Presentation on theme: "PHIL 104 (STOLZE) Notes on Heather Widdows, Global Ethics: An Introduction, chapter 7."— Presentation transcript:
PHIL 104 (STOLZE) Notes on Heather Widdows, Global Ethics: An Introduction, chapter 7
Poverty and Inequality as Ethical Problems Relative vs. Absolute Poverty Rising Economic Inequality in the United States Four Ethical Responses Utilitarianism (Peter Singer) Kantianism (Onora O’Neill) Cosmopolitanism/Negative Rights (Thomas Pogge) Capability (Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum) Problems with Aid
Relative vs. Absolute Poverty Relative poverty = “poor by comparison to others in [one’s own] society” (p. 192). The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2010 the nation’s official poverty rate was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 ─ the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. There were 46.2 million people in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 ─ the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published. In 2010 the number of people without health insurance was 49.9 million or 16.3%. Absolute (or extreme) poverty = “not having enough income to meet the most basic human needs for adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, sanitation, health care or education” (p. 191). The World Bank has established an absolute “poverty line” of an income of $1.25 per day per person, below which the total number of people has varied from 1.8 billion in 1981 to 1.3 billion in 2005. As of 2008, 950 million people in the world were malnourished. The annual death toll from poverty-related causes is 18 million, or one third of all human deaths.
Rising Economic Inequality in the United States “The top 1 percent of households have secured a very large share of all of the gains in income—59.9 percent of the gains from 1979–2007, while the top 0.1 percent seized an even more disproportionate share—36 percent. In comparison, only 8.6 percent of income gains have gone to the bottom 90 percent. The patterns are similar for wages and capital income. As they have accrued a large share of income gains, the incomes of the top 1 percent of households have pulled far away from the incomes of typical Americans. In 2007, average annual incomes of the top 1 percent of households were 42 times greater than incomes of the bottom 90 percent (up from 14 times greater in 1979) and incomes of the top 0.1 percent were 220 times greater (up from 47 times greater in 1979).” (From Lawrence Mishel and Josh Bivens, “Occupy Wall Streeters are Right about Skewed Economic Rewards in the United States” [www.epi.org/publication/bp331-occupy-wall- street/].)www.epi.org/publication/bp331-occupy-wall- street/
The Drowning Child Thought Experiment “On my way to give a lecture, I pass a shallow ornamental pond and notice that a small child has fallen in and is in danger of drowning. I look around to see where the parents, or babysitter, are, but to my surprise, I see that there is no one else around. It seems that it is up to me to make sure that the child doesn’t drown. Would anyone deny that I ought to wade in and pull the child out? This will mean getting my clothes muddy, ruining my shoes and either cancelling my lecture or delaying it until I can find something dry to change into; but compared with the avoidable death of a child none of these things are significant” (p. 199).
Singer’s Basic Argument 1.If we can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable significance, we ought to do it. 2.Extreme poverty is bad. 3.There is some extreme poverty we can prevent without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance. 4.Therefore, we ought to prevent some extreme poverty.
Utilitarian Elements of Singer’s Approach It is universal. It follows principles of impartiality and equity. Morality is determined in terms of maximizing utility. Moral goodness is understood as the maximal reduction of suffering (if not quite the maximization of the good).
An Objection to the Drowning Child Thought Experiment Singer’s analogy is weak: Singer fails to identify the structural obstacles that prevent the child from being rescued. A better analogy would point out that there is an intricate apparatus (e.g., netting or scaffolding) above the pond that not only (a) prevents the child from escaping on its own but also (b) makes it extremely difficult for individuals alone to know how to extricate the child from this apparatus; what is needed is combined and collective action to free the child. In other words, politics and not just charity is required to solve the problem of world poverty.
Poverty and Structural Violence In The Condition of the Working Class in England (New York: Oxford, 1993), his classic indictment of the negative social effects resulting from nineteenth-century capitalism, Friedrich Engels wrote: “If one individual inflicts a bodily injury upon another which leads to the death of the person attacked we call it manslaughter; on the other hand, if the attacker knows beforehand that the blow will be fatal we call it murder. Murder has also been committed if society places hundreds of workers in such a position that they inevitably come to premature and unnatural ends. Their death is as violent as if they had been stabbed or shot... Murder has been committed if thousands of workers have been deprived of the necessities of life or if they have been forced into a situation in which it is impossible for them to survive... Murder has been committed if society knows perfectly well that thousands of workers cannot avoid being sacrificed so long as these conditions are allowed to continue. Murder of this sort is just as culpable as the murder committed by an individual. At first sight it does not appear to be murder at all because responsibility for the death of the victim cannot be pinned on any individual assailant. Everyone is responsible and yet no one is responsible, because it appears as if the victim has died from natural causes. If a worker dies no one places the responsibility for his death on society, though some would realize that society has failed to take steps to prevent the victim from dying. But it is murder all the same” (pp. 106-7).
Another Thought Experiment “There was once a village along a river. The people who lived here were very kind. These people, according to parable, began noticing increasing numbers of drowning people caught in the river’s swift current. And so they went to work devising ever more elaborate technologies to resuscitate them. So preoccupied were these heroic villagers with rescue and treatment that they never thought to look upstream to see who was pushing the victims in.” —Sandra Steingraber, Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, 2 nd edition (New York: Da Capo Press, 2010), p. ix.
Objections to Giving Taking care of our own Property rights Population and the ethics of triage Leaving it to the government Too high a standard
Onora O’Neill on Global Poverty O’Neill’s Kantian approach is based on obligations instead of rights. She argues that the primary focus should be on the obligations that better-off nations and institutions have to the worst off. She contends that the burden of responsibility is not on the poor to demand their rights but on the rich, who have an absolute duty to address poverty.
Kantian Elements of O’Neill’s Approach It is universal. It uses the categorical imperative (the criterion of “universalizability”) to determine obligations. It prioritizes duty. It respects individual persons and their needs as “ends in themselves” and never as means to something else.
A Different Perspective: Thomas Pogge on Global Poverty As opposed to Singer, Thomas Pogge (especially in his book World Poverty and Human Rights, 2 nd edition [Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008]) denies that duties to the poor are positive duties to lend assistance; he reframes them as negative duties not to harm. According to Pogge, we are not responsible for doing something about global poverty because we are bystanders who have simply stood by and done nothing as an unjust state of affairs has developed. On the contrary, if we don’t act to help the world’s poor, then we have failed in our negative duty to stop bringing about the injustice. As a result, we have responsibilities because of our previous actions rather than our inaction. The heart of Pogge’s position is that global poverty is the direct responsibility of the richer world: we have caused the poverty and directly harmed the poor. We should stop causing this harm! Objection: Poverty is not primarily caused by the international order but rather by unstable—and often brutal and corrupt—regimes governing poorer and developing countries. Pogge’s Response: Even if we haven’t directly caused the poverty in other countries, we still have positive duties if we continue to recognize, trade, or interact with their regimes.
Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum on Global Poverty Sen and Nussbaum are especially critical of (1) utilitarian approaches because “they do not take account of the differences between individuals and their different needs” and (2) “primary goods” approaches because “they assume that all people are basically the same, with the same needs” (p. 169). Their approach is “to be concerned with the reality of people’s experiences rather than with external measures,” and so they focus on “the actual capability of agents to ‘be’ and to ‘do’: a person’s ‘beings’ and ‘doings’. Capability is aboiut what a person is able to be and do determined by the background social context, the endowments of the individual and opportunities and choices afforded to the individual” (p. 169). They understand freedom in more concrete, positive ways than do abstract, negative liberal models to to be “left alone”: for example, they stress the importance of “freedom from malaria” or “freedom from hunger.”
Advantages of Nussbaum and Sen’s Capability Approach It has a global framework. It is local and context-sensitive. It includes individual and group values.
Problems with Aid Responsive and emergency focused. Reduces rather than build capacity and infrastructure. Top-down rather than bottom up. Relies on an economic view of development. Encourages corruption. Used to meet other political and economic agendas.
Sustainable Approaches to Aid Reliance on “local facilitators” and bottom-up instead of “top-down” assistance. Micro-finance that offers loans to small businesses in poor countries. Fairtrade = stress on long-term development instead of short-term needs of the poor; “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.” (Christian Aid’s slogan) Consumer boycotts of sweatshop-produced products. Ethical shopping, e.g., for clothing, coffee, chocolate.