6 - The Political Geography of Distributive Justice  pp. 153-184

The Political Geography of Distributive Justice

By Jeffrey L. Dunoff

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The gruesome facts of global inequality and poverty are depressingly familiar. Nevertheless, the enormous disparities in wealth and power that mark our world still have the power to shock. Consider the following:

  • There are 1.4 billion people who live at or below the poverty line of $1.25 per day and over 3 billion people who live on less than $2.50 per day. At least 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 per day.
  • The net worth of the three richest individuals in the world exceeds the aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) of the forty-eight least developed states, and one-half of the world's population possesses less than 1 percent of its wealth.
  • The world's forty-nine poorest states account for 10 percent of the world's population, yet they account for 0.4 percent of world trade.
  • Each day, over 26,000 children die of hunger and other preventable diseases. This is equivalent to one child every three seconds, and almost 10 million deaths annually. In addition, more than 500,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth each year; 99 percent of these deaths are in developing countries.
  • Approximately 2.5 billion people do not have access to improved sanitation, and roughly 1.2 billion lack access to clean water.
  • Gender inequality is endemic: Some 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty are women, and women work two-thirds of the world's working hours yet earn only 10 percent of the world's income. They own less than 1 percent of the world's property.

The brutal social and economic realities that lie behind these facts render demands for distributive justice increasingly salient and urgent. Nevertheless, meaningful response to the plight of the poor in general and in developing countries in particular has proven to be both frustratingly inadequate and extraordinarily challenging. Some difficulties result from the enormous diversity among developing states. For example, while some developing states have been at the forefront of global economic growth, another group – much greater in number, if smaller in population – is falling further behind. Moreover, the barriers to economic growth and development vary enormously across countries. As a result, generalized policies are unlikely to be effective, and more nuanced approaches are needed.

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