I have not been blogging lately because I’ve been working with Loren Lomasky on a book about global justice. Its provisional title is Justice at a Distance. Here are the main ideas of the book.
1) Our main duty toward distant others is a duty of noninterference with their personal projects. This is a global extension of Loren’s seminal treatment. Drawing on the institutionalist literature on development (Landes, North, De Soto, Acemoglu-Robinson), we claim that the world’s poor are wronged, not because of insufficient aid from rich countries, but because political structures stand in the way of their flourishing. The poor suffer from violation of moral rights by their own governments (violation of civil liberties, weak property rights, protectionist policies, corruption), and also from the obstacles placed by rich countries to the full participation of the poor in the world’s economy (examples are the European Common Agricultural Policy and the U.S. Farm Bill). The first task of global justice, therefore, is to lift these obstacles, that is, to liberalize political and economic markets. Our approach radically departs from the mainstream literature on global justice represented by Thomas Pogge, Peter Singer, and others. These authors (with important differences among them) think that international institutions should embody a version of the redistributive state writ large –a massive global redistributive agency.
2) Our position is cosmopolitan: everyone has the duty not to interfere with personal projects. Persons have moral rights that correspond to those duties of noninterference. A legitimate state is one that respects these moral rights. No actual state meets this test, so no actual state is morally legitimate. However, some states have better institutions than others. Good institutions in general allow persons to pursue their personal projects; bad institutions prevent this. A morally defensible foreign policy should promote good institutions and discourage bad institutions abroad. The concept of legitimacy, therefore, is not very helpful, because it is bivalent: either a state is legitimate or it isn’t. We adopt instead a more modest, gradualist approach: we suspect that no state is really legitimate (since not even the better states fully respect the moral rights of individuals) but we recognize that some institutions are better than others (measured by the amount of political and economic freedom they encourage and protect). Here again, our project is revisionist, because global justice philosophers and international lawyers assume the legitimacy of the (properly qualified) modern state.
3) Common sense morality condemns the immigration restrictions that states presently impose. We examine the usual arguments in support of those restrictions and find them wanting for standard libertarian reasons.
4) War is justified only in defense of persons (not in defense of territory, or sovereignty as such, even less to further prestige or national interest.) Some wars are, therefore, justified: defensive wars and (in extreme cases) wars to save others (humanitarian intervention.) We condemn the military draft, we defend the use of mercenaries, and we develop a novel understanding of the doctrine of double effect as applied to justified wars.
5) We discuss a number of related issues that I cannot develop in a limited space. Among them: the injustice of trade barriers, the defense of the brain drain, and, at a more theoretical level, the inconsistency between liberal-egalitarian theories of domestic justice and liberal-egalitarian theories of global justice. This last point is important. Theories of justice focus on the modern liberal state. With some variations, they recommend arrangements that benefit, or take centrally into account, the worst-off in society. However, almost by definition such domestic political arrangements will hurt the distant poor. This is a problem that liberal egalitarians have been unable to solve except at a prohibitive theoretical or practical cost. Our approach is unaffected by this problem.
That’s the gist of it. Comments are welcome.