The Global Poor as Agents of Justice

in Journal of Moral Philosophy
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“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.

The Global Poor as Agents of Justice

in Journal of Moral Philosophy




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


PoggePolitics as Usual p. 53.


PoggePolitics as Usual p. 49.


PoggeWorld Poverty p. 66.


PoggePolitics as Usual p. 53.


PoggePolitics as Usual p. 55.


Peter SingerThe Life You Can Save (New York: Random House2009). 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.


Luis CabreraThe Practice of Global Citizenship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2010) p. 6.


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


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


PoggeWorld Poverty p. 66.


Pogge‘Responses to the Critics’ p. 209.


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


Deepa Narayan et al.Voices of the Poor vol. 2: Crying Out for Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press and World Bank2002) p. 36.


Deepa Narayan et al.Voices of the Poor vol. 1: Can Anyone Hear Us? (Oxford: Oxford University Press and World Bank2000).


NarayanVoices of the Poor vol. 2 p. 25.


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


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


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


Pogge‘Responses to the Critics’ pp. 208.


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


PoggePolitics as Usual p. 31.


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


 See for example UvinHuman Rights and Development pp. 175–182.


PoggeWorld Poverty p. 203.


Pogge‘Real World Justice’ p. 52.


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


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


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.


Astrid Blom‘Ambiguous Political Space: Chiefs, Land and the Poor in Rural Mozambique,’ In the Name of the Poor: Contesting Political Space for Poverty Reductioned. 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.


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


David MillerNational Responsibility and Global Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press2007) especially chapters 1 and 9.


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


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).


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


Drydyk‘Durable Empowerment’ p. 231.


Drydyk‘Durable empowerment’ p. 239.


Pogge‘Real World Justice’ p. 53.


PoggeWorld Poverty p. 185.


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