Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

Category: Duties (Page 1 of 3)

If everything is measured, can we still see one another as equals?

Relational egalitarians hold what matters for justice is that all members of a society “stand in relations of equality to others.” The idea that all human beings are moral equals is widely shared: it underlies the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many national constitutions. How will this norm be affected by the arrival of “big data,” the collecting and analysing of huge amounts of data about individuals? Internet companies and government services collect data about individuals’ activities, including geographic locations, shopping behaviour and friendships. Many individuals voluntarily share such information on social media, some also track their physical activities in meticulous details. Experts expect that “people analytics” – big data applied to the measurement of work performance – will have a revolutionary impact on labour markets.

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Maternity leave: why should employers pay?

Labour Market Injustice

Labour markets are rife with questions of justice. This series of blog posts; explore cases of injustice, highlight theoretical puzzles and point towards possible solutions. They emerged from debates at the ‘Labour Market Injustice’ Workshop co-hosted by Newcastle and Durham Universities and generously sponsored by the Society for Applied Philosophy.  In this fourth post Sarah Goff discusses bearing the costs of maternity leave.

In a 2004 interview, Donald Trump described pregnancy as an inconvenience” for business. Whether or not this remark reveals anything about President Trump’s intentions for his promised reforms to maternity leave in the U.S., it seems plausible as a statement of fact. For a business, it often will be an inconvenience for employees to have a legal right to take a leave of absence and return to their positions without penalty. Of course, the cost of providing paid leave is additional to any costs incurred from the inconvenience of the leave-taking itself.

Observing that there are costs to maternity leave does not imply new mothers lack a moral right to take it. The observation simply raises the question of who is responsible for bearing these costs. The case for employers to provide paid maternity leave is less strong than the case for employers to accommodate new mothers in taking a period of leave with a right to return to their jobs. While only employers can bear the cost of the inconvenience to business, there are many feasible arrangements for other actors to bear the costs of providing financial support during maternity leave. In fact, there is substantial variation across societies in: public provision for paid maternity leave, legal mandates on employers to provide paid leave, employers’ provision of paid leave in excess of legal requirements (particularly in high paying industries where there is a business interest in retaining skilled employees), and social and cultural practices of support for new parents from extended families and kinship networks.

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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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The Future of Disabilities: Will prenatal testing transform bad brute luck into a case of expensive tastes?

A few days ago, the UK’s Department of Health approved the roll-out of new non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT). The case in favour of NIPT is clear: it will provide diagnoses of Down’s syndrome with 99% accuracy and, as opposed to current tests like amniocentesis, will have no secondary effects on the mother or foetus.

But Sally Phillips’ BBC documentary ‘A World Without Down’s Syndrome?’, which aired earlier in the month, brought the issue to the attention of the general public in the hope of launching – or, more precisely, rekindling – the public debate concerning the ethics around technological developments in genetic screening. It asks us to think about the possible implications of NIPT for our society and, in particular, for people with Down’s syndrome – like her 11-year-old son, Olly.

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Experiencing and responding to hate

This post has been published anonymously to protect the identity of its author, who is still receiving messages of hate.

Recently I did a radio interview in which I argued for equal access to certain social services, such as health care, for migrants and refugees. I did not focus on the instrumental value migrants have for countries – I did not focus on the economic and health benefits everyone has if people on the same territory are able to work, and are healthy and sane. I focused on the broader ethical arguments for equal access, even though I mentioned the instrumental arguments too. Perhaps I should have expected that not everyone would agree with my views. But nothing could possibly have prepared me for the hate mail that I received after the interview. In this post, I try to describe the experience and make a plea for greater solidarity in standing against such hate.

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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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Migration & Feasibility: Real Constraints or Cheap Excuses?

border-fence-becoming-birds

In the current discussions about our duties (of justice) towards refugees, feasibility constraints are often invoked to justify the limits of what can be done: Austria has to close its borders and limit the number of daily asylum applications due to feasibility constraints, the feasibility limit of refugees admitted to the European Union as part of the current resettlement scheme with Turkey is set at 172.000 or mayors of various cities claim that it is not possible for them to shelter refugees.

Following these debates, I often gain the impression that infeasibility claims are invoked far too easily. Hardly ever they are based on feasibility studies and often they seem more of an excuse to shy away from our duties (of justice). At the same time, powerful arguments for the need to account for feasibility constraints when identifying our duties of justice in the non-ideal real world have been put forward in the literature on non-ideal theories of justice: what justice demands from us should not go beyond what we can possibly do. How is it possible to account for feasibility considerations in this later sense, without allowing them to become a cheap excuse in political debate to shy away from our duties of justice towards refugees?

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Why good intentions need informed intentions

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In discussions about climate change and climate justice, there has been quite some debate about individual duties – should we try to change our lifestyle to reduce emissions, or should we try to influence political processes that bring about institutional change? It always seemed to me that the correct answer is: do both, or whatever you are able to do. Given how drastic the consequences of climate change are likely to be, and given how climate-unfriendly our Western lifestyle typically is, this seemed the right answer. Wouter Peeters has made this case in previous posts, so there is no need to repeat the arguments here. But I’ll add a third point: in our attempts to do good, we also have a duty to be as well-informed as possible.

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It’s raining men, hallelujah! On migration and sex ratios

In a recent article in Politico Magazine, professor in political sciences Valerie Hudson (Texas A&M University) addresses an often neglected consequence of the current migration crisis. As most of the one million migrants from the Middle East and North Africa that arrived in Europe in 2015 are young men, recent mass migration potentially disrupts the gender balance in European countries with liberal migration policies. Although The Economist notices that for big countries, like Germany, the effect of recent immigration on the already existing gender imbalance is negligible, changes in sex ratio might indeed be considerable in countries with less than 10 million citizens, like Sweden, Hungary, Austria and Norway.

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“Refugees” and “economic migrants” – a morally problematic distinction

More than a million migrants and refugees have crossed European borders in the last year, posing yet another challenge to European unity. There is one thing that really strikes me in the public debate about how to deal with this huge influx: people tend to take it for granted that the legal distinction between “refugees” and “economic migrants” and the differential treatment that goes with it are morally justified. There is a broad consensus that, of course, we have to grant asylum to people fleeing from the horrors of the Syrian civil war, but that we are justified in refusing asylum to people escaping from poverty. But is there a morally relevant difference between taking refuge from poverty and escaping from war? I do not think that there is, and hence believe that the differential treatment of the two groups is unjust.

The legal point of reference for the distinction is the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.

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