World Poverty and Human Rights

This philosophy essay is critical analysis of Section One of Jan Narveson’s (2005) article, Welfare and Wealth, Poverty and Justice in Today’s World. My analysis defends the egalitarianian cosmopolitanism of Thomas Pogge, as argued in his book World Poverty and Human Rights. Narveson, an anarcho-capitalist, is of the stance that the people of the developed countries are not morally responsible for the current and historic poverty of the developed world, drawing on libertarian and mutual advantage theories of justice. Pogge, in contrast attributed the responsibility to the corrupt global economic order, which is, as Pogge argues, is at least to a substantial extent caused by the activities of the developed world.

Keywords: World poverty, human rights, egalitarianism, libertarianism, economics.

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Critical Analysis of Section one.

Narveson’s approach to the problem of world poverty is undoubtedly libertarian. Pogge as an egalitarian heavily influenced by the work of John Rawls has quite opposing stance to Narveson in many ways. Narveson’s first section, which this essay focuses its critique on, deals with question of whether we are morally obligated to respond to the problem of world poverty. He is the opinion that we, the ordinary people of the developed world, are not morally responsible and that in fact the egalitarian standing is harmful to human kind on a moral level. This essay will evaluate Narveson’s section one against the work of Pogge.

Narveson dismisses traditional egalitarianism as both “irrational” and “counterproductive”, and as being rarely defended critically by philosophers but rather taken as an unquestionable doctrine. These three clams have been and can be again, readily refuted and dispersed. In fact is it more likely that writers like Pogge will strongly argue the principles of egalitarianism to be quite the opposite of Narverson’s emphatic concerns.

Narveson is quick to claim that egalitarianism, if at all feasible as a moral theory, has been unhelpfully defined. He sees egalitarianism as the moral theory that “all persons have a general right, as against all other persons, to be supplied with (if they do not already have and cannot on their own acquire) an approximately equal amount of some commensurable and variable good, at the expense of all who have more of this good”(p.3). However, according to the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, a truer reflection of the approach may be that it is the view that “People should get the same, or be treated the same, or be treated as equals, in some respect” (Arneson, 2009). The difference between these two definitions is emphasis on treatment in the latter definition and the emphasis on expense to other in the former. This essay will draw on this difference throughout in defence of the egalitarian standing of Pogge.

He does not support the notion that all who are better-off have to give up their “welfare”, which seems to equate with Pogge’s idea of “human flourishing”, for the sake ensuring that all have an “approximately equal amount of some commensurable and variable good” (p.1, Narveson). Instead he defines his type of libertarian egalitarianism as one that uses the currency of liberty as the basis of the theory.

Both Narveson and Pogge agree that impartiality goes hand-in-hand with any moral theory. Yet their interpretations of the notion of impartiality is where the clash lies. Narveson seems to draw a hasty conclusions on Brian Barry’s preference for impartiality over mutual advantage as “just plain wrong”. Yet Pogge, Rawls or I would not agree with Barry’s assertion. We are likely to agree that mutual advantage and impartiality are compatible and part of the one theory. As was originally explained by Hume, (Sudgen,1991) justice as impartiality is about the acceptance of egalitarian rules of justice, as a result of the general observance of these rules as working for the good of all. The principle of impartiality is the basis for other Rawlsian principles including the maximin principle. According to this principle, social cooperation generates benefits that would not otherwise exist; therefore no-one actually loses. Narveson overlooks and dismisses – this idea of interdependencies and interconnectedness among nations of the world.

Narveson goes on to portray mutual advantage as better a theory due the assertion that “no one loses” (.p2, section 1.3) instead of the imposition of loss on better-off people. According to his, we shouldn’t complain because without the agreement we would gain less anyway, he argues. His arguments make sense initially but on greater inspection they lose their viability.

He says that the terms posed are erroneous – not mutual advantage vs impartiality but mutual advantage vs imposed equality. Narveson points out that egalitarianism are assuming that we will all agree to give up things for those who have less. It is this assumption that he uses as his main attack on egalitarianism, implying the existence of an element of hypocrisy within the egalitarian argument that they themselves are being partial, not impartial. His argument is strong technically but nevertheless irrelevant. I would agree that it is necessary that the equality should not be “imposed” in that authoritarian sense. As is stated in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy in an article on equality “what predicates “just” or “unjust” are only applicable when voluntary actions implying responsibility are in question.”(Gosepath, 2011). Egalitarians would argue that Narveson has misunderstood the premises of the egalitarian argument.

As a way of explaining this irrelevancy, I turn to Pogge’s conception of autonomy in relation to human flourishing. Pogge asserts that “to respect the autonomy of another means…to accept her measure of human flourishing” (p. 36) as well as their “way of arriving at this measure” (p.37). Now looking at this in regard to Narveson’s attack on egalitarianism as, he says that under egalitarian regime, as he would be likely to describe it, that the participants are forced to accept the utility they receive from their equality with others. Yet, the fact of the matter is that we, as people of under this social contract of egalitarianism, gain even more than the mutual advantage alternative that Gauthier and Narveson uphold. This is due to the fact the extra utility that is gained from the egalitarian agreement is undefined and therefore we have the freedom of autonomy to have one’s own measures of flourishing. This fact supersedes any concern of hypocrisy that Narveson is concerned about. The contract that egalitarians enter into allows them to impose their own definition of flourishing or utility. This reflects the pluralism of most egalitarians, instead of the idea that egalitarianism is one homogeneous theory.

Moving on to section 1.4, Narveson is quick to attempt a defence of one possible refutation that egalitarians may give him his “imposed equality” argument (p.2). He ridicules the idea of utility or human flourishing possibly having “absolute objective value”. His defence is here is severely lacking. He very thinly gives the traditional critique of moral realism as if it has been asserted that all egalitarians are of this stance. It could be said, more accurately, that some egalitarians such as Pogge are moral universalists. According to Pogge (p.98), moral universalism is about three things:

1. It subjects all person to the same fundamental moral principles.

2. These principles assign the same moral benefits and burdens to all.

3. These fundamental moral principles are formulated generally so not to privilege or disadavantage certain persons or groups arbitrarily.

However, Pogge is quick to point out that these conditions are not the be all and end all and moral universalism, in his view, cannot be defined formally. But instead be flexible by “plausible rationale” (p.100). So even here, there is no dogmatic moral realism being placed down by an apparent “god” as Narveson suggests (p.2). Egalitarians do not necessary follow such a moralistic stance, so Narveson’s attempt at a critique in this respect is not justified.

However despite the degree of reasonableness that Pogge attaches to his moral universalism, which makes it more palatable, this does not form a strong philosophical basis to his arguments. His attempts to gain more focus and definitions through examples but regardless, no logical foundations can be born of examples. It seems his stance is more based on moral intuitions which have advantages on its appropriate level of demandingness but has potential to fall into dangerous waters. Although this can have advantages such as its appropriate level of demandingness, it does have the potential to fall into dangerous waters when not based on logic.

In section 1.5, Narveson accuses egalitarianism of violating the Pareto priniciple. However he does not elaborate exactly why this is immoral. Therefore it is difficult to challenge the logic of the argument. The Pareto principle is not necessary compatible with egalitarians but this does not affect the soundness of its arguments. It is more rational, rather, to design a society or global order that makes it far more likely that each individual will have enough resources and opportunities so they can flourish, which is the central goal of Pogge’s argument.

In line with his all his prior accusations Narvesons goes on to proclaim that egalitarianism,”discriminates against luck” (p.2-3). His objection is this: according to egalitarians the effects of brute luck (the sort of luck that is out of the control of anyone) so therefore those who encounter bad brute luck should be compensated for by taking from those who are more fortunate. Narveson finds this latter interference problematic as it acts on a double standard – why take from the fortunate when their good luck is also no fault of their own.

Narveson here is making a sweeping statement about egalitarianism in attempt to set it to one side as a moral theory. Not all egalitarians believe that justice requires the nullification of all differential effects of brute luck. Some egalitarians, for example, Peter Vallentyne, believe that “equality of initial prospects” (Arneson, 2009) is what egalitarianism is really about. This means essentially that while justice requires that brute luck be compensated for, this compensation occurs before it can have an effect on the person or society. In this sense, no-one loses while everyone is still given a fair chance. However, these egalitarians do admit that this still results in worsening prospects for some, unlike like mutual advantage which claims that no-one loses. To counter this concern, one may draw on the work of Pogge, who would argue that the prospect are not actually less desirable because the benefits that arise from the egalitarian world order, contribute to an overall higher level of human flourishing and the adequate fulfilment of human rights (p.52). This idea of human flourishing is central to our social institutions and policies (Pogge, p.37).

Another defence against Narveson draws on the arguments of Rawls. The compensatory duties of those who have more do not have to been seen as a negative thing. He regards inborn talents as a “common asset” because of the fact that brute luck itself has nothing to do with the person can take credit for, so therefore there can be no losses, because no-one ever rightfully gained anything in the first place – they were just simply lucky (Rawls, 1971, P.101).

It can be seen, then, that Rawls’ social and natural lotteries provide negative support of his theory of justice. They undermine alternative theories in which we tolerate distributions of social and economic benefits deviating from that prescribed by the difference principle (Nozick, 1974, p216; Arneson 2001, p76). They also underpin Rawls’ claim that a system of natural liberty-one in which formal equality of opportunity obtains in that “all have at least the same legal rights to all advantaged social positions” (Rawls 1971, p.72) and applicants are assessed on their merits alone-is unjust because “it permits distributive shares to be improperly influenced by” the outcomes of the social and natural lottery. Pogge’s work on world poverty is influenced and supported by Rawlsian arguments.

1.61 poses ideas that one could construe as problematic. Narveson, in a similar fashion to other sections is painting all egalitarians with the same brush. He accuses egalitarians of “kicking the whiz kid” because they have more fortune than others (p.3). There are two points of rebuttal that Pogge and I would make. Firstly, Pogge would say that there is no aggression in his theory or that of other egalitarians. This “kicking” is actually a correction of justice that I believe Pogge firmly justifies. Pogge’s main thrust is in his aim to design “an economic order under which each participant would be able to meet her basic social and economic needs” (p.182). Secondly, Narveson has missed the point of egalitarianism. It is not that we can apply it to the morality between individuals but we apply to a societal scale as Rawls does and even to a global scale as Pogge does. The argument for reducing the level inequalities between peoples at a global scale is quite different in nature compared to that at an interpersonal level.

In the way Narveson has missed the point in the previous section, he does so again similarly in this section. He concludes from Rawl’s thesis that “nobody deserves anything at all” and so “justice would be done by depriving everyone of everything” (p.3). Narveson has misunderstood Rawl’s meaning of “desert”. When Rawls says that nobody actually deserves anything and therefore it is not ok that some, due to brute luck have an advantage in life that others don’t, he does not mean it in its total sense. The things that one arrives at due to brute luck, like socioeconomic status, intelligence or health, are not deserved by anybody – that is true. However, these things, these opportunities still exist regardless and must be shared out. Therefore, how else is someone to share them out fairly without distributing them in an equal manner? According to Pogge, this translates to the global level so that we must “choose or design the economic ground rules that regulate property, cooperation, and exchange and thereby condition production and distribution ” (p.182)

In section 1.8, he says that in line with the idea of brute luck, the usual sense of the term, by saying that it is no-one’s fault means that means that no-body should have to correct it .Narveson is drawing on the control principle here that:

“We are morally assessable only to the extent that what we are assessed for depends on factors under our control”(Nelkin, 2008).

Pogge’s retort might accept the idea of “no-person justice” (Narveson. P.3), arguing that it is the not the issue; the issue lies instead on the global plane. The situation is far more complicated that attempting to assign any blame to anyone. The fault lies with the unbalanced and susceptibility to corruption nature of the current global economic order. There may be a number of “underlying causes” and so one should “recognise interdependencies among causal influences and fluid transactions we between the classes” (Pogge, p.47).

We are living in a world in which economics has diverged almost fully away from market economics. The role of politics in the generation of wealth is becoming increasingly important as is trust relationships between economic agents. Therefore it is difficult to identity of the owner of wealth. An egalitarian perspective is helpful here as the solutions they given reflect the true nature of the asymmetrical yet highly interconnected nature of the global economic order. Narveson’s arguments do not contain a lot of fault, logically but the main problem is that his thesis is not applicable to the reality of today’s world. His work assumes a notion of individualistic players who interact atomistically yet fairly with each other, ignoring the interconnectedness of today’s world. On a concluding note, Narveson, states that it is likely that whatever progress the world’s poor people have “managed is due to their interaction with the rich ones. Pogge’s thesis argues passionately against this assertion, that the world’s social institutions and the rules of the game will continue to result in severe inequality between nations that results in extreme poverty that almost certainly can be avoided.