- Am I a comparatively well-off South African?
- Why do I need to take a public pledge?
- Why does the Pledge limit itself to organisations and initiatives?
- Why does the Pledge focus only on South Africa?
- Why does the Pledge not prescribe organisations and initiatives?
- Why will the Project not take and pass on the amount I have pledged?
- Why does the Pledge require at least 5% of taxable income?
- Will I be required to prove that I have fulfilled my pledge?
- What if I disagree with the justification for the Pledge?
You may wonder whether you qualify as a comparatively well-off South African. So that you can work it out for yourself, here are some statistics provided by a UCT economist regarding the 2014 tax year. Of the approximately 15 million people in employment in South Africa, only about:
1.2% had a taxable income of R750 000 or more
2.8% had a taxable income of R500 000 or more
4.2% had a taxable income of R400 000 or more
7% had a taxable income of R300 000 or more
If the almost 5 million people seeking employment are added to the 15 million people in employment, the percentages shrink considerably. Of this larger group, only 0.9% had a taxable income of R750 000. Only 5.3% had a taxable income of R300 000.
Here are some more statistics, taken from Stats SA's Poverty Trends in South Africa and Methodological Report on Rebasing of National Poverty Lines and Development of Pilot Provincial Poverty Lines:
In 2011, 22% of South Africa’s population, or 11 million people, were living in extreme poverty. People living in extreme poverty are defined as those living below the food poverty line, which is the level of consumption below which individuals are unable to purchase sufficient food to provide them with an adequate diet, even if they spend all of their income on food. In 2011, this amounted to R335 per person per month, or about R11 per person per day.
Here is another set of figures worth considering:
The World Bank’s Gini coefficient measures a country’s income distribution on a scale from 0 to 1, where 0 represents perfect equality (everyone has exactly the same income) and 1 represents perfect inequality (one person has all the income, the rest have no income at all). According to Stats SA's report, South Africa in 2011 had a Gini coefficient of 0.65 (when based on expenditure data) or 0.69 (when based on income data - including social grants). That makes South Africa one of the most unequal countries in the world. To compare: Malawi has a Gini coefficient of 0.44, Turkey 0.4, France 0.33, Romania 0.27, and Denmark 0.24.
Another indicator of the extent of inequality in South Africa is the relative consumption of the richest and the poorest:
In 2011, according to Stats SA's report, the richest 20% of the South African population accounted for more than 61% of national consumption, while the poorest 20% accounted for less than 4.5%.
It may be that you are happy to give 5%. Indeed, you may already be giving that much and more. But it is possible that you feel uncomfortable about taking a public pledge to do so. That is understandable. However, as is explained on the website of The Life You Can Save, there are good reasons to take a public pledge to give:
It will encourage others to give too, by creating and sustaining a community of givers and a cultural norm of giving.
It will make it more likely that you will carry out your decision to do what you know is morally right.
In other words, by taking the pledge and making it public you are certain to make an even greater contribution towards reducing poverty and its effects.
The encouragement that your taking a public pledge will offer others is confirmed by University of Chicago professors Cass Sunstein (law) and Richard Thaler (economics), in their book Nudge, which describes the following real-life experiment in Minnesota:
"Groups of taxpayers were given four kinds of information. Some were told that their taxes went to various good works, including education, police protection, and fire protection. Others were threatened with information about the risks of punishment for noncompliance. Others were given information about how they might get help if they were confused or uncertain about how to fill out their tax forms. Still others were just told that more than 90 percent of Minnesotans already complied, in full, with their obligations under the tax law. Only one of these interventions had a significant effect on tax compliance, and it was the last."
There are many ways in which well-off South Africans help to reduce poverty in South Africa or alleviate its effects. Some pay for the education of their domestic workers’ children. Some buy houses for their employees. Some adopt children who would otherwise have been raised by teenage siblings. Some pay their employees considerably more than the going rate. Some provide financial assistance to relatives fallen on hard times or who have physical or mental disabilities. Some give their time pro bono. And some forego lucrative jobs for less well-paid ones serving the public good. The Five Plus Project does not deny the importance of these kinds of actions. Nor does it wish to discourage their continued performance. Yet it excludes them from the Pledge. The reasons for this limitation are as follows:
Given South Africa’s extensive poverty and extreme inequality, the standard set by the Pledge is a modest one. There is no reason why, if you are a well-off South African, you cannot both give 5% of your income to an organisation or initiative helping to reduce poverty in South Africa or alleviate its effects and perform one or more of the other valuable actions described above. Indeed, it needs to be stressed that the intention of the Pledge is not to provide well-off South Africans with an easy means of discharging, or buying their way out of, their other civic responsibilities.
The purpose of the Pledge is to increase the help given to people living in or disadvantaged by poverty in South Africa. Its point is not to provide a public forum in which well-off South Africans can get a pat on the back for all the good deeds which they are already performing. It is critical, therefore, that the Pledge set a standard which is not currently met by most well-off South Africans. It is thus also critical that the Pledge set a standard which is not too vague, and which most well-off South Africans cannot meet simply by re-interpreting their existing practices. If no one has to change what he or she does in order to fulfil the Pledge, nothing will be achieved by it.
The Pledge respects an important distinction between personal and impersonal giving. Personal giving is giving for reasons that are associational. It is giving based on kinship or friendship. Impersonal giving, by contrast, is based on recognition of a common humanity. Personal giving is no less important than impersonal giving. But personal giving does not need the additional impetus that the Pledge seeks to provide. And there is a risk that, if the Pledge were to include personal as well as impersonal giving, it would corrupt the distinct social goods which personal giving serves.
Consider, for example, a couple who adopted an AIDS orphan because they believed that doing so would help someone who otherwise would lead a life of poverty and deprivation. For this couple to count the cost of raising the child as part of the 5% demanded by the Pledge would be absurd. Post-adoption, their only reason to give to the child is the familial bond between them. That bond is their reason for giving and their giving expresses and cements that bond. Adoption is perhaps an extreme case. But the same holds, even if to a lesser degree, for the relationship between a couple and the woman who for ten years has cared for their children.
Personal giving has special complications. It is not clear that personal giving always is directed at those who are in greatest need – in so far as it is expressive and constitutive of a particular bond, there is no reason that it should be. Personal giving can have negative, even if unintended, side-effects, namely the strengthening of social hierarchy or the creation of a relationship of dependence. And personal giving may be done with a mixed motive, because it can be used to promote efficiency and purchase loyalty.
Some well-off South Africans give to organisations which are helping people living in poverty outside South Africa. This kind of giving is immensely important. And the Five Plus Project does not wish to discourage it. But it nevertheless restricts the Pledge to organisations and initiatives helping to reduce and alleviate poverty in South Africa. Here is why:
South Africa has 11 million people living in extreme poverty. Well-off South Africans may have no more humanitarian reason to help these people, than to help people living in other countries. But neither do they have less. From a humanitarian perspective, giving to help people suffering from poverty in South Africa achieves as much moral good as giving to help people living in poverty elsewhere.
With a Gini coefficient of between 0.65 and 0.69 (depending on how it is measured), South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world. Inequality of this degree is a grave moral injustice. More than that, a growing body of research shows that inequality, even of a far lesser extent, produces a number of social ills. The research is described in detail in The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, a book by British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Some of the research is also discussed by the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz in his book The Price of Inequality. It follows that, in so far as well-off South Africans give to organisations and initiatives helping to reduce and alleviate poverty in South Africa, rather than elsewhere in the world, they achieve an additional moral good.
That said, the question of the Five Plus Project’s proper scope remains a difficult one. It will therefore be revisited periodically. The Project’s immediate aim is to build a large and lasting community of South Africans committed to the reduction and alleviation of poverty in South Africa. But once substantial progress towards this goal has been made, it may well be appropriate for the Project to expand its focus and ambition, and look also to the rest of the African continent.
The justifications for leaving you this choice are:
It is impossible to rank all the organisations and initiatives helping to reduce poverty in South Africa or alleviate its effects on a single scale. On the one hand, information about these organisations (how efficient they are or how great their impact is) is imperfect. On the other hand, the various contributions these organisations make (to health, to security, to education, to cultural and social life) are incommensurable.
Even if it were possible to rank all the organisations and initiatives helping people afflicted by poverty in South Africa on a single scale, there would be reasonable disagreement about what that ranking should be. People reasonably disagree about what the best response to poverty is. Some plausibly argue that it is best to ameliorate its short term effects, others that it is best to develop long term solutions. Some argue that education is more important than health, others the converse. Even within education, some argue that the emphasis should be on pre-school learning, others that it should be on those whose indigence prevents them from pursuing higher education. Some favour advocacy, others micro-finance. And so on.
If the Pledge were to prescribe the organisations and initiatives to which participants should give, it could skew the pattern of giving to the detriment of organisations and initiatives which, though less efficient and effective than others, nevertheless are doing important poverty-reducing and poverty-alleviating work. Furthermore, some people may be discouraged from taking the Pledge if they could not fulfil it by giving according to their own convictions as to which organisations or initiatives are successfully reducing and alleviating poverty, as well as their own particular interests (be it healthcare, education, or culture).
For these reasons it is best to leave it to you to decide which organisations or initiatives you should give to in order to fulfil your Pledge. However, in time the Five Plus Project will make it easier for you and others to make this choice by putting together a database of organisations and initiatives which, according to the best available information, are significantly reducing or alleviating poverty in South Africa.
There are two reasons why the Five Plus Project will not take and pass on the amount that you have pledged to the organisations or initiatives you have chosen:
The Project wishes to keep its own running costs to a minimum, so as to ensure that it only ever adds to, and never takes away from, the help given to those living in poverty or suffering from its effects.
The Project does not wish to interpose itself between you and your chosen organisations or initiatives. The more direct the relationship between you and the organisations or initiatives which you are helping to fund, the more information you will get back from them. That will enable you to see for yourself how well your contribution is being used. It should also encourage you to continue giving, and possibly to give even more.
The Pledge requires a uniform commitment of at least 5% of taxable income, rather than a lesser standard (say 2% of taxable income or 5% of after-tax income) or a variable one (dependent on the size of your income). Here is why:
It keeps things simple.
It avoids vagueness.
It best serves the Five Plus Project’s aim of increasing people’s giving rather than merely publicly recording and acknowledging what they already give.
It should be emphasised, again, that in the South African context the Five Plus Project’s requirement of 5% is a modest one. To grasp just how modest the 5% requirement is, it is worth bearing in mind the following:
Donations made to section 18A registered organisations are tax-deductible, provided you have obtained section 18A tax certificates from those organisations and that your total donations amount to less than 10% of your taxable income (before deductions).
This means that, of the 5% you give, you could get almost 2% (i.e., 40% of the 5%) back from the Receiver.
The Five Plus Project will not require you to prove that you have fulfilled your Pledge. Instead, the Project works on the assumption that you have taken the Pledge in good faith, with a sincere intention to fulfil it. But the fact that your Pledge is made public could mean that others may ask you for an account of whether and how you have fulfilled it.
The fact that fulfilment of your Pledge will not be monitored by the Five Plus Project is yet another reason for the requirement that you give to organisations or initiatives. This limitation makes it easier for you to be clear about what you have to do in order to fulfil your Pledge and whether you have done so. This is particularly the case in so far as you give to organisations registered under section 18A. For then you can simply look at your annual tax assessment (ITA34) and see whether the amount stated under Deductions as Donations (4011) represents at least 5% of the amount stated as your Taxable Income.
Many organisations and initiatives do important work to reduce or alleviate poverty, but not exclusively. This is particularly true of religious organisations. It may also be true of organisations dealing with healthcare, disability, or education. It follows that you can fulfil your Pledge by giving to organisations of this kind. However, you may need to find out approximately how large a fraction of what you give to such an organisation is used for poverty-reduction and poverty-relief. Then you can work that into your assessment of where and how much you need to give in order to fulfil your Pledge.
The Five Plus Project justifies its Pledge on humanitarian and egalitarian grounds. The justification also relies on a number of factual claims and suppositions, about the distribution of income in South Africa, about human motivation, and so on. It may be that you disagree with some of these grounds, assertions and assumptions. Does that preclude you from taking the Pledge?
No it does not. You are not required to endorse these reasons in order to take the Pledge. Nor does your taking the Pledge entail that you accept them as valid. Instead, the Pledge can represent what Cass Sunstein, in Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict, has called an incompletely theorized agreement. In other words, you can agree with others that, as a matter of practical action, you should take and fulfil the Pledge even while disagreeing with them on the theoretical justification for doing so.