Western Affluence Contra Economic Justice
Western Affluence Contra Economic Justice
The proposition: The rich part of the world is entitled to its affluence cannot be defended on moral grounds. The rationale behind taking such a stand is grounded in the following analyses and arguments: First, in order for the West to legitimately lay claim to its affluence, it must demonstrate objectively that its affluence is based on a legitimate claim-right. In other words, can the Westâ€™s affluence be demonstrablyâ€”in the light of dayâ€”traced back through a historical chain of events leading to a starting point in which the conditions (or preconditions) for creating wealth were legitimate, by virtue of the Westâ€™s own sacrifices and efforts, by virtue of well-conceived initiatives, inventiveness, entrepreneurial skills and rugged individualism, and/or demonstrably legitimate (as opposed to legal) institutional efforts? Or is the Westâ€™s affluence based on a long tradition of expropriation (in the form of seizures) and misappropriation (in the form of theft and fraud)?1The historical and documentary evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the answer to the first question is a resounding No, while the answer to the second question is a resounding Yes. Case in point: It is no secret that in the pre-colonial period, the South, though not quite on an equal footing with
Most of the existing international inequality in standards of living was built up in the colonial period when todayâ€™s affluent countries ruled todayâ€™s poor regions of the world: trading their people like cattle, destroying their political institutions and cultures, and taking their natural resourcesâ€¦ The relevant historical crimes were so horrendous, so diverse, and so consequential that no historical-entitlement conception could credibly support the conclusion that our common history was sufficiently benign to justify even the radical inequalities in starting positions we are witnessing today. [Hence] we are not entitled to the huge advantages we enjoy from birth over the global poor, given how these inequalities have been built up [or, to put it differently,] we affluent have no rights to property, however acquired, in the face of the excluded. Rather, they have a right to what we hold [because] the actual history [i.e., the horrors of European conquest] is relevant.6(Emphasis in original)
Many variants of these subterfuges, however subtle, can be found even in the modern era. As the well-known Indian environmentalist, Vandana Shiva, observes, â€œthe rules of the WTO are â€˜primarily rules of robbery, camouflaged by arithmetic and legalese,â€™ and global free trade in food and agriculture is â€˜the biggest refugee creation program in the world.â€™ It is, not to put too fine a point on it, â€˜leading to slavery.â€™ All in all, many of these critics would agree with the summary judgment attributed to the Zapatistas, an organization of Mexican peasants, that the WTO is simply â€˜the biggest enemy of mankindâ€™.â€7This sorry state of affair is severely aggravated by the fact that Intellectual Property Rights and Trade Related Property Rights are basically a form of institutional chicanery through which international robbery on a massive scale is perpetuated to the detriment of the working class and the poor, particularly in the South. Apropos of property rights, it bears mention that â€œFor Locke, â€˜property rights, however acquired, do not prevail in the face of desperate needâ€™ because â€˜everyone has an original pre-appropriation claim-right to an adequate subsistence from the resources of the worldâ€™.â€8This makes perfect sense, and is probably why Rousseau said (in his Second Discourse on Inequality):
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying â€œThis is mine,â€ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. Humanity would have been spared infinite crimes, wars, homicides, murders, if only someone had ripped up the fences or filled in the ditches and said, â€œDo not listen to this pretender! You are eternally lost if you do not remember that the fruits of the earth are everyoneâ€™s property and that the land is no oneâ€™s property!
And as Winston Churchill observed in a paper submitted to his Cabinet colleagues in January 1914:
we are not a young people with an innocent record and a scanty inheritance. We have engrossed to ourselves...an altogether disproportionate share of the wealth and traffic of the world. We have got all we want in territory, and our claim to be left in the unmolested enjoyment of vast and splendid possessions, mainly acquired by violence, largely maintained by force, often seems less reasonable to others than to us.â€9(Emphasis in original)
Neither should we overlook the fact that Western conglomerates, which are totalitarian command economies,10 could never survive were it not for economic crimes, which are not only welcomed and supported, but are required, by law. Thus pharmaceutical companies are required, by law, to produce drugs for rich people to reduce wrinkles but not to save the lives of thousands of children in
The long and short of it is that Western conglomerates and their subservient states will stop at nothing to enrich themselves at the expense of humanity, by exploiting raw materials, energy supplies, key markets and cheap labor in the South. Rich countries are rich because they unscrupulously drain the greatest part of the worldâ€™s wealth in royalties, diamonds, profits and interest rates, mostly from economically impoverished countries. Not surprisingly, the formal means for rectifying the institutional injustices perpetrated by the West are barely existent, since the UN has been transformed into a toothless tiger by the major powers, most notably the US (it cannot be otherwise when governed by criminal syndicates, namely, the nation-state system, organized religion12 and private tyrannies, i.e., the large transnationals that dominate most of the domestic and international economy). But the substantive means for rectifying the institutional injustices perpetrated by the West are latently existent, limitlessly so, since â€œforce is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular,â€ as David Hume astutely observed.
Not surprisingly, those Third World governments that have painstakingly made even modest moves in the service of the poor majority (since at least WWII) have been fraudulently apprehended as â€œcommunistsâ€ by the West, and punished accordingly, as William Blum has demonstrated in his outstanding Killing Hope. So the answer lies not in foreign aid13â€”which is so shamefully low as to be laughable, since it claimed only 0.22 percent of GNP of the OECD countries in 2002, far short of the meager goal agreed to by the international communityâ€”since aid presupposes a legitimate claim to oneâ€™s affluence, but far-reaching changes in the dominant societies, from the bottom up, by democratizing the economic system and the international order, so that resources are distributed on equitable terms, crucially without overlooking the need for massive reparations to the Third World, including substantial if not complete debt cancellation, since most Third World indebtedness is illegimate.14
The only legacy that elite globalization is leaving behind is one of widespread poverty. Even if we take the affluent West as an example, in the
In sum, Pogge is quite right to claim that
we are actively responsible for most of the life-threatening poverty in the world. [â€¦] by shaping and enforcing the social conditions that, foreseeably and avoidably, cause the monumental suffering of global poverty, we are harming the global poor â€“ or, to put it more descriptively, we are active participants in the largest, though not the gravest, crime against humanity ever committed. Hitler and Stalin were vastly more evil than our political leaders, but in terms of killing and harming people they never came anywhere near causing 18 millions (sic) deaths per yearâ€¦ If citizens in the affluent countries were minimally decent and humane, they would respond to these appeals and would do their bit to eradicate world poverty.15(Emphasis in original)
Finally, Poggeâ€™s solution is too modest and self-contradictory, since he proposes only minor changes to property rights to eradicate world poverty, while arguing that we have no such rights in the first place. That is the most significant shortcoming in his otherwise excellent work, apart from not recognizing that power-holders will never do right by humanity unless they are forced to do so by a demanding and threatening constituencyâ€”and even then, it is not a given that they will make any â€œconcessions,â€ due to their deep power lust and money hunger. We are, after all, dealing with a new Mandarin class whose fanaticism is unmatched, which will become more obvious once the US has what is called â€œFull Spectrum Dominance,â€ i.e., total control of outer space for offensive purposes (to further widen the gap between the haves and have-nots), a legacy that may well do us all in.16The only way to reverse the powerful currents of reaction and oppression and violence is to expropriate the expropriators, which would have to entail dismantling the crime syndicates mentioned above, and replacing them with viable, egalitarian structures through which human needs and rights are met universally, through socially desirable means and ends.17These are difficult tasks, no doubt, but they are not impossible to achieve. And even if humanity ultimately fails in this noble, heroic endeavor, perhaps it can console itself by virtue of the principled fact that it is better to climb the right ladder and fail than to climb the wrong one and succeed. But while striving for this ultimate goal, we can and should press for reforms, in order to try mitigating the worst excesses of military-based state capitalism.
1 as with the case of American capitalism, for example, which was built on genocide and slavery. To this day, no apology, no reparations.
2 This is somewhat of a misleading statement, since the South was not likely to have had a monetary economic system but primarily (or perhaps exclusively) a barter-based one before
3 That is, in conjunction with the forceful imposition of
4 This alliance between state and private power is unholy, which is why Mussolini (who should know) said: â€œFascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism, because it is the merger of state and corporate power.â€ In the more contemporary period, a similar observation was made by the international financier George Soros: â€œPerhaps the greatest threat to freedom and democracy in the world today comes from the formation of unholy alliances between government and business. This is not a new phenomenon. It used to be called fascismâ€¦ The outward appearances of the democratic process are observed, but the powers of the state are diverted to the benefit of private interests.â€ (Soros, Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism, xi. He now runs the CIA-created Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other institutes.)
5 Pogge, â€œA cosmopolitan perspective on the global economic order,â€ in Harry Brighouse and Gillian Brock (eds.), The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism,
6 Ibid., pp. 97, 98, 99. In a similar vein, Peter Singer says: â€œthe present global distribution of wealth is the result of the wrongful expropriation by a small fraction of the worldâ€™s population of a resource that belongs to all human beings in common.â€ (Singer, One World: The Ethics of Globalization,
7 Shiva quoted in Singer, One World, p. 53.
8 Locke quoted by Pogge in Brighouse and Brock, op. cit., p. 99.
9 Clive Pointing, Churchill, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994, p. 132. A similar but more contemporary observation was made by one of the founders of modern political science, Harold Lasswell: â€œModern events have sharply reminded us that distribution depends on myth and violence (on faith and brigandage) as well as bargaining.â€ (Lasswell, Politics: Who Gets What, When, How, Cleveland, Ohio: Meridian Books, 1958, p. 8.)
10 The reason for making such a claim is as follows: Corporate capitalism was mostly imposed by radical judicial arrangements, not by legislation. It was done outside the democratic process. So it is the courts, not the legislators, that gave the corporate entities extraordinary rights, granting them rights of persons (with the proviso that they are immortal), actually, rights far beyond what flesh-and-blood persons could ever even dream of, meaning they have freedom of speech, can propagandize freely, advertise (i.e., coerce the public to pay for the privilege of being brainwashed), run elections, etc.; and they are protected from inspection by the irrelevant citizenry and even by state authorities, in order to preserve these autocratic structures, which are mostly unaccountable to the public. And they are required legally to maximize power and profit no matter what effect that has on anyone else, even future generations. They are also required by law to externalize costs and risks. It would be illegal, according to international private law, for corporate executives to act differently. In brief, corporations are pathological by legal requirement. For an important study on this topic, see Morton Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1870-1960: The Crisis of Legal Orthodoxy,
11 Case in point: IMF policies invariably have the following elements: â€œ(1) radically reduce government spending on health, education and welfare; (2) privatize and deregulate state enterprise; (3) devalue the currency; (4) liberalize imports and remove restrictions on foreign investment; and (5) cut or constrain wages and eliminate or weaken mechanisms protecting labor.â€(Kevin Danaher, 10 Reasons to Abolish the IMF and World Band, NY: Seven Stories, 2001, p. 11).
12 For some valuable insights into the hows and whys of the fact that the church is an illegitimate structure (thereby exposing the symbiotic relation between state and church, which has in effect if not intent enslaved humanity), see Food For Thought at URL www.geocities.com/witnesstohisresurrection
13 â€œone of the realities of foreign aid: a means by which the poor in the wealthy societies pay the wealthy in the poor societies for their services to the wealthy in the wealthy societiesâ€ (Noam Chomsky, On Power and Ideology, QuÃ©bec and NY: Black Rose Books, 1987, p. 82). In other words, â€œaid is a device to compel the (Western) taxpayer to subsidize the wealthy and powerful, at home and abroadâ€ (ibid, p. 83), so as to facilitate the expropriation of wealth from the poor and the working class, at home and abroad, in the latter case, crucially with the help of the IMF and WB (both extraordinarily human rights averse), who are guilty of theft on a scale that dwarfs all the great bank robberies in history combined.
14 To verify this claim, see Chomsky, Debt, Drugs and Democracy, NACLA Report on the
15 Pogge, op. cit., pp. 92, 93, 95.
16 To verify this claim, see Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: Americaâ€™s Quest for Global Dominance,
NY: Metropolitan Books, 2003, particularly chapters 6 and 7.
17 For valuable insights into what the basic framework of these structures can and ought to look like, see the seminal work of Anton Pannekoek, Workers Councils, at URL http://libcom.org/library/workers-councils-book-pannekoek