Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

Category: Democracy (Page 2 of 3)

TTIP and Human Rights: The Need to Fight Harmful Tax Practices

Matthias Goldmann is Junior Professor of International Public Law and Financial Law at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. This guest post is Part 1 of a special series on TTIP that we’ll be running in the coming weeks.

Anti-TTIP protesters in London, 2014. Wikimedia Commons.

Anti-TTIP protesters in London, 2014. Wikimedia Commons.

The ongoing debate about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has shed new light on the effects of trade on economic and social equality. While it is well understood in theory that free trade is likely to generate aggregate welfare benefits, in practice the allocation of these benefits seems to be highly unequal. In developed economies, free trade might lead to the outsourcing of jobs of low-skilled workers to places with lower labor costs. In developing economies, trade might generate low-skilled jobs, but with international competition preventing wages from rising. Entrepreneurs and trading companies rather than workers seem to collect a large share of the benefits of international trade. As I will argue, this threatens the economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights) of low-skilled workers. Free trade agreements (FTAs) are therefore only acceptable to the extent that participating governments take measures to mitigate their impact on low-skilled workers. To generate revenue for such measures, states should devise strategies to combat international tax evasion and tax competition.

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Euthanasia and Slippery Slope Arguments

One argument made against the proposal to legalise assisted dying in the UK is that making this change might result in older citizens feeling pressured to choose death, increased pressure on people to think about and defend their existence, and theslippery-slope inevitable acceptance of voluntary and, then, involuntary and non-voluntary euthanasia. This kind of argument can be called a slippery slope argument. A
slippery slope argument claims that if we make a proposed policy change, other changes or outcomes will occur, and because these other outcomes are objectionable, we should not make the policy change. I am generally sceptical of slippery slope arguments and in this post I wish to register some issues with their use.

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Are financial markets – markets?

Philippine-stock-market-board

(source: wikimedia)

What a weird question, you may think. But consider:

  • In textbook markets, what is traded are products that are supposedly useful to customers. What is traded in many financial markets are highly artificial contractual arrangements that are several layers away from what happens in the real economy.
  • In textbook markets, participants are liable to go bankrupt if they overspend. In financial markets, some market participants know that they are too big to fail, creating problems of “moral hazard.”
  • In textbook markets, participants are expected to inform themselves about the products they trade. At least in some financial markets, what matters are not the “fundamentals” (e.g. the economic success of a company the shares of which are traded), but what other participants do. Many participants try to make profits by outrunning market movements or “sentiments”; this can lead to large swings, in disconnect from fundamentals

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More thoughts on the £35,000 threshold – a response to Jesper Pedersen

The UK government has recently announced that it is raising the income threshold for non-EU citizens who wish to immigrate to the UK from £20,800 to £35,000. This threshold will apply not just to new immigrants, but also to those who have lived in the UK already for more than five years. It is the contention of this post that this new £35,000 threshold is not just unwise or poorly thought out, but also unjust.

Jesper Pedersen considers this issue with admirable even-handedness, but what if, rather than doing anything akin to sitting on this particular fence, we wanted to vault right over it, and claim – as I do here – that the policy is unjust? What support for making this statement could we muster?

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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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Voters or residents: how should we draw our electoral map?

In recent months, the Right in both Britain and the US have been accused of trying to manipulate electoral rules to increase the influence of their supporters, and diminish the power of left-leaning voters. Both cases raise important questions about the objectives and principles underpinning electoral democracy, and specifically who elected representatives are supposed to represent.

At the heart of the dilemma is the question of how electoral districts should be drawn.

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What can republicanism offer the left?

the republican magazine

When you tell people that you work on republicanism, you are often met by a concerned look. You then have to rush to explain that by ‘republicanism’ you, of course, do not mean the party of Trump and Palin. Nor – you then have to add – do you only mean that you take a particular dislike to Elizabeth Windsor. This public understanding of republicanism looks set to only get worse, with the French centre-right UMP party, last year, successfully renaming itself Les Républicains.

The prospects for recovering republicanism for leftist politics might therefore not seem particularly promising. The label ‘republican’ might simply be too poisoned by its associations with right-wing parties or too easily reduced to narrow anti-monarchism, to be of much use to radicals and progressives. Yet, despite these concerns, I do think that republicanism has something to offer to the left.¹ I believe that its values of popular sovereignty, civic virtue and freedom, and the political proposals we can draw from them, make a recovery of republicanism attractive.

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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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Leaders and their responsibility for knowledge

This article in the Guardian, which some members of our team have shared on Facebook, suggests that the British prime minister David Cameron may have (had) no clue about what his policies did to local services. If we assume that this is true, it raises a moral question of great importance for today’s societies: how can leaders make sure that they know enough about the consequences of their decisions to make decisions at all?

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Mass incarceration

One thing that I learned as a PhD student at Oxford was that philosophically interesting questions and questions about existing injustice do not always overlap – some existing practices are so obviously wrong from a normative perspective, I was told, that there is no point in writing normative theories about them. This seems right for certain cases, but I still haven’t quite made up my mind about whether it is always true.

I remember this Oxford seminar while reading this utterly depressing piece about incarceration and its effect on black communities in the U.S. in this month’s issue of the Atlantic.

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