Tuesday , November 20 2018
Home / Bleeding Hearths Libertarians / Hassoun’s Argument for Global Redistribution

Hassoun’s Argument for Global Redistribution

Summary:
In In Defense of Openness, Bas and I wonder why so much of the global justice literature defends the opposite conclusions of development economics. Philosophers ignore or more often denigrate property rights and trade, despite the overwhelming evidence these things are necessary for sustained growth, and spend most of their time defending global redistribution, despite the evidence the strong evidence that redistribution generally doesn’t help, especially redistribution within extractive regimes. It’s not that philosophers read, say, Acemoglu and Robinson but find their work flawed; they seem simply to be unaware of it. While Bas and I are not completely against foreign aid, and while we both support various charities ourselves, we spend three chapters examining and critiquing

Topics:
Jason Brennan considers the following as important: , , , , , ,

This could be interesting, too:

Don Boudreaux writes Some Links

Pierre Lemieux writes Liberty, Authority, and Giuliani

David Henderson writes Freedom of the Press and of Speech: True and False

SchiffGold writes Real Capitalism Isn’t Rigged; Socialism Is

In In Defense of Openness, Bas and I wonder why so much of the global justice literature defends the opposite conclusions of development economics. Philosophers ignore or more often denigrate property rights and trade, despite the overwhelming evidence these things are necessary for sustained growth, and spend most of their time defending global redistribution, despite the evidence the strong evidence that redistribution generally doesn’t help, especially redistribution within extractive regimes. It’s not that philosophers read, say, Acemoglu and Robinson but find their work flawed; they seem simply to be unaware of it. While Bas and I are not completely against foreign aid, and while we both support various charities ourselves, we spend three chapters examining and critiquing the major arguments for mass global redistribution.

Here are some excerpts from our critique of my fellow Arizonan Nicole Hassoun:

In Globalization and Global Justice, Nicole Hassoun attempts to provide a new justification for international redistribution. She, too, thinks that such transfers are necessary to ensure that current coercive international institutions are legitimate. A coercive institution,[i]Hassoun writes, “can only be legitimate if it ensures that its subjects secure sufficient autonomy to consent to its rules.”[ii]This in turn requires that “coercive international institutions must ensure that people secure … basic food, water, shelter, and so forth”, because doing so is necessary “to secure sufficient autonomy.”[iii]

Hassoun thinks libertarians in particular should find this line of argument compelling. Libertarians, she says, are likely committed to the view that coercive institutions are legitimate only if those people subject to them actually consented to them.* However, she claims, people cannot genuinely consent to be subject to coercive institutions unless they have sufficient autonomy, and they can’t have sufficient autonomy unless their basic needs are met. Thus, to make sure people have “sufficiently good reasoning and planning ability to consent to, or dissent from, the rule of their coercive institutions”, their basic needs first have to be met.[iv]Given that those needs aren’t met for many people around the world, there is a requirement for international redistribution.

Hassoun’s argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. Coercive institutions must be legitimate.
  2. For a coercive institution to be legitimate, it must ensure that its subjects secure sufficient autonomy to autonomously consent to, or dissent from, its rules.
  3. Everyone, to secure this autonomy, must secure some food and water, and most require some shelter, education, health care, social support, and emotional goods.
  4. There are many coercive international institutions.
  5. So, these institutions must ensure that their subjects secure food, water, and whatever else they need for sufficient autonomy.

…when we ask economists why many of the poor in the third world lack sufficient resources to be autonomous, they answer that it’s because their own governments are extractive and corrupt, and because their own governments impose and maintain bad, growth-inhibiting institutions. Hassoun is not merely saying that when the World Bank, WTO, IMF, etc., make mistakes, they are illegitimate. Rather, her theory says that even then these organizations do things that tend to make the poor better off, they are illegitimate, unless they make the poor so much better off that they now qualify as sufficiently autonomous.

…Despite relying upon some plausible background ideas, Hassoun’s argument is unsound. In particular, premise 2 can’t be right. Or more precisely, what’s right about premise 2 won’t get us to Hassoun’s conclusion that rich states have to give money to poor states. However plausible this principle might sound at first, upon further reflection it has some deeply counterintuitive implications, and thus ought to be rejected.

Consider an example. Suppose that, for whatever reason, Bob is not sufficiently autonomous. Say, he lacks the external resources Hassoun claims one needs to be autonomous. Now, suppose non-autonomous Bob turns violent, attempts to harm our children, and the only way to stop him is to use coercion (that is, violence). It seems obvious that we can coerce Bob to defend our children. We don’t need to first supply him with the resources necessary to ensure he is sufficiently autonomous to consent to our coercive interference. We don’t need his consent. We can just coerce him to stop him from hurting our children.

The fact that Bob is non-autonomous can make a difference, of course. For example, if Bob doesn’t count as autonomous, then this may mean that he is less than fully blameworthy for his actions. And perhaps that might even mean that the appropriate response to his aggression–after stopping him–is not to punish, but to help him. But none of that bears on the question we’re asking here, which is whether we may use coercion against him. We can. We don’t first have to give Bob sandwiches and education before we can protect our kids.

…Perhaps Hassoun would claim that we’re misinterpreting her. She’s not talking about “institutions” in the economists’ sense, in which an institution is just a set of rules that govern social life. Rather, she means that organizations can coerce people only if they ensure that those people have sufficient autonomy. The emendation seems ad hoc (after all, isn’t it something about the coercion that calls for justification, rather than the party that uses it?). But even if it does make sense, this won’t save her argument.

Consider another example. Robert Mugabe oppresses his subjects and keeps many of them desperately poor. Suppose the WTO works out a deal with Mugabe, using their carrots and sticks, to get him to lower trade barriers a bit. And suppose that this helps to make the poorest Zimbabweans a little better off, but not well off enough to qualify as “sufficiently autonomous” in Hassoun’s theory. By Hassoun’s account, the WTO’s actions would remain illegitimate or morally impermissible, unless more resources are first provided to the Zimbabweans.

That is a bizarre result. It places the burden of fixing injustice in the hands of the wrong people, and it instead imposes a high moral “tax” on doing things that actually help the very people Hassoun wants to help. Her theory implies that in many cases we cannot enforce rules that would make people’s lives go better, unless we first get rice and houses to everyone those rules affect. That’s to discourage people (or institutions) from doing things that actually make people’s lives go better.

The problem, quite simply, is that the justification of coercion does not always require consent. There is a large range of cases in which it is permissible for anyone, be it a person, an institution, or an organization to coerce others in order to protect people’s rights, or to prevent a person (or group or organization) from harming others. And this is true even if the people being coerced lack sufficient autonomy. It looks, then, like Hassoun’s premise—that an organization may coerce others only if it ensures they have sufficient autonomy—is simply false.

*Later, we point out this is false, but if it were true, it wouldn’t help her argument. If libertarians demand actual consent, then they aren’t thereby committed to global redistribution, but would instead conclude all governments around the world are necessarily illegitimate.

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan (Ph.D., 2007, University of Arizona) is Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Chair and Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business, and by courtesy, Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Georgetown University, and formerly Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Research, at Brown University. He specializes in political philosophy and applied ethics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *