Global economic fairness: Internal principles

Now more than ever it is clear that the global economy needs to be assessed and governed from a moral point of view. Such moral assessment can, however, come in at least two quite different forms. Political philosophers have tended to focus on a range of issues (e.g. poverty, human rights, or general distributive justice) whose basic moral importance is “external” to and wholly independent of how the global economy is socially organized. The result has been relative neglect of a quite different class of “internal” moral issues, which do in various ways depend on the complex legal and social relations that now organize the global economic scene. These include a dizzying array of politically important but poorly understood fairness concerns—concerns such as “non-discrimination,” “special and differential treatment,” “fair trade,” “fair play,” “fair competition,” “level playing fields,” “equitable growth,” “fair wages,” and “exploitation.” My aim in this discussion is to suggest a framework for understanding how several such fairness notions might be systematically connected and have an internal rather than external character. Specifically, I suggest that the content and internal nature of several such fairness notions can be explicated in terms of a more fundamental idea of “structural equity.” From the point of view of political philosophy, the issue turns on the sorts of principles that might ground moral assessment of the global economy. External principles are justified and apply quite independently of what the global economy and its social organization happens to be like. Humanitarian principles are a natural example: in asking whether or not the current global economy is set up so as to bring as many people as possible out of poverty, the assumed goal of poverty reduction can be seen as important and morally necessary quite independently of how the global economy is institutionally organized, and indeed independently of its very existence. Internal principles, by contrast, are not justified, and do not apply, independently of the global economy and its organizing institutions..
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