In the context of international relations and economic development, the demands of global justice remain controversial in terms of the relationships between affluent societies and less well-off ones. Many questions have been raised in regard of what distributive justice entails, what duty of assistance it requires, how much is owed, and to whom. In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls attempts to identify what principle of justice rational agents would choose if they were placed behind the “veil of ignorance”: they were deprived of all knowledge regarding their personal characteristics (sex, race, physical shape etc.) as well as social and historical circumstances (class, generation, etc.). Rawls concludes that rational agents in such positions would embrace the Difference Principle, the idea that inequalities are acceptable only insofar as they operate to benefit the least advantaged in society. This implies that inequalities can actually be justified as long as ...view middle of the document...
As a result, they would accept the Difference principle as the standard of global distributive justice for the same reason that parties agree to it in the domestic original position. Secondly, different countries interact with each other economically and politically to flourish and develop. The international interdependence generated by such interactions creates the conditions for applying difference principle globally as it shows the existence of a global corporative scheme. Beitz argues that given such global scheme, national boundaries have no moral significance and are not justified in limiting any social obligations. For Beitz, Difference principle must apply to the world as a whole so that global institutions will be arranged to benefit the globally worst-off.
However, there are reasons to restrict the application of Difference Principle only to nations. Michael Blake, in his Distributive Justice State Coercion and Autonomy, argues that although absolute deprivation is an international concern, relative deprivation is not. By “absolute deprivation”, he refers to deprivation that affects fundamental human functioning, one that prevents a person from being an autonomous agent. For example, since severe famine and extreme poverty might negatively affects a person’s autonomy, a concern for autonomy yields a global concern for ending famine and poverty. By “relative deprivation”, he refers to deprivation in comparison with someone else, such as the gap between the rich and the poor. According to Blake, concern for relative deprivation results only from direct legal coercion, because it is the domestic legal system that structures basic economic interactions and determines individual responsibilities. Without such system, it is impossible to create and enforce a coercive framework that regulates agent’s behaviours. However, these legal systems do not exist at the global level. Therefore, the Difference Principle cannot apply to global settings.
1. Beitz, Charles R. "Justice and international relations." Philosophy & Public Affairs (1975): 360-389.
2. Blake, Michael. "Distributive justice, state coercion, and autonomy." Philosophy & Public Affairs 30, no. 3 (2001): 257-296.