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Discussion 3 to Ask the Patriarch 261 & 262
The £200 designer dress

by: JT

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As I promised last week, I'll provide a few more comments on your follow-up article. I'll deal with the "£200 designer dress" purchase, and with the 10 Commandments in separate articles. So first the dress.

Let's go a little more extreme on this. We'll compare the $10 million dollar wedding - and there were at least two in the USA that made the newspapers in the past week, with another recent news story - the young hedge fund manager who gives away over half his salary to save the lives of malaria victims while continuing to live the life of a graduate student.

So we have conspicuous, and what seems to some, unnecessary, expenditure, compared to a deliberate decision to deny oneself anything above the basic necessities in order to save the lives of others.

Of course, many commentators on the wedding stories suggested that the money could have been better spent on charity, even though those getting married have already given much to charity. But should they have done so? Are they morally inferior because they spent so much on their weddings?

The people who spend $10 million on their weddings transferred their money to other people in return for goods and services. They wanted a special experience - and for that kind of money, they probably got it. They had the money, and now other people have the money and use it as they see fit. This sort of spending drives the economy. Just as your friend spending £200 on a designer dress helps drive the economy. Through such a purchase, people are helped directly and indirectly. I suggest that in aggregate, spending on life's little luxuries gives numerous people jobs and keeps them out of poverty.

I cannot say it is morally wrong to spend money on non-essentials when such spending ultimately drives the economy.

The young man who gives away most of his income is apparently inspired by the philosopher (and atheist) Pete Singer who argues this is appropriate. But is it?

It is appropriate for those that find it appropriate. It is still a redistribution of money and there are economic effects. And those that choose this lifestyle this seem to get satisfaction out of it.

But - if everyone did this - if everyone reduced their lifestyle to living on the basics and gave all their surplus funds away, very quickly, there would be no surplus funds. And the young hedge fund manager would be quickly out of a job.

I'm not against charity. I've encouraged charitable giving several times in other articles on this site. But it isn't and shouldn't be the be-all-and-end-all. It should be one element out of the many calls on your budget. How large an element is up to each individual. And I don't think we should be overly judgemental of those whose decisions are different from us.

So I support your Christian friend in her decision to buy that £200 designer dress. And if you, in the same situation would prefer to give most of it to a beggar on the street, then I support you in that decision also.

But, I see no absolute rights and wrongs here. Just different priorities.


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