Skip to main content

Economic Justice in An Unfair World, By Ethan Kapstein (A Review)

It is usually the case that books on "distributive justice" either tend to be abstract yet detailed, or largely empirical but unsatisfactorily brief. Economic Justice in an Unfair World aims to narrow the divide by offering a model of international justice that is both theoretically credible and realistic enough to be applied by the undefined "international community".

According to Kapstein, approaches to economic justice typically falls between two extremes that influence competing nations’ attitude towards international engagement. “Communitarians” approach international relations largely from a “national perspective”. Within this framework nations prioritise domestic social and economic arrangements, engaging the international community only in line with what is purely good domestically. “Cosmopolitans” adopt a “global citizens” approach, viewing economic justice as fundamentally being about individuals. This view has tended to dominate thinking among international NGOs and works itself out through significant emphasis on poverty reduction for poor nations.

In Kapstein’s view both extremes are largely deficient on both theory and practice. Communitarians ignore that in an increasingly interdependent and politically uncertain world, the actions of nations carry significant external costs which are most efficiently internalised through greater international cooperation. Equally, cosmopolitans preoccupation with poverty reduction for the poorest is unrealistic, and might run counter to the need for allowing individual countries to determine the course of their history. A better alternative, Kapstein argues, is a view of economic justice that harnesses self interest as espoused by communitarians, whilst fulfilling the broader goals of increased social welfare globally pursued by cosmopolitans. Such an approach necessarily requires a “liberal internationalism”, that provides a secure international platform where individual states can engage each other for mutual advantage.

The challenge for the "international community" is to devise international arrangements that are “inclusive, participatory and welfare enhancing”. Crucially such arrangements necessarily must focus on the “equality of opportunity” at the nation rather than individual level if the ideas are to find international traction. Much of the book is effectively taken up illustrating the supposedly positive implications of “liberal internationalism” in areas of aid, trade, migration, labour standards and investment.

Kapstein succeeds in demonstrating that economic fairness and justice need not be polar opposites provided a coherent framework can be implemented that demonstrates mutual advantage. But that is where it ends, as the book gets caught up largely between a theoretical / academic proposal and agenda for change. In the end it achieves neither. As a theoretical exposition there’s nothing new and as an agenda setting book, it misses important areas.

A major weakness is the false dichotomy on which Kapstein’s analysis rests. The policy choices facing nations are presented as a essentially a multiple choice - you are either a cosmopolitan or communitarian or liberal. There's minimal discussion of why complementary approaches cannot work. Implicitly it's perhaps because Kapstein believes liberal internationalism is the most fair and efficient. Fair because it allows, in his view, the most people to benefit, something the book does not even begin to prove empirically. Equally problematic is the undefined concept of efficiency.

In practice, many of the problems facing developing nations should rightly continue to rely on a blend of communitarian, cosmopolitan and liberal internationalist ideals. We see positive communitarian ideas reflected in strong arguments for some degree of protectionism for emerging small industries in poor countries, as basis for developing capacity. Cosmopolitan initiatives have proved useful in directly empowering the poor where the distribution of power in society is heavily stacked against them. Finally, liberal internationalism as presented in the book remain important as nations pursue mutually beneficial arrangements in areas of trade and investment to foster global wealth and opportunities among nations.

Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Jesus Never Fails

Many a times in my life, the words of this childhood hymn has been a tremendous encouragement. I pray this may encourage you too. Keep looking to Jesus!
Jesus never fails, Jesus never fails The man of the world will let you down, but Jesus never fails.
Your mother will let you down Your father will let you down The man of the world will let you down, but Jesus never fails.
Your husband will let you down Your wife will let you down The man of the world will let you down, but Jesus never fails
Your brothers will let you down Your sisters-will let you down The man of the world will let you down, but Jesus never fails
Your church will let you down Your work will let you down The man of the world will let you down, but Jesus never fails
Your friends will let you down Your country will let you down The man of the world will let you down, but Jesus never fails
Your wealth will let you down Your health will let you down The man of the world will let you down, but Jesus never fails
Copyri…

Pornography as Occultism

There is a kind of helplessness that a man engaged in pornography exhibits. He often speaks of it in terms of a “struggle” or an “addiction.” Now both of those terms are accurate, I believe, but they distance a person from his sin in a soul-decaying manner. Pornography is not just an addiction; it is occultism. The man who sits upstairs viewing pornography while his wife chauffeurs the kids to soccer practice is not some unusual “pervert”; he is (like his forefather Adam) seeking the mystery of the universe apart from Christ. That’s the reason the one picture, stored in his memory, of that naked woman will never be enough for him. He will never be able to be satisfied because he will never be able to get an image naked enough. I say pornography is occultism because I believe the draw toward it is more than biological (though that is strong). The satanic powers understand that “the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18). They understand that the pornographic …

7 fascinating facts about Bexleyheath

I just finished reading Bexleyheath : A History by John Mercer as part of my effort to know a little about the history of our new local area. We have been living here for the last four months and it is a wonderful area indeed. Here are seven fascinating things about Bexleyheath mentioned in the book.

1. Two hundred years ago much of Bexley Heath was an area of wide-open land largely uncultivated. It was not until 1894, that the two words were put together.

2. On 5 June 1739, George Whitfield, a prominent preacher associated with John Wesley, came to the highway and preached by the pond opposite the Golden Lion. He was welcomed to the district by Henry Piers, Vicar of St Mary's (Bexley), who was a supporter of the new evangelical movement which was to become later known as the Methodist Church. Over 300 gathered to hear Whitfield preach from his horse: travellers, labourers, gypsies and villagers from Bexley village.
3. One of the early inhabitants of Bexlyheath was the polish emigre …