Thomas Pogge on Global Justice and the Global Game.

In a small, crowded lecture room at the University of Wollongong, Yale lecturer Thomas Pogge took the floor to speak on global justice. This is what he said (with some creative liberties taken by Eleanor Shepherd)…

As part of a competitive market, it is self evident that competition goes on; competition between institutions, businesses, employees, countries, amounts of wealth. If you do well in this competition, you influence the competition. If you influence the competition, you come out on top. There’s no point in pretending that with this influence (and power) comes particular tendencies to sway the competition in you favour. This is no different when we think in terms of the global relations and the multi-national businesses and figureheads that roll the dice. Greed is built into the systems and institutions that keep these guys on top, regardless of the people they exploit and the environment they destroy. The wealth of resources at the disposal of a population has been stolen from under their feet and sold abroad, and these people do not see one cent of it.

We unintentionally support these systems, live by them and perpetuate them. When we support businesses that rob the underprivileged, we firstly give them reason to do so. We perpetuate the market and competition and we break down safeguards that stop people becoming poorer and hungrier. We see the brands & logos of these companies, rather than the faces of those whom they became rich off. The inequality becomes anonymised. The undernourished, the displaced; these are the victims of the global competitive institutions.

International laws support these systems by favouring the stronger participants in the global economy in total disregard for human rights. Some say however ‘it’s not all that bad, check out China!’ China is a good example, but we have to focus on the local economies and government and the leaders that buy and sell into these companies. Many developing nations are not that lucky. We must ask; How do these institutions and leaders exploit their environments? There are many examples of how a government has destroyed their environment, which has in turn, affected the poor in devastating ways.

We must ask the questions: How do these leaders come into power? How do these leaders come to stay into power? More often than not it is by force, the trading of weapons, and the selling off of the resources that are owned by the people. By buying into these resources, leaders may siphon off money to offshore bank accounts that are not checked and are left to bleed people dry.

By buying into these companies, and turning our backs on corruption (and even letting governments support and perpetuate corrupt and dangerous institutions) we are showing support for robbing the poor and keeping people hungry and ill. We need to take responsibility for our part in our consumerist culture. We could give to the poor (positive duty), which will support them to a degree, or we could not cause the harm to begin with (negative duty). By not causing harm, the frameworks that perpetuate the destruction of human rights will begin to crumble. We will give back to these people their ways of life and ensure that the cycle of inequality and the widening gap between the rich and poor is stopped and minimised.

As with many things, this is easy to write down, but harder to put into practice. We need to make distinctions between institutions and the people who run the institutions. Lobby for a competition that doesn’t screw over people but at the same time, makes this option attractive to the institutions that play the game. We have to find ways to empower the global poor in realistic and localised ways.

A Rejection Letter from the Global Literate.

Dear Sir/Madam,

Your application for admission to our Education program has been carefully reviewed by our admissions committee. I am sorry to tell you that we cannot offer you admission. You are obviously counted among the one billion people who entered into the new millennium unable to read a book or even sign your name (as observed on your admission application), and as two thirds of this billion were female, we are hazarding a guess that you are a woman (as mentioned earlier, your name was indefinable on your application and as such we could not ascertain a gender). If you are a male, we are sorry for this gross assumption and offence.

In the developing country that you reside in, our facility is just a small facility. We are proud to say that we’re spending around US$6 billion a year to help people like you access education, and we plan on spending more, we do, but currently we are busy spending US$11 billion on ice cream in Europe, US$17 billion on pet food in the United States, US$50 billion US dollars on cigarettes in Europe, and US$780 billion on defence around the world. We are placing your education very high up on our priorities list, just underneath treating the kids, feeding the dogs, and buying more guns.

The deans were obliged to select from applicants that we believe would do sound work within the world economy, and we appreciate your interest, but feel that you are not the correct fit. Again, we were unable to deduce much from your application, but assuming that you are one of the 100 million children in the world currently not attending school, we would guess that you are a girl (more likely as 55% of these 100 million children are female) and chances are your home is sub-Saharan Africa, as 30% of children living there don’t attend school.

Of the 2.2 billion children in the world, we are aware that you number among the 1 billion in poverty. Being illiterate and uneducated as you are, it is most likely that you come from a poor home with uneducated parents, and that that home is somewhere in a conflict zone (that we are spending a lot of money on, no doubt!) We struggle to see how you could possibly concentrate on any studies when, of all the 1.9 billion children in the developing countries that you originate from, 1 in 3 children have inadequate shelter, 1 in 5 have difficulty accessing safe water, and 1 in 7 have no access to health services. Where would you keep your books? Could you even afford books? What happens when you’re sick, we sure don’t want you spreading it! We have doubts that you could even afford the simple cost of the education itself, still charged in 86% of countries.

Maybe you are one of the 771 million adults who are illiterate. Our good friend, the United Nations, has assured us that literacy among adults is essential for doing great things like eradicating poverty, curbing population growth and reducing child mortality. We fully endorse this, but sadly we continue to stand by our decision to deny you access to our educational facilities.

What could you do better next time? We would suggest not being female. Disparities in education and employment are almost always larger for girls. You are less employable, less respected, and more easily impregnated, resulting in a bigger gamble for us as an educational facility. We would also suggest you apply at a younger age. An older student is more likely to encounter learning difficulties and not progress through to higher levels of education. This does not bode well for you and your 770,999,999 illiterate adult friends.

Please understand, our education model is not for everyone. We do adopt a certain ‘one-size-fits-all’ mentality, applied to both educational pursuits and our baseball hats, and we can acknowledge that this approach is not suited to everyone (mostly people in your category). But we are hoping to try and plan a tentative semi-important, low-end partially funded scheme with a bit more variety that we have great confidence in! Please, try applying again around 2015, or 2020, when things may or may not be looking better!

Alternatively, you could place pressure on your government to increase educational budgetary and aid allocations, adequate pay for educators, a diverse curriculum that is based around an understanding of your culture and language, and developed youth and adult literacy programs. Chances are you couldn’t read that last sentence though, so we won’t be holding our breath.

We appreciate your interest very much in education, and wish you all the best in your future endeavours. What will those endeavours look like, we wonder? Will you be a begging for one dollar on the streets of Cambodia to passing tourists? Perhaps you will work two jobs, seven days a week, for $50 US a month? Maybe, due to illiteracy and a lack of education, you will contract HIV/AIDS owing to a superstitious view on contraception, and then infect others, searching for a virgin to ‘cure’ you?

Either way, the future looks bright for us. For you… well, we try not to think about that too much.

All the best, 

The Global Literate.