Ethical Aspects of Debt Reduction for the Poorest Countries

Ethical Perspectives 8 (1):3-17 (2001)
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Debt reduction for the poorest countries of the world has become a self-evident goal for all people who feel concerned about the problems of the Third World, about absolute poverty and misery. Also, right-minded people think it is a primary ethical requirement that rich countries and powerful financial institutions should loosen the constraints imposed upon the weakest regions of the world. However, a closer look reveals that this is not just a technical matter, but that this issue is ridden with hard choices and difficult ethical dilemmas. Giving and helping are much more delicate matters than a naïve and benevolent observer might think. A contribution touching upon the ethical background of the debate about debt reduction is a good opportunity to tackle these sorts of problems.Ethics has become fashionable nowadays. Paradoxically, the more people are convinced that self-interest is the main motivating force for the rich and the poor, and the more they think that powerful interest groups are ruling the world, the greater the attraction and the authority of ethical arguments. At the same time ethics has become a rather vague point of reference, supposed to encompass all kinds of benevolent drives, neglecting the evidence that beneficence does not always yield good results. So we shall start with some very general remarks about the nature of ethics, with a reminder of the specificity of ethical arguments for helping the poor and with an analysis of some difficulties in reaching this objective. In the second part of this text, we tackle the more concrete ethical dilemmas related to the issue of debt reduction



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