Sunday, 20 September 2009

Global Injustice and Resources

In my earlier posting on global taxes I mentioned Thomas Pogge's conception of a Global Resource Dividend (GRD) which prompted a flurry of comments on that posting defending his conception. The literature that has arisen as commentary and critique of Pogge's proposal is now very large and cannot be surveyed within the context of a single posting. What does require comment however is the assumption behind the proposal of the GRD: the assumption that there is an inherent injustice in current global affairs that is connected to the use of resources and that can be remedied through redistribution of them.

The first part of Pogge's assumption is to the effect that, given the evident and large disparities between different parts of the world and the particularly gross difference between a select group of countries (roughly labelled as the "West" or the "North") and a second group (called "developing" or the "Third World" or the "South") that there is a sense in which the poverty of the second group is attributable to the use of resources by the first group. The general claim that was, for a time, used to articulate this view was "dependency theory" or the "underdevelopment" thesis. This theory was proposed initially by Hans Singer and Raul Prebisch in different studies carried out in 1949 which suggested a structural imbalance of trade between countries that carried out "primary" production of extraction of resources on the one hand and others that, due to a more sophisticated workforce that was capable of ensuring that these products were developed and sold back, after integration with other primary products, to the first group of countries as "secondary" products that had greater financial value. On this basis the initial primary producers were fated constantly to be dependent on the secondary producers.

The main problem with dependency theory is that it presupposes a causal relation between the prosperity of the secondary producers and the poverty of the primary producers such that the latter are poor in a corresponding ratio to the riches of the latter, something not, to put it mildly, substantiated by empirical research which suggests, conversely to the claims of dependency theory, that the primary producers get more prosperous at times of boom in the "secondary" economies. Whilst Pogge does not offer a specific account (such as this one concerning production) of the reason for the imbalance between countries one is surely required and, when given, needs to be open to assessment but previous versions of dependency theory have not tended to win extended acceptance.

The second element of Pogge's assumption is to the effect that the ground of injustice is inherently tied to differential access of resources which is why his proposal is one for a resource dividend. Effectively, his claim is to the effect that resources are preventably kept out of reach of the global poor so that the richest countries owe a duty of compensation to the poor. There are two central questions here, one of which was raised in the previous posting on global taxes. This concerns the institutional arrangements by which such redistribution can be effected. This is a large question and does concern, as Pogge rightly emphasizes, conditions of trade. I will return to this element of his proposal in a subsequent posting. Even without focusing directly on the question of trade (which is evidently central to redistribution) there is a basic question concerning how the mechanism of distribution would function. Since there is a clear problem with the governance of many poorer states there would need to be some form of intermediary between the countries that were providing the funds and the countries to which they were aimed. The populations of these countries cannot simply be accessed by means of bank or credit transfers so NGOs or UN agencies would be required to distribute the money in question which would ensure massive political intervention in the poorer states. That it would have to be massive is clear since the intermediary organizations would have to be responsible for fair compliance procedures in distributing the fund and in working out priorities for its distribution. They would thus effectively replace the governments of these places, quite possibly in a way that was an improvement, but clearly would usurp local political decision, at least for a period of a generation. Pogge's analysis does not discuss or deal with this matter.

The second point concerning the use of the fund developed would concern the nature of the plan for development adopted, something that would require international agreement about the best means for developing economies, something about which there remains considerable disagreement. Without an argued and accepted case for ensuring economic development and a mechanism for ensuring that it was carried out there remains a problem as to whether the plan of Pogge's would in fact attain its desired objectives. Finally, since Pogge's plan for collection of the dividend is a small percentage charged on all transactions between states there also enters the question of how the cut-off point at which a country had to be a contributor to this plan is to be calculated.

The question of whether it is the use of resources that is uncompensated remains to be asked. Clearly once a reliable state of wealth is achieved there is a greater use of resources following. However it is not evident that the difference between rich and poor countries can be argued to be grounded in the latter since the difference in use of resources is a consequence of certain types of path of development. Hence it would be hitting on that path that would be most important. In terms of thinking further about means for ensuring poorer countries had some means of attaining this we would need to consider further the question of market regulation and means of articulating a political connection between trade and governance. That would return us to the question of the division between international right and cosmopolitan right. Some of these implications will be worked out in terms of commentary on Kant and others through more general postings of this sort.

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