December 27, 2013

Regarding Peter Singer’s Dec. 22 Outlook commentary, “Why we should donate with our heads, not just our hearts”:

While I do not dispute that emotion plays a role in the decision to donate to charities, there is also a rational consideration at play: Can my action solve the problem?

When confronted with one starving child who can be fed for about a dollar or two a day, I easily can solve the problem at a low cost to myself and my family. When confronted with millions of starving kids, I cannot make a dent in the problem even if I donate my entire salary. A solution to the latter requires that many, many more individuals act.

One can think of it as a kind of collective-action problem. By breaking a huge problem into smaller problems, we increase the number of problems that get solved. One is not simply being emotional by deploying his or her individual means in such a manner.

Murray S.Y. Bessette, Morehead, Ky.