Showing posts with label justice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label justice. Show all posts

Monday, 18 April 2022

Why Governments Failed the Challenge of Covid and Capitalism Succeeded

Capitalism has had a good Covid. While governments of every political hue seem to stumble from one crisis to the next, for profit corporations stepped up to deliver our food and consumer goods to our doors, reroute disrupted supply chains, manufacture huge amounts of PPE, and develop multiple safe and effective vaccines in record time. I put this triumph of capitalism over statecraft down to two factors in particular. 

  1. Corporations are better at globalisation than national governments 
  2. Political incentives are less well aligned with the public interest than those for corporations

Monday, 22 November 2021

Moral Status Should Not Depend On Social Status

“The poorest he that is in England has a life to live as the greatest he” (Thomas Rainsborough, spokesman for the Levellers at the Putnam Debates)

What does it mean to say that everyone is equal? It does not mean that everyone has (or should have) the same amount of nice things, money, or happiness. Nor does it mean that everyone’s abilities or opinions are equally valuable. Rather, it means that everyone has the same – equal – moral status as everyone else. It means, for example, that the happiness of any one of us is just as important as the happiness of anyone else; that a promise made to one person is as important as that made to anyone else; that a rule should count the same for all. No one deserves more than others – more chances, more trust, more empathy, more rewards – merely because of who or what they are.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

If our governments won’t help refugees, they should let us sponsor them ourselves

Guest post by Brecht Weerheijm

As of 2020, over 80 million people are on the run from war and persecution. Of this group, over 26 million are refugees looking for a safe haven outside of their home country. Most of these are from countries torn by civil war or governed by authoritarians, to whom human lives seem not to matter. The burden of caring for these million falls squarely upon the shoulders of developing nations; 86% of all refugees are hosted by developing countries, with the UN’s 46 least-developed countries taking in more than a quarter of all refugees. Millions are living in inhumane conditions in refugee camps across the globe, in nations that lack resources to take proper care of these refugees. Even if there are means to stay alive in these camps, there is often no access to public services or a path to citizenship. Refugees are neither politically represented nor provided with education, and this status is often inherited by their children and grandchildren.

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

The Moral Case for Guest Worker Programmes

The United Arab Emirates is a small but rich rich country with a million or so citizens and nearly 9 times as many foreign migrants, mostly from poor Asian and Arab countries. In 2019 remittances home from these guest workers amounted to $45 billion (12% of GDP). In comparison, total overseas aid from rich countries in 2019 was $145 billion (an average of 0.3% of donors' national income). 

Another way of putting this is that one small country's entirely self-interested transactional relationship with the poor world is responsible for transferring 30% as much wealth as all the high minded moral principles of the whole world turn out to be worth. The lesson I draw from this astonishing statistic is that anyone who really cares about reducing global poverty should be looking at how to make more countries like the UAE, not vice versa.

Friday, 26 March 2021

Why Are Moral Philosophers So Bad At Global Justice?

There is a dismaying intellectual sloppiness to how moral philosophers as an intellectual community approach issues of global justice. They are not only ignorant about basic, important, and easily checked empirical facts, but also complacent about their ignorance. For example, they disdain to acknowledge the expertise of those scientists (especially economists) whose conclusions or methods they find counterintuitive or disagreeable, and prefer to develop their own theories or seek out those self-professed experts who say things more in line with their preconceptions about how the world works. The result resembles the self-sustaining but fundamentally worthless epistemic communities organised around the rejection of vaccination or climate change. Philosophers are willing to write long articles and whole books explaining their views about how unfair the world is, and to read and respond to each others' complaints, but they have little to offer to the reality based community. 

This shit matters. Bad global justice theorising reinforces anti-intellectual and conspiratorial myths about how the world works that would keep whole countries and hundreds of millions of people mired in poverty. On the one hand - fortunately - few people in positions of influence take this drivel seriously. On the other hand this is still a missed opportunity to have engaged philosophers' supposedly superior reasoning skills and expertise on value questions about issues affecting billions of people. Moreover, it pollutes the political conversation by training our students and anyone else who will listen to be stupid about global justice and by giving intellectual cover to populist 'common sense' opposition to free trade and other sensible pro-poor policies.

Monday, 2 November 2020

The Political Economy Of Risk: Covid Edition

Covid-19 reminds us once again that we can’t do without politics, or, to put it another way, we can’t do well without doing politics well.

‘Science’ can’t decide the right thing to do about Covid, however appealing it might be to imagine we could dump this whole mess on a bunch of epidemiologists in some ivory tower safely beyond the reach of grubby political bickering. This is not because scientists don’t know enough. The scientific understanding of Covid is a work in progress and hence uncertain and incomplete, but such imperfect knowledge can still be helpful. The reason is that since Covid became an epidemic it is no longer a merely scientific problem. Dealing with it requires balancing conflicting values and the interests of multitudes of people and organisations. This is an essentially political challenge that scientists lack the conceptual apparatus or legitimacy to address.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

The Statues Were Always A Grab For Power: It Is Good That They Are Coming Down

Some people claim that the prominent display of statues to controversial events or people, such as confederate generals in the southern United States, merely memorialises historical facts that unfortunately make some people uncomfortable. This is false. Firstly, such statues have nothing to do with history or facts and everything to do with projecting an illiberal political domination into the future. Secondly, upsetting a certain group of people is not an accident but exactly what they are supposed to do.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Mass Shootings Are A Poor Justification For Gun Control

Mass shootings get more attention from America's gun control movement than they objectively deserve, and this distracts from the kind of regulations that would significantly reduce gun murders.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

The Duty To Forgive Murderers

Source: INC
There are people living among us who have done terrible things to other human beings – murder and rape, for example – yet who nonetheless deserve society’s forgiveness.

They have been convicted for their crimes and punished by the laws we collectively agreed such moral transgressions deserve. Now they deserve something other than punishment. They deserve to be treated with respect rather than resentment, contempt, and suspicion. They deserve a real chance to overcome their history and make something of their life.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Peer Reviewers Should Be Paid

Academia is an extended set of conversations all going on at once. We academics score status points for making a contribution that other people find interesting because it helps them with their often rather specific problems (say, about a new interpretation of Galileo's conception of physical laws or a new method for identifying pancreatic cancer cells). The more that other academics value your contribution (by citing it in their own contributions), the more status points you get for it. (Google's PageRank is based on the same system.)

I said academia was conversational, but these are not normal conversations. First because the standard intervention is a 10,000 word long monologue. Second because journals curate what is good enough to be allowed into the conversation using peer-review. These journals are another layer in the academic status economy. They try to publish those monologues of most interest to most people and thus most likely to increase the status of their journal within those academic conversations. The higher the status of a journal the more able it is to bestow prestige upon those who publish in it, and so the more academics will send it their most exciting ideas. A virtuous circle of prestige appears around the journal, which translates into outsized profits for its multinational corporate owner  - since every university needs to subscribe to it or risk missing out on the most exciting part of the conversation.

If we were building it from scratch, I don't think we would set up a system like this in which publicly funded research is privatised and commoditised, resulting in enormous profits for a handful of companies while systematically excluding ordinary citizens, journalists, and poorer country universities from access. There are many attempts to change things, from protests against price-gouging behaviours, to boycotts of the most loathed company, Elsevier, to outright defiance (pirate sites like scihub and libgen), to the creation of free Open Access alternatives. I wish them well.* Here I want to open up a new front that is not about access but how the product gets made: the treatment of peer reviewers

Monday, 22 January 2018

Productivity is the Wrong Argument for Diversity

If you look around your workplace and everyone, or least all the managers, look the same - same sex, skin colour, social class, age - then your company has a diversity problem. But why is it a problem?

Because the most obvious explanation is a failure of meritocracy. Such features as the colour of one's skin or sex are arbitrary and irrelevant to people's ability to do a job. Therefore the fact that people of certain skin colours or sex are missing from your workplace relative to the wider society presents a prima facie challenge to the fairness of your company's criteria for employment and promotion. To assume otherwise - for example that people of certain colours, sex, class, age, happen to have different (inferior) career preferences or different (inferior) talents has no credibility. It is to assume the exact set of facts most convenient to make a problem someone else's, rather than to take responsibility for investigating and fixing it.

Call this the negative argument for diversity: If you don't have internal diversity in line with the wider society then you are probably treating people unfairly and you need to investigate and try to fix it. For example by identifying and mitigating biases in how job applicants are evaluated and structural impediments to their career progress. It leaves a lot of details still to be argued out, but I think it is the right way to go.

But there is another kind of argument that is now much more common, the positive argument that organisations should promote diversity because it pays off. This is the argument I want to criticise, on the grounds that it jeopardises the negative argument from fairness; reduces individuals to stereotypes about groups; and perpetuates unjust stereotypes and social relations.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Crime Hurts. Justice Should Heal

Judicial punishment is the curious idea that individuals deserve to be punished by the state for breaking its laws. Intellectually this is rather counter-intuitive. If crime is so bad because of the social trauma it causes then setting out to hurt more people would seems a strange way to make things better. There are intellectual arguments for retributive punishment of course, many of them rather ingenious. But they have the look of post hoc rationalisations for a brute social fact: it just so happens that we like making wrongdoers suffer.

The modern criminal justice system – bloated and terroristic – is the product of government expansionism combined with this societal vindictiveness.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Almost No Disasters Are Natural

A natural disaster is a disaster because it involves a lot of human suffering, not because the event itself is especially big or spectacular. The destruction of an uninhabited island by a volcano is not a natural disaster, because it doesn't really matter to humans. A landslide doesn't matter, however enormous, unless there is a town at the bottom of the hill.

So what does the word ‘natural' add? We use it to demarcate the edges of responsibility. We don't use it very well.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Liberalism Insists on the Freedom to Insult Religion

Should insulting religion be banned? The reason the idea is still debated in the 21st century is that it has been reframed as a debate within liberalism rather than against it. The arguments set forward by groups such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (eg) nowadays have a liberal sound to them: Freedom from Harm; Anti-discrimination; State Neutrality; and Tolerance. But in fact they are not liberal at all. They do not respect individuals, nor are they compatible with a free society.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

What Terrorists Want - and How to Stop Them Getting It

After every new atrocity or catchy ISIS video the armchair psychologists and amateur Islamic theologians take to the air. Their low grade psychobabble turns tragic events into compelling TV narrative and brings mainstream attention to political opportunists. But even if it made better sense it would still be irrelevant. All these pundits are focused on the wrong thing: how particular individuals are recruited to terrorist groups and causes.

Terrorism is not a personality type, a psychological illness, a theology, or a goal in itself. Terrorism is a technique, a particular form of warfare that the weak wage against the strong.

If we want to stop terrorism we have to first understand it. That means acknowledging its rationality as a means to an end. The question we should be asking is, what are terrorist acts supposed to achieve and how?

Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Concept of White Privilege Does More Harm Than Good

'White privilege' and its cousins have achieved enormous prominence on the American left, from which it now seems to be spreading around the Western world. As a slogan it has an undeniable rhetorical power. But from a moral perspective it is flawed: at best mistaken about the core problem of racial injustice and at worst racist in its own right. At the political level it is divisive - arguably deliberately so - and thus incapable of supporting the consensus needed to build a just society.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Rich countries are not to blame for global warming but they should still pay more to stop it

An unfortunate side effect of the moralisation of global warming is the blame game. A large number of people seem to think it makes sense to address the enormous problem of global warming by putting various rich countries on trial for their crimes against the atmosphere over the past 200 years. This project is a foolish one, a backwards looking side-show that - perhaps conveniently - distracts political attention from the pragmatic policy debates we need for actually addressing the problem (previously). But even if we were to take it seriously it wouldn't give the answers one might expect.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Human Rights Case for Migration

Migration is a meta-human right: a right that other human rights depend upon. Since some governments are malevolent or simply incapable of protecting human rights, a commitment to human rights requires a commitment to the freedom of individuals to move to countries where they can live a decent life. Refugees - homeless, futureless - present an international moral emergency that trumps the usual considerations of national statecraft such as fiscal implications and political risk for governing parties.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Marriage Equality Is Not Enough

The campaign to legalise gay marriage in Western countries has been wildly successful. Political and popular opposition has crumbled in the face of the reasonable demand for a public justification for banning it. The feeble excuses for arguments trotted out by its opponents - including religious institutions, talking heads, politicians and lawyers in court - are increasingly perceived as mere rationalisations for bigotry. This is democracy as public reasoning at its best (and has been cited as such by political philosophers - e.g.).

As a liberal I find much to celebrate about this victory. Yet, at the risk of offending the righteousness of the left, I also see something to regret. The line of reasoning behind the marriage equality movement is disappointing in the smallness of its ambition. It holds up a mirror to the wider renunciation of radical idealism by what passes for the left these days.

Proponents of marriage equality have overwhelmingly argued that it is unfair to treat homosexual relationships differently from heterosexual ones because they are in every significant respect the same. As a rhetorical strategy to advance marriage rights and the acceptance of homosexuals in general this argument may be justified by its political success. But as public reasoning such a justification is disappointing. It does not really advance the idea of equality of deep freedom: it is a demand to have one's conformity accepted rather than to have one's difference respected.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Will We Be Able To Justify The International Birthright Lottery To Our Grandchildren?

It is drowning season again in the Mediterranean. Over the coming months, thousands of people will die wretched little deaths in pursuit of a better life in Europe. Hundreds of thousands will risk all they have anyway, just as they do every year. And just as we do every year, we will demand that more be done to prevent them dying on our doorstep in such a visible and embarrassing way

The drowning season is an embarrassment because it threatens our moral complacency. We enjoy believing that we care about human rights and we have signed all sorts of treaties and agreements promising care to refugees fleeing lives of squalor, fear, and oppression. But we also have no serious intention of fulfilling our promises to help foreigners. That's why we make them climb into those leaky fishing boats to reach us. 

Embarrassment is discomforting. How will we deal with it? By focusing on the deaths and who is to blame - the dastardly people smugglers, the under-resourced Italian navy, sclerotic EU institutions, Libya's warring factions, the foolish refugees themselves? Or by recognising and answering the moral challenge before us.