The foremost responsibility of those in power is for the welfare, freedom, and happiness
of the people they rule

(Interview with Thomas Pogge)
By Nasrin Pourhamrang

Note: Thomas Pogge is Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University. I have done an interview with him that was published in "Hatef Weekly Magazine" on August 30, 2005

 




 

NP: I will ask my question around your last interview subjects. My mean your interview about poverty and humans right. But before talking about functional concepts, I want to ask a few philosophical questions about the personality of poverty. You said many things about the eradication of poverty, in your interview and you counted your programs for the poverty eliminating progress. Are you sure that we can eradicate the poverty completely and absolutely from the world forever if we prepare the suitable condition? Do you see the poverty as an illness that is based on secondary reasons?   /o

TP:
In response to the first part of the question, I do think that the eradication of world poverty is an achievable goal. The idea that it may not be is typically fostered by the misinformed belief that it would be an extremely costly expenditure. However, in light of the massive inequality and low current levels of aid, which I will describe below, the effort to eradicate poverty would not place a heavy burden .upon the affluent

First of all, due to the massive inequality that characterizes the global distribution of income, it is the case that the roughly 15% of the world’s population that lives in the high-income countries has about 80% of the global product.  In comparison, the 46% that lives below the $2/day poverty line have about 1.2% in total. Due to such large disparities in income, even a small change in the global income distribution from the richer to the poorer would dramatically reduce the extent of .severe poverty

Furthermore, the current amount of overseas development assistance given by the high-income nations to the developing world for the purpose of poverty eradication is very low, amounting to under 6 billion dollars a year.  To realistically attack the global poverty problem, significantly more—about 300 billion dollars annually—would be needed. While this figure sounds high, it is really just over 1% of the aggregate GNP of the rich countries. Most of those living in life-threatening poverty could easily be protected through the funding of locally providable vaccination programs, basic schooling, school lunches, safe water and sewage systems, housing, power plants and networks, banks and micro lending programs, and road, rail and other communication links. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) Commission on Macroeconomics and Health (chaired by Jeffrey Sachs) has outlined how deaths from poverty-related causes could be reduced by 8 million annually at a cost of $62 billion per year. This amount is less that one quarter of one percent of the combined gross national incomes of the high-.income countries

Even if we leave modifying the global income distribution aside, altering the rules that govern the global economic order, which are currently largely in favor of the rich countries, would have a tremendous positive impact on the developing world. Due to the great inequality outlined above, the affluent states enjoy great advantages in bargaining power and expertise in international economic institutions, in particular the World Trade Organization. They use these advantages to shape the rules of the current WTO treaty system in their favor. These permit the affluent countries to protect their markets against cheap imports (agricultural products, textiles, steel, and so on) through quotas, tariffs, anti-dumping duties, export credits, and subsidies to domestic producers. Such protectionist measures reduce the export opportunities of firms in the developing countries by constraining their exports into the affluent countries and also, in the case of subsidies, by allowing less efficient rich-country producers to undersell more efficient poor-country producers in world markets. In the absence of these constraints, the developing countries could realize an additional $700 billion annually in export revenues, which is over ten times the annual amount of all official development .assistance worldwide

NP: if we imagine the global life as a running match, we are forced to imagine that they will reach only a few competitors to the finish line and the others will be defeated. In the other word, all people cannot get access to equal power and money, synchronized and simultaneity. Victory and lose are making the nature of a race and there will be only a few winners. Are you ?accepting that any wealth will arise any poverty

TP: The question offers one of many depictions of globalization: that there is a driving force that creates wealth, but only at the expense of others. As such, globalization leads to greater inequality since essentially the rich are getting richer, while the poor are getting poorer.  On the other hand, some people argue that since globalization increases aggregate wealth then it is a good thing for all parties.  However, it is difficult to assess globalization, that is the increased economic and political integration of the world, as a homogenous phenomenon. Rather than consider it for how it has proceeded over the last 15 years, we should ask how globalization ought to best be carried out.  And if we compare it to alternate and feasible paths of globalization, it becomes clear that the present one is much worse than it can be from a poverty perspective.  The rich country governments exert tremendous bargaining power leading to a set of rules that are highly skewed in their favor.  And because of these unfair advantages, this chosen path of globalization versus various alternatives has foreseeably produced a great deal of unnecessary severe poverty. So based on empirical data over the period of globalization, it has appeared that as aggregate wealth has grown, there has also been a growing gap between the rich and the poor. I do not think that this necessarily must be the case that increasing wealth must translate into an increase in inequality. Recognizing these facts though, it is important to reevaluate the process of globalization, and implement change in the structure of the international .order to prevent further increases in inequality and severe poverty

NP: you explained about the poverty threshold in your view and by the UN view. Now I want you to make a philosophical description of the wealth and affluence threshold and range. Although the poverty and poor people range is not closed, the wealth and rich people range is not closed too. Can we call the money, a specified range of affluence that can occurs the influence to others?  I want to say that if there are any rich countries in the world, there will be a lot of people forced to be poor. If the wealth is unlimited, then they cannot name it "Money" and if the Poverty is unlimited, then we cannot specify the rich people from the poors. And on the other hand, we cannot destroy the rich countries. What to do? /o

TP: This question brings forth an interesting implication that inequality is an impediment to poverty eradication.  To illustrate the degree of global inequality, consider the fact that the ratio in average income between the fifth of the world’s people living in the highest-income countries and the fifth living in the lowest income countries was 66 to 1, in 2003. Additionally, nearly half of the global population survives on less than the purchasing power parity adjusted equivalent of $2/day, thereby barely having enough for subsistence and having little access to political influence.  With such a vast difference in income between the rich nations and the poor, it is hardly surprising to think that the rich countries are able to translate their wealth into political power.  However, the suggestion that as long as there exist rich countries then others will be forced to be poor, does not necessarily follow. A distinction should be made between absolute and relative poverty. In relative terms, as long as there are rich countries and people, others may always be poorer than them. Yet, the presence of great concentrated wealth does not mean that those who are relatively less endowed might not be brought out of the depths of absolute poverty and able to enjoy a basic level of subsistence and fulfilment of .other human needs 

NP: With regard to the subjects I explained in the question before, I want to ask that isn't it better that we talk about an eternal fight against the poverty instead of poverty eradication? I want to tell you that we cannot eradicate poverty in the entire world and we can just control the limitation of poverty. We can just to don't let the destination of poors and riches to become longer ?for preventing great phenomena. What is your idea

TP: First, as I’ve emphasised in my answer to the first question: I do think that poverty eradication is a very achievable goal given the amount of wealth and its highly uneven distribution. The costs to the high-income nations to make a serious effort to attack poverty entail much higher levels of aid than the current, but in terms relative to their aggregate wealth, quite low. 

However, I will entertain this suggested line of thought that eradicating poverty is unachievable.  Perhaps, there is only so much those in the affluent nations can do to effect progress in the fight against poverty because despite these efforts there may seem to be insurmountable domestic obstacles in poor countries themselves, such as corrupt and brutal dictators that use their power to sustain poverty.  Nonetheless, beyond aid there is a great deal the rich countries could do to change the structure of the international order to make poverty eradication more viable. These changes range from reshaping rules of economic regimes like the WTO to make trade more equitable to the poor, to altering the international resource privilege and international borrowing privilege which encourage oppressive rule.  While there are many options the affluent have to seriously lessen the occurrence of severe poverty, there is also a lack of political will to achieve these goals that is a .substantial obstacle to realizing poverty eradication, despite its feasibility

NP: I want to ask you about the technology's affection on the spreading of poverty. I want to know about the relation between technology and human's needs and requirements. Enhancement of technology is like a network that occurs related requirements for the world population. Specially the electronics technology. But if the incoming price of common people is stable and not changed, but the needs and requirements will be added, then the number of poor people who cannot buy their needs will be spread and the poverty range will be expanded. What is your idea about that?  /o

TP: Technology has great potential to enrich humanity by opening new life possibilities and by saving huge amounts of labor. On the other hand, technology also makes ever great inequality possible. Today, few few people with very advanced technology can dominate vastly larger numbers quite easily. For example, the US can easily impose its will on much of the rest of the world. Moreover, technology also creates a new sense of deprivation for those who remain excluded from it. Think of populations in the developing countries who cannot afford advanced medicines, for example.  Fully one third of all human deaths are poverty-related and thus easily avoidable. For the global poor, the great technological advances of the last decades have been little more than a cruel reminder of how .disadvantaged they are, and avoidably so

NP: if your answer to my last question is positive, then don't you think that fighting against poverty will not be progressed as the timetable specified? The number of poor people around the world will be added and the needed resource will be reduced.   /o

TP: Even if it is the case that we can expect the absolute numbers of people in poverty to increase if current trends continue, that does not change the fact that it is still extremely feasible for us to attack poverty and moreover that we have a duty to do so.  With the rapid increase of globalization and technology, the poor may become further isolated from the means to improve their situation. However, as they become poorer the global aggregate wealth is on the increase making the relative sum required to eradicate poverty quite small. Moreover, not only is the low cost of poverty eradication a compelling reason for its pursuit, but it is also troubling to be aware that we the affluent are imposing upon the poor a global order which creates, maintains, and probably even increases the incidence of poverty.  We have a duty to stop causing such harms and must work to make the global order one that is fairer toward the poor, particularly in the face of rising .poverty

NP: I want to review the affection of technology on the poverty increasing from another aspect. Technology needs the information and technique to become greater for easing human uses. But many people cannot learn the new sciences, for many reasons. For example old aged people who have not enough time, patience and intelligence to learning computer, Internet, terminology, electronics and astronomy. We can find this reality in the 3rd world countries, more than anywhere in the all the countries. When the people are not able to use the new technologies, then their incoming prices and monies will be decreased automatically and they will lose great opportunities with regard to the globalization process. What is your idea about the relation between poverty, technology and not being able to learning new technologies?   /o

TP: This is another important aspect of poverty beyond the measure of income: not being able to participate in many of the new technologies arising in an increasingly integrated world, and thus becoming further isolated from reaping the benefits of globalization. A large part of this problem is lack of access to education to the poor. Not only is education not a free public good in many developing countries, but often children are forced to work. Some 876 million adults are illiterate and 250 million children between 5 and 14 do wage work outside their household — often under harsh or cruel conditions.  As this question about the disparity between the rich and poor concerning access to emerging technologies highlights, one of the fundamental pillars of poverty eradication is improving access to technology and .education in technology use in the third world

Improving technology use and access is a goal that can partially be achieved through well-targeted aid, but ultimately will also be realized through providing greater economic opportunity to the poor. By changing unfair trade laws and restructuring international rules that encourage oppressive and corrupt rule, the poor will gain greater representation and be able to share in the benefits reaped .through globalization

 NP: You said about the rich countries and global organizations moral responsibilities and duties against poor countries. But what is the poor countries government responsibility against their people and what can they do to reduce the poverty in their countries? But we have to consider that the reasons of poverty in the all countries are not same. What can the rich countries do for poor countries, except financial helps and aids

TP: It may be the case as those in the affluent countries are quick to point out, that most severe poverty would be avoided if national governments and elites of the poor countries were committed to ‘good governance’ and poverty eradication.  In many developing nations, corruption and oppression are prevalent, and if these countries were to reform their governments to truly be responsive to the desires of their populations, it is likely that a great deal of poverty could be effectively eliminated in this way.  However, it is also true that despite the corrupt and oppressive governments in power in many poor countries, if the global institutional order were designed more fairly, most severe poverty could be avoided.  In this way, both the governments of poor nations and the global institutional order can be said to be causing world poverty independent of the other, but this does not lessen the responsibility of either party for its contribution to the massive injustice. Not only does the global institutional order cause a great deal of avoidable severe poverty, but it also provides incentives for governments in poor countries to be oppressive and corrupt. Oppression and corruption, so prevalent in many poor countries today, are themselves very substantially produced and sustained by central features of the present global order.  For example, the global order maintains the international resource privilege, which legally recognizes any person or group who has come to power in a country, no matter the means by which power was acquired, as the rightful owner of that country’s natural resources. As such, any dictator who is able through brute force to overthrow a government may sell a .country’s resources in its name
While it is true as suggested in the question, that all poor countries do not share the same reason for being poor, their vulnerability to oppression and corruption are greatly exacerbated by the international order that gives credibility to their often abusive governments. Rich countries can do a great deal more to fight severe poverty than simply contribute foreign aid. They can actively work to restructure the global order such that its rules treat the poor more fairly, and do not encourage .corrupt and oppressive rule in their respective countries
 

NP: In my view, until finding the reasons of poverty in Asian and African countries, the help and aids of rich countries cannot eradicate this great poverty. Money, wealth and richness are born growing up all time and spreading for people. Poverty is born and growing like money. Poverty has a special and particular property that is productivity and increasibility. Then we cannot stop this property at a short time. Then we have to recognize and realize the whole reasons of poverty, If not, we cannot eradicate or eliminate ?poverty in countries all around the world 

TP: Without carefully examining the roots of poverty, rich countries simply donating aid to poor countries will do little to eradicate poverty. Pouring money into a developing nation without addressing structural problems that affect the poor is not an adequate solution. For instance, giving aid to a country that is controlled by a corrupt and oppressive government will most likely end up effectively giving further resources to support the government in power rather than helping its impoverished citizens. Beyond aid though, rich countries can do a great deal more to fight poverty. They can cease their support of corrupt dictatorships by refusing to recognize leaders that seize power by force, against the will of the people, as the legitimate owners of the nation’s natural resources. And they can suppress the .bribery and corruption so often exercised by their corporations abroad

As suggested in the question, it is important to find the reasons for the massive persistence of poverty particularly in Asian and African countries. However, these reasons are diverse and include a variety of factors such as corrupt governments, rampant spread of disease, civil conflict, lack of a developed public infrastructure, poor access to education, high inequality, and many more issues. Despite the variety of different factors causing poverty, none of these stand alone, but rather they interact with global institutional factors. We cannot simply assess the causes of poverty by looking at purely domestic factors in poor countries, because there are also strong international factors, which affect these domestic factors and they are inextricably tied to the causation and perpetuation of poverty. For instance, we might point to a corrupt dictatorship keeping its citizens in severe poverty. But, if the international community did not give credence to the dictator’s rule (through the international resource privilege described earlier), then he  would not be able to exploit the country’s natural resources to exert power over the citizens. As such, instead of simply examining national causes of poverty we should also assess the ways in which the global order allows and sometimes encourages the perpetuation .of severe poverty 

NP: In my view, ideology, cultural and mental poverty are the main reasons ?of financial poverties. What is your idea 

TP: In many cases, ideology and culture play an important role in generating poverty.  In particular, ideology may work to keep specific groups in poverty, based on ethnicity or gender for instance. By depriving large segments of a population of economic opportunity, oppressive governments are further able to act as they please. In this way poverty is a vicious cycle: the poor find it hard to change their government because they lack resources, and thus the government is able to do as .they wish to keep the poor in this state

There a many different ideological and cultural factors that seem to generate poverty in this way.  One of the most important things that can be done is giving a voice to the poor by encouraging responsive democratic governance. A lack of democracy allows for certain groups, whether they are women or racial minorities, to be deprived of a range of opportunities. Eliminating or changing the structure of the international resource privilege would encourage minimum standards of democracy or good governance and would force governments in poor countries to pay attention to its citizens and their needs and desires. By focusing on the poor and what they want, as opposed to ideologies of governments, oppressed groups can gain representation and empowerment, which can help pull them from the .depths of poverty

Basically, my view then is that the persistence of poverty is due to the confluence of the current global order and national factors, such as oppressive and corrupt .government as well as cultural, climatic, and geographical factors

NP: If we accept the idea of Max weber around economical industry and affluence that occurs wealth and money, that is being reviewed on the book "The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism), then perhaps we can find the reasons of ideological and cultural poverty. I think that ideological governments are causing poverty in poor countries. What is your idea  

TP: Well, it is hard to find any government that is not ideological, that does not try hard to shape the values and thinking of their population, even to brainwash them. But there are, of course, great difference in the ideologies that governments promote. The reigning ideology in your country is quite different, for example, from that in China — and both are in turn quite distinct from the capitalist ideology dominant in the United States. Now clearly you are right to believe that a country’s culture and reigning ideology will affect this country’s prospects for reducing and eradicating poverty and for achieving the fulfillment of human rights. But this effect will in turn depend on other factors such as the current global economic order. Strictly speaking, what has favored China, for instance, in recent decades is then the combination of its new ideology (as formulated under Deng) with the new .globalization project that began with the end of the Cold War

Even if we hold fixed the global institutional order, we should recognize that there is not just one single best way for societies to be organized. We should not want a world in which all countries are copies of the US or of China or indeed Iran. Countries can flourish in diverse ways, and satisfy the needs and aspirations of their citizens. But in the present world, many countries do not flourish. And this often shows that they are poorly organized in ways that fail to bring forth the best talents and efforts of their citizens. In some countries, citizens are afraid to speak freely about political, academic, artistic, religious, moral, economic and other issues; and such countries therefore typically fail to make good progress based on the best ideas of their most creative citizens. Real progress requires an atmosphere of freedom in which bright and creative people can thrive, in which the best ideas can prevail, and in which the country’s people can shape their own destiny. When this is achieved, countries can develop themselves quite differently — some being religious and others secular, some emphasizing luxuries and others a simple life style, some fascinated by sport or the outdoors and others by artistic achievements. The world can be much enriched by such diversity. And so I would not want to draw from Weber’s text the conclusion that we should work toward the worldwide .implementation of a Protestant work ethic

NP: In many middle east countries, people are using great resources like oil and gas. But great ideological political powers and governments they are based on traditional power recourses, are making big barriers against the government of culture and art and modern economy. Culture and modern economy may destroy the bases and foundations of their illegal power. What ?is your idea 

TP: Ultimately, the best way to destroy the foundations of unauthorized and corrupt power is steady opposition by the people over whom it is exercised. Of course, culture and economic progress can play a role in this, as we have seen the collapse of several corrupt and oppressive regimes in Eastern Europe, where people delegitimized governments through art and humor as well as through the use of modern technologies such as photocopiers and fax machines. But these are instruments that, by themselves, can do nothing. Everything depends on there being people with ideas and courage who organize themselves, discuss the reforms they envisage for their society, and then use culture and technology to involve their compatriots in the quest for reform. In some situations such efforts fail nonetheless. Think of Myanmar whose people have struggled for decades under the inspiring leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a huge election victory in 1990 but nonetheless prevented by the military junta from taking over the government. Even a deeply hated regime can sometimes remain in power for decades, especially when it can buy itself weapons and soldiers with money it raised by selling the country’s resources abroad. So the task is rarely easy. But this is surely no reason not to try, when so much is at stake. We must hope that one day even the now most oppressed peoples, in the Middle East and elsewhere, will be in control of their own destiny. And we should do our bit, through peaceful means, to bring this day .nearer 

NP: In these countries, although there are a lot of resources, because of great decay in the government system, they will steal the money and wealth of people. Limiting the personal, political and social freedom in each country will increase corruption in government organizations. It seems that there is a great circle of poverty, corruption and totality political power spinning around the people and it is making a great prison for people of these countries. What is your idea

TP: In many poor countries there is an abundance of wealth in natural resources.  Because the international resource privilege gives legal ownership rights of these natural resources to any person or group that seizes political power in a country, there are disastrous effects in poor but resource-rich countries, where the resource sector constitutes a large segment of the national economy. Whoever can take power in such a country by whatever means can maintain his rule, even against widespread popular opposition, by buying the arms and soldiers he needs with revenues from the export of natural resources and with funds borrowed against future resource sales. The resource privilege thus gives insiders strong incentives toward the violent acquisition and exercise of political power, thereby causing coup attempts and civil wars. Moreover, it also gives outsiders strong incentives to corrupt the officials of such countries who, no matter how badly they rule, continue .to have resources to sell and money to spend

The incentives arising from the international resource privilege help explain what economists have long observed and found puzzling: the significant negative correlation between resource wealth (relative to GDP) and economic performance. In this way, corrupt leaders are able to use the great wealth they acquire to bolster their own rule by whatever means necessary, which often include limiting the personal freedoms of their citizens and keeping them severely impoverished. I agree that in this way, the poverty and corruption in many of these countries seem mutually reinforcing. However, it seems that to discourage this sort of cycle, we could change the incentives for such rule by altering the structure of the current international resource privilege. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, by setting certain criteria for governments to follow in order to allow them to have valid ownership rights to that country’s natural resources, we would be taking a positive step in the .fight towards eradicating poverty

NP: Decreasing the media and human rights freedom in totaliter government countries, causes poverty and retrogress. You said about poverty from the human rights view in your interviews. I think that if we want to organize a complete project to fight against poverty, we have to repair this damaged condition of human rights. What is your idea about fighting against ?the poverty that is being started from ideological governments  

TP: I think there are important distinctions to be made in what constitutes human rights, and in what way they are either causing poverty or are being violated by the occurrence of poverty. The two broad categories of human rights are social and economic human rights and civil and political human rights

Both types of rights are of crucial importance and they are in many ways mutually reinforcing. As Amartya Sen has pointed out, civil and political rights are very important supports for social and economic rights. In a country with a free press and an open and competitive political system, it is more likely that the basic needs of the poor are being addressed. Conversely, in a country where social and economic rights are secure, where people do not have to focus all their energy on getting their next meal, a genuine democracy is more likely to exist. So empirically, I think there is a strong connection. Conceptually, as well, human rights are indivisible in the sense that a human life in which some of them are unfulfilled is a blighted human life, a life that in many ways is not as much worth living as a life in which these basic minima are secure. If people in the Western countries tend to consider social and economic rights less compelling, I think it is because they conceive these rights as rights to be helped, by being supplied with food and other basic goods and services for those in need of them. I agree with them that it is morally less urgent to benefit or to help people than it is not to harm them. But to associate civil and political rights with the obligation not to harm and social and economic rights with the obligation to benefit is a mistake. Through the imposition of economic institutions that predictably make it impossible for many people to meet their basic social and economic needs, those who impose these institutions are actually harming people rather than merely failing to help them. Most severe poverty in the world today is due to poor people being harmed in this way

On my account, we have no human-rights-based duties to help people in whose distress we are not causally involved (which is not to deny, by any means, that there are other strong moral reasons to provide such help). But this limitation makes little difference in our world where actual starvation is due to national and global economic institutions that we, through our governments, help shape and impose.
Through the imposition of economic institutions that predictably make it impossible for many people to meet their basic social and economic needs, those who impose these institutions are actually harming people rather than merely failing to help them. Most severe poverty in the world today is due to poor people being harmed in this way.
In this sense, I think that we citizens of rich Western countries have an urgent moral duty to work to eradicate poverty because we are imposing a global order that forseeably and avoidably produces a great amount of severe poverty. Insofar as any of this poverty is linked to oppressive government ideologies, it is important for the affluent to see that they too have a causal role in the persistence of this poverty by their support for an order that allows such ideological governments to exercise their oppressive power over impoverished populations

Analogously, the more advantaged citizens of countries in which massive human-rights deficits persist have an urgent moral duty to work to modify any national institutional arrangements that forseeably and avoidably contribute to these deficits. In fact, all citizens should help to promote such a transformation. Of course, some of those in power will resist reform in order to preserve their own privileges. And they will try justify their resistance in ideological terms. Here the appeal to human rights is a powerful antidote. Human rights make minimal demands in behalf of all human beings, and demands that are widely supported by all the great religions of the world. The foremost responsibility of those in power is for the welfare, freedom, and happiness of the people they rule — and of the worst-off people especially. And so it is generally not hard to judge the moral quality of those in power. We need merely look at the lives of the worst-off citizens: look at the nutrition available to children in poor families and look at the treatment of women, of racial and religious minorities, and of the sick and aged. Insofar as such groups suffer avoidable deprivation and discrimination, those in power are not doing their jobs. Insofar as those in power attempt to justify such deprivations and discrimination in ideological terms, they shoulder an additional grave responsibility through their public appeal to morality or religion. It is a crime to rule badly, harming the people to advance one’s own interest. It is an even greater crime to do .this with false appeals to religion or morality