Whether we consider ourselves liberals of all kinds, modern conservatives, christian or social democrats, in short if lives and liberties of all humans/individuals are key to us, then we cannot remain indifferent to what Thomas Pogge criticizes in his text.
He raises there an accusation against rich countries, their governments, corporations and citizens. According to him, they systematically cause death of circa 18 million people in poor developing countries a year. He presents arguments and proposals for solutions how it would be possible to avoid it if rich countries agreed to make, in his words, realistic systemic changes, and why it would be, in the long term perspective, even for them better.
He considers the contemporary global order, in perspective of violating rights of the global poor, as morally wrong, and he doesn’t hesitate to use analogy with the behavior of fascists, Chinese communists etc. This seems to be exaggerated at the first sight, but if we accept his argumentation, then he is perhaps right.
Mostly in the sense, where he says it is true that although the crimes of colonialism or China’s great leap caused tens of millions victims, but they were single issues which ended, while the 18 million of dead people a year due to systemic poverty are the constant affair, and it is moreover realistically solvable, but there only is not enough will to do it. The aim of this paper* is not to verify if his numbers and the assumptions arising from them are factually correct, therefore I will presume they are.
If everything what Pogge says is truth, then also his argumentation on why rich countries should agree with the systemic changes, is logical. According to him, it pays off to them if the systemic poverty would be removed once for all, because the never-ending overcoming of a few individuals to voluntarily help, is not only exhausting, but also injustice and demotivational. That’s all because we know that if we had given just a little bit more, we would have helped much more people, but on the contrary, we can see that someone else had given nothing.
It is interesting from my view to think about if the societies in rich countries would agree with such institutional reforms. Now, we perhaps presuppose they wouldn’t, that they are too selfish, that they don’t intend to limit themselves. But I personally don’t think so. The author’s argumentation is very good, and if politicians in rich countries would be able to explain that, it could also have been taken as kind of a debt payment for how bad the previous generations used to behave to developing countries in the era of colonialism. Also, it would be an opportunity how to solve these problems in the long-term, so I believe they could agree with it more easily.
And it could also happen due to the reasons of a better solution for the causes of mass migration. If we removed the systemic causes of poverty, and therefore even the motivation of escaping from poor countries, then it wouldn’t be necessary to risk through mass immigration both, the loss of our own cultures, and the growth of extremist movements related to this.
Generally, it is interesting to look at the individual reforms which Pogge proposes. I am afraid that in the cases of ensuring poor countries a share from a value of raw mineral extracted from the seabed or payment for externalities, it would be problematic to manage the most efficient utilization of the resources redistributed this way. Nevertheless, it maybe isn’t impossible.
However, I was a little bit shocked with a proposal of a global minimum wage. It is truth that with argumentation against the race to the bottom, it doesn’t seem to be such a nonsense, but I am still skeptical about the institution of minimum wage at all.
Otherwise, even for the general global free trade, I consider as very necessary a regulation of working hours and workers’ conditions, because it is one of the little things where it might still be justifiable that rich countries protect their markets with high tariffs.
Generally, the issue of the tariffs is very interesting today, even in the context of American Presidential election. We can see, despite long-term belief of the Right, at least since the 80s, that what the freest trade is necessary, has the primaries been won by a candidate who proposes very protective measures. On the contrary, the Left has a big dilemma if they should protect through these measures the relatively poor in their own countries, or to protect the real poor in the developing ones.
Mostly, I consider the removing of tariffs as the least realistic measure at all. So after the proposal that it would not be necessary to pay a rent for using an intellectual property, which I am afraid would be complicated not only politically, but also practically. Generally, I consider it as a problem how to reach these global measures without increasing the democratic deficit even more, or on the contrary risking destroying the freedom in rich countries with its (global) removing.
*Note: This paper was written as a reflection on Pogge’s arguments for a course Concepts in Modern Political Philosophy at the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University. Pogge’s text is called -“Recognized and Violated by International Law: The Human Rights of the Global Poor.”
You can read my text in Czech here.