Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Patterned Regressiveness and Global Justice

Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State and Utopia discusses the notion of patterned principles in his very critical account of distributive justice. He initially defines a patterned principle as one which "specifies that a distribution is to vary along with some natural dimension, weighted sum of natural dimensions, or lexicographic ordering of natural dimensions" (156). However, as Miriam Ronzoni has recently pointed out, Nozick's general usage of the term is broader referring to principles that "aim at maintaining a certain distribution or a certain system of social relationship within society". [Citation from article in vol. 37: No. 3 of Philosophy and Public Affairs]

When viewed in the broader way, however, there can emerge a conception that patterned principles may operate without anyone explicitly adopting them as such and without operating in a way that produces redistributive effects. Ronzoni, in fact, gives two examples that can be interpreted in this way, both of which, importantly, are connected not to the presence of international institutions enforcing certain norms but rather to the absence of global regulation. The first example is that of tax competition. Assuming that large corporations and capital generally favour environments in which tax is low, not high, then it follows that in a global market that does not regulate tax rates that there will be competitive pressure to reduce them. This does not require anyone (including any government) having adopted as a desiderata the simple emergence of low tax environments. The effect of a general global pressure towards lower taxation will evidently be to produce globally a reduction in state entitlements and state spending which has regressive effects.

Another example that Ronzoni gives concerns tariffs. Tariffs are not generally implemented on raw materials but on materials that have undergone secondary improvements. The greater the improvement, the greater tariff a product is susceptible to in a competition with similar products. This reproduces a tendency of ensuring that poorer nations will work to cultivate a set primary product (or set number of them) on the basis that this will ensure their products are less likely to be subject to tariffs. However since the development of secondary production is also tied to the ability of the economy to develop it follows that this pressure upon them will produce an underdevelopment of their economy. I am more sceptical of this second point since there can be other pressures within and on the economy in question that may lead it to produce secondary products and become developed. (This line of argument reproduces dependency theory, a notion I argued against in an earlier posting.)

Whilst the scenarios may not be entirely convincing the effect of them, one not directly drawn out in this fashion by Ronzoni, is nonetheless evident. It is fivefold: a) patterned behaviour can be produced and reinforced without any principle being explicitly invoked or championed by any agent and this is most likely at the global level; b) such patterned behaviour can be formulated in terms of principles but these principles would effectively be ones that would devolve into those of lesser regulation and greater market mobility, hence not "patterned" in the way Nozick intended; c) hence patterning can be an effect of libertarianism as much as egalitarianism; d) when it is an effect of libertarianism it will have socially regressive results; e) hence questions of justice at the global level are as likely to arise due to the lack of regulation and the need for regulation to be established as due to the operation of regulation.

The overall effect of the argument would be to suggest that there is a state of nature at the global level in terms of an absence of regulation of transactions between societies. This is a separate question from the arguments Kant gives concerning the state of nature that can be said to be operative between societies in terms of there being no basis of rightful agreement existent between states as Kant's main concern was how to establish a basis for peace between states (so that disputes between them are not made into an occasion for war). However there is a link since one of the tensions between states concerns different relative prosperities of them. One of the bases for such difference (though not, I would add, the only one) would, on this argument, be grounded on the insufficient character of regulation of transactions between them. This would hence be a prime basis for thinking about global justice.


Timothy said...

Gary - I like the link between Kant and the state of nature.

One quibble: I don't see how (5) follows? Why would a libertarian like Nozick accept that patterning matters for justice, and hence that it matters for global justice. Nozick is arguing against patterned principles of justice. What results, results. I don't think he would be bothered by the decrease in taxes or the welfare state (they weren't just in the first place, and it certainly is not a reason to revise the theory).

Gary Banham said...

5) follows, not for Nozick in the first instance but for the rest of us. That is, there is an effect for the subject of social justice of patterning as a consequence of things "spontaneously" happening in a way a libertarian like Nozick would like. Sure, he wouldn't be bothered by it but he would object to the view that there was patterning occurring from libertarian actions being followed since he thinks of these actions as not patterned. I have tried to show here that they are.