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Dear Philosophers
I recently posted the following on a forum for a course in Global Health that I took:
“India going to Mars while 48.9% of its population can’t go to a flush-toilet!
Is it just me, or is there a moral disconnect here? The international press is reporting that India intends to launch a space vehicle which is slated to orbit Mars. India's space program is reported to cost the country US$ 1.1 billion (yes! that is "_illion" with a B) annually from 2011-2013.
I am kind of wondering how extensive a sanitation infrastructure India could have had for the combined budgets of their space and nuclear weapon's programs?
I am also wondering at what point practitioners from the global health community start to call into question the ethical and moral responsibility of a government toward its citizens? For myself, I think I have reached that point - the next time I get solicited (a.k.a. fleeced) for some health project in India I may just tell them to go to h... Mars, because to me, this stinks worse than the cholera ward I once worked in.”

In hindsight (a.k.a., on re-reading the post a few days later), it appears as more of a personal rant rather than what it was intended to be, namely, an expression of disbelief at the misplaced priorities. So my questions to the Philosophers are – (1) how could I have presented this situation from a moral and/or ethical perspective without it appearing as a rant? and (2) is there a philosophical perspective that I could have referenced or drawn from that would have set a higher priority to public good of health care over science, without it appearing to be anti-science, as I am not opposed to scientific research?
Thank you for your time. Regards Doug N.

November 14, 2013

Response from Oliver Leaman on November 17, 2013
Well, India is a democracy and so one has to suspect that a substantial part of the population is in favor of such expenditure. Perhaps even those who have no flush toilets. Then there is the prospect that out of the Mars project there will be a result which may be of general benefit to even the poorest part of the population. I have no idea what the situation is here but presumably the Indian government is going to argue that the expenditure is worthwhile for the general population.

It seems obvious that when there is spending on something that looks superfluous while there are unmet basic needs in society, that a reallocation of resources needs to take place. But why? If I choose to spend my last few dollars on champagne and not my rent, which results in my becoming homeless, it is my choice. If I ask you to cover the rent money, you may well decline. But then it is up to you. I think the Indians are fed up with being regarded as basket cases when much that goes on in the country is the reverse of that. It is for them to decide how to allocate their resources. A basic principle of charity is that one gives money freely and perhaps hopes it will be well used. It is paternalistic to adopt any other attitude.

I realize that I have not succeeded in rephrasing your two interesting questions but I think they are based on a suspect presupposition that there is something here morally questionable.


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