The world today, despite the economic development that took place since the end of the second world war, the ongoing globalization and deep structural changes, still features high inequality both between developed and underdeveloped countries and within each country. In view of this situation, many political philosophers developed the concept of globalizing justice. They all have the same goal, reduce world poverty, however the approaches to tackle the issue are different.
After clarifying the position and the points of disagreements between some of the most prominent philosophers in this field, namely John Rawls, Thomas Pogge and Peter Singer, this essay will try to address the question as to whether world poverty is a moral or a justice issue. In a concluding section, I will give my position on the debate. John Rawls believes that world poverty is a moral issue, implying that citizens do not have a duty of distributive justice towards those suffering from poverty.
However, Rawls considers that citizens from richer countries have a duty of assistance towards poorer countries. Rawls believes that if a country is poor, it is solely caused by domestic factors, named under PDPT, purely domestic causation of poverty theory. In sum, Rawls do not want to expand distributive justice worldwide (Rawls, 1993). On the other hand, Thomas Pogge firmly believes that the world poverty is a global justice issue, and considers that the fact that some countries are extremely poor is unjust. He believes that if a country is poor it is mainly caused by external factors.
He stresses the fact that richer countries are exploiting the poorer countries by imposing high tariffs on trade; this prevents the poorer countries to develop and have an economic growth. Thomas Pogge’s solution to prevent the world poverty would be to globalize justice and extend the distributive justice worldwide. (Pogge, 2004)Finally, Peter Singer has a less political approach than Pogge and Rawls. His theory concerns far-reaching duties of assistance towards people who are suffering throughout the globe. Concerning the application of his theory he establishes two versions, a modest version and a stronger version.
The main idea of the two versions is that we have to do everything that is in our power to prevent something bad from happening. Singer also believes that proximity and distance are irrelevant for the question whether there is an obligation to prevent something bad from happening. Peter Singer considers that this is a moral issue. We saw that John Rawls, Thomas Pogge and Peter Singer have different theories on how to tackle the issue of world poverty. Even if they have the same goal, reduce the world poverty, they disagree on how to achieve that goal.
The main points of disagreement are as follows: One of the main points of disagreement, and it only stands for Rawls and Pogge, whether poverty is caused by internal or external factors. Rawls considers that the government of a country has the responsibility of its well-being and therefore if it faces extreme poverty the only possible cause is domestic. Moreover, if the government is not able to maintain a stable situation it means that its policies are not adequate. Therefore, the principle of distributive justice cannot be applied to the country suffering from extreme poverty.
In addition the country wouldn’t have appropriate institutions to benefit from transfers from richer countries that would be motivated by distributive justice. On this, Pogge firmly disagrees, arguing that the main causes of extreme poverty are external. He stresses the fact that developed countries impose high tariffs on imports from underdeveloped countries. This inequality prevents poorer countries to grow and develop. Accordingly, he claims that richer countries have a duty of justice towards the countries plagued by poverty.
In sum, John Rawls has a relational conception of distributive justice; “The principles of distributive justice cannot be formulated or justified independently of the practices they are intended to regulate”. On the other hand, Thomas Pogge has a nonrelational conception of justice; “the practice-mediated relations in whom individuals stand do not play any role in the justification and formulation of a given set of principles”. Those two conception are influenced by their believes on whether it is a justice or a moral issue (Rawls, 1993), (Pogge, 2004).
John Rawls argues that the problem of world poverty is a moral issue. The fact that some countries face extreme poverty is unfair but not unjust. By that he claims that the government of developed countries should not force their citizens to assist those in poorer countries. Peter Singer also claims that world poverty is a moral issue, he strongly believes that the government of developed countries should encourage its people to assist the poorer countries, but not force them to do so.
On the other hand, Pogge stresses the fact that world poverty is an issue of justice. The main reason why they are in this critical situation is because of external factors, and claims that distributive justice should be applied worldwide. Rawls, Pogge and Singer all have different approach on how to achieve their shared goal. The three different approaches have been taken into consideration and created debates among societies. In the debate between these three political philosophers, I find it very hard to position myself in a particular side. This being said, I believe that there are many countries facing extreme poverty and that there is a great inequality in opportunities between developed and underdeveloped countries.
World poverty is more than present in our society and there is a great need of change. On this point, all three philosophers would agree. However, I do not believe that world poverty is a justice issue. I agree with Singer’s modest version of duties of assistance. Rather than buying expensive new shoes, we should give it to people who are struggling from extreme poverty. In sum, I would position myself in Singer’s side. People would not be obliged to assist world poverty, however they would be highly encouraged to do so.
There is a big difference between being obliged (by being obliged, I refer to the distributive justice) and being encouraged. Several people would believe that a part of their liberty and freedom would be taken away from them. Moreover, some people claim that they do not feel responsible or related to the world’s poverty. I think that people should feel, in a psychological, not governmental point of view, obliged to help improve the situation. World poverty is one of the biggest moral issues in our societies. I believe that if we all sacrifice a little effort, the situation would highly improve.
However, I still believe the issue stands as a moral problem and not as a justice problem. Governments should highly encourage its citizens to assist the poor countries but he should not oblige them. Citizens should not have a duty of distributive justice they should have a duty of assistance. Most of political debates argue about the taxation and how it can be improve. Many citizens already feel bad about giving away some of their money to assist the poor in their country. Nevertheless, one question seems to underline the issue of poverty: Is it possible to find the solution while satisfying everyone?