Global poverty alleviation as a duty not to harm
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Do global financial institutions and the governments of developed nations owe anything to the global poor? I argue that they do. In my view, the global poor are owed a form of assistance because of the unjust harms imposed upon them. The negative rights of the global poor, which are the rights involving freedom from unjust interference, are consistently violated by the global economic order (GEO). I demonstrate that the causal chain that connects global poverty directly with the policies of institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization reveals that the negative rights of the global poor are being violated. These violations occur through the effects of trade policies, unjustified sovereignty, and loan conditions, which serve to trap the poor in inescapable cycles of poverty. I argue that rather than relying on controversial accounts of the positive rights of the poor, and the appeals to charity that follow from them, we can ground the obligation to alleviate global poverty in negative rights, which are more minimal and widely accepted. My argument establishes that poverty poses a problem even if one does not see inequality as a problem in itself. I argue in support of Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach to poverty, which discusses the effects of poverty as a deprivation of a person’s abilities to do and be what she has reason to value. This approach identifies what is really at the heart of the problem with poverty: a deprivation of the ability to act in ways that allow the expression of basic freedoms, rather than merely a lack of resources or income. The negative rights approach to grounding an obligation to alleviate global poverty has traditionally been based on a conception of wrongdoing as a deprivation of basic needs. However, I contend that wrongdoing should be seen as a deprivation of fundamental capabilities instead. Using capability deprivations as a baseline for wrongdoing presents us with the theoretical resources required to create a foundation for an ecumenical theory of global justice, and the framework within which to demonstrate that the GEO has an obligation to help alleviate global poverty.
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