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Theories on Global Poverty – Normative Disclosure and Consistency: Beiträge zur Analytischen Politischen Theorie



According to the World Bank, 767 million people, 10.7 percent of the world’s population, live on less than 1.9 dollars a day (World Bank 2016: 35), and around 2 billion, 28,7 percent of humankind, on less than 3.2 dollars a day (Figures correspond to 2013).1 About 815 million are undernourished (FAO 2017: 2). About 155 million children will suffer from stunted growth (FAO 2017: 2).
Theories on Global Poverty
Normative Disclosure and Consistency
Eduardo Rivera-López
1 Introduction
According to the World Bank, 767 million people, 10.7 percent of the world’s popula-
tion, live on less than 1.9 dollars a day (World Bank 2016: 35), and around 2 billion,
28,7 percent of humankind, on less than 3.2 dollars a day (Figures correspond to
About 815 million are undernourished (FAO 2017: 2). About 155 million chil-
dren will suffer from stunted growth (FAO 2017: 2).
Beyond some (non-trivial) disagreements as to how to count the poor and how
to measure poverty,
there is a wide consensus that global poverty is one of the most
serious problems of our time. Opinions differ drastically, however, about the nature
and scope of the problem involved in global poverty and about the ways to overcome
it. Mapping out these opinions and theories would be complex and would include dif-
ferent kinds of disagreements, both normative and empirical. One preliminary disa-
greement is whether the problem we face is a moral one.
On the assumption that we
are facing moral failure, there is further disagreement whether that failure is essentially
one of (in)justice, or rather one of lack of benevolence by those who are not poor. As-
suming that, at least in part, global poverty is the result of injustice, there is further
disagreement about the kind of injustice at stake: Is global poverty unjust because it
reflects an unjust pattern of distribution (a strongly inegalitarian one, for instance), or
is it unjust because it is the consequence of political oppression and/or corruption (or
both), or is it a violation of basic human rights? Regardless, is there something that
governments, international institutions, and/or individual citizens can do to remove or
reduce global poverty? If so, what kind of action (or inaction) is best in the circum-
My purpose in this paper is not to answer these questions or defend some par-
ticular position concerning these disagreements. My aim is propaedeutic: to suggest
some methodological requirements that should help to avoid some of these disagree-
ments and misunderstandings about the nature of a theory concerned with global pov-
For this last figure, see
1981&view=chart (17.08.2018).
See the controversy between Thomas Pogge and Martin Ravallion in Anand et al. 2010. For a discussion and
critique of the most recent figures by the World Bank, see Hickel 2016. Accordin g to the World Bank, ex-
treme poverty has decreased in the last two decades; Hickel challenges that claim. On the other hand, the
FAO reports an increase in world hunger from 2015 to 2016, from 777 million to 815 million people (FAO
2017: 5).
If global poverty were just an unfortunate, unavoidable, circumstance, it would be plausible to deny the status
of “moral” problem. More on this in section I.
© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2019
K. Marker et al. (Hrsg.), Demokratie und Entscheidung,
Normative Political Theory Normative Politische Theorie
erty and about the relationship between the normative and empirical aspects of such a
theory. The general idea is as follows: Assume that we have agreed that global poverty
is something that should be eradicated. This being so, it might seem that the only thing
we need is good empirical research by economists and other social scientists, telling us
how to go from our present situation (one fourth of human population suffering pov-
erty) to the desired one (poverty eradication). This, however, is too simple. Things are
far more complex and some of the features of that complexity should be taken into
account both by philosophers and economists. A theory aiming to tell us what to do to
eradicate global poverty will unavoidably contain a complex mixture of normative and
factual elements, and it is important to disclose those elements and maintain consisten-
cy among them. My central claim is that, while most philosophical theories on global
poverty do share the basic aim of contributing to poverty eradication, they often fall
short in adequately disclosing their normative commitments. When these commit-
ments are made explicit, the internal consistency of these theories becomes highly
In section 2, I explain some basic assumptions of my argument. I then propose
the concept of “Poverty Eradication Theory” as the key idea of any moral theory genu-
inely concerned with global poverty (section 3). Section 4 addresses the normative
elements of any plausible Poverty Eradication Theory. Some of these elements relate
to the goal of poverty eradication (or reduction); other elements are focused on the
(permissible) means to achieve that goal. On the basis of the resulting picture, I pro-
pose in section 5 my two (aforementioned) methodological requirements that any
plausible Poverty Eradication Theory must satisfy: normative disclosure and norma-
tive consistency. I show that these standards are often disregarded by leading political
philosophers. Finally, I show in section 6 how these requirements are useful in dealing
with some controversial issues related to global poverty, specifically, with the relation-
ship between global poverty and the lack of fulfillment of basic economic and social
human rights.
2 Preliminaries
Let me start by advancing some basic assumptions that delineate the framework of my
argument. My first assumption is that global poverty is, at least in part, a moral prob-
lem, such that there is a prima facie moral requirement to eradicate (or at least to re-
duce as much as possible) global poverty. As this is an assumption, I will not offer an
argument to support it. I will, however, make some points to motivate the assumption
and show that it is reasonable.
The first point is that the assumption is quite weak, in that it makes no com-
mitments on the nature of that moral requirement (duty of justice or imperfect duty of
For a Rawlsian argument in favor of a “poverty eradication principle,” see Kokaz 2007: 318 -328.
Eduardo Rivera-pez: Theories on Global Poverty
beneficence), on the identity of the bearers of such a requirement (citizens, govern-
ments, etc.), or on its content (redistribution, humanitarian intervention, promotion of
free market capitalism, socialist revolution, or whatever).
The second point is that we live in a highly unequal world: the richest one per-
cent of the world’s population owns 49 percent of the world’s wealth, and the top 10
percent own 88% percent.
This is not, per se, a sufficient reason to think that there is
a moral requirement to improve the situation of the global poor. But it does suggest, at
least, that the problem of global poverty is not one of natural and unavoidable scarcity.
If we think that global poverty brings about an enormous amount of human suffering,
it seems natural to believe that there must be some kind of moral reason to relieve the
global poor from that situation.
It is certainly true that the behavior of most persons in developed countries sug-
gests that they do not share my assumption. Few contribute to poverty relief in a sig-
nificant way, and statements to the effect that global poverty is a serious moral prob-
lem may often be meant as just a political posture. This posturing, however, does not
show that the moral problem does not exist, rather it suggests precisely the opposite.
Posturers feign concern with the problem because they know that the problem is genu-
ine. They know that, if they were moral persons, they should be genuinely concerned.
My second assumption is that the contribution of political philosophy must have
some practical, motivational, aim. This is also a relatively safe assumption, since al-
most every theory on offer has this kind of intention. Those theorizing about global
poverty not only seek to understand the moral problem of global justice but also to
offer ways to overcome it. They try to describe the content of those moral require-
ments that have to be fulfilled in order to remove global injustice or, in our case, glob-
al poverty. As we will see, most theories do make concrete proposals aiming to im-
prove upon the global situation of poverty and of (what each of them consider as) in-
3 Poverty Eradication Theories
Once we have assumed that global poverty is a moral problem and that our philosoph-
ical theorizing should contribute to its solution, it seems that our moral thinking on this
issue must contain some set of proposals about what we (or others) concretely should
do (or not do) in order to eradicate global poverty. I will call this set of proposals a
“Poverty Eradication Theory.” A Poverty Eradication Theory is a theory aiming to
answer the question “what should be done in order to eradicate global poverty?” Very
schematically, a Poverty Eradication Theory will have a means-end structure: “to erad-
icate global poverty X, should be done,” where “X” is a (presumably complex) set of
See Davies et al. 2017: 750-1.
Normative Political Theory Normative Politische Theorie
measures, actions, omissions, policies, etc. (or a disjunction of sets of measures, ac-
tions, etc.).
Contrasting the moral prescription to remove global poverty with other moral
prescriptions allows us to see the importance and singularity of a Poverty Eradication
Theory. In the context of interpersonal morality, for example, there are prescriptions in
which the relationship between the content of the prescription and its accomplishment
is transparent. Suppose that our moral theory tells me that I should keep the duty of
veracity. The question how to accomplish the goal of being veracious is superfluous: I
am simply required not to tell lies. On the other hand, the relationship between the pre-
scription “remove extreme poverty” and its accomplishment is not transparent. The
question “what should we do in order to remove extreme poverty?” is crucial.
If our
moral theory does not say how we are going to achieve such a goal, the theory has no
practical import.
We must incorporate such an answer into the theory in order to ful-
fill its practical aim. The part of our moral theory trying to offer such an answer is the
Poverty Eradication Theory.
The “theoretical” flavor of a Poverty Eradication Theory should not be overem-
phasized. Any coherent set of beliefs on what should be done (or should not be done)
to reduce global poverty counts as a theory in my sense.
Economists (especially development economists) typically have a Poverty
Eradication Theory. Discussions among them can be understood as discussions among
different (and often incompatible) Poverty Eradication Theories.
With different em-
phases, styles, and empirical assumptions, political philosophers also appeal to state-
ments that, in my terminology, should be considered part of their Poverty Eradication
Theories. For example, Thomas Pogge believes that a “Global Resource Dividend”
would contribute to poverty reduction and, therefore, should be implemented urgent-
Jan Narveson and Fernando Tesón defend free trade as a crucial policy to reduce
global poverty drastically.
Some other philosophers partially share this view, stress-
I will often use the term “policy” to refer the set of actions (or omissions) prescribed by a Poverty Eradica-
tion Theory. The concept should not be understood in a narrow way, as a centralized set of measures adopted
by some political authority. I use the term very loosely: any set of actions oriented to a goal is a policy in my
Other cases are intermediate. For example, suppose that our moral theory tells us: “Rescue the drowning
people of that boat.” We must know how to rescue them. The theory analogous to a Poverty Eradication
Theory for the case of rescuing drowning people would be: “Go to the dock, take that boat, etc…”
Remember that the practical aim is one of our initial assumptions and, incidentally, the aim of most political
philosophers concerned with global poverty. This does not imply that theoretical discussions addressing, for
example, the kind of duties that are involved in global justice are irrelevant or meaningless. It only implies
that that they are insufficient.
I will not focus on the empirical work by development economists. For a sample of some very different and
controversial views on poverty reduction, compare Easterly 2006, 2013, and Sachs 2005, 2015.
See Pogge 2008: “Such an amount [$312 billion annually], if well targeted and effectively spent, would make
a phenomenal difference to the poor even within a few years” (211).
See Narveson 2004a: 346, Narveson 2004b: 406. See also Tesón 2004: “I argue that the best way to enhance
opportunity for the poor in the world is to establish conditions of global free movement of goods, services,
and persons” (192).
Eduardo Rivera-pez: Theories on Global Poverty
ing the necessity that developed (and only developed) countries drastically reduce sub-
sidies of agricultural goods.
Allen Buchanan proposes global reforms that should
help the poor by making international distribution more equitable.
Darrell Moellen-
dorf believes that the Tobin tax might help to “produce significant gains for the least
Pablo Gilabert, following Joseph Stiglitz, supports reforming the WTO
(World Trade Organization) in order to secure fair trade benefiting rather than ex-
ploiting developing nations.”
All these examples show that Poverty Eradication The-
ories are not anecdotic or secondary in political philosophy. These authors are not sat-
isfied with offering a purely normative account of global justice, or a picture of the
ideally just world. They also have an account about what governments, international
institutions, or individuals are morally required to do in order to relieve global poverty.
4 Normative Elements of a Poverty Eradication Theory
Why do philosophers engage in offering (or endorsing) a Poverty Eradication Theory?
Why do they not just look to what economists say? If economists disagree with one
another (as they do), there seems to be nothing philosophers (qua philosophers) can
do, since the question of what is conductive to poverty eradication seems to be an en-
tirely empirical one. After all, if I ask how to achieve any particular goal G, the answer
will be something like: “to get G, you have to do X” (“to go to the train station, you
have to take the bus and walk, etc.”), and whether doing X helps to achieve G is a mat-
ter of facts, not of norms. The same might be thought on global poverty: whether free
trade or the Tobin Tax (or both, or neither) helps to lessen global poverty seems to be
an empirical question.
The emphasis on the empirical side must be welcomed, since many political
philosophers underestimate the economics of poverty reduction or have very superfi-
cial views on the matter.
However, thinking that the realization of poverty eradica-
tion depends entirely on good economic theory is an oversimplification. The relation-
ships between empirical and normative elements of Poverty Eradication Theories are
complex. In this section I show different ways in which a Poverty Eradication Theory
must be inextricably linked to normative considerations.
I will return to this issue with some detail in section 4.
Those reforms include: “the development and implementation of global labor standards to improve the condi-
tions of working people, those environmental reforms that ameliorate the inequitable flow of resources from
underdeveloped to developed states, provisions in trade agreements designed to ameliorate the injuries that
fluctuations in market prices inflict on poorer countries, multilateral commitments to development aid, and
support for democratic government…” (Buchanan 2004: 226).
Moellendorf 2002: 81.
Gilabert 2012: 148. See in the same direction Hassoun 2012: Ch. 5.
This has been rightly pointed out by Tesón and Klick (2006). In a different way, the same point has been
made by Michael Blake (2012). More recently the same point is made in Tesón and Lomasky (2015).
Normative Political Theory Normative Politische Theorie
4.1 The Goal
I have defined the structure of a Poverty Eradication Theory as follows: “in order to
eradicate global poverty, X should be done.” Now, this formulation is still too coarse.
There are several implicit normative elements in the goal itself that must be disclosed.
First, poverty is not an all or nothing matter: one can be more or less poor.
Therefore, “poverty eradication” expresses a limit of a continuum of different degrees
of poverty reduction (something like “reducing poverty as much as possible”). How-
ever, poor populations contain millions of individuals whose poverty can be reduced in
different degrees. Second, it seems plausible to assume that poverty eradication should
occur as soon as possible. Otherwise, the goal would lack normative force: to achieve
a goal in an indeterminate future is as good as not having the goal at all. Moreover, the
facts on poverty are so appalling that they convey a sense of urgency. However, it
must be stressed that the sole enunciation of the goal says nothing about how soon the
goal should be achieved. Third, it is also plausible to assume that poverty eradication
should be sustainable in the long run. But, again, the formulation of the goal of pov-
erty reduction does not imply anything about how sustainable such a reduction should
The three mentioned points involve matters of degree: we may reduce poverty
more or less, we may reduce poverty more or less soon, and we may reduce poverty
more or less permanently. Each requires normative decisions. Consider, for example,
the first dimension (degree of poverty). Let us assume the two thresholds mentioned at
the beginning of the article (1.9 dollar a day as measure of extreme poverty and 3.2
dollar a day as measure of poverty). Even within this simplified framework, it may
well happen that policy A reduces the number of extreme poor but, at the same time,
increases the total poor population, and an alternative policy B increases the number of
extreme poor but reduces the total population of poor people. Details matter: it is not
the same whether policy B increases extreme poverty only slightly in order to drasti-
cally reduce total poverty or whether total poverty reduction is done at the cost of al-
most all poor being extremely poor. The same kind of trade-offs will obviously be re-
quired in the case of the second (speed of reduction) and the third (sustainability) di-
This is not all: even if each of the three dimensions were transparent, we would
still need compromises among the three. Policy A may be efficient at reducing poverty
faster than policy B but, at the same time, A may be less sustainable and/or reduce
poverty to a lesser degree than B.
In order to illustrate the general point more realistically, let me briefly mention
an example to which I will return later more carefully: free trade. Many philosophers
(and economists) recommend free trade as a powerful tool to reduce global poverty.
Some supporters of free trade advocate the elimination of agricultural and industrial
Eduardo Rivera-pez: Theories on Global Poverty
subsidies in developed countries, arguing that this would help the poor of developing
countries that export those products.
Others want the elimination of protection both
in rich and in poor countries, arguing that free trade helps the poor even when a poor
country reduces or unilaterally eliminates its trade barriers.
Setting aside controver-
sial complex empirical issues, the point I want to stress now is that, in both cases, sup-
porters of free trade must be ready to make very complex trade-offs along the dimen-
sions I mentioned before. For example, reducing agricultural subsidies in Europe and
the USA would increase the international price of food. This would improve the situa-
tion of those (developing) countries that export those products. But not all poor coun-
tries are food exporters. There will be winner and losers both among rich and poor.
The same happens with reducing protection in developing countries. Even accepting
that unilateral reduction of protection is efficient and helps the poor in the long run, in
the short run it will surely increase poverty among those (poor people) working in pro-
tected industries.
These remarks are just intended to support the idea that the goal of poverty
eradication is normatively opaque along the three mentioned dimensions (at least):
degree of poverty reduction, degree of promptness, and degree of sustainability. Since
policies for poverty reduction involve millions of persons, complex compromises must
be taken concerning each of these dimensions and among them. Finally, it is important
to stress that these trade-offs are essentially normative. Economists can reveal the facts
that make the trade-offs necessary, but they cannot offer a criterion to decide among
4.2 The Means
Let us now assume (for the sake of simplicity) that the goal of poverty eradication is
transparent, in the sense that we are able to make appropriate moral compromises con-
cerning the goal of poverty eradication. If we also assume (as we have done already
from the beginning) that poverty eradication is prescribed by our moral theory, it
seems, once again, that the Poverty Eradication Theory will be fundamentally an em-
pirical theory. It will tell us what we should do in order to (most probably) achieve the
goal, in the same sense that it is an empirical matter to determine the best way for me
to get from here to Paris as quickly as possible.
See Moellendorf 2005: 153, Pogge: 2008: 234, Tan 2004: 32.
See Tesón 2004, and Tesón and Klick 2006. Also Narveson 2004a.
Jeffrey Sachs, for example, claims that the end of agricultural subsidies in Europe might harm the poor in
Africa. The reason is that the agricultural liberalization would raise the price of some important products
(such as wheat and maize) and Africa is a net importing region of these products. He concludes that “the net
effects on poverty could be either positive or negative, but are very unlikely to be hugely beneficial” (Sachs
2005: 282). Of course, we might argue that the negative effect would occur only in the short term, but higher
prices will benefit farmers in the poor countries in the long run and the benefit for the poor will outweigh
short term losses. Still, we should openly admit the possibility of short term losses and address the normative
problem of balancing both effects (short term losses and long term benefits).
Normative Political Theory Normative Politische Theorie
However, things are, once again, less simple. It might be that the best way to go
to Paris is to steal my neighbor’s money and go directly to the airport. Whether this is
so is an empirical question (perhaps my neighbor does not have enough money to buy
the ticket). Let us call “unconstrained Poverty Eradication Theory” a Poverty Eradica-
tion Theory that selects the policy that most probably achieves the goal of poverty re-
duction and, with that aim, takes into account only those actions or practices that peo-
ple will most probably do, regardless of their content. Among those actions or practic-
es are those involved in carrying out the selected policy itself and those made by peo-
ple as a consequence of the implementation of such policy.
However, we might have (and most likely will have) moral reasons to limit the
unconstrained Poverty Eradication Theory in various ways. I will consider three kinds
of constraining reasons.
a) Prevailing Goals:
The goal of eradicating global poverty is plausibly not our only moral goal. Other
goals compete, and some of them may prevail (I will call them “prevailing goals”).
The possible prevailing goals are many. We might endorse, for example, the goal of
cultural identity, or of environmental diversity, or of social homogeneity. An uncon-
strained Poverty Eradication Theory might endanger important values we want to pre-
serve. Therefore, we might want to modify the unconstrained Poverty Eradication
Theory in order to avoid sacrificing those values.
Although prevailing goals can be extraordinarily relevant in many cases, I will
not focus my analysis on them. My starting point has not been neutral in this respect. I
have assumed that global poverty is a crucial contemporary moral problem and that
eradicating it is an urgent and overriding goal, excluding the possibility that communi-
tarian or environmental goals could prevail. I assume that the only goals that can be
expected to override the goal of eradicating global poverty are the preservation and
sustainability of mankind itself, which, in turn, is a necessary condition for the attain-
ment of the goal of sustainable poverty reduction itself.
b) Ideal Requirements:
According to the picture I have presented thus far, a Poverty Eradication Theory must
determine the set of actions (measures, policies, etc.) that, in our present circumstanc-
es, are most efficient to relieve global poverty. In Rawlsian terminology, this is a kind
of nonideal theory, since it must take into account the actual (foreseeable) degree of
compliance of people (governments, institutions, etc.).
The actual degree of compli-
ance is not full compliance. In other words, actual institutions and governments are not
For the distinction between ideal and nonideal theory, see Rawls 1971: 246. Ideal theory tries to establish
what kind of institutions should be enacted in a perfectly just society, assuming full compliance by all its rel-
evant members. Nonideal theory tries to establish what institutions and individual actions are morally re-
quired in the real world, where many actual institutions are not just and most moral agents are partial compli-
Eduardo Rivera-pez: Theories on Global Poverty
perfectly just and people are partial compliers: they do not always act in the morally
best available way.
There is a huge controversy about the role of, and relationship between, ideal
and nonideal theory, which I do not want to enter into here.
What I want to stress is
that, in some cases, we might have reasons to grant a certain primacy to ideal theory
over our (nonideal) Poverty Eradication Theory. Let me explain this point with a high-
ly simplified example. Imagine that our ideal Poverty Eradication Theory claims that
poverty eradication will be achieved by everyone doing x. Unfortunately, empirical
theories foresee that it is not very likely that people will do x. As a consequence of
estimations about what people will most likely do under different possible scenarios, a
Poverty Eradication Theorist faces the following choice: if policy X (one that requires
people to do x) is adopted, the probability of attaining the goal of poverty eradication
is 0.6, whereas if policy Y (one that requires people to do y) is adopted, the probability
of attaining the same goal is 0.8.
Depending on the content of our general moral the-
ory, we may want to insist on a policy requiring people to do x, because x is the right
thing to do (if everyone does the right thing). And we may prefer policy X, even
though we are risking (or, at least, lowering the probability of) the very attainment of
the goal of poverty eradication. This kind of normative constraint consists of those
ideal moral prescriptions we are not ready to abandon, although we know that people
will most probably not follow them. A Poverty Eradication Theory prescribing policy
X accepts x as, what I will call, an “ideal requirement”.
To further illustrate the point, imagine (again, appealing to a highly simplistic
example) that an ideal Poverty Eradication Theory prescribes rich people to donate
one half of their resources to the poor.
In our real world, it is very unlikely that this
prescription would in fact reduce poverty. First, it is very unlikely that rich people
would follow the prescription. Second, other people might prevent those donations
from producing the expected benefit (corrupt governments in poor countries, for ex-
ample). Therefore, an unconstrained Poverty Eradication Theory would not include
such a prescription as part of the recommended policy to eradicate poverty. Still, we
might want to modify our Poverty Eradication Theory so as to include such a require-
ment (at least to some extent). The resulting Poverty Eradication Theory will make the
goal of poverty eradication less likely to be accomplished, because, per hypothesis, the
unconstrained Poverty Eradication Theory expresses the most efficient way to reach
that goal, and the proposed policy deviates from it.
For an outline of the discussion see Stemplowska and Swift 2012.
For the sake of showing this point, I am assuming that empirical (social) science is able to offer t his kind of
estimation. There are, however, reasons to be quite skeptical on this point. I will not pursue this issue here.
That means that, if everyone follows all ideal moral commands up to now, what every rich person should do
in order to eradicate global poverty is donating half of her wealth to the poor. I bring this prescription as a
simplified version of a kind of proposal that some philosophers make (famously Peter Singer). I am not de-
fending or assuming the plausibility of this prescription.
Normative Political Theory Normative Politische Theorie
The function of ideal requirements in a nonideal moral theory is important. We
want to motivate people to do their duty also in those cases where we can foresee that
they will probably not comply. The extent to which we are not ready to give up ideal
requirements determines the degree of idealism or realism of our Poverty Eradication
Theory. Establishing the degree of idealism is, obviously, a normative decision a mor-
al theory must face.
c) Deontological constraints:
A third kind of normative constraint over the Poverty Eradication Theory is deontolog-
ical. A Poverty Eradication Theory can (and often will) include rights or duties that
prevail over policy considerations. They are “deontological constraints” precisely be-
cause they have at least some kind of primacy over the pursuit of a valuable social
goal. We would not endorse policies violating certain rights even if we were provided
with the empirical evidence that doing so would maximize poverty reduction. For ex-
ample, some empirical findings suggest that economic growth and, consequently, pov-
erty reduction is best advanced by authoritarian regimes, at least during first stages of
Although this is a highly contested claim, some data suggest that it is
not completely implausible.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the claim is true.
However, we might impose a deontological constraint on our Poverty Eradication
Theory by forbidding any policy incompatible with democracy, even though the alter-
native, unconstrained policy would be, other things being equal, more likely to achieve
poverty eradication than the first one.
Ideal requirements and deontological constraints are similar in some ways, and
in many cases they overlap. Both normative considerations can make the attainment of
the goal of poverty eradication less probable, but we still may want to incorporate
them into our Poverty Eradication Theory. However, they are conceptually different.
Ideal requirements are moral norms that are justifiable in an ideal world and that we
want to preserve in our nonideal world, even though we know that people will most
likely not comply with them. Deontological constraints, on the other hand, may belong
both to ideal and nonideal theory. They impose a limit to what our Poverty Eradication
Theory proposes, but such limit is not founded on our desire to preserve something of
the ideal world (the world where everyone complies with morality). Rather, it is
founded on other moral reasons, not necessarily ideal ones. For example, we might
See Glaeser 2004.
See Przeworski 2004, who claims that democracy and development are relatively independent, and Baum
and Lake 2003, who claim that democracy has positive (indirect) effects on development. See also Dasgupta
2005: 266-269 for a very careful assessment of the issue.
Typically, we defend democracy for deontological reasons: our right to be governed democratically. Howev-
er, the reason might not be strictly deontological. We might think, for example, that democratic governments
better serve other human rights (the right not to be persecuted for political reasons, the right to free speech,
and so on). The justification of democracy would be instrumental, but the rights we ultimately want to up-
hold are not.
Eduardo Rivera-pez: Theories on Global Poverty
think that future crimes committed by dictators should be punished according to their
moral culpability. This can well be conceived as a deontological right (or duty).
If so,
then we would defend such a right even if punishing those criminals were, according
to the best available empirical evidence, detrimental to the goal of reducing global
poverty. However, a deontological right (or duty) to punish cannot be advanced as an
ideal requirement, since such a right assumes the existence of partial compliance. The
same (but in the opposite direction) can be said in the mentioned case of rich people
donating half of their wealth. This can be an ideal requirement, but not a deontological
constraint, at least not according to most accounts on the nature of our duties of benef-
5 Normative disclosure and consistency as methodological requirements
One conclusion we can draw from my analysis in the previous section is that, although
the valuable goal of eliminating global poverty appears to be relatively straightfor-
ward, the philosophical commitments of any theory aiming that goal are complex and
controversial. In order to know what to propose to achieve such a goal, we have to
make moral decisions, both concerning the goal itself and the means. I cannot advance
here the content of those moral decisions, if I am to remain neutral with respect to the
normative content that a Poverty Eradication Theory should endorse. Still, two im-
portant methodological requirements can be extracted from the foregoing considera-
tions: (i) Normative disclosure, and (ii) Normative consistency. I would like to explain
both claims in turn.
5.1 Normative disclosure
Normative disclosure means making all the normative elements of our Poverty Eradi-
cation Theory explicit. Two main aspects are involved in this requirement. First, we
should make explicit the compromises that we are prepared to make concerning the
goal of poverty eradication. As we have seen, any realistic policy proposal oriented to
reduce poverty must make trade-offs along different dimensions. The moral costs of
those policies should not be concealed. Second, we should be clear about when a pro-
posed policy or particular institutional reform is supported by the sheer moral purpose
to reduce poverty globally speaking and when it is an external constraint to that pur-
In order to illustrate the first aspect, let us briefly return to the discussion on
free-trade I mentioned in section 4.1. As I pointed out, many philosophers and econo-
mists promote free-trade as a way to reduce global poverty. We have seen, however,
that reducing trade barriers, both in developed and underdeveloped countries, has win-
ners and losers. Do philosophers recognize this? Do they explicitly consider the prob-
We may conceive this as a right to punish held by the global society or as a duty to punish the morally guilty.
Normative Political Theory Normative Politische Theorie
lem of balancing those gains and losses? Some do. For example, Mathias Risse makes
a very careful assessment of free-trade. Risse supports trade liberalization on conse-
quentialist grounds, but is aware of the cost of this policy in terms of short (or medi-
um) term harm to the poor in some developing countries.
Tesón and Klick, in their
forceful defense of free trade, argue that the only plausible way to deal with global
poverty is to take the global poor as a class. They acknowledge that trade liberalization
may hurt some global poor.
Other important philosophers are less willing to make this cost explicit. Jan
Narveson, within the framework of a general libertarian view, supports free trade very
strongly as one of the keys to prosperity and poverty reduction. There is no indication,
however, of the short-term losses that trade liberalization might bring about. Thomas
Pogge, who also advocates free trade for the purpose of reducing global poverty, is
also quite reluctant to acknowledge that this reduction is the outcome of a trade-off,
which will likely harm some of the global poor as well. In his reaction to the objec-
tions made by Joshua Cohen on the matter, Pogge defends the claim that the global
gain in trade liberalization would be much higher than what Cohen assumes.
claims that, according to some authors, the gain for developing countries of a complete
elimination of trade barriers by developed countries would be of about 22 billion dol-
lars annually, which would, moreover, not benefit the world’s poorest people. Pogge
rejoins that reliable estimations calculate an annual gain of 700 billion dollars for un-
derdeveloped countries, with a potential of poverty reduction of 320 million people.
For these last figures, Pogge quotes, among other sources, a report elaborated by the
World Bank. However, in this same report, the World Bank acknowledges that free
trade has costs, and that, although the gains are globally much larger than the costs,
they are not larger in some regions of the world. According to the report, the costs are
larger, for example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s poorest region.
In sum, when
we propose a policy for poverty reduction, we have to be aware of, and explicitly re-
veal, the fact that we are pursuing an aggregative goal, and that the proposed policy
will have costs in the same dimension we are concerned with: people suffering from
See Risse 2012: 263. Aaron James (James 2012) is also very clear about the costs of freeing trade (pp. 48 -
49). I will briefly address his position in section 6.
See Tesón and Klick 2006: 11-12.
For this discussion, see Cohen 2010: 27 and Pogge 2010: 183 -184.
See World Bank 2002: 174, and figure 6.4 in p. 178. The World Bank explains this loss as follows: “ These
are the regions with the highest distortions, and therefore are subject to the greatest structural transformation.
However, on average for developing countries, the displacement represents only 23 percent of the total
gains” (174). That means that, on the whole, developing countries gain, but some developing countries (in-
cluding the poorest ones) may suffer a net loss.
For further discussion on the role of free trade on poverty reduction, see Hassoun 2014: 127 -129 (discussing
Tesón’s defense of free trade and defending a version of fair trade).
Eduardo Rivera-pez: Theories on Global Poverty
The second aspect of normative disclosure is, let us recall, explicitly revealing
the normative role of a proposal (or policy): whether it is a goal-oriented policy for
poverty reduction or it is a normative constraint. This requirement is closely linked to
my second methodological recommendation, normative consistency, since clearly dis-
playing the role of the different elements of a Poverty Eradication Theory is a neces-
sary condition to test the consistency of the whole. I will therefore illustrate both re-
quirements together.
5.2 Normative Consistency
In order to explain the relevance of normative consistency, it might be useful to recall
the main line of my argument thus far. We first assume that we share the moral con-
cern for eradicating global poverty. This is one of our important, even urgent, moral
goals. Once this is assumed, we need to know what to do to achieve such an important
goal. To that end, we refer to (or develop) a Poverty Eradication Theory, which will
tell us what should be done. As we have seen, such a theory will have, first, to make
several trade-offs in reference to the goal of poverty elimination (or reduction) and,
second, to be subjected to several normative constraints. According to this analysis, we
have two sets of moral reasons compounded into a Poverty Eradication Theory. We
have, on the one hand, the set of (moral) reasons that motivate us to be concerned with
the goal of eliminating global poverty in the first place. On the other hand, we have
reasons to incorporate the mentioned normative constraints (overriding goals, ideal
requirements, and deontological constraints). Although I do not want to advance any
substantive claim, some interesting features of a consistent Poverty Eradication Theory
can be extracted. First, the kind of reasons that support the eradication of global pov-
erty should be hospitable to trade-offs. As we have seen, we seek to optimize poverty
reduction along several dimensions, and we must be ready to make compromises
among them. This feature is implied in our initial assumptions that global poverty is a
serious moral failure and that there is a moral duty to reduce it as much as possible.
Second, the reasons we have to eradicate poverty are of a different kind with respect to
the reasons we have to constrain, in some cases, the actions or policies pursuing that
purpose. These latter reasons are, so to speak, external to the goal. When we conflate
or confuse these different types of reasons, we risk some kind of normative incoher-
ence. Let me explain this last point more carefully in the case of the deontological
constraints and ideal requirements.
Imagine that, according to our unconstrained Poverty Eradication Theory, the
best policy to eradicate poverty (policy X) will only achieve its goal in 30 years. That
means that, taking into account only what is most likely to occur (in terms of human
actions, practices and institutions) and without any kind of normative constraint, the
most efficient way to eradicate poverty is X and X will only achieve its goal in 30
Normative Political Theory Normative Politische Theorie
years. Any kind of constraint that we may want to impose on X, by either limiting the
kind of actions (or omissions) permitted or by assuming actions that are less probable
for people to perform, would imply, per definition, either that the attainment of the
goal is less probable or that it will be attained in more than 30 years. We may now
want to incorporate a deontological constraint. The point is that such a constraint
should not be founded on the very goal of poverty reduction. If the unconstrained Pov-
erty Eradication Theory is correct (in the sense of being the set of policies that opti-
mizes poverty reduction), a constraint of this kind would be self-defeating: we would
be introducing a constraint supported by a value (poverty eradication), but, at the same
time, the constraint would conspire or make more difficult the attainment of that very
same value.
On the other hand, imagine that policy X includes imposing a hard dictatorship
in developing countries as the only way to eradicate poverty in 30 years. This being so,
we may have reasons to reject such a Poverty Eradication Theory. Political and civil
rights are founded on moral considerations that are independent of, and external to, the
moral considerations on which the eradication of poverty is founded. The constrained
Poverty Eradication Theory will have to find the best way to eradicate poverty, with-
out accepting the imposition of dictatorships in developing countries, even if this low-
ers the probability of attaining the goal of poverty reduction on some dimensions.
The case of ideal requirements seems to be more difficult, since they are, by
definition, founded on the same goal that motivates the Poverty Eradication Theory: to
eradicate global poverty. Does it make sense to lower the probability to attain the goal
of poverty reduction by following a policy X, only because X is more faithful to our
ideal moral theory?
I have mentioned above one (possible) example of ideal requirement: the re-
quirement to donate part of one’s income, provided that it is true that, according to the
ideal Poverty Eradication Theory, if everyone did so, poverty would be eradicated. It
will be useful to compare this example with the following. Suppose that the ideal Pov-
erty Eradication Theory is inspired in some kind of libertarian view: the best way to
eradicate global poverty is free trade and free immigration. However, the world is such
that it is not foreseeable that such a policy can be successful: people will not support
such a policy (and, if implemented, they will disobey or undermine it). Following this
prediction the (nonideal) Poverty Eradication Theory prescribes a policy of moderate
protectionism. The libertarian might still want to insist on free trade and free immigra-
tion, as an ideal requirement.
In both cases, it seems that the ideal requirement is self-defeating: appealing to
the value of poverty eradication, we choose a policy that, in the real world, fulfills that
My argument thus far is less interesting when we consider the case of prevailing goals. These goals are typi-
cally not grounded on the same reasons we appeal to to ground the goal of poverty eradication.
Eduardo Rivera-pez: Theories on Global Poverty
value less probably or less successfully than an alternative policy. However, both ex-
amples may be different in an important way. Our moral theory may be interested, not
only in achieving a certain goal, but also in how such a goal is achieved. The means
may have independent value. Although this is similar to a deontological constraint, it
is not exactly the same. A deontological constraint limits what we can do to achieve a
valuable goal. An ideal requirement can, in some cases, promote or prefer certain ways
of achieving goals, which are more akin to the way that would be taken in an ideal
world (a world of full moral compliance). In that sense, if the ideal requirement is
purely instrumental, and, therefore, does not have an independent value, it seems that
it is self-defeating and would not be acceptable. This seems, in principle, to be the case
of the libertarian ideal requirement. Instead, in the case of the donation requirement,
we might think that there is an additional (and independent) value in achieving the
goal of poverty eradication by way of solidarity, instead of by way of egoism. The ide-
al requirement would, therefore, be supported on reasons that are, at least partially,
independent from the goal itself. The case is different for the libertarian if free trade
and free immigration, besides being an ideal requirement, would be defended as a de-
ontological constraint. For example, we might believe that there is an individual right
to trade and to migrate, or that there are moral property rights, which cannot be violat-
ed with the purpose of reducing poverty. This libertarian Poverty Eradication Theory
would be entirely consistent. Strong property rights and free markets (in particular free
trade) may happen to be aligned with poverty reduction in the full compliance, ideal,
world. But the libertarian should insist on free trade as a matter of respecting rights,
even if (as I am imagining for the sake of illustration) they are not aligned in the real
world and their imposition, once again, makes the valuable goal of poverty eradication
less likely than alternative policies do.
At the same time, this example shows the importance of normative disclosure.
It is important, for example, to be clear whether the defense of property rights is a mat-
ter of individual (deontological) rights, or a policy that, via free trade, will improve the
global situation of the poor. It might be both things. But if it is the first (a deontologi-
cal right), we are theoretically required to defend it for independent reasons, not for
the sake of poverty reduction.
6 Poverty Eradication, Human Rights, and Rights to Compensation
The requirements of normative disclosure and of normative consistency have interest-
ing consequences for theories of global justice in general and, in particular for Poverty
Eradication Theories. I will show this with two related ideas: the idea that poverty
Normative Political Theory Normative Politische Theorie
eradication is a matter of fulfilling a right to compensation and the idea that poverty
eradication is a matter of fulfilling (social and economic) human rights.
Should a Poverty Eradication Theory include the idea that poverty eradication is
a matter restoring or fulfilling basic (economic and social) human rights? Assume
there is a human right to the satisfaction of certain basic needs (or to be free from pov-
erty). According to my previous analysis, we might conceive such right, first, as the
driving force behind our reasons to eradicate global poverty (we want to eradicate
global poverty because we have to honor such right). This is a problematic alternative,
since, as we have seen, policies (or measures, or institutional reforms) oriented to pov-
erty reduction have costs on the very value of poverty reduction (along the dimensions
of number of the poor, magnitude of poverty, sustainability of poverty reduction, etc.).
But the idea that we can violate some instances of a right in order to minimize the
magnitude of the same right’s violation is inimical to the very concept of a right. As it
is widely accepted, rights are moral demands that constrain, or at least take some pri-
ority over, goal-oriented, aggregative, policies. Therefore, a Poverty Eradication Theo-
ry must opt for the second alternative: conceiving the idea of a human right to basic
needs as an external constraint (most probably a deontological constraint). In that case,
we should be ready to defend the institutional implementation of such a human right,
even if the implementation is detrimental to the aggregative reduction of global pov-
erty (or satisfaction of those very basic needs). It must be taken into account that the
question of whether the institution of a human right to certain basic needs is, under
real circumstances, helpful for the attainment of the goal of global poverty reduction
(or not), is contingent; it is not empirically obvious that it is helpful. In any case, a de-
fender of enacting human rights to basic needs should be aware that what she is de-
fending is (normatively) not the same as (and might be, in certain circumstances, in-
compatible with) expressing a moral concern for the magnitude of global poverty or
claiming that global poverty should be eradicated.
Note that arguing in that way may
well be self-defeating, because we would be enacting an institution for the satisfaction
of the right to be free of poverty that, in some cases, may increase the magnitude of
global poverty.
The idea of poverty as a violation of human rights is sometimes linked to the
idea that the international economic system is (or may be) harmful to the global poor.
The poor have, therefore, a right to be compensated for that harm. In order to see how
this idea may sometimes be normatively inconsistent, I will finally illustrate the point
Pogge speaks explicitly of “violation” of human rights in many places (see for example Pogge 2011). Other
authors are not as explicit (Gilabert 2012: 36-43, Buchanan 2004: 194-200). In any case, all defenders of the
existence of universal human rights to the satisfaction of some basic economic needs must accept that the
global poor have those rights unfulfilled.
I owe Fernando Tesón and Guido Pincione the idea that someone who defends a measure with purpose X as a
matter of deontological right should be ready to acknowledge that the measure should be enacted even if it is
detrimental to X. They call this requirement “display test” (see Pincione and Tesón 2006: 150-161).
Eduardo Rivera-pez: Theories on Global Poverty
with two different proposals: Aaron James’ principle of “Due Care”, and Thomas
Pogge’s proposal of a Global Resource Dividend.
James defends some principles of fairness in international economic relations.
One of them is a principle of compensation for the “losers” of trade liberalization (he
calls this principle “Due Care”). Only by compensating those who are harmed by free
trade are we complying with the value of structural equity, which, according to James,
is the basic internal principle of fairness in international economic relations. The
means of compensation is through a social safety net (p. 213). In poor countries that
means “public investment, government purchase of goods and services, temporary
revenue-generating trade-barriers, infant industry protection, and any feasible ways of
supporting people directly (e.g., paying for each day their child attends school)” (p.
213). If these compensatory measures are not feasible, “free trade will not be fair. Ap-
propriate trade barriers will be justified as a “next-best” solution” (p. 214). The rele-
vant question is: What if Due Care is feasible but, for some reason, imposing the com-
pensatory policy (the “social safety net”) worsens, in the long run, the situation of the
poor population in developing countries?
James suggests that Due Care is a matter of
principle, which means that the overall reduction of poverty does not justify an unfair
system of trade.
In this case, we have both normative disclosure and consistency rea-
sonably well fulfilled. Free trade is a policy oriented to general welfare and poverty
reduction. That policy will foreseeably harm some (poor) people in developing coun-
tries. Compensatory measures are required by a principle of fairness (Due Care). That
principle applies even if implementing the required measures (social safety net) is det-
rimental to overall poverty reduction. The principle of fairness is, therefore, a norma-
tive constraint that is justified by reasons that are independent of poverty reduction.
The situation is less clear in the case of Pogge’s well-known proposal of a
“Global Resource Dividend” (GRD) that I have briefly mentioned before. The pro-
posal consists of a redistribution of 1 percent of the aggregate global income of devel-
oped countries from these countries to the poor ones. According to Pogge, this
amounts to $312 billion, which would enable the global poor (those living on less than
$2 a day) to reach the $2 threshold. Pogge stresses that the GRD should not be con-
fused with humanitarian aid, since the redistribution is grounded on a right of the poor
to those resources.
The normative nature of the requirement to implement the GRD is unclear,
which violates the methodological requirement to explicitly state the nature of this
specific proposal. According to my previous argument, two possibilities emerge. On
See James 2012: 203 ff., Pogge 2008: 202-221.
This might be, for example, because, those measures create bad incentives and, therefore, slow down eco-
nomic growth.
James claims, for example, that a discriminatory system of trade would not been justified, even if it “maxim-
ize[s] poverty reduction and welfare overall” (James 2012: 216).
See Pogge 2008: 213.
Normative Political Theory Normative Politische Theorie
the one hand, it seems that the resource transfer is required as a matter of rights held
by the poor. Pogge claims that they have a right to be compensated for the more exten-
sive use of natural resources by the global wealthy, which thus constitutes a harm.
that case, the implementation of GRD would be a matter of honoring a basic (human)
right of compensation for past injustices. It would therefore be a normative constraint,
most probably a deontological constraint. This would mean that the GRD would be
required even if there were an alternative policy that is more effective to reduce global
poverty. But in this case this is highly implausible, because it seems that, despite the
claimed right to compensation, the only real concern behind GRD is freeing people
from poverty. It would be self-defeating to defend GRD even if we believe that with-
out GRD the goal of poverty eradication would be better served. The second possibil-
ity is to consider the requirement to implement GRD (not as the correlative duty to a
deontological right to compensation but just) as the best way to eradicate (or reduce)
global poverty. GRD would then be a policy oriented to achieve the goal of aggregate
poverty reduction. In that case we abandon the claim that GRD is a measure oriented
to fulfill a right to compensation held by the poor (or, for that matter, a human right to
satisfy some basic needs). Poverty reduction would be an aggregative goal and GRD
an (allegedly) efficient means to achieve it.
7 Conclusion
I started from the assumption that eradicating global poverty is an urgent moral chal-
lenge for humanity. On the basis of this assumption, I have argued that any plausible
moral theory concerned with global poverty must have, as one of its crucial compo-
nents, what I have called a “Poverty Eradication Theory”. This kind of theory is per-
meated by normative assumptions and balances. This includes trade-offs concerning
the degree of poverty reduction, the speed of poverty reduction, and the sustainability
of poverty reduction, as well as normative constraints (moral rules that limit the sheer
pursuit of poverty eradication). From this analysis I have extracted two important cri-
teria that should help to test a Poverty Eradication Theory: normative disclosure and
normative consistency. Those theories should make their normative commitments and
balances explicit. This can in turn help to determine whether the different elements of
the theory are related in a coherent manner. I have argued that at least one important
condition of consistency is that normative constraints should not be grounded on the
same kind of moral reason that we appeal to in order to ground the goal of poverty
eradication. I have finally illustrated my two methodological recommendations by
briefly exploring the idea that global poverty must be conceptualized as a violation of
basic human rights to the satisfaction of basic needs, or of a right to due compensation
See Pogge 2008: 207 ff. Pogge offers two other arguments, but opts for this one because it is the most mod-
erate. At any rate, my remarks apply to the other two.
Eduardo Rivera-pez: Theories on Global Poverty
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Full-text available
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Debates about global justice have traditionally fallen into two camps. Statists believe that principles of justice can only be held among those who share a state. Those who fall outside this realm are merely owed charity. Cosmopolitans, on the other hand, believe that justice applies equally among all human beings. This book shifts the terms of this debate and shows how both views are unsatisfactory. Stressing humanity's collective ownership of the earth, it offers a new theory of global distributive justice—what it calls pluralist internationalism—where in different contexts, different principles of justice apply. Arguing that statists and cosmopolitans seek overarching answers to problems that vary too widely for one single justice relationship, the book explores who should have how much of what we all need and care about, ranging from income and rights to spaces and resources of the earth. It acknowledges that especially demanding redistributive principles apply among those who share a country, but those who share a country also have obligations of justice to those who do not because of a universal humanity, common political and economic orders, and a linked global trading system. The book's inquiries about ownership of the earth give insights into immigration, obligations to future generations, and obligations arising from climate change. It considers issues such as fairness in trade, responsibilities of the WTO, intellectual property rights, labor rights, whether there ought to be states at all, and global inequality, and it develops a new foundational theory of human rights.
In this chapter I argue that we are violating the human rights of the world?s poor. To show this I proceed in two main steps. Section 2.1 sets forth a conception of what it means to violate a human right, arguing that ?human rights violation? is a relational predicate, involving right holders as well as duty bearers, with the latter playing an active role in causing the human rights of the former to be unfulfilled. Widely neglected is one very common kind of such violations involving the design and imposition of institutional arrangements that foreseeably and avoidably cause some human beings to lack secure access to the objects of their human rights. Just as one is actively harming people when one takes on the office of lifeguard and then fails to do one?s job, so we are actively harming people when we seize the authority to design and impose social institutions and then fail to shape them so that human rights are realized under them insofar as this is reasonably possible. By examining the empirical evidence then I argue in Sect. 2.2 that we violate the human rights of billions of poor people by collaborating in the imposition of a supranational institutional scheme that foreseeably produces massive and reasonably avoidable human rights deficits. In the concluding part of Sect. 2.2 and the subsequent conclusion I reflect on the moral consequences for citizens in the affluent countries and present some ideas how compensation might work.
The final report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) concludes that the project has been ‘the most successful anti-poverty movement in history’. Two key claims underpin this narrative: that global poverty has been cut in half, and global hunger nearly in half, since 1990. This good-news narrative has been touted by the United Nations and has been widely repeated by the media. But closer inspection reveals that the UN’s claims about poverty and hunger are misleading, and even intentionally inaccurate. The MDGs have used targeted statistical manipulation to make it seem as though the poverty and hunger trends have been improving when in fact they have worsened. In addition, the MDGs use definitions of poverty and hunger that dramatically underestimate the scale likely of these problems. In reality, around four billion people remain in poverty today, and around two billion remain hungry – more than ever before in history, and between two and four times what the UN would have us believe. The implications of this reality are profound. Worsening poverty and hunger trends indicate that our present model of development is not working and needs to be fundamentally rethought.
The international community's commitment to halve global poverty by 2015 has been enshrined in the first Millennium Development Goal. How global poverty is measured is a critical element in assessing progress towards this goal, and different researchers have presented widely-varying estimates. The chapters in this volume address a range of problems in the measurement and estimation of global poverty, from a variety of viewpoints. Topics covered include the controversies surrounding the definition of a global poverty line; the use of purchasing power parity exchange rates to map the poverty line across countries; and the quality, and appropriate use, of data from national accounts and household surveys. Both official and independent estimates of global poverty have proved to be controversial, and this volume presents and analyses the lively debate that has ensued.
This book articulates a systematic vision of an international legal system grounded in the commitment to justice for all persons. It provides a probing exploration of the moral issues involved in disputes about secession, ethno-national conflict, 'the right of self-determination of peoples', human rights, and the legitimacy of the international legal system itself. The author advances vigorous criticisms of the central dogmas of international relations and international law, arguing that the international legal system should make justice, not simply peace, among states a primary goal, and rejecting the view that it is permissible for a state to conduct its foreign policies exclusively according to what is in the 'national interest'. He also shows that the only alternatives are not rigid adherence to existing international law or lawless chaos in which the world's one superpower pursues its own interests without constraints. This book not only criticizes the existing international legal order, but also offers morally defensible and practicable principles for reforming it. After a Synopsis and Introduction, which discusses the idea of a moral theory of international law, the book has four parts: I: Justice (3 chapters); II: Legitimacy (3 chapters); III: Self-Determination (2 chapters); and IV: Reform (2 chapters). The book is one of the titles in the Oxford Political Theory Series.
This article begins by setting out Rawls's conception and defense of ideal theory as a necessary precursor to the kind of nonideal theory that can guide action in the real world. It then evaluates the critique of those, such as Amartya Sen, who insist that knowing what an ideally just society would look like is simply not helpful for that purpose. Having also addressed the complaint that the Rawlsian approach is ideological, and hence worse than useless, the discussion broadens out to compass the more wide-ranging critique of mainstream contemporary political philosophy leveled by so-called political realists. It then turns to Cohen's very different objection-that Rawls's ideal theory of justice is too tailored to empirical circumstance. It concludes with an attempt to identify the variety of different things that might be conceived as nonideal theory. Ideal theory may be understood in many different ways, but nonideal theory fares little better.
Kok-Chor Tan argues that the cosmopolitan idea of global justice may be understood in such a way that it can accept nationalist and patriotic commitments. Tan believes that cosmopolitan justice need not deny the worth of the ordinary non-impartial values even as it defends a vision of global egalitarianism. Properly understood, it can set the limits for nationalist and patriotic efforts without denying the moral independence of these partial pursuits.