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What are the strengths and limitations of arguments for global redistributive justice?


Global justice is an issue in political philosophy arising from the concern that the world at large is unjust. It talks about redistribution of resources to bring the most disadvantaged class of people at a moderate level. But does it do more harm as an ideology than good? What are its strength and weaknesses? is it really a practical solution? will be the argument of this essay.

The theory in its self speaks like one of cosmopolitan egalitarianism. It talks about the fair and just redistribution of resources to create equality in global society to people who have been impoverished by no fault of their own. According to the UN 18% of the world population lies below its poverty line of 2 dollars a day. As the global society grows and we grow more inter dependent the problems of society directly affect our lives and therefore it is important to propagate this theory which shows a pathway to a society of equals.

The most prominent theory is of Rawl’s ‘a theory of justice’

It talks about how justice is through institutions in a coercive society. The veil of ignorance the policy makers wear assures impartiality and benefit to themselves. The theory gives all people living in the society the basic liberties in their lives like speech and education. The theory also says that the policies must benefit most those who are least advantaged in society. Equality of opportunities is also an advocated doctrine.

The limitation of this theory however lies with the fact that its scope is far too narrow. It doesn’t look at individuals and institutions outside of the coercive society that are influenced and can influence its administration. It doesn’t consider the role of emigration and immigration. It doesn’t look at non-governmental organizations and multinationals. It doesn’t consider the IMF World Bank or the UN. An illustration of the effect these institutions have can be shown by the world banks objective to privatize the supply of water in Bolivia. The supply was given to a French company aquas de elimani which held a monopoly and hence the prices of water rose. This deeply affected the poor in the region of el alto (Shultz 2005). Hence the theory gets limited in its scope and by the assumption of homogeneity in the state order (Margaret moore).

National distribution also plays a vital role in this process. According to Robert Goodin, who has argued that dividing up our duties along the lines of national affiliation is an effec- tive or efficient way of coordinating the achievement of our universal duties, that is, our duties to individuals at large (Goodin, 1988). On this view, duties to fellow nationals or compatriots are justified in terms of their contribution to more fundamental, universal duties.

National distribution hence is vital for they’re to be global distribution as they are both a part of each other’s spheres of influence.

Arash Abizadeh’s (2007) view that we can disaggregate the scope of justice and the site of justice: there is no need to think that because the scope of justice is universal, the site of justice must also be universal (global), or that because the site of justice is the political community, then the scope of justice is limited or confined to the political community.

The negative part of this aspect also lies within the fact that the spheres of the two interact but in a conflicting manner. For example a Canadian would help people in Vancouver or Toronto before he/she helped someone in Palestine regardless of the fact that more help is required. This creates a problem as people tend to prioritize on the basis of territories, which eliminates the idea of a cosmopolitan society. David miller in National Responsibility and Global Justice speaks about concentric circles to justify these priorities but is it fair for example to take another mans kidneys to help a family member because they form the inner circle? There can however be a counter argument to this as there are universal constraints to political association.

The theory states that since there is a provision for self-determination in national administration there must also be self-determination in global justice. The states and communities must all have a voice in the situation. This provides for a fair and just pattern of policy and decision-making. But one must also consider that there are differences in the distribution of material resources that cause the poor states to be exploited by the rich states. Hence in most situations the global decisions are dominated by the views of the elitist nations.

Here I echo in part Rousseau’s (1974, p. 45) sentiment in The Social Contract that political self-determination (of individuals) is jeopard- ized if the rich can buy the poor or the poor must sell themselves. Economic deprivation threatens a political community’s right to self- determination because it renders that right impossible to realize. Of course, being above the level of deprivation does not guarantee that a country will think and develop independently; it only ensures that they have the capacity to do so. If country X wants something that country Y has, then this makes X vulnerable to the demands of Y. This is unprob- lematic, indeed part of what we expect in the course of normal trade, as long as X has sufficient material resources and alternatives so that it is exercising a preference and not under compulsion.

The next theory would be the luck egalitarian theory. This theory states that when a person is born in a particular community he should be helped if he suffers from bad luck that is inflicted upon him without it being a choice. It explains that people must be equal until they choose to be different. It is a helpful argument as it aids the construction of institutions, which it says must be made to create this equality and provides relief to those victims to bad luck. However the writer Margaret moore rejected the luck egalitarian version of that framework, since it fails to strike the right sort of balance between the two levels of justice. It cannot distinguish between injustices as pure bad luck and reviews them in equal measure. There needs to be a difference between justice and other bad luck.

The next theory would be global egalitarianism and its threat to national self-determination.

The theory is one of cosmopolitanism that looks to blur boundaries and provide help to every individual regardless of them being from angola or Australia. Therefore this doesn’t leave a lot of scope for national communities as it would lead to inequality in the system.



If national membership in the contempo- rary world operates a lot like feudal status in the ‘pre-modern’ world, admitting some to a modern nobility and consigning others to a mod- ern form of serfdom, we might be expected to object to this modern hierarchy just as strongly as we rejected the earlier one (Carens, 1992).

On the other hand, we find in the literature on global justice a number of dissenting voices which claim that our membership of nations (and sometimes nation-states) has a good deal of normative significance (for example, Miller, 1995). Perhaps nations are ‘ethical communities’ with an intrinsic value that cosmopolitans or global egalitarians have failed to recognize. In its criticism the defenders of self determination have said that these changes would require a co institutionalized feeling that would need a strong global institution maybe leading to a world state. its strictures would be incompatible with national autonomy or with global cultural diversity more broadly.


David Miller has labelled his own distinctive approach to global justice a ‘political’ as opposed to a ‘cosmopolitan’ one, and clearly means by this distinction to suggest precisely that the cosmopolitan or egalitarian account pays far too little attention to the fact that individuals are born into national communities that have meaning for them and that have a plausible claim for political self-determination (Miller, 2008a, p. 383)

National communities have a right to economic and political self-determination, and that this itself places serious limits on the scope for global distributive justice. Theories of redistributive justice rightly emphasize individuals opportunities to pursue valuable goals they should also pay due attention to the role of national cultures in defining these. Global egalitarianism in this essays opinion fails to protect the cultural and collective dimension of life which people often value. But it provides a more accommodating and better alternative to complete national self-determination because of its emphasis on equality.

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Written By Ameya Singh

Founder Young Bhartiya

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