The Global Poor as Agents of Justice

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
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  • 1 University of Guelph

“Agent-centered” approaches to global poverty insist that effective arguments for poverty reduction must specify the concrete duties of particular duty-bearers. This article takes up a recent, influential, version of this view, Thomas Pogge’s human rights-based argument for global economic reforms to reduce chronic deprivation. While signaling a welcome shift from the diffuse allocation of responsibilities common to much philosophical writing on poverty, I argue that Pogge’s approach too readily assigns to powerful institutions in the global North the role of devising and directing anti-poverty initiatives. In so doing, he overlooks the agency—actual and potential—of the poor themselves, as evidenced by poor-led political movements and poor-centered, participatory models of poverty reduction in development theory and practice. While agent-oriented approaches are right to focus our attention on structures that cause poverty, they ought not to assume that the powerful agents responsible for these are the only—or most appropriate—agents to lead the way to poverty reduction. Just as development organizations working in the global South have come to recognize that the participation of poor communities is critical to the success of development strategies, so should normative theorists writing about global injustice acknowledge the importance of the poor as active agents in poverty reduction efforts.

  • 9

    Vinit Haksar, ‘Moral Agents,’ in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. E. Craig (London: Routledge Press, 1998).

  • 11

    Pogge, Politics as Usual, p. 53.

  • 12

    Pogge, Politics as Usual, p. 49.

  • 15

    Pogge, World Poverty, p. 66.

  • 16

    Pogge, Politics as Usual, p. 53.

  • 17

    Pogge, Politics as Usual, p. 55.

  • 18

    Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save (New York: Random House, 2009). For a critique of Pogge’s position on the role of non-governmental organizations in poverty reduction, see Lisa Fuller, ‘Poverty Relief, Global Institutions, and the Problem of Compliance,’ Journal of Moral Philosophy 2 (2005), pp. 285–97. Advocacy organizations that target the policies of global economic institutions are more welcome: Pogge is an ardent supporter of the international group, asap (Academics Stand Against Poverty). See Thomas Pogge and Luis Cabrera, ‘Outreach, Impact, Collaboration: Why Academics Should Stand Against Poverty,’ Ethics & International Affairs 26 (2012), pp. 163–82.

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  • 22

    Luis Cabrera, The Practice of Global Citizenship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 6.

  • 26

    Cabrera and Pogge, ‘Outreach, Impact, Collaboration,’ p. 11.

  • 27

    Pogge, ‘Human Rights and Human Responsibilities,’ p. 175. Italics mine.

  • 28

    Pogge, World Poverty, p. 66.

  • 30

    Pogge, ‘Responses to the Critics,’ p. 209.

  • 32

    Larry Temkin, ‘Thinking about the Needy, Justice, and International Organizations,’ The Journal of Ethics 8 (2004), pp. 349–395, at p. 351. Italics mine.

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  • 33

    Deepa Narayan et al., Voices of the Poor, vol. 2: Crying Out for Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press and World Bank, 2002), p. 36.

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  • 34

    Deepa Narayan et al., Voices of the Poor, vol. 1: Can Anyone Hear Us? (Oxford: Oxford University Press and World Bank, 2000).

  • 35

    Narayan, Voices of the Poor, vol. 2, p. 25.

  • 37

    Asunción Lera St. Clair, ‘Global Poverty: Development Ethics Meets Global Justice,’ Globalizations 3 (2006), pp. 139–57, at p. 147.

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  • 38

    Engberg-Pedersen and Webster, ‘Introduction to Political Space,’ p. 7.

  • 39

    Thomas Pogge, ‘Responses to the Critics,’ Thomas Pogge and His Critics, ed. Alison Jaggar (Cambridge, ma.: Polity Press, 2010), p. 209.

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  • 43

    Pogge, ‘Responses to the Critics,’ pp. 208.

  • 44

    Thomas Pogge, ‘Real World Justice,’ The Journal of Ethics 9 (2005), pp. 29–53 and Pogge, World Poverty, pp. 122–23.

  • 45

    Pogge, Politics as Usual, p. 31.

  • 47

    Sengupta, ‘On the Theory and Practice of the Right to Development,’ p. 850.

  • 48

     See for example Uvin, Human Rights and Development, pp. 175–182.

  • 49

    Pogge, World Poverty, p. 203.

  • 50

    Pogge, ‘Real World Justice,’ p. 52.

  • 51

    Pogge, ‘Severe Poverty as a Human Rights Violation,’ in Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right, ed. T. Pogge (Oxford: Oxford University Press and unesco, 2007), p. 29.

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  • 54

     See Pogge, ‘Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty,’ Ethics 102 (1992): pp. 48–75, and Pogge, World Poverty, chapters 6 and 7.

  • 55

    Pogge, ‘Severe Poverty,’ p. 30 and Politics as Usual, p. 31 (see also Pogge, ‘Responses to the Critics,’ p. 208). For reasons why we should doubt that poverty can be eradicated in the context of the current system of global capitalism, see David Schweickart, ‘Global Poverty: Alternative perspectives on what we should do—and why,’ Journal of Social Philosophy 39 (2008), pp. 471–91, Andrew Hurrell, ‘Global Inequality and International Institutions,’ Metaphilosophy 32 (2001), pp. 34–57, and Kai Nielsen, ‘Global Justice and the Imperatives of Capitalism,’ The Journal of Philosophy 4 (1983), pp. 608–10.

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  • 56

    Astrid Blom, ‘Ambiguous Political Space: Chiefs, Land and the Poor in Rural Mozambique,’ In the Name of the Poor: Contesting Political Space for Poverty Reduction, ed. N. Webster and L. Engberg-Pedersen (London and New York: Zed Books, 2002), pp. 104–128, and Anne Marie Ejdesgaard Jeppesen, ‘Reading the Bolivian Landscape of Exclusion and Inclusion: The Law of Popular Participation,’ also in In the Name of the Poor, pp. 30–51.

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  • 57

    Thomas Pogge, ‘Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty,’ Ethics 103 (1992), pp. 48–75, at pp. 63–64.

  • 61

    David Miller, National Responsibility and Global Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), especially chapters 1 and 9.

  • 62

    Dower, ‘The Nature and Scope of Development Ethics,’ pp. 186.

  • 64

    Jay Drydyk, ‘Durable empowerment,’ Journal of Global Ethics 4 (2008), pp. 231–45, at p. 231, and Armando Barrientos, ‘Social Protection and Poverty,’ Social Policy and Development, paper no. 42 (United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, 2010).

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  • 65

    Siby George, ‘Birth of the Subject: the Ethics of Monitoring Development Programmes,’ Journal of Global Ethics 4 (2008), pp. 23–43.

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  • 66

    Drydyk, ‘Durable Empowerment,’ p. 231.

  • 67

    Drydyk, ‘Durable empowerment,’ p. 239.

  • 70

    Pogge, ‘Real World Justice,’ p. 53.

  • 71

    Pogge, World Poverty, p. 185.

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