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Peter Singer

Peter Singer

Author: Ethics in the Real World, The Most Good You Can Do, Animal Liberation, The Life You Can Save

Articles by Peter Singer

Tax the Rich!

October 27, 2021

The opening of the global economy over the past 30 years enriched multinational corporations, which have been able to shift profits to wherever the corporate tax rate is lowest. The G20 can take one step toward remedying that by accepting the proposed 15% minimum rate, but it should go much further.

PRINCETON – “The taxation system has tilted toward the rich, and away from the middle class, in the last ten years. It is dramatic, and I don’t think it’s appreciated. And I think it should be addressed.” So said the billionaire investor Warren Buffett 18 years ago. He illustrated his claim by surveying his office staff: although he was then the world’s second-richest person, he was paying a lower percentage of his

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The Hinge of History

October 8, 2021

The dangers of treating extinction risk as humanity’s overriding concern should be obvious. Viewing current problems through the lens of existential risk to our species can shrink those problems to almost nothing, while justifying almost anything that increases our odds of surviving long enough to spread beyond Earth.

PRINCETON – Twelve years ago, during the International Year of Astronomy that marked the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of a telescope, I wrote “The Value of a Pale Blue Dot” – a reflection on how astronomy has revealed a vast universe filled with an unimaginable number of stars, thus shrinking the significance of our sun and our planet. The “pale blue dot” refers to how the Earth appears in

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What Is Missing from the Inequality Debate

October 6, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has often been portrayed as a seismic shock, which promises to transform the way we think about economic and social well-being. In fact, it is unlikely to spur the shift the world needs toward a politics that accounts for the needs of all, including future generations and other species.

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Why Vaccination Should be Compulsory

August 4, 2021

Although the first compulsory seat-belt laws met with strong objections when they were introduced 50 years ago, nobody bothers to complain about such a commonsense rule anymore. In mandating vaccination against COVID-19, governments today can offer the same basic justification for protecting both individuals and society.

MELBOURNE – I’m writing from Victoria, the Australian state that became, in 1970, the first jurisdiction in the world to make it compulsory to wear a seat belt in a car. The legislation was attacked as a violation of individual freedom, but Victorians accepted it because it saved lives. Now most of the world has similar legislation. I can’t recall when I last heard someone demanding the freedom to

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Beefatarians Not Wanted

July 9, 2021

The way that livestock is raised and killed has long made it a legitimate matter of public concern. Now that we can see that eating red meat affects the entire planet in a manner that none of us want, it is time for governments to end their support for it.

MELBOURNE – “If the sound of beef sizzling on the grill brings tears to your eyes, you’re a real beefatarian.” That’s the opening line of a TV ad produced by a European advertising campaign called Proud of European Beef. Just more advertising silliness? No, because the European Union is paying 80% of the cost of it.
The Global Tax Devil Is in the Details

Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

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The Measure of Moral Progress

June 9, 2021

Mahatma Gandhi’s criterion for judging the greatness of a nation and its moral progress was its treatment of animals. By that standard, we cannot claim to have made much moral progress over the past two millennia.

MELBOURNE – “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If we apply that test to the world as a whole, how much moral progress have we made over the past two millennia?
Making America Global Again

Al Drago/Pool/Getty Images

Can We End the Pandemic?

PS OnPoint

Getty Images

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Keeping Discussion Free

May 10, 2021

A new academic journal permits authors to use a pseudonym to avoid running the risk of receiving personal abuse, including death threats, or of irrevocably harming their careers. That option has become necessary even in countries that we do not think of as repressive dictatorships.

MELBOURNE – Last month, the Journal of Controversial Ideas – of which I am a co-editor – published its first issue. The journal is a response to the shrinking boundary, even in liberal democracies, of acceptable discourse. It is specifically designed to provide a forum in which authors can, if they wish, use a pseudonym to avoid running the risk of receiving personal abuse, including death threats, or of irrevocably harming their careers.

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When Vaccination Is a “Crime”

March 8, 2021

Hasan Gokal, the medical director of the Harris County, Texas COVID-19 response team, refused to let a vial of vaccine expire and sought out eligible recipients before the doses would have to be discarded. For his sound ethical reasoning, he was fired and faces criminal prosecution.

MELBOURNE – On December 29 last year, Hasan Gokal, the medical director of the COVID-19 response team in Harris County, Texas (which includes Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States by population), was supervising the administration of the Moderna vaccine, mostly to emergency workers. The vaccine comes in vials containing eleven doses. A vial, once opened, expires in six hours and unused vaccine must then be thrown away.

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The Ethics of Prioritizing COVID-19 Vaccination

January 19, 2021

In the United States and some other countries, members of disadvantaged racial and ethnic minorities have a lower-than-average life expectancy, and therefore are under-represented among those most likely to die from COVID-19. How should policymakers weigh this and other factors specific to population sub-groups?

MELBOURNE – Now that COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out, policymakers are wrestling with the question of how to distribute them quickly and equitably. There has been wide agreement that health workers should be vaccinated first, because they are needed to save the lives of those who are ill because of the virus. But deciding who should come next has spurred considerable debate.

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What Is Your Moral Plan for 2021?

December 30, 2020

A New Year’s resolution to be a morally better person would not be a matter of sticking to rules, like not smoking or eating sweets. Consciously directing our attention to living ethically requires considerably more thought and work.

MELBOURNE/WARSAW – Many people make New Year’s resolutions. The most common ones, at least in the United States, are to exercise more, eat healthier, save money, lose weight, or reduce stress. Some may resolve to be better to a particular person – not to criticize their partner, to visit their aging grandmother more often, or to be a better friend to someone close to them. Yet few people – just 12%, according to one US study – resolve to become a better person in general, meaning better in a moral

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Giving with the Heart and the Head

December 7, 2020

The world’s most effective charities do much more good, per dollar spent, than typical charities, but they often lack the emotional pull that motivates donors to give. Psychological research points to a possible solution.

MELBOURNE/CAMBRIDGE – Worldwide, people donate hundreds of billions of dollars to charity. In the United States alone, charitable donations amounted to about $450 billion last year. As 2020 draws to a close, perhaps you or members of your family are considering giving to charity. But there are, literally, millions of charities. Which should you choose?

Can Joe Biden’s America Be Trusted?

Mark Makela/Getty Images

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Has America Lost Its Soul?

November 6, 2020

Even if Joe Biden wins the presidency, he will have a hard time restoring ethical concerns in a country with so many voters who have become indifferent to the well-being of those outside their immediate communities. And if Donald Trump manages to hold on to power, America will come to reflect more faithlessly the narcissism of its president.

MELBOURNE – As I write, the US presidential election remains undecided. Former Vice-President Joe Biden has said that he believes he is on track to win. President Donald Trump has said, without qualification but also without evidence: “We did win this election,” adding that he will go to the Supreme Court to prevent “a major fraud on our nation.” But in several states, the result

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To Lock Down or Not to Lock Down?

October 7, 2020

When deciding whether to impose strict public-health measures to rein in COVID-19, it is not enough to determine how many lives will be saved and lost. An adequate assessment of the costs and benefits must address three issues.

MELBOURNE – For the past three months, this metropolitan area of nearly five million people, the capital of the Australian state of Victoria, has been under one of the world’s tightest lockdowns. You may leave home only if shopping for essential items, meeting medical needs, providing care, taking up to two hours of daily exercise, and going to work if it is impossible to work from home. Travel of more than five kilometers (3.1 miles) from home, or across the boundary of the metropolitan area,

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How (Not) to Fight COVID-19

September 3, 2020

Public-health experts who adhere to rigid rules for containing the pandemic are standing in the way of new technologies that can help us develop a more flexible approach. By focusing on those with the highest risk of spreading the virus, we can inflict less harm and contain the pandemic more effectively.

MELBOURNE/TUCSON – When COVID-19 first appeared, strict quarantine requirements and short, tight lockdowns would have been a small price to pay to keep it at bay. Now that the pandemic has infected over 26 million people in 213 countries and territories, we need to find new ways to control it that are not just effective, but also efficient.

The Post-Pandemic Economy’s Barriers to Growth

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The Case for Human COVID-19 Challenge Trials

August 5, 2020

Regulators should permit and begin to prepare for “human challenge” vaccine trials in order to end the COVID-19 pandemic. In these trials, fully informed volunteers would be injected with potential vaccines (or with a placebo) and then intentionally exposed to the virus.

MELBOURNE/LOS ANGELES – Last month, the vaccine advocacy group 1Day Sooner published an open letter to Francis Collins, Director of the US National Institutes of Health, urging regulators to permit and begin to prepare for “human challenge” vaccine trials in order to end the COVID-19 pandemic as soon as possible. In these trials, fully informed volunteers would be injected with potential vaccines (or with a placebo) and then would be “challenged” by

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Are Riots Justifiable?

July 9, 2020

The protests that followed the brutal police killing of George Floyd have at times become violent and caused considerable damage to public and private property. But riots are not always indefensible, and we can use three criteria to assess that question.

MELBOURNE/LODZ – In late May and June, following the brutal death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, mass protests against systemic racism took place across the United States and around the world. Floyd’s death followed many previous police killings of unarmed African-Americans who were not behaving violently. Most protests were peaceful, but some turned into riots with widespread looting and vandalism. But while protesting against

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Is Age Discrimination Acceptable?

June 10, 2020

When the coronavirus overwhelmed Italy’s health-care system, a working group of the Italian Society of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation, and Intensive Care reluctantly supported rationing by age. They were right to do so.

MELBOURNE – Should we value all human lives equally?This question arose in an acute form in March, when the coronavirus overwhelmed Italy’s health-care system. Envisaging a situation in which there would not be enough ventilators for all patients needing one, a working group of the Italian Society of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation, and Intensive Care reluctantly supported rationing by age, while also taking into account frailty and the severity of any other health problems. The group’s aim

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Put a Price on Carbon Now!

May 7, 2020

Before the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying fall in oil prices, a carbon price would have been immediately painful for the countries that imposed it, but far better for everyone over the longer term. In this unprecedented moment, introducing a carbon price would be beneficial both now and for the future.

MELBOURNE/PRINCETON – Six years ago, oil was selling for over $100 per barrel. Today, thanks to the twin shocks of a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, and falling demand caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the price is closer to $20 a barrel. That makes this an ideal time for industrialized countries all over the world that have yet to put a price on carbon to follow the lead of those who have.

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The Two Dark Sides of COVID-19

March 2, 2020

Historically, tragedies such as the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic have sometimes led to important changes. The probable source of the new coronavirus – so-called wet markets, at which live animals are sold and slaughtered before customers’ eyes – should be banned not only in China, but worldwide.

PRINCETON – The apocalyptic images of the locked-down Chinese city of Wuhan have reached us all. The world is holding its breath over the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, and governments are taking or preparing drastic measures that will necessarily sacrifice individual rights and freedoms for the general good.
Solidarity Now

PS OnPoint

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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Orphanage Tourism Endangers Children

February 3, 2020

Many believe that there are millions of orphans in poor countries who need food, shelter, and the care, love, and support of an orphanage, and that without the support of rich-country donors, many of them would lead miserable lives, surviving by begging or selling their bodies. This is a myth.

MELBOURNE – Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Melania Trump, and Kanye West have all, in recent years, made highly publicized visits to orphanages in low-income countries. Tourists who “travel with purpose” are following their lead. Tourist itineraries often include a visit to an orphanage, alongside local markets, craft workshops, and historic sites. Tour operators promote these visits as a form of ethical tourism that allows affluent Westerners

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Was Killing Suleimani Justified?

January 6, 2020

At a press conference following the US drone strike that killed Iran’s top military commander and several others, a senior State Department official blurted out: “Jesus, do we have to explain why we do these things?” In fact, the international rule of law depends on it.

MELBOURNE – On January 3, the United States assassinated Qassem Suleimani, a top Iranian military commander, while he was leaving Baghdad International Airport in a car with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia. All the occupants of the car were killed.
The Suleimani Assassination and US Strategic Incoherence

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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The Lives You Saved

December 11, 2019

Living ethically in today’s interconnected world involves helping people who, through no fault of their own, are suffering in ways that we could easily prevent or alleviate. In the last ten years, many people seem to have taken that message to heart.

PRINCETON – A decade ago, I wrote The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. This month, a fully revised Tenth Anniversary edition was published, and is available, free, as an eBook and audiobook. The chapters of the audiobook are read by celebrities, including Paul Simon, Kristen Bell, Stephen Fry, Natalia Vodianova, Shabana Azmi, and Nicholas D’Agosto. Revising the book has led me to reflect on the impact it has had, while the research involved in updating

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Are Randomized Poverty-Alleviation Experiments Ethical?

November 6, 2019

When this year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to three pioneers in using randomized controlled trials to fight poverty in developing countries, the choice revived questions about the ethics of the method. Three questions, in particular, need to be addressed.

PRINCETON – Last month, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to three pioneers in using randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to fight poverty in low-income countries: Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer. In RCTs, researchers randomly choose a group of people to receive an intervention, and a control group of people who do not, and then compare the outcomes. Medical researchers use this method to test new

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Greta Thunberg’s Moment

October 7, 2019

No one could have predicted that a then-15-year-old Swedish girl would start a movement supported by millions of young people and gain a platform from which to address the world’s leaders. To avert an environmental catastrophe, we need many more like her.

PRINCETON – “This is all wrong!” These words begin the most powerful four-minute speech I have ever heard. They were spoken by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist, at the United Nations Climate Action Summit last month, and followed a week of climate strikes and marches attended by an estimated six million people.
The Impeachment Trap

Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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Why Climb Mount Everest?

September 5, 2019

The record number of deaths this year on the world’s tallest mountain underscores the immorality of seeking to reach the summit. But even if you are lucky enough to reach the top without passing a climber in need of help, you are still choosing your personal goal over saving a life.

PRINCETON – In 1953, when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest, I was seven years old. For a time, I was immersed in the stories of the epic climb. It seemed like an achievement for all of humankind, like reaching the South Pole. Would there still be any frontiers left, I wondered, by the time I grew up?
The Trump Narrative and the Next Recession

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Can Ethics Be Taught?

August 7, 2019

On a range of ethical issues, philosophy professors specializing in ethics have been found to behave no better than professors working in other areas of philosophy, or than non-philosophy professors. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that ethical reasoning is powerless to make people behave more ethically.

MELBOURNE – Can taking a philosophy class – more specifically, a class in practical ethics – lead students to act more ethically?
India’s Bad Bet in Kashmir

Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images

What About Rochester?

Culture Club/Getty Images

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How Honest Are We?

July 5, 2019

It is common to hear people complain that we live in an era in which self-interest prevails, moral standards have collapsed, few care about others, and most people would steal if they thought they could get away with it. But a new study covering 40 countries provides solid evidence that the world is not nearly so bad.

MELBOURNE – You have lost your wallet. Inside are your business cards with your email address. How likely is it that you will receive a message telling you that it has been found? If the wallet has money in it, does that improve, or reduce, the odds that you will get it back, with its contents intact?
What’s Driving Populism?

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Rugby Australia’s “Own Goal”

June 11, 2019

If Rugby Australia had existed in the first century of the Christian era, and Paul had had enough talent to be a contracted player, the sport’s national governing body presumably would have ripped up his contract once his first letter to the Corinthians, with its injunction against homosexuality, became public. Just ask star fullback and born-again Christian Israel Folau.

MELBOURNE – There is no such thing as an own goal in rugby, but Rugby Australia, the game’s governing body in Australia, has done its very best to score one by terminating the contract of Israel Folau. In doing so, it has lost the services of a star fullback who has played 73 tests for Australia.

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How Many Lives is Notre Dame Worth?

May 9, 2019

Barely a day after the fire that damaged the famous cathedral, France’s wealthy had pledged more than $1 billion to repair it. If the rich can so easily give hundreds of millions to restore a building, they could just as easily have spent that money elsewhere in better ways.

PRINCETON – Just a little more than 24 hours after the fire that seriously damaged Notre-Dame de Paris, donations to rebuild the 850-year-old cathedral had passed €1 billion ($1.1 billion). Most of the money is coming from some of France’s wealthiest people. Untec, the national union representing construction economists in France, has indicated that the cost of the reconstruction is likely to be between €300 and €600 million, far less than the

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Who Needs More White Saviors?

April 3, 2019

Very few people in need care about the color of the skin of the people who direct the organizations helping them. If the goal is to help those living in extreme poverty, we need all the saviors we can find.

PRINCETON – Comic Relief is a British charity that raises money for disadvantaged people both in the United Kingdom and overseas. Every two years, it holds Red Nose Day, when supporters wear red clown noses. The day culminates in a TV extravaganza featuring comedians and celebrities. This year, Red Nose Day raised £63.5 million ($83.5 million) – a lot of money, but down nearly £8 million from two years ago.

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images

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