Do you ever feel guilty about spending money on luxuries you don’t need? Do you ever think: ‘Am I justified in splurging on myself when there are people in the world who are dying of hunger or some easily curable disease as I pay for something I can survive without?’ Do you ever wonder the extent of your moral obligation to other human beings?
In a world where information flows are nearly instantaneous, claiming ignorance is no longer an option. So what’s the solution? Should we live in a perpetual sense of guilt every time we spend money on items we don’t require? Toby Ord, a professor at the University of Oxford, describes his own internal wranglings and provides a solution to the problem.
“When it began, I would be down in the supermarket agonising about whether to buy a more expensive cereal or not but I realise [sic] that’s a road to a nervous breakdown and that it was much more sensible to work out at the start what you can live on [give away the rest in a lump sum] and then after a year readjust – can I live on less, am I pushing it too hard – instead of perpetually agonising about it.”
Initially he vowed to give away any income over £20,000. Now he’s revised it down to £18,000. But he lives a pretty comfortable middle class life, in his own words. Every fortnight he goes out for dinner and once a week, he treats himself to a visit at a coffee shop. Arguably, he has fewer expenses than most people. With no children to speak of, it’s just him and his wife. He spends approximately £5,000 on rent a year and £4,000 on day-to-day living expenses. The rest goes to savings and an annual week-long holiday in Italy and France.
While most of us have higher mortgages or children to cater for, arguably the principle remains the same. Is there some level of income that we require to satisfy our basic needs and a few luxuries in life, without giving into our every desire? Sometimes, I feel that life loses some of its meaning when I get everything that I want. Part of the enjoyment is waiting for something. It’s like waiting for presents on Eid or birthdays. If we had everything we wanted, life would be a whole lot less exciting. And there’s the moral dimension of it as well. Should we satisfy our every desire, when there are people (many of whom we are aware of) struggling to survive on a daily basis?