Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

Poor Countries and Development: A Critique of Nicole Hassoun and a Defense of the Argument for Good Institutional Quality

Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

Poor Countries and Development: A Critique of Nicole Hassoun and a Defense of the Argument for Good Institutional Quality

Article excerpt

Introduction and the problem statement

For Miller (2007, p. 51), anyone surveying the current state of people in the world cannot help but be struck by the vast disparity in living standards and life prospects between the global rich and the global poor. In other words, one of the fundamental facts of contemporary global economic (and political) reality is the existence of the rich countries of the global North (hereafter the rich) and the existence of the poor countries of the global South (hereafter the poor). This economic inequality has spurred many moral and political thinkers, as well as other thinkers, into action. Some thinkers, regarded as communitarians, [1] contend (among others) that there are no associational ties, or what Miller (1995, p. 50) calls 'relational facts' (that reasonably ground claims for domestic justice), between the global rich and the global poor, apart from the fact that the problem of the poor is not causally connected, at least in the direct sense, to the prosperity of the rich. Therefore, any assistance from the rich to the poor is a duty of charity (and, thus, morally supererogatory), but not a duty of justice (and, thus, not morally obligatory). For instance, Miller (1995, p. 49) notes that 'the idea of nationality is that nations are ethical communities. In acknowledging a national identity, I am also acknowledging that I owe special obligations to fellow members of my nation which I do not owe to other human beings'.

On the contrary, some thinkers, regarded as cosmopolitans, [2] argue extensively that the problem of inequality between the rich and the poor should be concretely addressed by the former. According to some proponents of cosmopolitanism (for example, Pogge, 2010), there is a causal nexus between the design of the global institutional order, which is largely influenced and controlled by the global rich, and the problem of the global poor. Ironically, the consensus among the cosmopolitans does not go beyond their general support for the transnational address of the problem of the global poor; their considered views, however, substantially divide on how best to address the problem. In sum, there are many strands of cosmopolitanism, and arguments advanced by their proponents, the details of which the space here does not permit a discussion (see, for example, Slaughter, 2010, pp. 184-185). The focus of this work is on a specific strand of cosmopolitanism advanced by Hassoun (2014) that international aid to the poor should not be conditional on the quality status of their domestic institutions. One could call this non-domestic-institutional cosmopolitanism. It is non-domestic-institutional because the relevance of the quality of domestic institutions is not given much consideration relative to domestic poverty reduction, and it is cosmopolitan because transnational assistance is still taken as very important to domestic poverty reduction, regardless of the quality status of domestic institutions. But this present work takes Hassoun's position as problematic. It may be true that giving aid to the poor without consideration of the quality status of their social institutions may serve their immediate purposes. However, if the poor are not to be consigned and confined to the margins of perpetual dependence, then due attention should rather be devoted to encouraging good reform of their domestic institutions, given that quality institutions largely and positively influence, in spite of other considerations, human development in the final analysis. To defend the thesis of the work, an attempt will be made to show whyand howdomestic and transnational institutions do matter to the growth and poverty reduction of a poor country. Before embarking on the noted exercise, however, both development and institution need to be conceptually discussed.

The work is divided into five sections. The introductory section is followed by a second section, which focuses on some preliminary conceptual discussions; the third section presents Nicole Hassoun's basic argument; the fourth section articulates a constructively critical response to Hassoun's argument, advancing the significance of good quality institutions to growth and poverty reduction, in the process, and also offering some prescriptions for ensuring good quality institutions in poor countries; and the fifth section summarizes and concludes the discussion. …

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