The feasibility of global equality
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter considers the feasibility of global equality. Section 7.2 continues the analysis of the notion of feasibility started in Chapter 4 and presents a wide account of the feasibility test for principles of justice that takes dynamic variation into account. Common narrow accounts according to which, to be feasible, principles must be fully implementable in the here and now are challenged. Section 7.3 explains how considerations of fact are relevant to the formulation, justification, and scope of principles of justice. Section 7.4 offers a dynamic approach to the appraisal of transformational projects seeking the implementation of demanding principles. An analogy with the introduction of the welfare state in domestic settings is used, showing that a similar array of prudential and moral reasons can be operative at the global level. Section 7.5 concludes by applying the dynamic approach to processes of incremental reform approaching global equality
This chapter returns to the discussion on feasibility started in Chapter 4, and extends the analytic framework developed there to the implementation of supra-sufficientarian principles of global justice. The chapter has two objectives. First, it further clarifies aspects of the concept of feasibility, which is widely used but hardly explained in the literature on justice, domestic or global. Second, it responds to the common view that demanding principles of global distributive justice going beyond the eradication of severe poverty should be rejected because their implementation is infeasible. The chapter elucidates different kinds of feasibility considerations and explains how they should operate once we see that discussion on supra-sufficientarian principles of global justice should assume what I call a transitional standpoint that focuses on the articulation of dynamic duties.
The transitional standpoint is the standpoint taken by agents who are in the process of changing fundamental features of their economic, cultural, and political environment. From such a standpoint, agents see that they have reason to acknowledge dynamic duties whose point is to expand current feasible sets of political action so that new institutions and policies implementing morally appealing principles can be generated. Thus the feasibility test for principles should not only be concerned with how likely it is that action to immediately and completely fulfill them will be successful. Since feasibility is partly a function of actions undertaken now, there may be obligations to act now so as to change current circumstances in the light of enabling other obligations to come into effect later, when the feasibility landscape is different. This chapter explains how noticing this dynamism should lead us to revise the narrow way in which the feasibility of the implementation of distributive principles is conceived in much of the current literature on global justice. The discussion proceeds as follows. Section 7.2 analyses the notion of feasibility and presents a wide account of the feasibility (p. 238 ) test for principles of justice that takes dynamic variation into account. Section 7.3 proceeds to explain how considerations of fact, which bear on feasibility, are to be seen as relevant to the formulation, justification, and scope of principles of justice. Section 7.4 offers a dynamic approach to the appraisal of transformational projects, and section 7.5 applies the approach to processes of incremental reform approaching global equality. The exploration of the prospects for global equality is of course much more tentative than the exploration of the feasibility of the eradication of severe global poverty. But I will argue that a skeptical stance toward global equality is not warranted.
7.2 Feasibility and dynamic duties
7.2.1 The feasibility worry
According to the humanist approach, the presence of certain institutions, coercive legal structures, and cooperative schemes could be seen as relevant to the implementation of some distributive principles without being necessary conditions for justifying their scope. If such associative frameworks are indeed necessary for the implementation of principles that are morally desirable on humanist grounds, and are currently absent but feasible to create, then there may be a natural duty to create them. Thus their absence does not show humanist egalitarianism, and its recommendation of global egalitarianism, to be unwarranted. Furthermore, as we saw, some associativists can also invoke a natural duty to change current associative frameworks or create new ones so that global principles are honored if current trends of globalization are strong enough to trigger certain associativist grounds for equality. Thus the discussion that follows is relevant both for humanist and associativist forms of global egalitarianism.
Some authors recognize that an argument of this kind could be run. They acknowledge that a defender of global egalitarianism can say that even if they are currently absent, structures of global cooperation might be demanded so that egalitarian distribution can be implemented. But they worry that such a program is infeasible.1 What could justify such a worry? It could draw on certain empirical claims about the structure of global politics and economics. I will return to this in later sections. But I want to consider first a more fundamental motivation. It would proceed on the basis of the plausible philosophical assumption that a fully developed conception of justice must not only identify morally desirable social worlds, but also ones that can realistically be achieved. Only then can a conception of justice link to prescriptions of actual obligations besides evaluations identifying merely hypothetical obligations. An evaluation of a state of affairs as morally desirable entails a (p. 239 ) prescription of actual obligations only when those addressed by the moral appraisal in question can achieve what is deemed morally desirable. Whereas evaluative moral exercises yield judgments of the form “we ought to do A if we can,” prescriptive ones yield judgments of the form “we ought to do A provided that (i.e., only if) we can.”2 Now, if we see theories of justice as focused on providing moral prescriptions besides evaluations, then we must conclude that if a certain ideal social world is not achievable then, however desirable it might be, it does not constitute the proper prescriptive conclusion of a conception of justice. If “ought” implies “can,” then “cannot” implies “not ought.” We do not have duties to do what we cannot do. A fully developed conception of justice, including global egalitarianism, must, in other words, be feasible.3
How should we respond to this kind of charge? The first step is to produce a general framework to account for the significance of considerations of feasibility in the elaboration of a conception of justice. I start in this section by further developing the analysis of the notions of feasibility and dynamic duties presented in Chapter 4, and by identifying the kind of feasibility test that is appropriate for principles of justice. This analysis continues in section 7.3 through the development of an account of the significance of feasibility in the formulation and defense of principles of justice, and concludes in section 7.4 with some guidelines for the appraisal of transitional plans seeking the generation of new social orders. The second step, pursued in sections 7.4 and 7.5, consists in developing a strategy for explaining how the implementation of supra-sufficientarian global principles might be shown to be feasible.
7.2.2 The concept of feasibility
The first thing we need to do is to clarify the notion of “feasibility.” I argued in Chapter 4 that this notion is in fact quite complex, and suggested an analytic framework for its clarification. Let me recall here two aspects of this analysis and develop them further. The first concerns the distinction between two domains of feasibility. To refer to them, we distinguish between stability and accessibility. Thus, when we assess the feasibility of a moral and political ideal, we can first ask whether a social scheme fulfilling it would be stable. Assuming that we have such a scheme in place, we consider whether it would be sustainable, that is, likely to remain in place. We can also ask whether the social scheme is accessible, whether there is a path of political action through which it can be generated when it is still not in place.
A second aspect of analysis concerns different types of feasibility. One can conceive of feasibility in narrower and broader ways. Logical possibility would be at one end of the spectrum. Moving away from it we can think of physical, biological, economic, political, and cultural possibility. What kinds (p. 240 ) of possibility are relevant for discussion on social justice? Logical possibility is an obvious constraint. For example, a proposal calling for an economic framework in which everyone has more than the average income is of course absurd. Physical possibility is another obvious constraint. No political project whose realization demanded the violation of the laws of physics would be practicable. Biological possibility seems to be a constraint too (although developments in biotechnology might make us revise current assumptions about the limits of “human nature” at some point in the future). It would not make sense, for example, to propose health care systems, labor regulations, or educational plans that assume that people can survive without a heart, get by without sleeping, or achieve certain inaccessible mathematical calculations. The really difficult types to consider are economic, political, and cultural possibilities. These are troublesome for two reasons. The first is that they are normally meant to involve a probabilistic component and thus to not be strictly possibilistic. When someone says that a project is economically, politically, or culturally infeasible, they do not mean that it would be strictly impossible for agents to fulfill it, but rather that there isn’t a reasonable probability that they will succeed even if they try. To say that doing A is feasible for certain agents S in a certain context C appears to imply that there is a reasonable probability that S will succeed in doing A in C in case they try.4
A second difficulty is that economic, political, and cultural frameworks are malleable. Technological innovations, political revolutions, and radical cultural transformations are historically familiar phenomena. Some aspects of human affairs are more general and permanent than others. For example, when Rawls speaks of the “circumstances of justice,” he refers to very general facts of relative scarcity and conflict of interests that are likely to exist in any society, needing some economic, political, and cultural framing. But these framings can themselves be of different specific kinds, none of which is unchangeable.5
A natural question then is whether we should include “soft,” malleable kinds of parameters of feasibility in our current debates on global justice. Some might say that this should not be done, for then we would risk capitulating to injustices that could be superseded. Others would say that not doing it would lead to an impotent voluntarism of which we already have too many examples in history, or at least to irresponsible risk-taking likely to involve great costs in the face of dim prospects for major gains. Both positions are intuitively strong. I will argue momentarily for a pragmatic approach in accommodating them. But before doing this let me say something about the two domains of feasibility. I think that the really difficult issue facing theories of global justice concerns accessibility, not stability. I do not see why a global egalitarian framework can with certainty be said to be infeasible in the second respect. If we can set up the relevant institutions, why would they not last? (p. 241 ) What is it about human beings that makes a sustainable global order securing equal shares unworkable? It might not be stable in the immediate future. It could rapidly unravel and end up in chaos, or metamorphose into a “soulless despotism” controlled by a few.6 But is it infeasible in, say, five hundred years? Think about the levels of achievement of political and economic justice within many industrialized countries. Five hundred years ago they would have seemed infeasible, but now they are quite robust (although there is of course much more that can and should be done). Why would something like this be infeasible at the global level five hundred years from now? Why would people socialized in a well-organized, just global system be bound to fail to sustain it? It is hard to find anything about human nature or the nature of economic and political organization that would make this kind of sustainability infeasible at the global level even if it is feasible at the domestic one.
Once set up, a just global order could develop institutions that impose penalties on non-compliance, and socialize its members in such a way that their moral motivation to sustain fair distributive schemes is engaged. Of course one may identify real and imaginary scenarios in which institutions get set up but do not last. There are, for example, cases in which the ideals that motivated the framers are not cultivated by successive generations. However, these scenarios are not enough to warrant a claim of infeasibility regarding the stability of certain institutions. Notice that the same kinds of doubts could have been raised regarding the clearly feasible transformations that took place in domestic settings. Furthermore, there is the obvious logical point that the feasibility of something does not entail its necessity.7
7.2.3 Dynamic duties and the feasibility test
It seems to me that the hardest problem for demanding conceptions of distributive justice concerns accessibility, the move from here to there. What is at stake here is the identification of what I have called dynamic duties. A demand of justice may be unrealizable now, but may become realizable as a result of lucid political action that generates conditions for the feasibility of its fulfillment. Recall (from section 4.4.3) the scenario in which (a) a certain institutional scheme C is considerably more morally desirable than another A, (b) C is accessible from B but not from A, (c) we are, here and now, in A, and (d) B is accessible from A. If (a)–(d) are true, and the moves from A to B and from B to C do not involve unacceptable moral costs, then it seems plausible to say that we have a duty to pursue the trajectory of reform leading from A to B and from B to C.8 Notice that the second segment in this trajectory contributes to the justification of the first, and that the trajectory involves making accessible, at a later time, what is not accessible now. (Given the scalar nature of “soft” constraints, these points can also be put in graded terms, by referring to (p. 242 ) making more feasible what is now less feasible. Readers should remember this as they read the rest of this chapter given that I will not always use graded formulations to make the sentences less cumbersome.) I call duties of this sort, involving the expansion of the feasible sets of political action, dynamic duties. These duties are peculiar in that they are not merely focused on what is to be done within certain circumstances, but also on changing certain circumstances so that new things can be done. As a familiar historical illustration, consider the process leading to the expansion of suffrage and then to the implementation of social rights in welfare states. Not unreasonably, many working-class movements sought the first as a way of enabling the achievement of the second.
To avoid misunderstanding, notice that the relation of accessibility between states is indexed to temporal circumstances. When I say that C is not accessible from A (although B is, and C would once in B), I mean that it is not feasible for C to be brought about now, while at A. This point is important to clear the otherwise natural objection that if B is accessible from A and C is accessible from B then C is accessible from A. Of course, there is still a sense in which C is feasible for agents in A. But this sense is the specific one the notion of dynamic duties captures: there is a way to get to C from A, but only if those in A expand their abilities, for example via B, to make C reachable. If getting from A to C were impossible in an absolute sense, then the notion of dynamic duties would not get off the ground, as C would not be reachable in any way. But the relative way in which I present the accessibility of C through dynamic processes is not thereby made trivial because there is a clear sense in which C is not available in A. The main idea here is, then, that something may be infeasible (or less feasible) within a certain set of temporary circumstances, but may turn out to be feasible (or more feasible) on a longer temporal span thanks to certain actions expanding feasible sets.
The reference to dynamic duties helps to articulate a response to “soft” feasibility parameters in two ways. First, it acknowledges that, being “soft,” these parameters are malleable. They are not “hard” like the logical, physical, or biological constraints are. They are not even like the general facts involved in the “circumstances of justice.” But, second, we must not simply dismiss them. We need to see that their impact is real, and imagine ways to progressively remove, disable, or overpower those that block the pursuit of morally desirable goals. Dynamic duties target precisely this kind of transformation, which neither discounts the existence of “soft” feasibility parameters nor reifies them as unchangeable limits to historical change.
The notion of dynamic duties is important to develop an appropriate construal of the feasibility test for principles of justice. It is in particular crucial to avoid unduly narrow feasibility tests according to which, to be feasible, a principle must be such that it can be fully implemented in the here and now. (p. 243 ) Such a narrow view is motivated by the understandable impatience that many feel toward normative demands which current agents cannot fulfill any time soon. This kind of impatience is widespread when it comes to global egalitarian demands, whose implementation seems to be very distant indeed from any serious approximation. But, as I illustrate in the case of global egalitarianism in the following sections, a concern about the practicability of normative demands should take account of the malleability of feasible sets in historical time. Once the possibility of dynamic processes of political change are taken into account, we are motivated to see principles as linking up with dynamic duties to generate novel circumstances in which they can be implemented in the future.
The notion of dynamic duties and the wider feasibility test are important aspects of a philosophical account of the prescriptive dimension of a conception of justice. As we saw, the principle that “ought” implies “can” has bite when it comes to this dimension. But the evaluative dimension, which does not assume feasibility, should not thereby be neglected. The reason is that an ideal distribution identified in the evaluative mode can guide successive prescriptive steps, advancing the realization of such an ideal in the real world.
I have argued that an appropriate feasibility test for principles must be wide rather than narrow in the sense of taking into account temporal variation. A principle that cannot be fulfilled now but can be fulfilled in the future if we take available steps expanding our capacities of action should be deemed feasible. A second reasonable widening of the test concerns degrees of implementation. A principle that cannot be fulfilled in a certain set of actual or generable circumstances does not thereby become completely irrelevant in those circumstances, as we may still be able to approximate (as opposed to reach, or instantiate) the ideal targeted. This offers a kind of guidance, although a less ambitious one.9 Dynamic duties play a role here too. They may operate in two ways, then, depending on whether they target the instantiation or just the approximation of an ideal. If the ideal they target can be instantiated after generating certain new scenarios for action, then dynamic duties mandate such generation in order to instantiate the ideal. But, in a weaker form, dynamic duties may operate to generate approximations to the ideal even if the instantiation of such an ideal is infeasible across any actual or generable scenarios. If an ideal can be approximated, then it still makes sense to say that a situation in which the steps needed to secure such approximation are not taken is less just, other things being equal, than a situation in which the steps are taken.
To conclude, the feasibility of principles affects the prescriptive demands associated with them, not the evaluative soundness, or moral desirability, of the ideal they contain. To have practical significance, the principles must link to feasible prescriptive demands. Such demands may be more or less (p. 244 ) ambitious. The most ambitious demands concern the instantiation of the ideal distributions targeted by the principle. Less ambitious demands concern the approximation of the ideal distributions. A principle whose ideal distribution cannot be instantiated may lose some practical force when compared with a principle whose ideal can be instantiated. But even principles whose ideal cannot be instantiated can be relevant if significant approximations are feasible.10 In both cases, the feasibility of the prescriptions connected with a principle should not be construed too narrowly. Partial fulfillment is often a significant target of action. And dynamic duties may exist to generate conditions making possible the instantiation or further approximation of the ideal contained in a principle.11
7.3 The status and role of principles of justice
To develop the general account of the significance of feasibility for a conception of justice more fully we need to address two important issues. The first, to be tackled in this section, concerns the extent to which considerations of fact, which bear on feasibility, should affect the formulation and defense of principles of justice. The second issue, to be addressed in the next section, concerns the structure of judgments appraising transformational projects generating the accessibility of certain social orders.
An important general question for any conception of justice is to what extent considerations of fact, which bear on feasibility, should affect the formulation and defense of principles of justice. Given that we want principles to generate prescriptions yielding actual obligations besides evaluations yielding merely hypothetical obligations, we want to identify principles whose implementation is not only desirable but also feasible. A helpful way of getting to the issue is by considering recent discussions on Rawls’s idea of a “realistic utopia.” Rawls indeed thinks that considerations of moral desirability are not enough to identify principles of justice and their implementation. We should seek to formulate a “realistic utopia” that is both desirable and feasible.12 An important role of political philosophy is, then, that of “probing the limits of practicable political possibility.” But this turns out to be a complicated task because “there is a question about how the limits of the practicable are discerned and what the conditions of our social world in fact are; the problem here is that the limits of the possible are not given by the actual, for we can to a greater or lesser extent change political and social institutions, and much else.”13
Now, when is a conception of social justice “realistic” in the appropriate way? How should considerations of fact bear on the formulation and justification of principles? Followers of Rawls working on global justice have taken two (p. 245 ) paths. Some prefer a minimal construal of realism demanding only reference to more or less permanent facts of human nature and social organization. Others, in contrast, prefer a maximal construal according to which principles of justice are dependent, in their content and justification (and of course in their scope), on current, more contingent economic, political, and cultural contexts.14 Which construal we choose seems to have important consequences. First, minimal construals tend to be more morally demanding than maximal ones, as they do not see specific social contexts as fixed parameters constraining the kinds of prescriptions a principle might yield. Second, maximal construals tend to assume a more “concretistic” view of the role of principles, as giving us a more or less detailed account of who should do what for whom, and thus appear to be less flexible when it comes to adapting demands to different contexts, or in the formulation of more open-ended normative goals.15
I think that the two construals rely on important intuitions, that these intuitions are compatible, and that the relation between principles and facts can be formulated in such a way that both intuitions are articulated. The important intuitions are that we want principles of justice to be both morally exigent and practically orientating. If an account of them is too remote from current contexts of action, then orientation seems dim. But if principles seem too close to such contexts, then their critical force appears to dissolve.16
To make progress on how to accommodate these two important intuitions, we may start by considering an illuminating statement by Rawls of “four questions that must be distinguished in considering any political conception of right and justice.” They are:
(1) What does the conception say are the reasonable or true principles of political right and justice; and how is the correctness of these principles established?
(2) What workable and practicable political and social institutions most effectively realize these principles?
(3) In what ways do people learn principles of right and acquire the motivation to act from them so as to preserve stability over time?
(4) How might a society realizing the principles of right and justice come about; and how has it in some actual cases, if any such exist, come about?17
These questions track different aspects of a conception of justice. The first concerns core principles (C1). The second concerns their institutional implementation (C2). The third and the fourth address two domains of feasibility of implementation mentioned above: stability (C3) and accessibility (C4). (Notice that these dimensions are captured by the account of the dimensions of a conception of justice presented in section 4.3. C1 corresponds to (p. 246 ) dimension DI, C2 and C3 are aspects of dimension DII, and C4 corresponds to dimension DIII.)
Now, the two important intuitions regarding moral critical force and practical orientation can both be accommodated if we pay attention to the distinction between the different dimensions of a conception of justice identified above. To expect principles to provide specific guidelines for action is to confuse the level of principle C1 with the implementation level comprising C2–C4. Principles of justice are inherently abstract. They do not specify their own implementation. On the other hand, such implementation must be feasible for the principles to give rise to actual obligations besides morally desirable pictures. So some account of C2–C4 regarding the application of a principle must be true if that principle is to have real traction in our political life. Now, clearly as we move from C1 to C2 and C3, and from those to C4, considerations of feasibility become more contextually specific. But this is perfectly compatible with the more abstract focus on “permanent facts” when formulating C1. We can formulate fundamental principles at C1 by relying only on very general facts and certain moral ideas. This gives us an abstract moral justification of principles. We can then explore C2 and C3, at which point more specific contextual considerations are necessary. Finally, C4 involves fairly specific considerations about immediate short-term action. Once we have an account of C2–C4, we achieve a full political development of a conception of justice.
The important intuitions regarding critical normative force and orientation can then be simultaneously accommodated if we see that the abstract content and initial moral justification of principles should be coupled with a minimal construal of relevant facts, while a consideration of their implementation, its stability, and its accessibility should be coupled with an increasingly broader construal of relevant facts. The abstract principles help us to develop a critical stance toward different specific contexts. Specific considerations of implementation help us to identify appropriate applications of the principles, including dynamic duties addressing temporary obstacles. And they help us to further test their political justifiability, which is initially only partial and hypothetical, relying on very general moral and factual considerations. Notice that some specific contextual implementation of a principle must be feasible for it to be politically sound, but that this does not entail that any specific case of infeasibility shows a principle to be unsound.18
As an example, recall Rawls’s own discussion of the justification and implementation of the principles of his theory of domestic justice (referred to in section 4.3.1). Rawls first provides a general defense of them by drawing on very general facts (such as the relative scarcity and conflict of interests inherent to the “circumstances of justice”) and moral ideas (such as freedom and equality). He then uses these principles to rank different feasible institutional (p. 247 ) schemes in modern social contexts. Thus, for example, Rawls contrasts a “property-owning democracy” and a “liberal socialist” regime with “laissez-faire capitalism,” “welfare state capitalism,” and “state socialism with a command economy.” He argues that only the former are fully compatible with justice as fairness.19 So, first, the principles are abstract enough to allow for various specific institutional implementations, depending on what is more workable in different contexts. For example, Rawls thinks that there may be contexts in which his second principle of domestic justice can be given a “liberal socialist” interpretation, but that in the United States, a “property-owning democracy” would best realize it. Second, the principles are contentful enough to provide grounds for criticizing certain institutional implementations as seriously defective (as would be the case with the remaining three regimes mentioned above).
We can think of principles of global justice in the same way. These principles can be based on very general considerations about human nature and social organization. Their implementation through political institutions, policies, and practices, on the other hand, can take into account more specific empirical considerations about different contexts of social action. The same principle may offer guidance across diverse contexts, and may in fact help us to think critically about how to change them in historical time. No tradeoff between critical force and guidance is really necessary. Take, for example, the issue of whether we should take the current framework of state sovereignty for granted. At the level of principle this is not necessary. What is crucial at this level is that we demand that all persons have access to certain valuable advantages. The justifiability of the current system of states must itself be considered on the basis of whether it turns out to be better than the alternatives for securing for all the access to the important advantages they have reason to value. Whether this turns out to be the case is an open question, to be addressed at the implementation level. It may very well be that in current circumstances a sudden massive attempt to eliminate the framework of states would lead to disastrous consequences. But it could also be the case that some transformations limiting the sovereignty of states would constitute an important advance. This may be the case even with respect to the value of political self-determination and people’s interest in protecting certain cultural lifestyles. For example, current states often tend to severely constrain the autonomy of subnational entities or the cultural opportunities of groups living in them. A clear example is the treatment of aboriginal communities in the Americas. Furthermore, the current framework tends to fail to secure fair conditions of bargaining at the international level regarding various crucial issues such as trade, defense, environmental security, and aid. In both cases, reforms seeking a more multilevel system of governance may be appropriate provided that no greater injustices are thereby produced.20 Perhaps in the long (p. 248 ) term a more radical transformation would be called for. Perhaps the global egalitarian ideal, whose full implementation is not feasible here and now, may link to dynamic duties to progressively generate such transformations.
This flexibility in thinking at the implementation level would not be available if we simply built temporary contextual features of our world into the statement and justification of core principles. In fact, doing this would hamper both critical ambition and practical guidance. We could be stuck with a status quo whose injustice and feasible transformation we would be unable to ascertain.
7.4 Accessibility and the appraisal of transformational projects
7.4.1 The notion of accessibility
Let me now turn to the second general point about feasibility, which concerns accessibility. This discussion also starts our consideration of the second step in the answer to the feasibility charge against global supra-sufficientarian distributions, which involves providing a strategy for showing how such distributions may be accessible over time. Recall that C4 is likely to involve much more detailed factual considerations than the other dimensions. Issues of feasibility here concern ever “softer” kinds of economic, political, and cultural frameworks. Dynamic duties are meant to attend to these, seeking progressive sequences of transformation approximating the full implementation of morally appealing principles that are not infeasible by reference to general facts about human nature and social organization. Now, how are we to proceed when reasoning about accessibility? This is an issue that is rarely addressed in debates on social justice, either domestic or global. In an important recent article, Aaron James starts to fill this gap:
Justice is relative to historical position. Let us say that a set of arrangements Y is accessible to us (some individual or collective agents) from another set of arrangements X, if and only if, when in X, we know with reasonable confidence that we can move from X to Y at a reasonable cost. In principle, then, it might be that arrangements B are accessible from the status quo, A, and that further arrangements C are accessible from B, but nevertheless that C are not accessible from A. For it may be that, although we will in fact know of a possible and reasonably costless move from B to C once we are in B, we may not know now that we will have this knowledge. Our best guesses may even make this seem unlikely. Thus, given the deontological assumption that (normally conclusive) principles of justice can only require of us what is accessible to us, C would not be required of us now, as desirable as it might otherwise be, even if it would, in fact, become required once we move to B.21
(p. 249 ) This account raises important issues that must be considered when envisaging sequential interventions of the kind involved in the idea of dynamic duties. Before addressing these issues, let me briefly comment on the definition of accessibility itself. I think that it conflates feasibility conditions with desirability and epistemic conditions. For Y to be accessible from X, it need not be the case that those in X know that they can reach Y, or that moving from X to Y does not involve unreasonable costs. We want to be able to say that some reforms are accessible even if they are morally unacceptable. We also want to be able to say that when we get to know how to move from X to Y, we discover something that was already true, namely that we could do it.
7.4.2 Assessing accessibility: a dynamic view
These critical remarks do not mean that the issues regarding foresight and costs are not important. When engaging in practical reasoning preceding the adoption of plans of action including a sequence A–B–C agents should indeed engage in reasonable foresight and consideration of costs.22 Doing this is relevant for reaching all things considered judgments. These include evaluating whether what is envisaged by the plans is accessible and, even then, whether it is worth any sacrifices. It would be unreasonable, for example, to pursue social schemes that are likely to lead to the starvation of millions if we think that there is some probability that they will make it feasible to eventually achieve egalitarian justice for all those surviving. I thus accept James’s central point that we should be extremely cautious in our assessment of transitional plans, and avoid acting on those whose realization is to the best of our knowledge unreasonably morally costly. I want to suggest, however, that we should not construe this point too strongly. I will mention four tentative reasons for preferring a flexible and dynamic account of how to think about the reasonable implementation of principles of justice. I will illustrate them by reference to the generation of welfare states in domestic settings, and suggest their extension to the debate on global justice. The discussion of accessibility in the context of global justice continues in section 7.5.
First, we should factor in the significance of the immorality of the status quo. The more morally undesirable X is, the less should we think it unreasonable to try reforms geared to Y even if their prospects are less than certain. If you are thinking about jumping from your window to the street, the level of certainty about landing safely that you would need to have before choosing to jump will be less stringent if the building you are in is burning. Consider the pursuit of welfare state policies in industrialized states following periods of economic depression. The welfare state involved the pursuit of institutional experiments whose prospects were not fully certain. But the gravity of the (p. 250 ) status quo warranted the political adventure.23 Similar reasons might warrant political experimentation at the global level. This would be most evident in the case of the eradication of severe poverty. But since global inequality is also unjust, although less grievously so, we may still have some reason to experiment. Perhaps it may be reasonable to go for B1 rather than B2 if we think that B2 is less likely to help us get to C. However, as further discussed in the next section, if we have reason to believe that B1 would be significantly less beneficial than B2 from the point of view of demands of sufficiency, then we should choose B2.
Second, the extent of our knowledge, both about empirical and moral matters, and thus the extent of our reasonable foresight, is variable, and this variation partly depends on our commitment to certain moral projects. A reduction of our epistemic uncertainty as to which reforms would be effective and morally defensible partly depends on whether or not we choose to engage in empirical research and moral reflection on past and ongoing political experiments. The case of domestic welfare institutions is again illuminating. The first moves toward them seemed at first quite unrealistic, and were resisted by many. But a combination of empirical research and political advocacy came, after some time, to make them seem quite reasonable to most.24 We may not know now that C is reachable from B at reasonable cost. But if we acknowledge the moral significance of C, we may choose to inquire about its reasonable accessibility in a more serious way, and eventually come to know more (even if we would in fact come to know a lot more once in B). We feel this pull regarding the need for further research and reflection precisely because the normative force of C operates already in A. This pull can also be felt with respect to global demands. A clear case concerns environmental security. We acknowledge that the current situation is probably leading to catastrophic consequences. We have reason to pursue a global economic, political, and cultural framework that helps to limit global warming drastically. But we are not yet quite sure whether, and how, we can secure this change. But this does not stop conscientious agents (be they environmental activists, scientists, and some politicians and entrepreneurs) from seeking to expand our knowledge and institutional capacity for finding and introducing new regulative schemes.
Third, even assuming that we now have very little knowledge about the reasonable accessibility of C from B, this does not show that the principle of justice that would be implemented by C is not a principle of justice for us now. As we saw above, this would involve too “concretistic” a view of principles of justice. For example, global egalitarianism is an abstract principle. The fact that we do not currently know how to fully implement it at reasonable cost does not mean that it is not a principle of justice for us now. Dimension C1 is not tied to C4 in this narrow way. If the implementation of the principle (p. 251 ) (be it C or some other) is not infeasible in the strong senses of infeasibility (the ones connecting with logical and physical constraints, or with more or less permanent facts about human nature and social organization), then a route of accessibility at reasonable cost might exist and the search for it must still occupy our practical reasoning in the present. Principles of justice set a political horizon for thought and action. Their normative force cannot be reduced to the epistemic certainty regarding their reasonably costless, complete, and immediate fulfillment on the part of any particular set of agents at any particular time. Instead, principles and their implementation can be seen as the focus of successive elaboration by different agents through practices of public deliberation, protest, and institutional experimentation. We considered how this might proceed in the case of the struggle to eradicate global poverty, and we will extend this view below to account for the struggle for global equality.
To avoid misunderstanding, let me repeat that I am not saying that it would be unreasonable to reject a call to act now in ways that are, according to the best available evidence, unreasonably morally costly. I would not say that we have a duty to move towards an institutional implementation before we reach a point at which we have good evidence to believe that such a move does not impose unreasonable costs. What I am saying is that it is a mistake to believe that a principle must be capable of being fully implemented at reasonable cost here and now in order to be acceptable. I am, in other words, providing an illustration and further elaboration of the wider view of the feasibility test proposed in section 7.2.3.
Finally, notice that the very uncertainty regarding the future may sometimes warrant an impartial and demanding attitude toward distributive issues. This uncertainty may concern the consequences of keeping the status quo itself in place. Generalized uncertainty may make it prudent for us to entertain the possibility of ending up in a disadvantaged position and to become open to social reforms protecting the vulnerable. This mechanism motivated support for the introduction of distributive institutions in domestic contexts, as even very rich and powerful people felt, in times of crisis, that they could end up very badly off.25 The uncertainty increasingly produced by an ever intensifying Fact of Globalization may, in time, yield similar results at the international level. We increasingly acknowledge that we are intertwined in such a way that domestic policies are not sufficient to maintain, let alone increase, past achievements of social justice.26 There is, of course, the question of to what extent economic interdependence and the uncertainty it carries would generate solidaristic dispositions when the interdependence exists amongst highly unequal agents who do not already share strong communal bonds, and the uncertainty about the likelihood and level of stronger players’ risks is not very great.27 To this one could respond that in these cases more (p. 252 ) directly moral motives can be recruited,28 that the level of uncertainty in international affairs is becoming very strong, and that in any case some communal bonds may be generated as early moves to solve already salient collective action problems get underway. Consider the process of construction of regional organizations such as the European Union and, increasingly, the Mercosur and Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). They started as frameworks with very limited tasks, but are progressively thickening into more comprehensive political ventures. Other important changes may be already under way if we consider the emerging policies and institutions put in place to regulate global financial flows and other features of the world economy in the aftermath of the serious global crisis that started at the end of 2008.29
7.4.3 Four kinds of specific considerations shaping transformational projects
The empirical and normative appraisal of accessibility is indeed quite complex. To conclude, we can in fact identify at least four kinds of considerations that are quite relevant but not easily operationalized and integrated. They identify a set of desirability and feasibility considerations that must be taken into account in order to reach all things considered judgments about the acceptability of certain plans of political action. (These kinds of considerations are familiar in rational choice theory, and I adapt them to the specific context of political judgment.) In assessing whether we should move from X to Y, we should compute, first, the desirability of Y minus the desirability of X.30 If the result is positive, then there is a prima facie case for going for Y. Second, we should consider the probability of success of any transitional route from X to Y. These two kinds of considerations already create significant difficulties and often call for tradeoffs, for example when we compare two hypothetical moves, one (say from X to Y1) with lower probability of success but with a more desirable outcome and the other (from X to Y2) with higher probability of success but with a less desirable outcome.
Third, we should factor in the probability that certain morally significant costs would be incurred by taking certain transitional routes, and identify their weight. Consider a sequence A–B–C, where A is the status quo and B is supposed to be causally relevant for bringing about C. Ideally B would itself be a desirable scheme. But B may instead be an undesirable scheme flouting certain reasonable deontic constraints. It may then be unjustifiable unless the alternatives to pursuing B are clearly worse all things considered.31 For example, imagine that C involves the achievement of global distributive equality and B a global military dictatorship.
Finally, we should also consider the likelihood of alternative outcomes resulting from transitional processes. It seems that if we want to get to highly desirable C and the move from A to C is enabled if we first get to B, then we (p. 253 ) should go for B. Suppose that B is not itself morally undesirable. Suppose, however, that going for B would create a 50/50 chance of ending up in C and D, where D is a truly catastrophic scenario. This might make us revise our judgment as to whether we should indeed go for B.32 As a clear example, imagine that C involves the achievement of global distributive equality, and that B involves a dramatic increase in the level of world industrial growth, and that a probable consequence of B would be to accelerate global warming enormously. Given this situation, it might be better to pursue alternative technological strategies, or transform our consumerist culture and decouple distributive policies from the assumption that greater growth must precede them.
I cannot provide here a formula for operationalizing and integrating these four kinds of considerations. What I have tried to do in this section is to show that although it is true that agents have reason to avoid reckless pursuits of reforms that would carry unreasonable costs, the appraisal of such costs is not an easy task, and that such an appraisal need not be coupled with the view that principles that are not immediately and fully realizable are not principles for us. In fact, the desirability conditions encoded in the principles help us to evaluate the moral weight of the different scenarios entertained once feasibility considerations are brought in. Furthermore, they help us to chart reasonable strategies to expand our feasible sets.
Before returning to discussion on global justice let me remark that the account of feasibility developed here, including its recognition of the importance of the adoption of a dynamic transitional standpoint, helps to respond to some common sources of skepticism about normative theorizing about justice.
One worry, voiced recently by Amartya Sen, is that reference to ideal principles of justice of the kind envisaged here is redundant, in the sense that it is of “no particular help,” of any “direct relevance,” or at all “useful” when it comes to the crucial and urgent task of comparing immediately feasible alternatives to eminently unjust circumstances.33 I disagree. First, what appears as eminently unjust or just may rely on knee-jerk reactions that could be critically dissolved once deeper scrutiny on the basis of principles of justice is undertaken. Second, focus on long-term considerations may help us to choose between two immediately feasible responses to patent injustice, as one of those responses may bolster the feasibility of responding to other injustices in the long term whereas the other does not (or perhaps even blocks such a response). Third, aiming high is often, in practice, a way to bolster motivation and bargaining power. Demanding views of justice have inspirational force and furnish agents with a tougher attitude in negotiations, allowing them to push the limits of the feasible forward in some contexts.34
(p. 254 ) But would not such an ambitious attitude on the part of political agents lead to dangerous patterns of political action? In a recent provocative essay, in which ambitious political theorizing of the kind advocated here is criticized, William Galston suggests that such theorizing leads to disregarding moral costs:
[T]heories that preach total malleability of human nature have proved counterfactual and disturbingly open to excess. Faced with resistance, power-holders are wont to assume, not that their goals are unattainable, but rather that they haven’t pushed hard enough. So they go further, eventually disregarding all limits. The Republic of Virtue begins with hope, proceeds through oppression, and ends in tyranny.35
I deny that holding fast to ambitious aims at the level of principle leads to neglect of moral costs at the level of implementation and transition. There are of course historical cases of political agents steamrolling over others in order to impose certain radical reforms. But this steamrolling also occurs when some political agents impose on their fellows an unjust status quo. In any case, as I construe the transitional standpoint, consideration of moral costs in the process of transition is explicitly a key dimension of political judgment. Attention to them need not be blocked by commitment to demanding principles at the level of core principles. Interestingly, it may even be enhanced by such a commitment. One reason it would be morally worrisome to “oppress” or be “tyrannical” toward others is that this would involve failure to honor a core demanding principle of political liberty. Such a principle explains why some political steps are morally costly. Furthermore, the blame for disregard of moral costs cannot be based on having a certain view about the malleability of human nature. This is a non sequitur. Seeing something as attainable implies by itself no views on the permissibility of its pursuit, or on the permissibility of any way of attaining it. And the immorality of any attempt at pursuing something does not justify a belief that it is unattainable.36
7.5 Transitional standpoint and pragmatic considerations
7.5.1 The general strategy
Let us continue our discussion of the second step in the answer to the feasibility charge concerning the pursuit of global egalitarian distributions, which involves accounting for how prescriptions demanding the fulfillment of such distributions could be seen to be feasible. I started to address this issue in the last section by considering how to approach transitional processes. I want to suggest now a general pragmatic strategy for pursuing incremental (p. 255 ) achievements regarding global justice, and to suggest how motivational and institutional obstacles can be addressed.
The main thought is that a defender of global distributive principles could construe the global Natural Duty of Justice as a bundle of dynamic duties involving progressive sequences of reforms. The process could start with a sequence fulfilling a global sufficientarianism based on human rights, move toward deeper reforms along global intermediate inclusion, and conclude with global egalitarianism. Each segment in the incremental process would fulfill important demands of justice, and create new conditions generating or increasing the feasibility for the fulfillment of additional demands.
To approach this kind of progressive transformation we need to adopt what I call a transitional standpoint. As we saw in Chapter 4, this is the standpoint of agents who are in the process of changing fundamental features of their social world, including its economic, political, and cultural frameworks. Recall that a common challenge in current debates on global justice is to avoid the spurious dilemma between (a) a conservative approach that takes for granted the Westphalian view of states as fully autonomous and as unconstrained by duties of global justice and (b) ambitious though not currently realistic demands to institute a globally just democratic order modeled on domestic institutions. The current Fact of Globalization means that the Westphalian framework is becoming increasingly unrealistic and, in any case, quite unsatisfactory from the point of view of any minimally demanding conception of global justice. It is even deleterious of robust pursuits of domestic justice given the increasing weakness of governments to control the economy of their own countries.37 But even if a fully democratic global order implementing comprehensive demands of social justice is morally desirable, it is hardly feasible in the immediate future. What we need is to adopt a transitional standpoint seeking a dynamic middle way between the horns of the alleged dilemma. Our approach to institutional reform must be quite tentative. This is because of the great epistemic uncertainty that we face regarding how to implement egalitarian distributions globally, and because of the responsibility to avoid reckless risk-taking and the imposition of unacceptable transition costs. Furthermore, although there is rapidly increasing agreement about the injustice of severe global poverty and its status as a human right deficit, there is great disagreement as to whether egalitarian demands do apply globally. In a situation like this, we must proceed cautiously. Egalitarian commitments must still play a role, but we can only have a vague sense of how they could be serviced. Approximation will often be more relevant than instantiation.
I believe that a pragmatic attitude is appropriate once we take up the transitional standpoint. This would involve concentrating primarily on a decisive pursuit of global sufficientarianism. Engaging in institutional experimentation seeking dynamic change of our current feasible sets, we can (p. 256 ) entertain multiple paths of reform developing new domestic and international institutions increasing the political empowerment of people across the globe and enabling them to secure their basic socioeconomic rights. Recall some of the illustrations mentioned in Chapter 4. A long-term proposal mentioned is the creation of a Global Parliament and (within the UN) of an Economic and Social Security Council coordinating and enforcing international policies of poverty reduction and development. Other more immediately realistic proposals mentioned include the creation and deepening (already under way) of regional institutions (such as the European Union and the UNASUR), increasing their capacity to act beyond national borders. Other, less ambitious reforms include modifications of international institutions such as the WTO to increase the bargaining power of poorer countries and to approximate conditions of fair trade that go beyond the current neglect or exploitation of developing countries.
Certainly the demands of global sufficientarianism should come first for reasons of moral urgency and degree of feasibility. The fact that 18 million people die each year due to poverty-related causes is one of the greatest moral scandals of our time. To see this we simply need to accept that there are basic socioeconomic human rights to access the objects necessary for a minimally decent life, independently of our opinion regarding more demanding claims. Furthermore, eradicating severe poverty across the globe is obviously more feasible than equalizing access to advantages such as nonbasic health and education, or opportunities to obtain income or wealth. The sacrifices needed are comparatively small, and the benefits of doing this are not only morally salient but also prudentially so, involving, for example, the creation of new markets and the diminution of risks of international insecurity, massive emigration, and global epidemics. But I want to also stress that the pursuit of global sufficientarianism should not mean that we lose sight of more stringent supra-sufficientarian demands.
Why should we be concerned, even in a secondary way, with pursuing supra-sufficientarian global reforms? One reason is instrumental. The eradication of severe global poverty may be less feasible if we do not reduce inequality. There is some evidence, both in domestic and international contexts, that increases in inequality are correlated with increases in absolute deprivation. The causal links underwriting this correlation appear to be that higher inequality increases the gap in bargaining power between rich and poor, thus diminishing the prospects for the latter to secure social schemes that improve their condition; furthermore, inequality insulates the well off and the worse off existentially, breaking links of solidarity between them.38
A second reason to pay attention to supra-sufficientarian demands is more direct. As globalist versions of associativism and humanism argue, not to pursue more inclusion and equality is simply unjust. As the saying goes, (p. 257 ) we should not let the best be an enemy of the good. And thus we should build a global consensus on the need to eliminate severe poverty. There might be cases in which doing this would conflict with the search for global equality.39 When this is so, certainly the more urgent demands of sufficiency should trump. But when this conflict is not inevitable, we should not let the good become an enemy of the better. Deficits of justice always deserve critique. What is not feasible (or has low feasibility) today may become feasible (or more feasible) in the future if we pursue progressive transformations with ambitious horizons. Furthermore, even if some critics were right that a global order securing full egalitarian distribution is for ever infeasible (a point which, as I said above, I find no clear reason to believe in), or that at least there will be long stretches of historical time for which this would be true (which seems more plausible), some supra-sufficientarian demands might be feasibly implemented or significantly approximated. We simply would not be alive to these practical possibilities if we fail to be on the look out for them.
7.5.2 Challenges ahead: addressing motivational and institutional obstacles and the importance of empowerment
As we saw, when engaging in practical reasoning preceding the adoption of plans of action that include a sequence of transformations, agents should engage in reasonable foresight and consideration of costs. And certainly global egalitarianism, global intermediate inclusion, and global sufficientarianism fare differently once we consider these things. The goal of eradicating severe poverty is increasingly recognized to be morally obligatory, the costs involved in fulfilling it are relatively small, and we can have some confidence that the aim is achievable. Things are less clear regarding supra-sufficientarian demands. There is widespread disagreement on whether these are justified, and there is very little clarity on how to go about fulfilling them. Global intermediate inclusion seems to offer better prospects than global egalitarianism. It demands less from wealthy countries and is tied to emerging frameworks of interaction, its accessibility thus being more reasonably “guessable.”40 But I also argued that we should not simply leave global egalitarianism out of the agenda. Looking into the future, it seems that the theory and practice of global justice will have to be concerned with developing compelling ways to envisage the progressive removal of motivational and institutional obstacles that stand in the way of the fulfillment of supra-sufficientarian global principles. These obstacles are serious: we do not find, at the global level, a robust ethos of global solidarity and institutions capable of securing for everyone equal access to advantages they have reason to value.
Consider the familiar “concentric circles” picture as it applies to discussion on global distributive justice. This is the common view that the more distant (p. 258 ) people are from us, the less traction their distributive claims have on our will and behavior. There are four dimensions of this picture:
(i) The causal dimension of it says that the further away others are, the less power we have to affect their lives.
(ii) The epistemic dimension says that the further away others are, the less we know about them.
(iii) The motivational dimension says that the distance of others simply makes us care less about them.
(iv) The normative dimension says that distance etiolates moral responsibility.
An obvious upshot of the Fact of Globalization is that the distant are becoming closer to us along the causal and epistemic dimensions. And these changes certainly affect considerations of feasibility. For the humanist, we always have reason to be concerned for the autonomy and wellbeing of distant others. So the normative dimension does never really change so far as something can be done to fulfill demands of justice. But changes along the causal and epistemic dimensions make it more feasible for us to do more, and thus make us acquire new specific responsibilities. Thus, although the truth of humanism is not contingent on the vagaries of globalization, the feasibility of the implementation of its prescriptions in the near future is. The incremental gradient of justice reforms going from global sufficientarianism to global intermediate inclusion to global egalitarianism seems not only desirable, but also increasingly feasible. The circles of solidarity are elastic. This elasticity is even more evident once we envisage dynamic duties to progressively change economic, political, and cultural structures affecting the implementation of principles of global justice.
An important question then concerns the extent to which agents would be motivated to fulfill increasingly demanding duties. This affects the elasticity of the third dimension of the concentric circles picture. The existence of distributive duties does not depend on whether we happen to care about the wellbeing of others. However, when we care we are more likely to do what we ought to do anyway. We can come to care about distant others on prudential and moral grounds. In an increasingly integrated world, prudential arguments become stronger, as the risks and gains of mutual interaction become more and more evident. Moral considerations drawing on associativist views of justice also become more gripping, as we increasingly share coercive institutions and practices of economic interdependence with very significant effects. Thus reforms of international institutions such as the WTO to increase the democratic nature of their governance and their tendency to cater to the autonomy and wellbeing of those they affect becomes relatively urgent. It is reasonable to rely on a mixture of various prudential and moral arguments in order to motivate further steps toward global justice.41 But of course this (p. 259 ) mixture need not always be harmonious. Furthermore, associativist considerations may not, as we saw, lead to fully egalitarian global pursuits. When we consider our relation with distant others who are not strong enough to make it prudent for us to treat them as equals, humanist moral grounds may be the last motivational source. Further development of the humanist view needs to consider the extent to which it can become a powerful motivational source for action when prudential and associativist arguments do not converge in making the same demands.
Now, if we consider that the gradient of increasingly demanding distributive requirements was evident in domestic contexts in industrialized countries over the last two centuries, then we see that we can learn from them. Achievements regarding the eradication of absolute poverty turned insufficient, and waves of protest and reform challenging status inequality and limiting economic inequality above the threshold of sufficiency became stronger. A similar process can take place at the global level. As in the domestic context, motivational and institutional mechanisms can be generated at the global level to deepen distributive reforms. Once agents become more systematically intertwined in interactive frameworks involving institutions that coordinate their economic and political life, it makes more practical sense for many of them to press for supra-sufficientarian demands.
Another important question is what precise institutional mechanisms these incremental processes of global reform might involve. And I must confess that I do not have any blueprint to offer. This is not only because, as a philosopher, I do not think that I am particularly well placed to provide it. This is only one reason why I have preferred to focus instead on articulating the general moral scaffolding which reasoning about the feasibility and desirability of global transitional processes should take. The other reason is one that also affects specialists in international political economy and international relations, and political agents more generally. This is the fact of the uncertainty proper to the current context of global transformations. As mentioned above, we are placed in a transitional situation in which we can neither hold fast to a moribund Westphalian framework nor immediately set up a global system closely modeled after the domestic variants of democratic institutions. International accountability of power-wielders such as states, firms, and emerging supra-national organizations cannot simply take the form of the relatively direct participatory and delegative control that we find, or can secure, at the domestic level.42 For the same reason, we cannot expect that in the short term any set of institutions can reliably secure egalitarian distributions at the global level. We need a dynamic compromise.
I believe that a rough picture of the task ahead is beginning to form, and is becoming supported by some theorists about global justice. Despite some differences amongst specific formulations, the general contours of this picture (p. 260 ) are clear. What we should do, according to this emerging view, is to reshape current institutions of global governance (such as the UN and the WTO) and experimentally introduce new ones in such a way that we attend to two goals, both of which include procedural and substantive dimensions regarding the expansion of accountability and the implementation of distributive demands. The first goal is to pursue forms of global governance that increase the power of the vulnerable to shape the global processes that significantly affect their life prospects and that secure the universal fulfillment of basic human rights. The second goal is to generate institutional mechanisms and fora of public deliberation in which agents can process their widespread disagreement as to whether, and how, to pursue more ambitious plans for global institution-making and supra-sufficientarian distribution.43
From a global egalitarian perspective, this kind of picture involves a dynamic compromise. There is a compromise because global egalitarian distribution is not seen as something to be fully instantiated in the short term. The compromise is dynamic, however, because an eye is kept on the generation of mechanisms for opinion and will-formation that could legitimize and articulate the pursuit of global egalitarian reforms. This dynamic compromise fits well with the remarks about the appraisal of transitional projects introduced in the previous section. On the one hand, it does not take current contexts as fixed parameters simply rendering demanding global egalitarian injunctions irrelevant, and it makes room instead for dynamic processes expanding political agents’ feasible sets. On the other hand, this view also takes seriously considerations about probability, transition costs, and risks. As a result, it gives us a balanced outlook within which a global egalitarian ideal can operate even if it cannot be fully implemented in the short term.
Clearly much of the future work on the theory and practice of global justice will focus on how to properly articulate a transitional picture of the kind just suggested. Before closing this discussion, I would like to return to the significance of political empowerment. As explained in Chapters 2 and 4, increasing the political capabilities of agents to participate in the identification, justification, and implementation of principles of justice is valuable in intrinsic and instrumental ways. The intrinsic value concerns the importance for agents of being authors of, rather than mere passive subjects to, the institutional frameworks under which they live. The instrumental value relates to the fact that accountability generates incentives and occasions for institutional agencies to track the interests of those whose decisions they do or can affect. I emphasized, in Chapter 4, the importance of practices of public deliberation and protest as dynamic instances of political empowerment that help secure more inclusive institutional structures and policies. I want to add now that these practices are particularly relevant when it comes to the elaboration and implementation of global egalitarian demands.
(p. 261 ) As we saw, a crucial difficulty faced by agents taking the transitional standpoint in the case of global egalitarian demands is that they lack a clear blueprint for the implementation of those demands that would be morally defensible and institutionally feasible. A related, but causally more basic, problem is that there isn’t even enough attention to the supra-sufficientarian interests of the globally worse off. There isn’t even a serious attempt to entertain the shared political imagination of alternative possible worlds in which people could engage in global cooperation giving everyone equal access to important goods they have reason to value. World politics tends either to ignore the claims of the global poor altogether or to focus only on interests concerning basic advantages of the kind targeted by sufficientarian demands. Worries about relative deprivation are simply out of the agenda. Changing this will require a continuation of the efforts that we already see (and were explored in Chapter 4) with respect to the issue of absolute poverty relief. These would include protests and public deliberation, which can enable the pursuit of global equality in the same way in which they are enabling the pursuit of the eradication of global absolute poverty. Protests would help open the agenda of political debate and action to include the demands of the relatively poor. Public deliberation would help process such demands in an impartial and informed way.
This extension of the struggle for the eradication of global absolute poverty into the struggle for global equality may actually turn out to be quite natural. Once political agents recognize that they owe each other a justification for institutional frameworks that leave some absolutely poor, they will also see that a justification is also necessary for arrangements that leave some relatively poor. Public fora in which claims of sufficiency are identified will potentially become fora in which claims of equality will be voiced. This will create the opportunity to identify feasible and desirable reforms reducing global inequality. Importantly, it will also help identify the kinds of advantages that should be targeted for global action. Certain advantages such as health and education will be relatively obvious immediate targets. Others (regarding property regimes and labor practices, for example) will be more controversial, and become the focus of heated but illuminating debate.
Before concluding, let me address an obvious objection, according to which ruminating about the feasibility of global equality is a waste of time given the failure to significantly reduce inequality in domestic contexts, in both rich and poor countries. Shouldn’t we start at the local level instead? And if we cannot go far at that level, isn’t it ludicrous to hope that we could get any farther at the global level? In response, consider three points. The first is that although there have been serious reversals in the struggle against inequality in rich countries, especially in the past three decades, if we take a long-term view the gains have been enormous. Certainly much more needs to be done, (p. 262 ) and certainly some countries (such as the United States and Britain) fare much worse than others (such as Sweden), but on the whole we can see great gains in the achievement of social justice if we compare the relatively regulated capitalism of our days with the untrammeled one existing before the Great Depression. This is also true, to some extent, of many poor countries.44
Second, and ironically, to a large extent the current weakening in the ability of states to implement demands of distributive justice in their countries provides a further reason to increasingly focus on global justice rather than uniquely on domestic justice. Consider the case of Brazil. The presidential election in 2002 of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a metal worker of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party), fueled great hope that one of the most unequal countries in the world would start to reform its institutions and policies to approximate social justice. But the new administration found it extremely difficult to make headway with its transformational plans. “‘We are in government but not in power,’ said Lula’s close aid, Dominican friar Frei Betto, ‘power today is global power, the power of the big companies, the power of financial capital.’…In the three months between [Lula’s] winning the vote and being sworn in, the nation’s currency plummeted by 30%, $6bn in hot money had left the country and some agencies had given Brazil the highest debt-risk in the world.”45 In this context, achieving social justice within Brazil is not something that can be done without pursuing global justice. Thus, although Lula did pursue important policies targeting severe poverty, during his mandate Brazil became one of the major players in the international arena seeking to change the power structure of global governance, including international institutions such as the WTO.46 Even the politicians of rich countries now understand, and increasingly so in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008–9, that they can only stabilize their economies and increase the power of their governments to attend to the demands of their people if they start to control the power of global capital.47
Third, it is necessary to defend the role of political philosophy in proposing and defending principles whose full implementation may be far from the status quo. Philosophers are most often not policy-makers, and the soundness of their claims is not contingent on their short-term prospects. The main role of political philosophy is, rather, to help people think critically about the core principles orienting their moral and political deliberation, especially those that frame the design of basic societal structures. For example, the democratic ideas of Rousseau, or the cosmopolitan ideas of Kant, did not find immediate implementation, but have inspired much of contemporary theory and practice. An articulation of demanding principles of egalitarian global justice may also fail to encounter full implementation in the short term, but could help us frame our stance toward the future of global politics in illuminating and (p. 263 ) progressive ways. In this respect, political philosophy can in fact contribute to the feasibility of the ideal of global equality by providing a clear articulation of its content and compelling arguments capable of triggering people’s sense of justice motivating its pursuit.
To conclude, in this chapter I have done three things to respond to the challenge that global equality should not be part of the agenda of the theory and practice of global justice because its prescriptions are infeasible. First, I have argued against a narrow feasibility test for principles of justice by noting the importance of dynamic processes that expand feasible sets of political action to instantiate or approximate the prescriptive demands arising from principles. Second, I have explained how envisaging such processes can help us to see how the implementation of certain principles can be rendered feasible, or accessible, over time. One must certainly approach such processes quite cautiously, and I have identified several normative considerations orienting reasonable judgments about how to proceed in periods of transition. Third, I have illustrated these considerations in the case of the pursuit of projects of global justice incrementally approaching global equality. The conclusion is that although the degree of feasibility of the achievement of global equality is of course less certain than the degree of feasibility of the achievement of basic global sufficiency, we still have reason to keep egalitarian principles in the agenda of the theory and practice of global justice. Although institutional and motivational obstacles are quite serious, they should not be seen as unmalleable parameters fixing the scope of global political action for the indefinite future.
7.6 Appendix: The feasibility test and “reasonable probability”48
I said in section 7.2.2 that use of the term “feasibility” often involves reference to reasonable probability. But what level of probability is reasonable? To answer this question, we need to reflect on what role assessments of feasibility are meant to play in our political reasoning. We want political philosophy to help us envisage desirable political futures. But we do not just want to engage in evaluative exercises. We also want to provide prescriptions demanding institutions, policies, and practices that can realistically be achieved. We want to be able to guide agents’ action, and to do this we must urge agents to pay attention to logical and empirical features of their circumstances. Furthermore, we want to avoid the twin pitfalls of an impotent voluntarism and a cynical realism. To do this, we can proceed in two steps, by devising two successive feasibility tests. The first is to screen out political demands that flout “hard” parameters (those concerning logical and natural possibility). This is where the dictum “ought implies can” finds its proper application. Demands (p. 264 ) that agents are clearly unable to fulfill are not demands that they have an obligation to fulfill. But this is not enough to prevent impotent idealism. We want our feasibility assessments to also be sensitive to more contingent parameters. Thus we also want to introduce a second test addressing “soft” parameters (concerning economic, political, and cultural limits). But we should be careful here. Low probability does not show strict inability. And thus we cannot proceed in a blunt way to claim that political demands whose prospects of success are highly improbable have no prescriptive bite whatsoever.49 This would involve the cynical realism we also want to avoid. What we should like to say, instead, is that the improbability of success of a practical plan may dent its practical force in our deliberations. Thus, even if one demand may be more desirable than another, if the former is much more unlikely to be met than the latter, it may make more moral sense to pursue the latter. This applies to both individual and group cases. One often does better by choosing to do A rather than B when A is intrinsically less desirable than B but significantly more likely to be done by oneself. And actions implementing demands that are appropriate for collectives may be futile, or even harmful, if pursued by some individuals when others do not do their share. Consider the attempt to help push someone’s car out of a snowdrift when others will not help,50 and a country’s unilateral disarmament when other, fairly aggressive countries will not disarm. We want our plans of action to have a reasonable probability of success. Thus we want the second feasibility test to help us track degrees of probability. But how much probability is reasonable?
One may be tempted to simply say that reasonable probability is high probability, and that we should not adopt political demands unless they have a high probability of being fulfilled if we try. But this may be too constraining in some contexts. If the probable costs involved in trying to fulfill such demands are less serious than those involved in not fulfilling them, why should we desist? Recall the examples from the second paragraph of section 7.4.2. Consider whether you should jump out of the window to get to the street. This would normally be foolish as the probability of landing safely, let’s assume, is quite low. But if your building is on fire and this is the only chance, however slim, of surviving, then you should certainly do it. For a political case, imagine that our economy is in rapid meltdown. The financial system, let’s assume, is collapsing quickly, and with it the normal mechanisms yielding investment, production, employment, consumption, wages, and profits. Would it be reasonable for the state to intervene, taking over some banks or investing massively to create employment and foster consumption? Even if (let’s assume) doing the latter would have relatively low probabilities of success, it would be the correct choice given that the alternative is even worse. These examples suggest that what counts as a reasonable probability depends on the context we face. Consequently, we would do better by taking the (p. 265 ) second test of feasibility as not being categorical like the first. It is better to entertain feasibility assessments that assess degrees, and decide which degree is reasonable on the basis of contextual considerations.
We can state the feasibility tests as follows:51
Test 1: It is feasible for S to do A in C only if S’s A-ing in C would not be incompatible with any hard parameter.
Test 2: The less probability there is that S will do A in C if they try, given soft parameters, the less feasible it is for S to A in C.
Test 1 is categorical. A prescriptive demand that does not meet it is null. Test 2, in contrast, is scalar. It asks us to identify the degree of probability of success of action geared to implementing certain prescriptive demands given the circumstances (or the likelihood of changing them in dynamic ways).
Other desirability conditions being constant, the higher the degree of probability of fulfillment of a desirable prescription, the more reasonable it becomes for us to adopt it in practice. Other desirability conditions may not be constant, and thus we may have to reach an overall normative judgment as to whether a certain level of probability is reasonable for us. This appears to motivate a third test:
Test 3: It is feasible for S to do A in C to an extent that contributes to making it reasonable for S to do A in C if and only if S’s A-ing in C does not flout Test 1, and the outcome of Test 2 is such that the degree of probability involved is reasonable given an overall judgment which also factors in the relevant moral benefits and costs involved in S’s trying to do A in C.
There is no doubt that sometimes people use the idea of feasibility in this sense. On this account, when in political contexts we say that a demand is feasible we mean that it is not impossible in the hard sense, and that there is a reasonable probability of success if we try to implement it. When we say that it is not feasible, we mean either that it is impossible in the hard sense, or that there isn’t a reasonable probability of success for it if we try to implement it. But this account in fact involves a combination of desirability and feasibility considerations, and these will come apart under scrutiny. If pressed for clarification, in some cases we will backtrack and say that even if the demand is not impossible in the strict sense perhaps there is some probability that we may succeed at implementing it, although not a reasonable level of probability given contextual considerations involving moral costs and benefits. This implies that we assume that the feasibility assessment regarding soft parameters is a matter of degree, not a matter of categorical statements. I thus suggest that only the first two tests are pure feasibility tests. The third test is a mongrel. This does not mean that we may not use it. But we should be aware that it smuggles desirability considerations.
(p. 266 ) To conclude, our pure feasibility exercises proceed along Tests 1 and 2. The result of Test 1 is categorical: something either is or is not feasible in the hard sense. But the result of Test 2 is not categorical: it yields claims about degrees of feasibility tracking degrees of probability. Since Test 2 is crucial for political reasoning, the exercises of feasibility undertaken within it will not yield categorical results. Political reasoners will then want to identify what levels of probability are reasonable. They may revert to a kind of categorical use of “feasible” to track reasonable probability. But this will involve reintroducing desirability considerations, as in Test 3. Although in ordinary language some people do use “feasibility” in the sense of Test 3, I warn that this usage involves a slippage through which desirability considerations are mobilized. It is then recommendable that the term “feasibility” be fixed by Tests 1 and 2, and that we see Test 3 as a move toward a further step of political reasoning geared to the combination of feasibility and desirability considerations to yield overall judgments about what we have most reason to do in certain contexts (as outlined in section 7.4.3).
(1.) See, for example, Samuel Freeman, “The Law of Peoples, Social Cooperation, Human Rights, and Distributive Justice,” Social Philosophy and Policy 23 (2006), 29–68, at pp. 41–4. See also Freeman, “Distributive Justice and The Law of Peoples,” in Rawls and the Law of Peoples. A Realistic Utopia? eds R. Marin and D. Reidy (Oxford: Blackwell, 243–60), where a global version of Rawls’s difference principle is rejected on the ground that its implementation would presuppose democratic social and political cooperation, which “does not exist and will never exist” (p. 255).
(2.) I assume, for simplicity, that there is no action B that is more morally desirable than A in the circumstances. The distinction between these kinds of judgments further elaborates the distinction between the “ought” of moral desirability and the “ought” of obligation mentioned in Chapter 4. To avoid misunderstanding, notice that my reference to the “evaluative” and “prescriptive” functions of principles need not coincide with the distinction between making claims about the “good” and about the “right.” It is true that the term “evaluative” is sometimes used to refer to a conception of the good rather than to a conception of obligatory action, but in my use both “evaluative” and “prescriptive” claims range over obligations.
(3.) For a comprehensive critical survey of debates surrounding the ought-implies-can principle see Peter Vranas, “I Ought, Therefore I Can,” Philosophical Studies 136 (2007), 167–216. Vranas provides a powerful defense of the principle, and a helpful account of practical possibility, or feasibility, in terms of what an agent has both the ability and opportunity to do in a certain context.
(4.) I follow here the account of the relation between feasibility and probability presented by Geoffrey Brennan and Nicholas Southwood, “Feasibility in Action (p. 267 ) and Attitude,” in Hommage à Wlodek, eds T. Rønnow-Rasmussen, B. Petersson, J. Josefsson, and D. Egonsson, 2007 (www.fil.lu.se/hommageawlodek). For another important discussion of the difference between feasibility and logical possibility, see Tyler Cowen, “The Importance of Defining the Feasible Set,” Economics and Philosophy 23 (2007), 1–14. For discussion on “reasonable probability” see section 7.6.
(5.) Rawls, A Theory of Justice, rev. edn (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999) , sect. 22; Justice as Fairness. A Restatement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), sect. 24. On the significance and malleability of cultural frameworks affecting distributive schemes see Joseph Carens, “An Interpretation and Defense of the Socialist Principle of Distribution,” in After Socialism, eds E. Frankel, P. Miller, and J. Paul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 145–77, at pp. 151–3.
(6.) This is the worry raised by Immanuel Kant in “Perpetual Peace.” See Kant, Practical Philosophy, trans. M. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 8: 367. Rawls echoes it in The Law of Peoples (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 36. Kant’s position is in fact much more complex than many contemporary readings assume. The somber remarks just mentioned concern the short-term prospects for a world political organization, not the long-term ones. See on this Thomas Pogge, “Kant’s Vision of a Just World Order,” in The Blackwell Companion to Kant’s Ethics, ed. T. Hill (Oxford: Blackwell, 2009), 196–208.
(7.) It might then be objected that to show that a social framework is workable it is not enough to show that it is not infeasible. We may have to show in addition that we can reasonably expect it to work. Is there a difference between saying that something is feasible and saying that we can reasonably expect it to work? Perhaps the latter entails a higher level of probability than the former, so that for it to be reasonable for us to expect that S will do A in C, there must be a high probability that S will do A in C in case S tries. This is an interesting question. But again I think that its force is fundamentally to be felt at the level of accessibility, not stability. It is true that a reasonable level of ex ante confidence about the success of their enterprise is normally important for agents to choose to engage in it. It is not easy, however, to figure out what a “reasonable level” here is. I return to this in section 7.4. My point now is that the two domains are conceptually distinct. The likely stability of certain institutions is different from their likely accessibility. The motives leading agents to introduce certain institutions need not be the ones that would lead them or others to maintain them. And even if the motives are the same, the level of confidence about stability before institutionalization need not coincide with the actual likelihood of stability after institutionalization.
(8.) We may add that (a)–(d), and the acceptability of costs of transition, must not only be true but also knowable. We need not say that they are already known. The justifiability constraint involved in Cosmopolitan Justifiability says that valid demands are such that no one can reasonably reject them. This constraint relies not only on what agents already know, but also on what they can come to know. Certainly people cannot reasonably be demanded to do what they can’t know can be done. But they can reasonably be demanded to do what they do not currently know can be done but can come to know can be done.(p. 268 )
(9.) For an excellent discussion on the relation between an infeasible ideal and the justifiability of actions approximating but not reaching the ideal see Thomas Christiano and Will Braynen, “Inequality, Injustice and Levelling Down,” Ratio 21 (2008), 392–420.
(10.) For example, even if principle P1 cannot be instantiated but only approximated and principle P2 can be instantiated, if the ideal contained in P1 is significantly more morally desirable than the ideal contained in P2, and the approximation of the ideal contained in P1 that is feasible is substantial, then it may still make sense to act on P1 rather than on P2 if a choice between acting on P1 or acting on P2 must be made in practice.
(11.) This is partly why I formulated the schemas of distributive principles in Chapter 1 as saying that “we should, to the extent that we reasonably can, pursue” the fulfillment of a certain desirable distribution. This kind of formulation is, inter alia, meant to make room for dynamic duties, and it acknowledges that an ideal distribution may not be fully fulfilled but should be approximated. Someone might worry that this formulation renders feasibility constraints vacuous, as no principle demanding a certain distribution could be infeasible if what it demands is just that we do what we reasonably can to secure the distribution it targets. No principle could demand what cannot be done. But I believe that this assessment would be too quick. If all the prescriptive demands associated with a principle are not feasible, then the principle itself may be deemed infeasible and thus lose force from a prescriptive standpoint. And if demands of instantiation are infeasible while any feasible demands of approximation are too distant from the ideal, then the degree of feasibility of the principle could be so low as to become practically irrelevant. These are damaging consequences for a principle. Even if it remains evaluatively sound, in the sense that if we could fulfill it we should, its capacity to guide action becomes severely weakened. Thus, even if the ideas of approximation and of dynamic duties expand our account of the feasibility of fulfilling a principle, they still leave room for negative judgments we want to be able make about the relative infeasibility of a principle.
(12.) On “realistic utopia” see Rawls, Law of Peoples, 5–7, 11–12, 12–23; Justice as Fairness, 4–5, 13; Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 10–11. For an important critique of Rawls’s reliance on facts in the argument for principles of justice see Gerald Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), ch. 6. My account is similar to Cohen’s in that it acknowledges that there is an evaluative dimension that is independent of feasibility considerations. However, I also argue (with Rawls) that a fully developed conception of justice must incorporate a prescriptive dimension, and thus factor in feasibility considerations. I attempt to show how desirability and feasibility considerations line up in such a fuller account of a conception of justice. For discussion of Cohen’s view, see Pablo Gilabert, “Feasibility and Socialism,” Journal of Political Philosophy 19 (2011), 52–63.
(13.) Justice as Fairness, 4–5.
(14.) For the minimal view see Charles Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, 2nd edn (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 154–61; for the maximal (p. 269 ) one see Aaron James, “Equality in a Realistic Utopia,” Social Theory and Practice 32 (2006), 699–724; and Andrea Sangiovanni, “Justice and the Priority of Politics to Morality,” Journal of Political Philosophy 16 (2008), 137–64. Both views can rely on Rawls. The first view relies on Rawls’s formulations in A Theory of Justice, whereas the second tends to follow Rawls’s views as formulated in Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993) and The Law of Peoples. In his Lectures (pp. 215, 225–6), Rawls considers Rousseau’s opening line in the Social Contract, which calls us to see people “as they are.” Rawls expressly warns against a narrow interpretation of this methodological demand, as referring to current features of people in unjust societies. He calls instead for an interpretation focused on people’s basic interests and psychology (a minimal construal). Rawls returns to this point in The Law of Peoples (pp. 11–23). It would be interesting to consider to what extent Rawls’s theory of international justice applies the methodological strictures just mentioned.
(15.) See on this James, “Equality in a Realistic Utopia,” 703–4. See also Saladin Meckled-Garcia, “On the Very Idea of Cosmopolitan Justice: Constructivism and International Agency,” Journal of Political Philosophy 16 (2008), 245–71. Another relevant source here is Tim Scanlon’s account of principles in What We Owe To Each Other (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 197–202. But Scanlon’s text allows for different interpretations, depending on what we think the proper balance is between the two desiderata (indicated by Scanlon) that principles articulate the relative status of different reasons for action and leave wide room for interpretation and judgment as to how they are to be applied in different specific contexts.
(16.) For further discussion of this point see Christian Barry and Pablo Gilabert, “Does Global Egalitarianism Provide an Impractical and Unattractive Ideal of Justice?” International Affairs 84 (2008), 1025–39, at pp. 1029–33. An excellent general discussion of the two desiderata is presented by Robert Goodin, “Political Ideals and Political Practice,” British Journal of Political Science 25 (1995), 37–56.
(17.) Rawls, Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy, 237, 215.
(18.) To avoid misunderstanding, notice that the point of the view just expressed is logical. I am not saying that in the order of discovery we always need to first formulate abstract principles and then pursue specific implementations. The process can be and usually is more haphazard. We often operate with a combination of abstract and concrete demands, and general and specific empirical beliefs, and we play them against each other constantly, revising our overall normative picture as we go, reaching successive “reflective equilibria.” But this does not change the logical structure of the four aspects of a conception of justice. In particular, it does not show that the content, justification, and scope of fundamental principles depend on any specific set of contextual considerations about their implementation.
(19.) Rawls, Justice as Fairness, 135–40; A Theory of Justice, xiv–xvi, 247–9.
(20.) For recently proposed models for multilevel governance (including “upward” and “downward” decentralization of decision-making away from the level of the state), (p. 270 ) see Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, ch. 7 and Simon Caney, Justice Beyond Borders (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), ch. 5.
(21.) James, “Equality in a Realistic Utopia,” 704.
(22.) See on this Allen Buchanan, Justice, Legitimacy and Self-determination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 61. Buchanan helpfully distinguishes between “accessibility” and “moral accessibility” (the latter including consideration of costs of transition). For another account emphasizing the importance of transition costs see Juha Räikkä, “The Feasibility Condition in Political Theory,” Journal of Political Philosophy 6 (1998), 27–40.
(23.) A similar situation seemed to emerge after the global financial crisis of September 2008. In such circumstances we may have reason to say, with the economist Paul Krugman, that “when depression economics prevails, the usual rules of economic policy no longer apply: virtue becomes vice, caution is risky, and prudence is folly.” P. Krugman, “Depression Economics Returns,” New York Times, 14 November 2008.
(24.) For a fascinating study on the dynamic processes leading to the introduction of the welfare state see Abram de Swaan, In Care of the State (Cambridge: Polity, 1988). For example, the introduction of the first forms of social security in Britain were in part the result of pressure by working-class movements, reflection on previous institutional experiments introduced by Bismarck in Germany, and the intervention of social scientists, who showed “the involuntary nature of unemployment and the preponderance of the elderly among the indigent,” and made several suggestions for institutional design (p. 193). “By the time of the main Liberal welfare legislation, in particular the innovations of the National Insurance Act in 1911, scholarly definitions about social stratification and the political response of the working class had turned into commonplaces of parliamentary discussion” (Keith Middlemas, Politics in Industrial Society: The Experience of the British System since 1911 (London: Deutsch, 1979), 34, quoted by de Swaan, 290–1). De Swaan’s analysis also emphasizes the causal significance of increasing people’s awareness of the externalities (threats and opportunities) generated by the absolute and relative poverty of others. See also de Swaan, “The Prospects for Transnational Social Policy—A Reappraisal,” in Extending Citizenship, Reconfiguring States, eds M. Hanagan and C. Tilly (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), 179–94.
(25.) See Robert Goodin, Motivating Political Morality (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), ch. 3.
(26.) See, for example, David Held’s characterization of the current global circumstances as involving “overlapping communities of fate”: D. Held, Global Covenant (Cambridge: Polity, 2004), x, 107, 115, 141.
(27.) See Claus Offe, “Obligation Versus Costs: Types and Contexts of Solidary Action,” in European Solidarity, ed. N. Karagiannis (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007), 113–28.
(28.) See Goodin, Motivating Political Morality, ch. 4.
(29.) The G20 summit in London on 2 April 2009, for example, has begun a process of introduction of new global regulations and institutions. The first steps included proposals for limits on bankers’ pay and bonuses, the creation of a Financial Stability Board to function in tandem with the IMF to address global financial (p. 271 ) instability, the monitoring of hedge funds and credit rating agencies, and increasing aid to the poorest countries. New, more ambitious proposals are already emerging. An example is the proposal by Joseph Stiglitz (and other participants in the UN Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System) of a Global Economic Coordination Council and a Global Reserve System. For a communiqué (published on 26 March 2009) informing about aspects of some of these “global new deal” proposals, see http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/ga10815.doc.htm.
(30.) In each case, we should also compare the advantage of moving to Y with any alternative proposal of moving to Z. The proposal of moving from X to Z would of course be subject to the four considerations mentioned here. These four considerations are also discussed in Pablo Gilabert and Holly Lawford-Smith, “Political Feasibility. A Conceptual Exploration,” Political Studies (forthcoming).
(31.) As we saw when discussing dimension DIII in Chapter 4, in these situations we would be evaluating and comparing the overall acceptability of what Amartya Sen calls “comprehensive outcomes.” According to Sen, “there is a distinction between ‘culmination outcomes’ (that is, only final outcomes without taking any note of the process of getting there, including the exercise of freedom) and ‘comprehensive outcomes’ (taking note of the process through which the culmination outcome came about).” Sen, Development as Freedom (New York: Anchor Books, 1999), 27.
(32.) I thank Geoff Brennan for discussion on this point.
(33.) Sen, The Idea of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 16, 17, 102. For detailed discussion see Pablo Gilabert, “Comparative Assessments of Justice, Political Feasibility, and Ideal Theory,” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice: forthcoming (2012).
(34.) Recall the example of the progressive expansion of the political project of protecting human rights mentioned in section 6.1.1 The universalistic declarations of human equality that emerged in Europe and North America in the second half of the eighteenth century set up an agenda of historical change for centuries. Changes which had very low feasibility in the short term (concerning the achievement of civil, political, and social rights for religious minorities, slaves, property-less workers, and women) were vigorously pursued across time, and their feasibility was enhanced partly because of the empowering force of the commitment to the universalistic egalitarian ideals. See on this Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History (New York: Norton, 2007), chs. 4–5.
(35.) William Galston, “Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9 (2010), 384–411, at p. 401.
(36.) Another important aspect of transitional reasoning is the recognition of the plurality of motivational mechanisms within “political psychology” and their impact at different stages of a process of reform. A transitional standpoint will not only appeal to motivations of justice. For example, some agents may be moved to start distributive reforms out of fear of the consequences to themselves of an economic and political crisis, rather than by (or in addition to) their commitment to ideals of distributive justice. And prudential and “follow the herd” forms of motivation are likely to gain traction as reforms are under way and start to crystallize, as the costs (p. 272 ) of free riding are likely to increase. I thus also disagree with Galston when he claims that an alternative, “realist” theorizing is needed to capture the complexities of motivation in political processes (op. cit., 398–400). My account of the different dimensions of political theorizing (in sections 4.3 and 7.3) is open to, and in fact calls for, all relevant empirical information about the real world of politics.
(37.) A typical example is the ability of multinational corporations to credibly threaten to leave countries whose governments try to increase taxation, thus eroding the tax base without which governments cannot pursue strong distributive policies. As Robert Goodin has argued, this kind of phenomenon also affects “compartmentalized cosmopolitanism,” the attempt to secure global justice by pursuing egalitarian justice in each country without simultaneously reforming their global economic and political environment. See Goodin, “Justice in One Jurisdiction, No More,” Philosophical Topics 30 (2002), 29–48. For a systematic critique of “explanatory nationalist” views neglecting the impact of the international institutional order on domestic settings see Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Polity, 2008).
(38.) See Global Inequality, eds D. Held and A. Kaya (Cambridge: Polity, 2007). Especially relevant are the papers “Why Inequality Matters” by Thomas Pogge and “Should We Worry about Income Inequality?” by Robert Wade.
(39.) Larry Temkin, “Equality and the Human Condition,” Theoria 92 (1998), 15–45.
(40.) For example, Aaron James proposes a kind of global intermediate inclusion with a principle of “structural equity” demanding that “existing institutional and social structures [such as international trade regimes] treat those they affect in an equitable way.” This view is not strictly egalitarian, but it “generates real limits on socio-economic inequality across societies, limits that would survive the eradication of poverty” (“Equality in a Realist Utopia,” 700).
(41.) On the importance of considering multiple motivations see also Gillian Brock, Global Justice. A Cosmopolitan Account (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), ch. 13. For an interesting discussion of the importance of nurturing moral sensibilities and will to act, see Neta Crawford, “No Borders, No Bystanders: Developing Individual and Institutional Capacities for Global Moral Responsibility,” in Global Basic Rights, eds R. Beitz and R. Goodin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 131–55.
(42.) For an excellent discussion of this point see Ruth Grant and Robert Keohane, “Accountability and Abuses of Power in World Politics,” American Political Science Review 99 (2005), 29–43.
(43.) Two excellent examples of this emerging view are Allen Buchanan and Robert Keohane, “The Legitimacy of Global Governance Institutions,” Ethics and International Affairs 20 (2006), 405–37 and Simon Caney, “Cosmopolitan Justice and Institutional Design: An Egalitarian Liberal Conception of Global Governance,” Social Theory and Practice 32 (2006), 725–56.
(44.) For a powerful discussion of the setbacks in social justice in the last 30 years, especially in the United States and Britain, see Brian Barry, Why Social Justice Matters (Cambridge: Polity, 2005). For the longer view, see Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes (London: Penguin, 1994), and “World Distempers” (Interview), New Left Review 61 (2010), 133–50.(p. 273 )
(45.) Gary Younge, “Obama Faces the Pressure of High Hopes,” The Guardian Weekly, 13 June 2008, p. 18. Despite great obstacles, Lula managed to introduce some important redistributive policies (for example regarding minimum wage and government grants for poor families), and was re-elected in a landslide in 2006. It is worth noting that ongoing mobilization and protests (notably by the MST, the Movemento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra—Movement of Landless Rural Workers) have been important in keeping distributive justice in the political agenda.
(46.) Brazil has also been a leading force in the creation of the Mercosur and the UNASUR, which promise to secure more bargaining power for nations in South America within the global environment by operating as a block in international negotiations. A recent example is the Summit of Americas on 17 April 2009, in which US President Barak Obama had to meet simultaneously with all the presidents of South American countries and hear their similar views on a number of issues.
(47.) And this process involves empowering other, including poorer, countries to gain more control of international economic processes. See note 29 above. The nascent international regulatory institutions and fora can, in time, become agencies on which deeper demands of global justice will be made. They are also likely to become procedurally more democratic. On this last point, see Goodin’s argument that at the global level, just as it happened at the domestic level, a process of transition starting with institutional mechanisms addressing arbitrary rule and lack of accountability and ending in fuller democratic mechanisms of empowerment is likely to occur, as “once those [early] pieces are in place, the circle of accountability basically only ever expands and virtually never contracts.” Robert Goodin, “Global Democracy: In the Beginning,” International Theory 2 (2010), 175–209, at p. 175.
(48.) This appendix draws on Pablo Gilabert and Holly Lawford-Smith, “Political Feasibility: A Conceptual Exploration,” and on several discussions with Holly Lawford-Smith and Bob Goodin.
(49.) I agree with David Estlund that “[t]he likelihood that a person will not behave in a certain (entirely possible) way simply does not bear on whether they should. It is not a fact that has that kind of moral significance.” Estlund, Democratic Authority (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 267. Unlikelihood, being different from impossibility or inability, does not simply render prescriptions null. But I also think that level of likelihood does bear on normative political reasoning when we reach the stage at which we identify what course of action we have reason to pursue, all things considered. Estlund appears to agree when he says that at some point, when we decide “what we should do” here and now, we must “be guided by what we actually think the probabilities are” (p. 268). He goes on to say that “we need to concede the facts in practice, even if not in our moral conclusions.” But if we are thinking about all things considered moral conclusions, then the facts must be taken into account here as well. Otherwise we would have to say that here and now we “should” try to do something that goes against what morality demands, which seems strange. Or might it be the case that we should not try to do something that is highly improbable although not strictly impossible, even if it is more (p. 274 ) morally desirable than all the alternatives? Would this be a nonmoral conclusion which trumps what morality demands, or is morality, at some level of reasoning, itself concessive to some facts about probabilities? I am inclined to take the second stance, but I acknowledge that this conundrum warrants further inquiry.
(50.) Estlund, Democratic Authority, 266.
(51.) In these formulations, S ranges over agents, A over their actions, and C over the context in which the actions would occur.