handout4 - Philosophy 4 Intro Ethics Handout#4 Prof Aaron Z...

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1 Philosophy 4: Intro Ethics October 16, 2007 Handout #4 Prof. Aaron Z. Zimmerman Global Justice, Hunger and Inequality I 1. Statistics (1) Around the world, over 1.2 billion people live on a dollar a day, or less. (2) In 1991, there were 497 billionaires (worldwide) with a combined wealth of $1.54 trillion. The GNP of all the nations in sub-Saharan Africa was then $929.3 billion and the nations occupying the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and North Africa had a combined GNP of $1.34 trillion. According to fairly recent statistics, the collective wealth of 497 people in this world is greater than the combined wealth of the poorest half of humanity: more than two billion people. (By almost every estimate, the Earth’s population is now over 6 billion people.) (3) In the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world, 1%of the population holds more wealth than the bottom 90% of the population. In 1998, the combined incomes of the 13,000 wealthiest families in the United States matched the incomes of the 20,000,000 poorest families. Is your family rich? Surveys conducted a number of years ago show that most Americans in the highest earning 1% of the population don’t consider themselves rich. The median annual income for Americans in this elite 1% was $330,000 fairly recently. Do you consider yourself middle class? You’re not if your family’s net worth (including income, the value of your home, the value of your car(s), stocks, retirement funds, etc.) exceeds $90, 000. $90,000 is higher than the average net worth of the middle 20% of American households. 1.3 Household Net Worth by Wealth Class, 1998 Wealth Class Average Net Worth Threshold Top 1% $10,204,00 $3,352,100 Next 4% $1,441,000 Next 5% $623,500 $475,600 Next 10% $344,900 $257,700 Fourth 20% $161,300 Middle 20% $61,000 Bottom 40% $1,900 (Negative) Source: Edward N. Wolff, "Recent Trends in Wealth Ownership, 1983-1998," April 2000. Table 3 and note to Table 5. http://www.levy.org/docs/wrkpap/papers/300.html 2. Inequality and Morality A. One might argue that inequality in standard of living is in itself a morally bad thing. This would be to argue that, all things being equal, a world with more economic equality is better than a world with less. The famous philosopher John Rawls argued for the injustice (hence immorality) of laws and institutions that produce inequality when this inequality is not the by-product of arrangements that lead to a better standard of living for the worst off than would result without those inequality- producing laws and institutions. He argues for this by asking you to imagine which laws and institutions you would agree to establish if you had no idea which “life” you would have to lead in the society that would result from those laws and institutions. If, he says, you have no idea
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2 whether you’ll have to live as a rich, poor, or middle class person in the society you’re creating, it would be rational to minimize the risk of being poor, by making the poor as rich as you can possibly make them. To do this would be to allow for inequality only to the extent that it actually
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