In a Tizzy About Tithing

Fighting global poverty is a matter of giving generously and effectively

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Image by Flickr user: mira66 / Creative Commons

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Toby Ord, an Australian philosophy researcher at the University of Oxford, is causing quite a stir—by giving away his money. Ord earns $52,000 a year and has promised to donate all of his post-tax earnings above $28,000 to fight global poverty. He has calculated that his personal giving could save as many as 2,100 lives. His wife, Bernadette Young, a physician, donates everything she earns above $40,000.

Ord and Young are members of Giving What We Can, a philanthropic collective Ord founded about a year and a half ago, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education (Feb. 13, 2011). Made up primarily of academics—including bioethicist Peter Singer and political philosopher Thomas Pogge—the group has two primary rules, writes Don Troop: “Give generously, and give effectively.”

But a story about their efforts didn’t sit right with readers of Britain’s Daily Mail. “What a pair of freaks,” wrote Penelope about Ord and Young in a letter to the editor. A reader who goes by the name Shoe Addict wrote, “It is much easier to adopt these kinds of ideals if you are a childless couple and only have yourselves to worry about.”

Reactions like these don’t surprise Singer. “People like to be cynical about others who are doing something good,” he told the Chronicle, “because it challenges them to do something themselves.”

Regardless of whether or not Ord and Young strike readers as self-righteous, there’s no doubt that Giving What We Can is starting to make a difference. Together, by promising to donate at least 10 percent of their annual pretax income to charities that fight global poverty, the collective’s 80 members have pledged more than $25 million.

cover-166-thumbnailHave something to say? Send a letter to editor@utne.com. This article first appeared in the July-August 2011 issue of Utne Reader