Prompt 2 (EPT 2014)


Do wealthier nations have moral obligations toward poor countries striving to develop?

Given what we have learned about ecological limits, the apparent tensions between economic development and environmental sustainability, collective action problems and the management of the earth’s finite resources, and global inequities in wealth and resource distribution, what obligations (if any) do wealthier countries have toward poorer developing nations?

For instance, do wealthy countries have a moral obligation to redistribute some of their resources to poorer nations?  Do they have the duty to assist poorer countries to achieve higher standards of living, but to assist them in developing more responsibly—by transferring, e.g., relevant technologies to them and helping to build the infrastructure necessary to reduce their strain on the global environment?  Or, perhaps less stringently, do wealthy nations have the obligation to reduce the harmful effects that their consumption and global economic practices may have on the welfare of poorer nations?

Identify one moral obligation you believe wealthier nations have toward poorer countries (this obligation need not be any of the examples above), and justify why they have this duty.  Then explain how this obligation could be practically implemented in international politics: what specifically would be required of wealthier countries to satisfy this responsibility, and how might we realistically convince these sovereign countries to accept the initiative you propose?  (If, alternatively, you do not believe that wealthier countries have any such moral obligation, you must explain why.  Why is it that status quo environmental politics pose no normative problems for policy-makers?)


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9 responses to “Prompt 2 (EPT 2014)

  1. Dallin V.

    To Help Others Or To Help Ourselves First (In Order to Help Others)

    One viewpoint taken towards wealthier countries assisting poor countries in terms of environmental sustainability is that this position can be problematic depending on which wealthy country is involved. The U.S. for instance would be representative of a country that might not be the best model to help developing countries. As such, measures should be taken to better the U.S. so that the U.S. can assist developing countries to better themselves in the long run, rather than giving them assistance for the short term that doesn’t seem to really help (treating the causes rather than alleviating the effects).

    One factor would be that the U.S. is still largely reliant on dirty forms of energy, thus the country still hasn’t hit the threshold of sustainability itself. In fact last year the electrical power grid was composed of 39% coal, 27% natural gas, and 19% nuclear with only 13% considered renewable (N/A 2014, 1). Until the U.S. is able to reach a larger percentage of energy generated that could be seen as sustainable, it is difficult to say that the country would realistically be “helping” other countries, rather leading them down an environmentally harmful path. Also relevant is the fact that the national debt is inhibiting the focus on environmental sustainability being over 17 trillion dollars and counting (Dinan 2013, 1), and making the U.S. continue to rely on these dirty sources.

    A counterargument would be that even though the U.S. is still vastly reliant on dirty forms of energy, that the U.S. could still somehow assist developing countries in improving their energy dilemmas. The country still holds the largest economy in the world after all, and as such could and should out of duty be the first one to lend a hand in the problems of the world (namely the global south).

    The problem is that the U.S. and some of the global north in their current forms are a “bad role model” so to speak, and that the common approach is to as stated previously treat the effects and not the cause.The theoretically responsible alternative would be to focus the economies of the global north (with the U.S. as the lead while the country is still the largest economy in the world) on environmental sustainability, and to invest in the long term betterment of less developed countries, starting with the most likely to succeed/closest to said principles and working their way down. In the mean time the focus on long term aid rather than short term aid to countries should be embraced.

    *N/A. “How Much Renewable Energy Do We Use?” Energy In Breif. U.S. Energy Information Administration, 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 July 2014.

    *Dinan, Stephen. “U.S. Debt Jumps a Record $328 Billion – Tops $17 Trillion for First Time.” Washington Times. The Washington Times, 18 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 July 2014.

    • Dennis C.

      Helping Others Helps Ourselves

      Response to Dallin

      Across the globe, there are all degrees of living situations. Some countries have corrupt governments that exploit the people, while some countries have nothing to exploit. Whether they have not used their resources properly or been somehow harmed by a wealthier country, people all over the world are living in unthinkable conditions. Therefore, countries need to decide how much, if any, they are willing to help out these less fortunate communities.

      How does one bring morals into economics? How much of our own money are we willing to throw away for the benefit of people who do not contribute to our society? Singer argues that we shouldn’t. Paying for them would only delay the inevitable. However, Dan Glickman of the New York Times has a different view. In the article “Foreign Aid Saves Live. It’s Good Policy, Too”, he argues that not only does foreign aid save lives and give hope for a better future, it is also beneficial for the wealthy countries giving the aid. Providing a stable environment can decrease civil unrest and threats of violence. It also can provide a more secure way to trade with those countries. Stability is ultimately in the best interest of everyone (Glickman; 2013).

      Now the question is how much aid to give and what the most effective way of giving that aid is. In the past, we have typically tried to find governments that we could trust and just gave them money to help out their citizens, hoping they would do the right thing. However, in April of 2014 congress started a program that would reduce the money we gave to foreign aid and reinvest it into private American companies to promote technological advancements (The Economist; 2014). This way, instead of letting the developing countries figure out what to do with the money, we are giving them the technology they need. One could argue that the only reason the U. S. government is doing this is because they partnered with big companies and are more worried about a profit. All the government is doing is taking the foreign aid money, putting it back into the American economy, and then working with charities to get it to where it needs to be. It is a solution where everybody wins.

      “Come up to the Lab.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 03 Apr. 2014. Web. 18 July 2014.

      Glickman, Dan. “Foreign Aid Saves Lives. It’s Good Policy, Too.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 11 Dec. 2013. Web. 18 July 2014.

    • Lex B.

      A Moral Obligation to Ourselves, The Environment, and Others

      Response to Dallin

      While most U.S. citizens (myself included) would agree that wealthier nations absolutely have a moral obligation to provide aid to poor countries (a statement made based on our readings from class and some general opinions collected from friends), Dallin’s response to this complex question of moral obligation in regards to environmental sustainability brings to light a unique perspective on foreign aid that I can’t help but agree with. The methods used by the U.S. for development as seen in the past and present are not particularly innovative or sustainable, and would only make bad situations in foreign countries worse based on pollution/environmental issues we already have here in the U.S.

      To add to Dallin’s argument that the U.S. serves as a bad role model for sustainable develop in poor countries, the first sentence of an article regarding renewable energy and the current/political issues faced states that “the United States faces energy shortages and increasing energy prices within the next few decades.” (Pimental et al, 1111) Why would any developing, already poor country want to base their development off a country whose shortcomings are becoming obvious as time passes? This includes U.S. use of coal, natural gas, and other methods of dirty energy to supply 75% of electricity (as stated slightly differently by Dallin above and confirmed by Pimental et al.).

      So yes, the argument that wealthy nations need to develop environmentally sustainable practices themselves before assisting developing countries is valid. However, nations such as the European Union which generate electricity by using 20% renewable resources as of 2010 (European Commission on Energy) comparison the the 13% mentioned to be used by the U.S. are the ones that should in fact be helping promote sustainable development in poorer countries, as these simple statistics show that they are moving at a faster pace towards developing sustainable technologies which will ultimately benefit developing countries in the long term, as well as promote environmental protection.

      “Energy: Energy figures by country – European Commission.” Energy: Energy figures by country – European Commission. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 July 2014.

      Pimentel, David, et al. “Renewable Energy: Current and Potential Issues Renewable energy technologies could, if developed and implemented, provide nearly 50% of US energy needs; this would require about 17% of US land resources.” Bioscience 52.12 (2002): 1111-1120.

  2. Jacob K.

    Finding a happy medium in foreign aid policy
    to ensure prosperity today and tomorrow.

    There has been much debate, at least in contemporary times, over what way and to what extent wealthy nations should provide humanitarian aid to lesser developed countries. I am writing this assuming that a vast majority of Americans believe that financially well-to-do countries have an obligation to provide assistance to those in need–as was argued in Peter Singer’s essay “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” in 1972. Even as the United States was recovering from the economic recession of 2009, a majority of Americans still insisted on either maintaining or increasing foreign aid (Pew Research 2013). In my opinion, then, whether or not to help foreigners in need is not a subject for discussion.

    The question still remains, however: How much and in what way should the U.S. assist these disadvantaged countries? The first qualification one must make when answering this question involves intentions. If we, the United States, are to help these countries, it must be clear that our end-goal involves the actual betterment of the society we are helping. Just as China contributed a better part of its aid to Africa between 2010 and 2012 in order to protect its method of resource extraction in the area (Blanchard and Rajagopalan 2014), so too has the U.S. has undoubtedly provided foreign financial assistance out of self-interest in the past. These kinds of practices seem morally questionable to me, and I feel as though good intentions are a must.

    With good intentions, then, I think the best approach to U.S. foreign aid spending lies in policies that promote temporary relief while simultaneously pushing the countries in need toward a safer future. This approach, in any given crisis, would entail the following:

    (1) Maintaining the current budget for aid

    (2) Providing just enough non-monetary assistance to prevent mass suffering (as would be determined by a well-informed group [e.g., the United Nations])

    (3) Investing what money remains in the budget into programs vital in preventing another, similar catastrophe from occurring. If, for example, the catastrophe resulted from food shortage, then money would be invested into farms and businesses associated with agricultural production.

    (4) Appointing members of respected humanitarian groups to see to the proper use of the money invested.

    Finding a “sweet spot,” as I like to call it, regarding the amount of foreign aid provided and also the way in which it is spent by the United States, will help not only to alleviate immediate problems such as starvation and national disaster, but also to help the countries affected to secure a more predictable future. Critics of my proposal will likely question the ideal nature of the investment portion of the plan’s execution, stating that enforcing the money’s proper spending will be a monumental task and would frequently fail. I would respond by agreeing that some money will undoubtedly be spent improperly, but the benefits of its successful uses will make the venture worthwhile.

    Blanchard, Ben, and Megha Rajagopalan. “China Says More Than Half of Foreign Aid Given to Africa.” Reuters. 10 July 2014. Web. 15 July 2014.

    Pew Research Center.. “As Sequester Deadline Looms, Little Support for Cutting Most Programs.” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press RSS. Pew Research Center, 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 July 2014.

    Singer, Peter. 1972. “Famine, Affluence, and Morality.” Philosophy and Public Affairs. Vol. 1, No. 3.

  3. Page L.

    There is no doubt about the fact that wealthy countries are the dominating force in our world. While they may not hold all of the resources or raw materials our planet has to offer, they have the power to obtain them and sustain themselves, while sometimes exploiting less wealthy countries in the process. Within this circular cycle of wealthy countries relying on less well off countries for one reason or another, the importance to give back to those countries is of the utmost importance.

    One moral obligation I believe wealthy countries have towards poor countries is to reduce the negative externalities bestowed upon the less fortunate countries and to have some kind of compensation plan installed when they do encounter such problems. It would be most efficient to implement this plan on a state level, evaluating more thoroughly where our resources are coming from, and acting in accordance to a set of restrictions regarding the benefits being seen by the less developed countries doing the majority of the labor (Watkins 2003: 2).

    Besides the fact that helping the disadvantaged is the morally sound thing to do and the “magnitude of inequality that’s currently at play is radically unjust” (Miller 2008), “rich countries should [also] care [to lend a hand] because global health serves their national interests.” (Gostin 2009) If international assistance were structured in a way that was sufficient enough to actually meet the needs of populations and was sustainable in the long term, it would have a “dramatic influence on the life prospects of the world’s poorest populations” (Gostin 2009).

    The most valid counter argument to consider not implementing a compensation plan to counter act unintended externalities that wealthy countries are ultimately responsible for is the idea of survival of the fittest. The question is why should wealthy countries subsidize poor nations in any way if they can’t make it on their own, or might fail with the little help we can give them? Industrial countries are a blameworthy aspect of poor countries’ lack of progress towards development and higher incomes. There is no sensible reason why wealthier, and more developed countries shouldn’t give back to nations they rely on to sustain their own realms.

    Gostin, Lawrence O. “Why rich countries should care about the world’s least healthy people.” JAMA 298.1 (2007): 89-92.

    Miller, David. “National responsibility and global justice.” Critical review of international social and political philosophy 11.4 (2008): 383-399.

    Watkins, Kevin, and Joachim Von Braun. “Time to stop dumping on the world’s poor.” Trade Policies and Food Security (2003): 1-18.

    • Carly F.

      There Will Be No Development While There is Still Hunger

      Response to Page

      It is clear that wealthy countries are generally better off then those less fortunate countries. Proper financing and efficient technologies allow for these wealthier countries to continue maintaining their population’s needs. When considering the concept of morality there is clearly an obligation upon wealthy countries to aid those less fortunate. Creating a plan to implement and enforce restrictions on the amount of negative externalities allowed in order to limit burden on less developed countries is a really important concept. But is it a strong moral obligation?

      To have moral obligation means to identify the difference between what is right and wrong and act upon the identified injustice. When considering this, it seems that a really strong moral obligation of wealthy nations to poor nations is that of extinguishing hunger. 1 in 5 individuals will go without eating every single day. Access to food is a basic human right that many individuals are deprived of and hunger is a leading cause for death across the globe. “Some symptoms of hunger I’m experiencing: sleeplessness; irritability (also occasional patience and gentleness, obviously not bad things, but see “weakness”); stomach cramping and other gastrointestinal symptoms; general achiness; headache…” according to an article from the New York Times (Bittman 2011, para 2). Many of these symptoms will also reduce the productivity of these people, making life even more difficult when attempting to maintain and job and family without proper sustenance.

      Hunger is a truly damaging problem that will require solving before any other issue in regards to moral obligation to LDCs. People simply cannot survive without access to food and give them the proper amounts of the correct nutrients. In another NY Times article, author Andrew Martin discusses the discovery of the fact that the world, as a whole, does produce enough food to feed the entire human population, the only issue with this is that the resources are not where they are needed. As Martin states, “the aid system has often been ineffective in alleviating hunger in a timely way and in addressing broader agriculture problems facing impoverished countries”(Martin 2009 para 9). By solving the problems that the world faces with hunger would be the first step in ensuring that all humans have access to basic human rights.

      Although ensuring that wealthy countries monitor externalities is a very important concept, there are other moral obligations that should be considered more severe and should be tending to first. Without strong and healthy people then is will be difficult to make the strives necessary to improve human development.

      Bittman, Mark. March 31, 2011. Stating the Obvious: Hunger Is a Disease. http://bittman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/31/stating-the-obvious-hunger-is-a-disease/?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Aw%2C%7B%222%22%3A%22RI%3A15%22%7D.

      Martin, Andrew. September 19, 2009. So Much Food. So Much Hunger. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/weekinreview/20martin.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Aw%2C%7B%222%22%3A%22RI%3A15%22%7D.

    • Bryn G.

      Wishful Thinking: The Problems with Environmental Compensation

      Response to Page

      The concern I have with your argument is the subjectivity of the extent of a problem and tracing origins of the cause back to the source as well as the demonstrated lack of commitment to such solutions by wealthy countries. Is the assessment of the true severity of a problem a cost-benefit analysis, with the numbers harmed by the actions taken, similar to the type Sustein champions? Is it correlated to the extent of resources from the poorer country used by the wealthy country, or is it related to the pollution output? What is to be done for countries with proxy governments that have proven to be ineffective and corrupt, or in countries that are being hardest hit by climate change, such as Kiribati?

      You state that industrialized countries have a role in lack of progress by poorer countries. This is a valid point – exploitation is a common theme throughout the developing world, and inequality is on the rise the world over. But I highly doubt anyone would like to raise taxes or change funding from domestic concerns to international ones. Americans already contribute less to foreign aid as a fraction of GNP than most OECD countries (OECD Aid).

      Even intra-state compensation for exogenic environmental degradation is problematic. Consider the controversy surrounding the previous agreed upon payments by BP for the Gulf oilspill – BP is arguing that the beaches are clean and there is no need to pay the rest of the owed money, even though the US Coast guard says that the clean up isn’t finished (Young, BP & The Real State of the Gulf). Compensation is required here, but the guilty party is trying to worm out of it, and the international system is too weak to enforce it, relying on national-level justice systems to hold companies to their environmental promises.

      Consider the island nation of Kiribati. Rising sea levels are threatening to drown the islands. The government recently purchased land in Fiji as a contingency plan for the population of 100,000. Kiribati is one of the world’s poorest countries with an income less than 2,000 USD per capita (Dizard, Kirbati buys land in Fiji). They produce nearly none of the carbon dioxide that is raising sea levels and threatening their home, yet they are suffering for the sins of wealthier countries. Do wealthy countries have a moral obligation to help move the Kiribati people away from their sinking home? How would compensation be implemented? Would the amount donated to the Kiribati people be equivalent proportionately to the amount the wealthy country has polluted? Would they offer refugee status to the people seeking it? If refuge for the Kiribati was decreed to be Detroit, would the change in life and culture evinced by such a radical environmental change be “just compensation?”

      The problem concerning compensation for harm done is that the damage can be difficult to quantify. Wealthier countries have an obligation to the poor ones, but almost everything in the modern world can be blamed on the richer countries. The limits of compensation and responsibility must be recognized and handled.

      Dizard, Wilson. “Plagued by sea-level rise, Kiribati buys land in Fiji.” Aljazeera America. Aljazeera America, 1 July 2014. Web. 19 July 2014.

      “Development aid rose in 2009 and most donors will meet 2010 aid targets.” OECD. OECD, 14 Apr. 2010. Web. 18 July 2014.

      Young, Tom. “BP & The Real State of the Gulf – Pollution Report for Thursday, July 17, 2014.” The Legal Examiner. Claris Law, 17 July 2014. Web. 19 July 2014.

  4. Michael S.

    Obligations of the Wealthy

    Collective action of redistribution of resources is a difficult topic to pick apart because it’s so complex politically. However moral issues of resource inequality don’t seem quite as complex. Within our assigned reading of Hardin, Beitz, and Singer, we were able to get multiple arguments for and against redistribution of resources. Through these articles and my own moral stance I believe that wealthy countries absolutely have an obligation or duty to help poor countries that are in need of particular resources.

    Much like we discussed in class I believe that immediate help is absolutely justified (much like Singers shallow pond idea) when there is an imminent threat to a human population that without your help will end in unnecessary deaths. For redistribution to work this way the argument would fall in between Hardin and Singer, where Hardin is much too cynical and Singer is much too extreme. An in between position that I believe should be adopted to help developing countries in need is to keep countries from unnecessary deaths by distributing some of our resources through international aid. According to the article on BBC News: “One Third of World’s Food Is Wasted, Says U.N. Study,” “consumers in rich countries waste almost 222 million tons, the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.” This amount of waste is not acceptable in my opinion, and it shows the lack of morality that wealthy countries seem to accept as international or public policy today. Other staggering evidence written by Eric Gimenez for the Huffington Post in his article: “We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People, But Can’t End Hunger,” says that we “already produce 1.5 times enough food to feed everyone on the planet.” When wealthy countries hold this amount of food there is without doubt a moral obligation to help poor countries that are starving.

    I think that capacity does entail duty but to the extent that Singer defines as, “It is only when the costs of helping those in need are not too great that we have a duty to come to their aid.” I believe this is one of the best ways at looking at duty because it doesn’t require that you give up all your resources or that you give up your IPhone 6 to buy food for the poor, but it says that the capacity to help when it won’t hurt your wallet is all that is necessary. I think that wealthy countries have a moral obligation to attempt to impact the issue of world hunger in a way that would redistribute resources and food to developing countries with high levels of poverty. Moral obligations should be able to supersede foreign or even public policy, so that wealthy countries can improve the welfare of poor countries that don’t have the means or resources to do so themselves.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/world-hunger_b_1463429.html.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13364178.

  5. Seth J.

    A Moral Responsibility to Lend a Hand

    Inequality is a reality that can never truly be overcome, because the treatment of people as equals is not always equality. Scholars use this logic to rationalize protecting children and older people from environmental risk, but this logic has many more applications. The most prominent application of this same logic is in the implementation of regulatory environmental policy and resource distribution between developed countries and developing countries.

    By this point in the global energy crisis, many have argued that withholding the resources necessary for the third world to develop in any way is morally wrong. The developed world had a large advantage over the rest of the world because their industrial peak occurred before ecological limits forced us to face the problem of finite resources and exponential population growth. Meanwhile, the underdeveloped world is left to degrade finite resources such as forests and oil reserves while well-to-do countries make no effort to help them (Eckholm 1977). If we are to follow Singer’s philosophy of morality, we must accept that putting any limit on another state’s ability to prosper is equivalent to sacrificing a moral good that cannot be measured (Singer 231). The developed world is inhibiting the third world’s ability to advance technologically simply by withholding technologies and resources that are at its disposal. These finite resources could be used in a much better way to prevent starvation, death and general suffering among millions of people born outside of arbitrary state lines. Also, developed countries are the only countries that have the resources to continue pushing the limit of technology and implementing it incrementally into a more sustainable system that can then be used for the good of humanity. As such, it is the duty of developed countries to share resources, technology and policy with countries that need development to survive.

    This argument is comprehensive and morally attractive, however it is not sustainable. The biggest problem with this normative argument is that it is simply unrealistic. Underdeveloped countries are usually so because they do not have a stable political system to which they can delegate the feat of technological advancement. If severely underdeveloped countries were given technology that was too advanced, they could see a phenomenon similar to the resource curse (Mehlum et. al. 2006). Under this counter-argument, it would be morally wrong to promote policy or technology that would only promote an autocratic regime to give wealth to the leaders of a country.

    Another counterargument that can be made is that the developed countries only have an obligation to protect their citizens. While this may sound reasonable, we must remind ourselves that this argument could only hold true if each state was unaffected by the environmental policies of other states. Since developed countries have brought the world to the brink of ecological limits, it is their responsibility to bring the world back from the brink of collapse through a change in lifestyle to a sustainable system.

    Eckholm, Erik P., and M. H. Glantz. The other energy crisis. Westview Press., 1977. http://www.cabdirect.org/abstracts/19802605465.html.

    Mehlum, H., Moene, K. and Torvik, R. (2006), Institutions and the Resource Curse. The Economic Journal, 116: 1–20. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0297.2006.01045.x.

    Singer, Peter. Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1. No. 3, pp. 229-243. Blackwell Publishing. Accessed 14 July 2014.

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