Ethics & International Affairs

Symposium: World Poverty and Human Rights

Do We Owe the Global Poor Assistance or Rectification?

Mathias Risse*

A central theme throughout Thomas Pogge's pathbreaking World Poverty and Human Rights is that the global political and economic order harms people in developing countries, and that our duty toward the global poor is therefore not to assist them but to rectify injustice. But does the global order harm the poor? I argue elsewhere that there is a sense in which this is indeed so, at least if a certain empirical thesis is accepted. In this essay, however, I seek to show that the global order not only does not harm the poor but can plausibly be credited with the considerable improvements in human well-being that have been achieved over the last 200 years. Much of what Pogge says about our duties toward developing countries is therefore false.

Mathias Risse is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Philosophy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He has worked on political philosophy, ethics, decision theory, as well as on Nietzsche. His current main interest is in global justice.


* This paper was originally presented at an author-meets-critic session held during the American Philosophical Association Eastern Division Meeting, Washington, D.C., December 30, 2003. I am grateful to the audience for helpful discussion, as well as to Christian Barry for helpful comments.