Why Global Inequality Matters: Derivative Global Egalitarianism

Publication Date01 Oct 2011
AuthorAndrej Keba,Ayse Kaya
Abstract: This article integrates empirical and normative discussions about why
global economic inequalities matter in critically examining an approach known
as derivative global egalitarianism(DGE). DGE is a burgeoning perspective that
opposes excessive global economic inequality not based on the intrinsic value
of equality but inequality’s negative repercussions on other values. The article
aims to advance the research agenda by identifying and critically evaluating four
primary varieties of DGE arguments from related but distinct literatures, which
span a number of disciplines, including economics, international relations, and
political philosophy. Overall, DGE offers a number of persuasive arguments as
to why current levels of global inequality are of concern, but aspects of DGE
beg further philosophical and empirical examination. By situating DGE within
the wider theoretical and empirical contexts, this article provides resources for
its critical assessment and theoretical development.
Keywords: Egalitarianism, fairness, globalization, inequality, poverty, self-
Inequality is a central theme in debates about globalization. Scholars have
examined both global inequality –which is income inequality among individuals
across the world and international inequality, which is inequality between
countries measured by their mean income differences.1Critics of globalization
see persistent inequalities across the world as further proof that neoliberal
economics has failed to raise the living standards of the poor.2Yet those that look
more favourably upon globalization see little relationship between inequality
Journal of International Political Theory, 7(2) 2011, 140–164
DOI: 10.3366/jipt.2011.0012
© Edinburgh University Press 2011
Why Global Inequality Matters: Derivative Global Egalitarianism
and globalization, or argue that the failure of certain countries to adopt policies
that allowed other countries to benef‌it from globalization is not a justif‌ication to
criticize globalization (Wolf 2004). At the same time, existing inequalities can
be regarded as stumbling blocks in engendering meaningful cooperation among
states. Consider, for instance, the myriad objections to the way in which the
WorldTrade Organization (WTO) informally advantages great economic powers
over smaller ones (Stiglitz 2006). Furthermore, prevalent inequalities obviously
raise questions about global distributive justice, not merely what the duties
toward the worse-off should be, but what kind of moral considerations ground
those duties. Regardless of whether globalization which is the increasing
interdependence of the world through the cross-border movement of goods,
services, capital, and information can be implicated for existing economic
inequalities across the world, and regardless of whether global and international
inequality are increasing (Wolf and Wade 2002), the fact remains: today
inequality among individuals across the world is so high that it is higher than the
inequality within most countries, including some notoriously unequal ones such
as South Africa (Sutcliffe 2007). In this context, scholars have debated whether
and why global inequality matters (Beitz 2001; Wolf and Wade 2002; Scanlon
2003; Birdsall 2004; Pogge 2007b).
This article aims to advance this debate by providing a detailed critical
account of derivative global egalitarianism (DGE). Various arguments that can
be labelled as derivativeglobal egalitarianism oppose excessive global economic
inequality on grounds that are distinct from the value of equality.3‘Derivative’
arguments condemn economic inequality, treating ‘inequality as a bad thing
because of its consequences for values which are distinct from equality itself’
(Beitz 2001: 97). Thus the derivative claim is that one does not have to f‌ind an
equal distribution morally desirable to consider an unequal distribution morally
objectionable (Beitz 2001: 97). DGE focuses on objectionable social phenomena
that are correlated with global inequality, such as the curtailment of poverty-
reduction efforts and the erosion of procedural fairness within multilateral
institutions. DGE is valuable as it promises to appeal to a broader audience than
those egalitarians that consider equality as intrinsically valuable.4
Our discussion of DGE has two principal aims. The f‌irst aim is to critically
synthesize various arguments that can be categorized as DGE. A critical
synthesis may seem like a simple task, but the project is hardly straightforward.
Arguments that can be considered derivative egalitarian are dispersed over a
number of distinct literatures, including economics (Milanovic 2005), political
economy (Wade 2007), political philosophy (O’Neill 2008; Scanlon 2003),
and international relations (Beitz 2001). The article brings together similar
objections to global inequality raised by these various disciplines and tries
to generate a dialogue between compatible yet disconnected arguments that
fall under the rubric of DGE.5In so doing, our goal will not be to provide
arguments for or against derivative global egalitarianism. In fact, a central claim

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