Mathias Risse, “What We Owe to the Global Poor”

A brief outline of: “What We Owe to the Global Poor” by Mathias Risse, Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

He begins, “this essay defends an account of the duties to the global poor that is informed by the empirical question of what makes countries rich or poor … ” What makes countries rich or poor? Geography, integration, institutions or some combination of the three plus a country’s history and choices. (And no doubt dumb luck too.) Risse argues that wealthy countries have an obligation to help poorer countries build institutions, and to provide emergency aid.  But this does not entail bringing about equality among people.

Still it would be in all the USA’s self-interest to reduce global inequalities because: 1) it is in their interest because unstable states make us all worse off; 2) in Rawls’ original position, not knowing which kind of country you would be in, you would want stable institutions; 3) the concept of importance of personhood requires that institutions exist to bring about well-ordered societies—societies where they can truly be persons.

Reflection – This is a case in which morality and self-interest coincide. It is both moral and self-interested to help create institutions that promote human flourishing. Unfortunately, the prisoner’s dilemma suggests the strong pull of self-interest impedes cooperation, even though that when all pursue self-interest it is self-defeating.

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