Time to Consider Global Redistribution?

TONG ZHICHAO
STAFF WRITER AT SAIS NANJING

Over the past few weeks, the whole world has witnessed the terrible aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Thousands of people have been declared dead and millions are now homeless. There have already been countless fund-raising events around the globe aiming to provide aid to Filipinos. But is it aid and generosity that the Philippines needs, or is it a redistribution based on responsibility and justice?

Using arguments offered by Charles R. Beitz and Edward S. Sanford in the milestone work ‘Political Theory and International Relations,’ I believe that Typhoon Haiyan has proven that it is time for us to consider a scheme of global redistributions rather than simple global aid for the whole world.

On a theoretical level, a scheme of global redistribution can be justified at least on two grounds: the arbitrariness of natural entitlements, and economic interdependence.

An example of natural arbitrariness is the distribution of natural resources around the globe. That someone happens to be born in a nation with rich natural resources is entirely arbitrary from a moral point of view. Hence, this “natural lottery” does not provide him or her with the entitlement to exclude people of other countries from benefits derived from these resources.  In a world of scarcity, the appropriation of natural resources by some will lead to a comparative disadvantage for others. Thus those who are deprived of these benefits could reasonably press claims for global redistribution.

Of course, some may question the suitability of such reasoning in the case of the Philippines, as the country itself is rich in natural resources. But one must also recognize that it is the country’s geographical location, another morally arbitrary natural entitlement, that has made it a victim of Typhoon Haiyan. Hence, it is entirely reasonable for Filipinos to ask those who occupy a more advantageous geographical location for compensation.

When it comes to economic interdependence, it is clear that existing global economic institutions have imposed unbalanced burdens on different countries. Economic globalization has already widened the income gap between rich and poor countries even though it produces absolute gains for almost all of them. Hence the justification for domestic redistribution in a welfare state; interdependence and cooperation are also applicable to the international stage. In the case of the Philippines, an even stronger argument can be made from this perspective because both political leaders and climatologists have connected Typhoon Haiyan to climate change, a phenomenon largely caused by economic activities outside the Philippines. Therefore, Filipinos may reasonably demand global redistribution because the disaster itself is the consequence of economic development of other countries.

This reasoning can be viewed as a threat to national sovereignty and present global order. I personally acknowledge that such a global redistribution will face huge practical difficulties even it is justified on theoretical grounds. Still, a radical proposal is worthy of exploration as it helps to raise previously ignored questions.