2 - Global Equality of Opportunity as an Institutional Standard of Distributive Justice  pp. 44-67

Global Equality of Opportunity as an Institutional Standard of Distributive Justice

By Daniel Butt

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We live in a world with a broad range of institutions whose actions affect the distribution of benefits and burdens both between and within particular political communities. As cooperation and interdependence between communities increases, so there is a greater need for overbridging institutions that regulate and control international interaction. We can expect both increases in the powers of existing international institutions and the development of significant new international institutions. Examples include international governmental bodies such as the General Assembly and Security Council of the United Nations and the Council of Ministers and European Parliament of the European Union (EU); international judicial bodies such as the European Court of Justice and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; international trade organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization; and nongovernmental organizations, such as Oxfam or the Red Cross. By what standards should the decisions and actions of such institutions be assessed?

This chapter argues that international institutions should be guided by a cosmopolitan principle of global equality of opportunity (GEO), which holds that individuals should have access to opportunity sets of equivalent value regardless of their nationality. The central idea is that international justice requires international institutions to go further than the degree of intervention required by “sufficientarians,” who accept only that we possess duties to raise those in other countries to some minimal level of well-being. The chapter defends a more demanding principle of global equality that seeks to remove egregious international inequalities of opportunity even when they apply to persons above the minimal sufficientarian threshold of well-being. This is a contentious claim. Global egalitarianism is controversial even on an abstract level – many deny that there is any sense in which justice requires an international redistribution of resources in keeping with the principle of equality. Things get even more difficult when we come to real-world policy claims: Here the advocate of GEO must confront skepticism as to the principle's practicality, both in terms of the desirability and the possibility of its implementation, and doubts as to the legitimacy of institutional intervention in its favor. This chapter does not respond to all such objections in detail, but it does sketch a version of GEO in which it could plausibly be said that it should – in an all-things-considered sense – be promoted by existing international institutions.

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