Imagine the following situation. You do not need a second car, but you like the shape of the new Civic. Your old car is not too old, it does all you want it to do, it does not have any negative image issues (it is not an ancient model, beat up and so on), and it is not a liability but you feel like getting a new car and you buy a brand new Civic at Rs. 1.5 million. And like a lot of people in Pakistan, you decide not to take out any insurance on it. The same evening you take the car out for a spin. You go and park your car on a less used but serviceable railway track. You step out of the car to just take some air. At 400 odd feet from you a young boy, in tatters, is collecting polythene bags and bottles for scavenging purposes (a common sight in Pakistan). He is walking on the rail tracks. Suddenly you spot a train coming towards the child. He clearly has neither seen it nor has he heard it approach. You are near a track change instrument by using which you can send the train on to the lesser used track. But you know that that will destroy your brand new Civic. But if you do nothing, the child will surely get killed. And there is no other way of saving the child. What would you do? What do you think what would most people do? I think very few of us would be comfortable saying that letting the child die is an option they would take, and we are likely to be very uncomfortable being in the company of people who would say that. I know I would be. Most people would probably save the child, though with a lot of ache about losing their new car: their pride and joy. Letting the child die would be 'morally reprehensible', and possibly legally too (I am not a lawyer but for my example it does not matter whether it is so or not): you are letting great harm come to another human when you could have saved them with no bodily danger to yourself and with only financial cost to you, but a cost that you can easily bear (remember this is not my means of earning transport...but my 'feel good' car). Most of us, I hope, will agree, that the right action to do, is to save the child (if it helps, think that it is your child and someone else standing there by the track...what would you like him/her to do?). But the strangest thing is that we are allowing exactly the situation described above to occur around us all the time. And all of us know of it, read about it and talk about it but most of us do not do anything about it. Only the other day we heard that a mother had killed two of her children and herself because she could not afford to pay for food and other necessities for the family in the meager salary that her husband was earning. Less than a week ago a working man had burnt himself to death because he could not service the loan he had taken from a bank and the bank's collectors had been rude to the person's sister and mother (the Finance Minister said, and on the floor of the Senate of the country, that this would be investigated fully). We know thirty-five odd percent of Pakistanis are living below the poverty line: that is they are barely making enough to pay for their food. We know a significant number of the nation's children suffer from malnutrition, a significant number do not have access to inoculations that they need to survive, a majority do not have access to basic health facilities that allow them to take care of even treatable conditions such as diarrhea, millions of them do not have access to safe drinking water, sewerage facilities and a safe environment, and tens of millions of our children do not have access to even basic education. All of us know this. Are there many of us who are preferring to have our feel-good cars and other such non-essential expenditure when people are dying? Is this moral? Does this make a lot of us morally culpable and close to being murderers? You will notice that the issue is not 'essential expenditure'. What I need for my own essential expenditure, or for my family, probably has the same need-importance as anybody else. So that is not the issue here and we are not arguing that we should not be spending our money on our needs or saving some for the future. It is beyond the need that is the question. We thought most people would not have a problem 'sacrificing' the second car, however much they might mourn the demise of the car, when the choice was between human life and the car. The situation is exactly analogous: when the choice is between non-essential expenditure and human life, why do so many of us indulge in conspicuous consumption rather than in giving this money away to help others. We should put in a few caveats. First, we are not talking of whether saving other people is the responsibility of the state or not. Even if you are paying all your taxes and have lived up to your legal obligation there, the issue is with what 'you-as-an-individual' spend on non-essentials. State's failings are a separate topic for a separate article. Second, we are not talking of money that people save for the future either. So the argument that I do not give away what is beyond my needs as I need to save that for the future does not apply here. We are not talking of what people save, though there is a moral question of what is appropriate level of savings for yourself or your family when others are dying, but let us leave that aside for another paper too. What is being talked about here is just the money spent on conspicuous consumption: the massive houses, the luxury cars, the airplanes, the lavish holidays, the extremely comfortable living, the excessive electronic gadgetry, the latest mobile phone sets, the overflowing wardrobes and the dozens of footwear that are almost never used. There is no way of justifying that when you grant that allowing the child to die to save your car is wrong. If, of course, you say that you would have let that child die, then there is no quarrel with you...this article cannot help you. Third, it is also clear that none of us can really hide behind the facetious argument that we cannot find deserving candidates to help. With a large number of NGOs (in nutrition, health, education, and so on) of good reputation working in the country, it is hard to argue that we cannot find one that would suit us. Furthermore, if one looked at one's relatives, neighbourhood, and/or place of work, one is bound to find people who could use the extra rupee in a much more useful way than the rich could. With poverty levels at 35 percent odd, vulnerability levels at 70 percent odd, and with food inflation the way it has been for the last few years, it would be surprising if anyone in the country does not know a few people who could do better with some financial help. There are millions of Pakistanis who are lucky enough, talented enough, or skilled enough to be in a bracket that allows them to earn more than what they need (including prudential level of savings) for themselves and their families. But a lot of us spend the 'extra' money on luxuries. When we know there are people who are dying of hunger and basic need deprivation out there, and in their millions, it is clearly immoral, whether it is illegal or not, to continue doing this. Whether we call this an unrealistic picture or a utopian one or a strict one, it does not really matter, it is the truth. Most religious and secular moralities I know of would agree. Rather than change our notion of morality, should we not think of changing our behaviour? E-mail: