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Unformatted text preview: 55 REPLY TO THE CRITICS Severe Poverty as a Violation of Negative Duties Thomas Pogge* BASELINES FOR DETERMINING HARM Mathias Risse discusses whether the global system of territorial sovereignty that emerged in the fifteenth century can be said to harm the poorer societies. This question is distinct from the question I raise in my book—namely, whether present citizens of the affluent countries, in collusion with the ruling elites of most poor countries, are harming the global poor. These questions are different, because present citizens of the affluent countries bear responsibility only for the recent design of the global institu- tional order. The effects of the states system as it was shaped before 1980 , say, is thus of little relevance to the question I have raised. A further difference is that whereas Risse’s discussion focuses on the well-being of soci- eties, typically assessed by their GNP per capita, my discussion focuses on the well- being of individual human beings. This dif- ference is significant because what enriches a poor country (in terms of GNP per capita) all too often impoverishes the vast majority of its inhabitants, as I discuss with the exam- ple of Nigeria’s oil revenues (pp. 112 – 14 ). 1 My focus is then on the present situation, on the radical inequality between the bot- tom half of humankind, suffering severe poverty, and those in the top seventh, whose per capita share of the global product is 180 times greater than theirs (at market exchange rates). This radical inequality and the continuous misery and death toll it engenders are foreseeably reproduced under the present global institutional order as we have shaped it. And most of it could be avoided, I hold, if this global order had been, or were to be, designed differently. The fea- sibility of a more poverty-avoiding alterna- tive design of the global institutional order shows, I argue, that the present design is unjust and that, by imposing it, we are harming the global poor by foreseeably sub- jecting them to avoidable severe poverty. The argument just summarized defines harm relative to a baseline that is different from the three baselines Risse considers: on my account, the global poor are being harmed by us insofar as they are worse off than anyone would be if the design of the global order were just. Now, standards of social justice are controversial to some extent. To make my argument widely * Many thanks to the editors of Ethics International Affairs and my fellow symposiasts for making this exchange possible, and to David Álvarez García, Nicole Hassoun, Keith Horton, Rekha Nath, and Ling Tong for their critical comments. 1 Thomas W. Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002 ). All in-text citation references are to this book, unless otherwise noted....
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This note was uploaded on 02/28/2011 for the course PHIL 205 taught by Professor Carter during the Spring '09 term at BYU.
- Spring '09