Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

Author: Jesper L Pedersen

Is Aid Effective?

Picture a hospital, bringing in thousands of people every day who suffer from a host of different ailments, many of them contagious. If you go there for one reason, there is a risk you will end up suffering from something else by the time you leave: a complex medical procedure could go wrong, or – more likely – you could end up catching something from a fellow patient or a visitor. Working there puts you in an equally dangerous situation, as you spend your days alongside seriously ill people. A hospital, in short, has a “negative baseline” of secondary effects that must be overcome for it to be beneficial to the community it serves. Yet very few people would be bold enough to suggest we would be better off without hospitals.

This is development economist Paul Collier’s (2006, p. 1485) defence of development aid. I believe it strikes at the heart of a common misconception about aid. And it matters when it comes to the philosophical question of what we owe to others.

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The case for a duty of development assistance

A cash transfer recipient in Kenya, in front of the house he built with the money, in 2014. Photo: GiveDirectly.

The New Statesman journalist Stephen Bush recently predicted that, having achieved their life-long dream of taking Britain out of the EU, the right-wing press’s next target will be DfiD and Britain’s commitment to foreign aid.

The Daily Mail, in particular, have already sharpened their knives. One day they rail about British tax-payer money going to expensive middle-men and consultants. The next, they’re up in arms about in the developing world. Never mind that this form of aid – with no strings attached and no stipulations on what the money can or cannot be used for – has been tested by independent experts and shown to provide one of the highest returns on investment, helping the most people at the lowest expense to the British state.

A robust defence of development assistance is needed. I intend this post to be the first of a number in 2017, arguing for Britain and other developed countries to spend at least the 0.7% of GDP, which has been internationally agreed upon, on development assistance. (Britain is currently one of only six countries to do so, alongside the Netherlands Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden).

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How to recognise bullshit on the Internet

Following Trump’s shocking election win last Tuesday, this picture was shared by thousands of people across both the world and my Facebook feed:

trumppeople

I, like I suspect most people I know, wanted to believe it. It just sounds so true. He totally would say that! They would buy it! It speaks to all my prejudices, and when trying to make sense of what just happened, it provides a bit of solace.

It’s too good to be true though, innit? It just fits a little too perfectly, the quote’s too prescient, its message too convenient. Indeed, as it turns out, the quote is completely fabricated. It first surfaced around October 2015, and has periodically made its return in sync with Trump’s successes over the past year.

This is fairly emblematic of how our news are generated these days, and the tendency was clear in the US elections. Facebook was flooded with highly partisan posts and articles on either side of the fence. Some, like Breitbart, are designed to be highly partisan. But a lot of it has to do with incentive structures: Online, most companies make their money from clicks rather than subscriptions. This creates an incentive to generate articles that conform to people’s preconceived notions, as they’ll be more likely to read and share them. And clicks mean advertising revenue. A BuzzFeed article recently exposed how a city in Macedonia had become a hub for far-right conspiracy nonsense on Facebook. They simply repackaged articles elsewhere and shared them with their followers with zero regard for factual accuracy. This is not only a right-wing phenomenon, however. On the left, The Canary is a particularly glaring example. It’s the worst of both worlds: A heavily partisan editorial stance, and an payment structure that pays authors per click, incentivising sensationalism.

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Should MPs be subject to mandatory deselection?

This post will be fairly UK-centric. Apologies to non-Brits, or anyone who’s simply had enough of British politics for now.

Since Jeremy Corbyn re-established his control over the Labour Party on Saturday, it seems inevitable that he’ll try to assert more control over the party. This may involve a number of measures, such as lowering the threshold for getting on the leadership ballot (ensuring his successor will be an ideological ally), and allowing members more direct control over policy-making . But increasingly there is talk of mandatory deselection of MPs who refuse to get behind Corbyn’s leadership. Although Corbyn himself claimed on TV that “most MPs” had no reason to fear it (a reassurance or a threat, depending on where you stand), others have been much more vocal in their demands. The firebrand Unite union leader, Len McCluskey, recently repeated his demand that “despicable” and “disgraceful” MPs lose the right to represent Labour at the next general election. It also seems the policy is popular with the grassroots. At a recent leadership hustings I went to in Durham the prospect of deselecting rebellious MPs came up repeatedly, each time to thunderous applause from the audience.

This is a conflict between competing visions of politics and leadership within Labour, but it’s also about something more fundamental: what is the role and purpose of a political party? It pits those for whom its primary purpose is to achieve its political aims within a democratic system, against those for whom it is, first and foremost, a democratic organisation in and of itself.

In this post I’ll go through some arguments in favour of deselection of MPs, and against. Ultimately I’ll argue that deselection is problematic in all but extreme cases, as MPs are first and foremost accountable to their constituents rather than their members.

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Call for Papers: Global Justice and Political Reality

A two-day workshop discussing direct normative responses to global realities

Durham University, 23rd-24th June 2016

Due to entrenched public opinion, vested interests among elites, global cooperation problems, and a host of other constraints existing systems impose on would-be reformers, there is currently a great distance between what should be done and what can be done. These limitations raise important questions about the role political philosophers can play in helping to guide decision-makers and the appropriate shape of short- and long-term moral and ethical thinking. To what extent should the constraints of political reality shape and/or constrain the way in which we theorise about moral problems? What kinds of normative recommendations can we offer on issues of pressing political import if we hope them to be realised in the foreseeable future? In short, what can demands of global justice require here and now?

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Is the £35,000 rule unjust?

From the 1st April onwards any non-EU immigrant to the UK who does not otherwise have a connection with the country* must earn at least £35,000 by the end of their fifth year here, or otherwise face deportation. This policy is expected to make a small but largely insignificant contribution to lowering net migration numbers.

The commentariat’s verdict has been unequivocally harsh. This discriminatory law, it has been pointed out, will do next to nothing to keep out the kinds of people that draw the ire of the tabloids: unemployed “scroungers” and low-skilled immigrants who, it is claimed, depress the wages of – and take jobs away from ­– low-skilled British workers.

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How do people vote against their own interests?

I spend a disproportionate amount of my free time following the ins and outs of American politics. And one of the most interesting/baffling things about the nominations for the 2016 presidential election is the sheer capacity of the average Republican voter to stomach policy proposals that seem tailor-made to benefit the tiny minority of the wealthiest at the expense of everybody else. For example, all of the Republican front-runners have come out with some form of tax plan that cuts taxes on the wealthiest 1% by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet this doesn’t scare away nearly as many voters as you’d expect — in fact, the race is wide open, and some pundits even suggest the GOP are favourites at this stage. Voting against your own interests is, arguably, a global phenomenon – I’m sure many in the UK will say it happened in the elections in May – but it does seem to be particularly prevalent in the US, perhaps because one of the parties has moved so far to the right on social and economic issues that there is not yet any equivalent in Europe.

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The Quasi-Gated Community

Mount Oswald, DurhamMount Oswald, seen from South Road, Durham.

Just down the road from my home in Durham the new constellation of houses known as Mount Oswald is taking shape, filling up the space that used to belong to a golf club of the same name. One of the 60 newly built four-or-five bedroom houses could be yours for just £520,000 to £730,000, according to the developer. This in a region where the average salary is just £24,000.

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