars to organizations that I look into, or volunteering to help people.

After all, if you're priveleged then it seems that you have a duty to help people who are less privileged. Namely, because nobody chooses to be born to a poor family, or born to a drug addicted mother, or to be born into a life in which you HAVE to work and can't go to school.

Obviously my point of view lies in the message, but I'd like to hear what you guys think. Not so much about the problems of institutionalizing taxation at a higher rate, but instead of the moral duty we do (or don't) have to others.


You have a good argument, but the tax revenue you gain from taxing the rich won't go to help the children in Africa. Where will it go? Shit, even Obama doesn't know that.

I commend you for wanting to help others. You're one of the few people who will actually get up off of their lazy asses and do it themselves, not expect the government to do it for you. Props to you.



So if I am understanding you...

We have a moral duty to take from the rich to help the poor?

This will be good...


Unless the meaning of taxation has changed, it seems that he is expecting the government to do it, through taxation of those with higher incomes


It's simply not as simple as giving. Giving everything away because it is morally just sounds really, really good on paper but it is just not good economic practice nor is it sustainable.

Read more into it. You can't build a country on giving. This destroys the local economy and artificially increases the population beyond what local infrastructure can support.

Here is a good start: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123758895999200083.html

If you insist on giving money away, suppose the best organization I have found for this is Kiva (kiva.org). You can lend entrepreneurs in developing countries business loans. Local agents operating in these countries are responsible for distributing and collecting on the loans. This way, you are actually fostering local business instead of undermining it with aid.


I stopped reading at

"mainly about how EVERYBODY who makes enough money to live comfortably should give a much more substantial percentage of their money to help others."

That is bullshit, it pays to be a winner-- plain and simple. It is typical shit on a stick that I heard in college too...


A few points.

First of all you are not obligated to help anyone. There is no moral duty. Also, it is neither wise nor moral to have the government take money away from you to help the poor. It would be very kind of you to help the poor, sick and downtrodden but that is another matter and here is why:

First, you are not the slave of anyone that is in need. You are an end in itself, you do not need to justify your existence by helping others, if you make money in a market economy you are bound to help other people anyway. Make more and you help more.

Second, virtue is either voluntary or it is not at all. If the state takes money away from you to help the "poor" you are not being virtuous, you are being robbed. You might be able to rationalize this away and come out and feel good about yourself at the other end but that does not change the fact that not only have you just been anally raped but also that you have turned over care for the poor to the coldest of all monsters (Nietzsche, yay!).

Finally, his position abandons one of the hard won principles of at least Catholicism, if not Christianity, which is supererogation.

Supererogation is when you go above and beyond your moral duty. If you accept that there is such a thing as moral duty, it is wise to leave room to do more than what is required. The difference psychologically speaking is you have room to feel good about yourself whereas his rather crude version of statism finds you guilty for existing and you can never do enough as long as there is someone more in need. Positively not a healthy attitude.

Summary: He is preaching a rather crude version of original sin, which is meant to guilt you into forking money over to the state, which, if it actually helps the poor, does so inefficiently with often disastrous consequences.

If you want to help others do so, but do not force others whose circumstances you know nothing about to do the same, and dont turn the poor, weak and sick over to a heart and mindless bureaucracy.

If you feel that it is your duty to help others they are YOUR duty.


@ Dixie: No, not at all. Basically, anybody making enough to live comfortably has a moral obligation, IMO, to help out. This doesn't mean tax the top 1% like the 'occupyers' say, or tax the uber rich. It means anybody making enough to not 'suffer' if they were taxed a bit more should give more away.

@ CS: I don't necessarily mean that the money should go to kids in Africa either, that was just an example. There are tons of ppl in the USA who need assistance. I'm just trying to say that if you have the means to help others, then how could you not?

And, this isn't to say that you should deny yourself of the things you desire (including excesses that ppl like, such as flat screen tv, internet, cell phones, etc). I'm just saying that maybe we could ALL give 5% more to taxes. Is this so appalling and so detrimental to our economic situations? I think that if we all cut out startucks runs and frivilous things like that, we could save lives.

This actually reminds me of the anti consequentialist argument of negative responsibility. The argument states that you are responsible for the outcomes that result from your inaction just as much as outcomes that result from your actions. Obvi I'm not responsible for the poor and destitute ppl out there, but if I choose to live in extreme excess, then I must morally have some part in the equation. I mean, how ridiculous is it to donate a bit more to charity in order to help others and save lives?

This also reminds me of the shallow well argument. Can't remember who talked about it, but it goes like this: you walk by a stream of water and see a baby face down in the water. You could easily wade in and save the baby before he drowns. Now, could you morally NOT save the baby? Yes, it is true that you'd scuff your kicks, but really, how could you possibly argue - from a moral standpoint - that you could be justified in inaction?

Now, these are obviously extreme examples. My point is that I think we owe it to each other to help out. Not suffer b/c we give SO much and wear ourselves thin, but rather give a bit more than we do (if we even do at all).

If you make 70,000 dollars a year, you could probably survive just fine if you gave 5,000 more (aside from taxes) to help others. That's the point.


Also, I would dig out what the "rich" actually pay in California, federal, state and community taxes and all and present it to him.

Alternatively, you could take the California and federal tax code and bitch slap him with it.

Only 15000 out of 100000?



@ Dixie's 2nd comment: I mean to say that ppl should donate to charities and/or organizations that help others in need. It would just be more efficient to institutionalize this practice and include donations into taxes perhaps. But that's trivial, it could work if ppl were just forced to give more to charities.

But that's the crux of the problem/the paradox (I guess). The guy's point was that the only way to FORCE ppl to give more to charities is if it is morally justifiable to make them. I think it is morally justifiable that ppl should give more to charity. I also think that if you make enough to support yourself you should give more regardless. That means that even if you're not being taxed more, and if such policies don't exist, then you still have the moral duty to give more to those in need. It should be a moral issue, I'm not talking politics.


Every MMORPG need a level and/or stuff reset from times to times, to allow newbies/casuals to compete with older players/hardcore gamers.

Maybe the USA mmorpg need such a reset too.

It's pretty easy to achieve : 100% inheritance tax during a few years (20 years for example)

After all, these transfers distorts the free market.


No, they dont.

Removing one of the main incentives for people working hard however would.


Orion: I don't know the facts about tax percentages.

You sound like you've read some Rand! I agree that we should accept virtue voluntarily, and that it shouldn't be something that is forced on us. I concede that point. But I think I may have worded my writing incorrectly. Aside from making it a gov't mandated thing, I just mean to say that a moral person should have the duty to help others.

It goes back to the baby in water example. I guess that the money giving is much smaller scale, but honestly, if you have enough money left over every year, then why should you not be morally obligated to give some? Or some time if you're so opposed to financial aid? I don't want to get into a debate over whether or not it is rational to make it a gov't issue, but rather to argue that morality should dictate that people who are in a position to help, should help.

I take this view elsewhere as well. If I saw the baby drowning, I'd sure as hell save it (duh). Or if I saw a dude at the gym drop a barbell while benching, I'd help. And when I see a homeless dude and I have the money to help out, I give them a bit. Now, I understand that sometimes giving money to ppl who may be drug addicts, etc (ppl who are homeless from their own doing, not b/c of bad circumstances) may not be the best way. Just assume that I'm talking about giving money to ppl who are underprivlidged due to circumstances out of their control (like the fact that there are NOT enough jobs going around, etc).

Also, you sound like a Kantian. I love Kant! I just read some stuff by a guy named Scheffler if anybody has heard of him. Brilliant.


And where do we draw the line? You're on the slippery slope towards communism.

There's a reason socialist states suck and America is the wealthiest nation in the world. The poorest Americans today are infinitely better off than the richest people a couple hundred years ago. As soon as you start redistributing wealth, you remove people's incentive to work hard and grow and expand the economy. Quit listening to this hippie liberal douche and take a few Econ classes instead.


Only one point was Randian, the point about virtue being voluntary or not being virtue at all goes back to Aristotle.

Also, you claimed that he stated that "we" should "institutionally" tax people in order to...

... which is akin to the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church.

Well, not quite, buying one was voluntary.



Should have the duty....

No, either you postulate that someone has the duty to help others or you dont.

Also, back to supererogation. I would say that you have the duty not to hurt others. That makes you a good person. If they are really, really asking for it you are of course perfectly permitted to kick their asses.

If you go above and beyond that, you have been a good boy and can pat yourself on the back. Postulating that the people more in need have some sort of claim on you is neither healthy for you nor for them.

Or do you really feel that the attitude of people who feel entitled to x, y and z because they are breathing will get them anywhere?


Orion, I really like your points, I just think you're misinterpreting the message.

First, would you say that we are obligated to save the baby from drowning?

Second, my claim is that we DO have the responsiblity and duty to help others. That's my opinion, end of story. I think our duty to one another goes further than just 'not hurting people.' I value free market ideologies and making your own destiny, etc. But I also think that if you have the means, than there is a moral obligation to help. Beneficence and fellow-feeling are important virtues, IMO, but I'd argue all day long that we do have a duty to help others.

Now, I think that duty is limited. I recently read a bunch of responses to consequential arguments that I liked. One such argument talked about how people don't have to spend their lives maximizing the good. For example, if a mafia dude comes up to you and says: "You either shoot this guy in the head, or I shoot 3," then you're faced with a dilemma. Do you go against your virtues (not killing others for starters) and kill the one guy in order to bring about the better state of affairs in which 2 survive. On balance, that appears to be better. But that brings up all kinds of shit, and I don't think that we can say that anybody has a moral duty to kill or harm others, or even go against virtuous actions in order to bring about a better outcome.

That being said, I do think that we should give more to those in need. I don't think that our entire life mission has to be geared towards the end of helping others (like some of my bleeding heart friends think) but rather that we owe it to/are morally obligated to give more and help more. And I'm not saying we should go overboard and permit free riders to take advantage of our charity, but rather that we should give out time and money to those in legitimate need. The how's would be a whole different argument (how to give the money, who it goes to, etc). For the point of my argument I just want to say that we are morally bound to give more and help more.

BTW I've read some Rand and although she is interesting, I've recently changed some of my opinions on her stuff. She talks about altruism as if it is the worst thing ever. I think that it is fine to work hard, and I understand her argument that money is the root of all good. Yes, money and free market capitalism make people work hard to secure the best life for themselves, but at a point it always seems to lead to the state of affairs the USA is in today, namely an economic situation in which there's a '1%' and everybody else. It seems that capitalism leads inevitably to this severe split in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And although Rand had some brilliant points, I don't think her idelogies are realistic.
Another thing that I have trouble with is the idea of all the rich/industriout just leaving in Atlas Shrugged. She essentially states that rich and talented will just leave if they are not given their due. This is the argument that the richest of the rich give in the USA. A lot of the uber rich here say that if they're taxed more, then they will just leave. They'll essentailly pull a John Galt. I call BS. I don't think that taxing 1.5% more (I beleive that's what Obama wanted, right?) would make the top 1% just up and leave the country, lol.

But this is not the point. All I'm trying to say is that we DO have a moral duty to those in LEGITIMATE need.


I would punch your GSI right in the face.

His premise is bullshit. I don't owe that guy or anyone shit. That is all.


I already involuntarily donate to a charity out of every paycheck, social security I can't believe the shit being preached at college. Raise taxes to help the poor?? Lol. In case you haven't noticed, our government isn't very good at handling money or running a business, or anything at all really. Less taxes, not more, would make things better for everyone.

I think there is a problem with college students these days. The kids go from high school to college and graduate without ever having any experience supporting themselves in the real world. Then in school they get taught this liberal fantasy bullshit about sharing your money because other people don't have any. These geniuses have probably never worked 60-70 hours in a week and when they received their paycheck, $200 or more has been "donated" for them. Get a Fucking clue, guy. Then after you get a clue, get a Fucking job. See if you still feel like helping the less fortunate after you get your first paycheck.


Personally I dont think it would be fair to force a moral obligation on people to help others.

Sure there are people with no money that have families and have shitty jobs and thats why they have no money but I would not wager that the majority of people that live in shitty houses and dont have money are those types of people.

I wouldnt want to work hard for my money then have to give even one penny of it to people that will just keep blowing whatever they earn on drugs and other vices that got them in their situation to begin with.

I dont think people who work hard for their money and hard going to school to make their money should have to give a portion of their income to people that lack the same ambition.