Department of Political Science

Global Redistributive Obligations in the Face of Severe Poverty

Research output: Book/anthology/dissertation/reportPh.D. thesis

  • David Vestergaard Axelsen, Denmark
This dissertation concerns global poverty. More specifically, it concerns the question of, which redistributive obligations we have towards foreigners and how these obligations are affected by the existence of severe and widespread poverty. Most people (both theorists and ordinary citizens) agree that we have an obligation to ensure the fulfillment of everyone’s basic needs and rights. At the same time, however, obligations to compatriots are commonly thought of as significantly stronger – in this context, we should strive to secure equal (or, at least, reasonable) opportunities for everyone as a matter of justice. This moral discrepancy is reflected in our current levels of redistribution, by which we redistribute up to 50 % of our income on the domestic level and less than 1% to poor foreigners through development aid. But can this overwhelming redistributive partiality be justified?
In the debate on global justice, a number of theorists argue that this discrepancy can indeed be justified (so-called anti-cosmopolitans). Thus, to bring us closer to answer regarding our redistributive obligations towards foreigners, I analyze and evaluate such arguments. My critical examination reveals a number of flaws in the anti-cosmopolitan line of thought. First, on closer inspection, they turn out to be based on empirical facts that are less static than they presume. These facts might, then, be changed in which case their arguments would also change, making room for greater levels of redistribution to poor foreigners. Further, the social facts on which they rely are created and upheld in a problematic (and potentially unjust) manner, which makes them a problematic foundation for grounding principles of justice. Second, I argue that anti-cosmopolitans do not succeed in showing that we cannot meet comprehensive obligations to foreigners and compatriots simultaneously. Thus, even if we are duty-bound to redistribute comprehensively to compatriots, this does not entail that we could not also do so towards non-compatriots. Hence, their arguments are incomplete. Thirdly, I show that anti-cosmopolitan arguments are incoherent since their methodology is at odds with their normative commitments to meeting basic rights obligations to foreigners. This, I claim, is not possible within their methodological framework and, thus, they must either abandon their methodology (which would make them open to cosmopolitan conclusions) or their commitment to alleviating basic right deficiencies (in which case they become vulnerable to several points of criticism). Finally, I describe and defend an ideal of distributive justice according to which we should strive to ensure that everyone is free from significant pressure against succeeding. This, I claim, is what we owe both compatriots and foreigners.
Original languageEnglish
Place of publicationAarhus
PublisherForlaget Politica
Number of pages94
ISBN (Print)978-87-7335-184-0
Publication statusPublished - May 2014
SeriesPoliticas ph.d.-serie

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