Why "We" Are Not Harming the Global Poor: A Critique of Pogge's Leap from State to Individual Responsibility

Public Reason 4 (1-2):119-138 (2012)
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Thomas Pogge claims "that, by shaping and enforcing the social conditions that foreseeably and avoidably cause the monumental suffering of global poverty, we are harming the global poor ... or, to put it more descriptively, we are active participants in the largest, though not the gravest, crime against humanity ever committed." In other words, he claims that by upholding certain international arrangements we are violating our strong negative duties not to harm, and not just some positive duties to help. I shall argue that even if Pogge were correct in claiming that certain rich states or at least the rich states collectively violate certain negative duties towards the poor and harm the poor, he is far too hasty in concluding that "we," the citizens of those states, are thus harming the global poor or violating our negative duties towards them. In fact, his conclusion can be shown to be wrong not least of all in the light of some of his own assumptions about collective responsibility, the enforceability of human rights, and terrorism. In addition, I will also argue that his view that we share responsibility for the acts of our political "representatives," who allegedly act "on our behalf," is unwarranted
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