This bibliography in the Directed Reading series covers the ethics, economics and politics of global distributive justice. The material excerpted below is from several titles in the list and will serve as an introduction to our subject matter.
The prima facie duty to relieve suffering is in general quite strong. Other moral considerations must be at least as strong to override its dictates. But in our ordinary thinking, we rarely allow a fair contest to take place. Instead, we routinely underestimate the inherent force of the duty to relieve suffering. We pit it against its competitors in an already weakened and diminished state. (Note that the duty to relieve suffering comes in two parts: a prohibition against inflicting suffering, and a requirement to prevent it. What we tend to underestimate is less the former than the latter.) We do so because of three deeply rooted habits: a tendency to forget the meaning of suffering, to forget the existence of suffering, and to forget or understimate our ability to prevent suffering. These three habits are mutually reinforcing. —Jamie Mayerfield, Suffering and Moral Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
We inhabit a world in which the lives of many millions of people are impaired and shortened by extreme moral poverty. How much ought affluent people—people like you and me—to be doing to help them?
The only way ultimately to end the scandal of world poverty will be by large-scale collective action—and this will not simply be a matter of raising levels of material 'aid' from rich to poor, either, but requires transforming the political, economic, and social structures that produce these patterns of deprivation.
[T]here is the following argument from rectificatory justice: we are collectively responsible for the injustice done in creating and sustaining other people's poverty, this puts us under a duty to redress that injustice, and I must discharge my share of that duty. [....] Another possibility is an argument from distributive rather than rectificatory justice. This holds that it is simply the fact that the world's resources are inequitably distributed, rather than the explanation of how that distribution came about that gives us a duty to change it, and makes it wrong for me not to discharge my share of that collective duty. A third, distinct possibility is an argument from regulative justice, objecting to the rules that currently govern international trade and financial accountability—to the rules themselves, rather than from the distributions resulting from their application. These rules, it might well be argued, unfairly enforce others' poverty for our advantage; we are collectively responsible for reforming them; and I ought to play my part in doing so.
Confronted with other peoples' need, there are two questions to ask: 'What can we do to stop this from happening again?' and 'What can we do to help these people now?' Recognizing that humanitarian aid will not answer the first question does not detract from its importance in addressing the second.
According to the life-saving analogy, it is wrong not to donate your time and money to humanitarian aid-agencies, because refusing to do this is, in a morally relevant way, like failing to save someone's life right in front of you.
Not contributing to aid agencies is like failing to avert threats to life directly: it exhibits a failure of beneficence, and that makes it morally wrong.—Garrett Cullity, The Moral Demands of Affluence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
PRINCIPLE OF GROUP RESPONSIBILITY: If A's interests are vulnerable to the action and choices of a group of individuals, either disjunctively or conjunctively, then that group has a special responsibility to (a) organize (formally or informally) and (b) implement a scheme for coordinated action by members of the group such that A's interests will be protected as well as they can by that group, consistently with the group's other responsibilities.
PREVENTING EXPLOITABLE VULNERABILITIES: No one should be forced into a vulnerable or dependent position, insofar as this can be avoided. If people are placed in such a position (either through personal choice or natural or social necessity), vulnerabilities/dependencies should be reciprocal and, ideally, symmetrical among all those who are involved. In no case should they be so severe or asymmetrical that one party has exclusive, discretionary control over resources that the other needs to protect his vital interests.
PROTECTING THE VULNERABLE: When people are particularly vulnerable to or dependent upon you, for whatever reasons, you have a special responsibility to protect their interests. When they are vulnerable to you individually, you must seek to produce the result directly through your own efforts. Where they are vulnerable to a group of you, the group as a whole is responsible for protecting their interests; and you as an individual within that group have a derivative responsibility to help organize and participate in a cooperative scheme among members of that group to produce that result.—Robert E. Goodin, Protecting the Vulnerable: A Reanalysis of Our Social Responsibilities. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1985.
Severe poverty is by far the greatest source of human misery today. Deaths and harms from direct violence around the world—in Chechnya, East Timor, Congo, Bosnia, Kosovo, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia, Iraq and so on—provoke more publicity and handwringing. But they are vastly outnumbered by deaths and harms due to poverty.
The official position articulated by the United States and practiced by the developing countries can...be characterized by these three elements: We are able to reduce severe poverty and the hunger and diseases associated therewith at modest cost; we are willing to spend a tiny fraction of our national income toward such a reduction, but we are not legally or morally obligated to give any weight at all to this goal.
[T]here are at least three morally significant connections between us and the global poor. First, their social starting positions and ours have emerged from a single historical process that was pervaded by massive grievous wrongs. The same historical injustices, including genocide, colonialism, and slavery, play a role in explaining both their poverty and our affluence. The affluent countries and the elites of the developing world divide these resources on mutually agreeable terms without leaving 'enough and as good' [Locke] for the remaining majority of humankind. Third, they and we co-exist within a single global economic order that has a strong tendency to perpetuate and even to aggravate global economic inequality.—Thomas W. Pogge, ed., Global Justice. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.
For moral cosmopolitans the circumstances of justice and the nature of social cooperation have been altered so fundamentally [by economic integration, including transnational production structures, and globablization generally] that we are entitled to transpose egalitarian concepts of distributive justice that apply within the state onto the international or transnational level. [....] And yet we are not dealing with a 'now vanished Westphalian world' (to paraphrase Allen Buchanan), but rather a world in which solidarist and cosmopolitan models of governance coexist, usually rather unhappily, with many aspects of the old Westphalian order. First, there is deformity in terms of the distribution of advantages and disadvantages: in the way, for example, security is defined and the choices taken by institutions and states as to whose security is to be protected; or, very obviously, in the massive inequalities of the global economic order. Second, there is deformity in terms of who sets the rules of international society. Institutions are not, as some liberals would have us believe, neutral arenas for the solution of common problems, but rather sites of power, even of dominance. The vast majority of weaker actors are increasingly 'rule takers' over a whole range of issues that affect all aspects of social, economic, and political life. Third, there is deformity in terms of the very different capacities of states and societies to adapt to the demands of the global economy, combined with the extent to which the economic choices of developing countries are, if not dictated, then certainly shaped by the institutions dominated by the strong and often backed by coercion in the form of an expanding range of conditionalities. And finally, deformity is evident in the limited capacity of international law and institutions to constrain effectively the unilateral and often illegal acts of the strong. In this sense we are not moving beyond sovereignty, but rather returning to an earlier world of differentiated and more conditional sovereignties.—Andrew Hurrell in Pogge, ed., Global Justice (2001) (above).
Our world is arranged to keep us far away from massive and severe poverty and surrounds us with affluent, civilized people for whom the poor abroad are a good cause alongside the spotted owl. In such a world, the thought that we are involved in a monumental crime against these people, that we must fight to stop their dying and suffering, will appear so cold, so strained, and ridiculous, that we cannot find it in our heart to reflect on it any further. That we are naturally myopic and conformist enough to be easily reconciled to the hunger abroad may be fortunate for us who can 'recognize ourselves,' can lead worthwhile and fulfilling lives without much thought about the origins of our affluence. But it is quite unfortunate for the global poor, whose best hope may be our moral reflection.
- The worse-off are very badly off in absolute terms.
- They are also very badly off in relative terms—very much worse off than many others.
- The inequality is impervious: it is difficult or impossible for the worse-off substantially to improve their lot; and most of the better off never experience life at the bottom for even a few months and have no vivid idea of what it is like to live in that way.
- The inequality is pervasive: it concerns not merely some aspects of life, such as the climate or access to natural beauty or higher culture, but most aspects or all.
- The inequality is avoidable: the better-off can improve the circumstances of the worse-off without becoming badly off themselves. [....]
- There is a shared institutional order that is shaped by the better-off and imposed on the worse off.
- This institutional order is implicated in the reproduction of radical inequality in that there is a feasible institutional alternative under which severe and extensive poverty would not persist.
- The radical inequality cannot be traced to extra-social factors (such as genetic handicaps or natural disasters) which, as such, affect different people differentially. [....]
- The better-off enjoy significant advantages in the use of a single natural resource base from whose benefits the worse-off are largely, and without compensation, excluded. [....]
- The social starting positions of the worse-off and the better-off have emerged from a single historical process that was pervaded by massive grievous wrongs.—Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002.