(source, cartoon by Angel Boligan)
Corruption, or “the misuse of public office for private gain”, is not a human rights violation as such (there is no right not to suffer the consequences of corruption), but it is the cause of various rights violations. Notably, it has an impact on economic growth (see here) and hence also on poverty reduction (given the correlation between growth and poverty reduction, see here). Corruption also has an impact on poverty on the level of individuals rather than countries (and there is a right not to suffer poverty). It’s obvious that individuals can make better use of the funds that they (have to) spend on bribes. As depicted in the cartoon, those that are forced to pay bribes are often people who are already vulnerable.
Moreover, corruption eats away at the rule of law. Even in the most corrupt countries, corruption is usually illegal. If illegal activity becomes normal practice, the rule of law is obviously undermined, with possible consequences for judicial protection in general, including protection of human rights. Even more seriously, corruption is associated with political instability since it tends to reduce citizens’ trust and faith in institutions.
(source, cartoon by John Trever)
People own their own body. Their body is part of their private property. It is something that is theirs; it is the thing par excellence that is their own. It is not common to several people and it cannot be given away. It cannot even be shared or communicated. It is the most private thing there is. Owning your body means that you are the master of it. Other people have no say in the use of your body; they should not use it, hurt it or force you to use it in a certain way. This underpins the security rights such as the right to life, the right to bodily integrity, and the prohibition of torture and slavery. It also implies the right to self-determination and therefore the right to die.
(source, cartoon by Ares)
(source, cartoon by Olle Johansson)
It’s almost trivial to state that terrorism is caused by poverty. But it’s wrong. I don’t claim that poverty has no role whatsoever, or that no single terrorist is driven, in part, by poverty (his own or that of his family/nation/group). Human motivation is complex and obscure. But it appears that other factors are more important. Read more.
As the topic of abortion is back in the news, with the horrible killing of – indeed, terrorist attack on – Dr. Tiller*, maybe it’s useful to link back to one of my older posts on abortion (where I also explain why I believe this is a human rights issue). My position is basically anti-abortion, but I do regret the disdain of many pro-lifers for the rights of the mother. They don’t seem to understand that the rights of the mother should sometimes take precedence (for example when the health or the life of the mother are at risk) and that a tragic choice between mother and fetus should sometimes be decided in favor of the mother. They prefer the simplicity of moral idealism and ignore the tragic nature of a lot of morality in real life.
And neither do they seem to care about the consequences of criminalization of abortion. This quote says it well, I think:
When imagining a future abortion black market and the inherent dangers such a market would introduce to mothers and fetuses alike, I find myself worrying. I worry that it might make matters worse. The life of the mother is sacred, too, and in a black market the most desperate mothers – and especially the poor and the young mothers – would be at a much higher risk then they are now. This hardly seems just. E.D. Kain
We can see what this means in countries where abortion is illegal:
Abortion is illegal in Tanzania (except to save the mother’s life or health), so women and girls turn to amateurs, who may dose them with herbs or other concoctions, pummel their bellies or insert objects vaginally. Infections, bleeding and punctures of the uterus or bowel can result, and can be fatal. Doctors treating women after these bungled attempts sometimes have no choice but to remove the uterus…
Worldwide, there are 19 million unsafe abortions a year, and they kill 70,000 women (accounting for 13 percent of maternal deaths), mostly in poor countries like Tanzania where abortion is illegal, according to the World Health Organization. More than two million women a year suffer serious complications. According to Unicef, unsafe abortions cause 4 percent of deaths among pregnant women in Africa, 6 percent in Asia and 12 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. (source)
The rights of the mother that have to show up in the equation aren’t necessarily limited to health and survival. The right to self-determination of the mother, or her right to decide without government interference what to do with her own body, is perhaps, in some cases, also important enough to override the right to life of the unborn child.
More on abortion and maternal mortality.
Nobody in his right mind would advocate the abolition of prisons. However, no matter how much we agree that putting people in prison is often necessary, we shouldn’t forget that in so doing we limit these people’s human rights. Hence the importance of imprisoning people only when this is necessary.
The problem with the U.S. criminal justice system is that it looks as if this rule isn’t respected: more people are incarcerated than strictly necessary. Just look at some country comparisons here. Either U.S. citizens are distinctively evil, or people and governments in other countries have no problem with crime.
Of course, neither is the case. I can see at least 3 real reasons for the discrepancy in incarceration rates between the U.S. and the rest of the world. It seems that rehabilitation efforts can be much extended, which would lower the number of repeat offenders and the rate of people returning to prison. Another reason is that a large proportion of people in U.S. prisons are either mentally ill or drug abusers. Both types of people belong in hospital rather than in prison.
But the main problem is the misguided “war on drugs”. As a result of the combination of strict prohibition and hard-handed punitive criminal justice, a large group of U.S. citizens find themselves in prison for much too long and for a crime that’s in many cases victimless. Making drugs illegal creates more problems than it solves:
Even a casual observer can see that much of the damage done in the US by illegal drugs is a result of the fact that they are illegal, not the fact that they are drugs. Vastly more lives are blighted by the brutality of prohibition, and by the enormous criminal networks it has created, than by the substances themselves. This is true of cocaine and heroin as well as of soft drugs such as marijuana. But the assault on consumption of marijuana sets the standard for the policy’s stupidity. Nearly half of all Americans say they have tried marijuana. That makes them criminals in the eyes of the law. Luckily, not all of them have been found out – but when one is grateful that most law-breakers go undetected, there is something wrong with the law. Clive Crook (source)
The damage done by the war on drugs ranges from gang violence, HIV/AIDS infections from reused needles, OD’s from tainted drugs, political violence and destabilization in producing countries, to an erosion of civil liberties:
Since a drug transaction has no victims in the ordinary sense, witnesses to assist a prosecution are in short supply. US drug-law enforcement tends to infringe civil liberties, relying on warrantless searches, entrapment, extorted testimony in the form of plea bargains, and so forth. Clive Crook (source)
The benefits of the war on drugs are, on the other hand, indeterminable: drug use is down only moderately. Prohibition has failed as a policy, as it has before in U.S. history. Time to loosen up.
An old cartoon that has become relevant again. The defunct Bush administration decided that its war on terror not only required torture and two wars, but also large scale wiretapping of American citizens. (I posted a nice cartoon about this here). How exactly and why they (and others) did it can be read here.
The war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil rebels seems to be at an end now. While the war itself was probably and to some extent a just war, given the atrocities committed by the rebels, the way in which it was fought certainly wasn’t very just. The government forces caused many unnecessary civilian casualties, especially in the latter stages of the war. Given the outcome of the war, it is now up to the Sri Lankan government to win the peace, and do something about some of the legitimate concerns of the Tamil people:
And now the hardest part: can the Sinhalese majority bring itself to treat the defeated Tamil minority charitably after a quarter century of brutal war and nearly 100,000 deaths? Stay tuned. Kevin Drum (source)
For example, will it be possible to grant the region some kind of autonomy?
In all wars, it’s extremely difficult to find out what is happening, but in this case the government seems to have done all it could to make it as difficult as possible (including murdering journalists). Satellite pictures had to come to the rescue.
In general, it’s important to be able to monitor rights violations and to get as much information as possible in the press. Read more about how human rights depend on the media here and here. And more on the problematic relationship between the media and human rights violations is here.
In a democracy, political parties and candidates need money to get elected. And, in the U.S. in particular, they need a fortune. In most democracies, their funds are a mix of government subsidies and private donations. It’s a continuing worry that these private donations will somehow falsify democratic procedures. Outright corruption – “I give you money for your campaign if you adopt/repeal this or this law/policy” – is relatively rare in democracies, given a well-functioning free press. But donations can result in excessive influence. There’s always a lurking feeling that a candidate, once elected, has to do something in return in order to compensate for donor generosity. And in a democracy, everyone should have equal influence, irrespective of campaign contributions.
I have a very detailed post on the subject here.
Find the similarities between this cartoon in an Arab newspaper, and the front page of the nazi Der Stürmer newspaper:
And here is the State Department’s Global Anti-Semitism Report.
Not only the state has a duty to help the poor and to protect their economic rights. The individual should also intervene in order to realize the economic rights of his or her fellow citizens and fellow human beings. He or she can intervene in different ways: through caritas or altruism, through trade and exchange etc. (Simply giving the example and inspiring others by way of your own success, as in this cartoon, is not enough).
It is only when these interventions fail or never take place and individuals neglect their duties, that the state must act by way of redistribution. After all, redistribution is a limit on freedom and on property rights (which are very important, see here) and should therefore be kept to a minimum.
I mentioned our fellow human beings. The extent of our duties towards the poor is an interesting discussion in contemporary philosophy. Some say that we have only duties towards our fellow citizens; others that we have a duty towards everyone. Whereas in principle, everyone regardless of borders has the same right to our assistance, there has to be some differentiation in practice. Our duties arising from economic rights are not the same towards everyone. In general, we have more duties towards certain persons than towards other persons. This is because of the principle “ought implies can” (if you cannot swim, then you do not have a duty to rescue persons from drowning), which is a general principle of law and morality. None of us can give material assistance to everybody in need of assistance. We all have a limited amount of resources, and even if we have more than we require for our basic needs, we will not be able to assist everybody.
That is why we have to be selective. Our own children, for example, take precedence. We have more duties towards our children than towards other people. Closeness means that you can do more, and if you can do more, you ought to do more. Can also implies ought. Closeness, therefore, plays a part in the degree of duty, although not in the existence of duty. If we can help everybody, then we have to help everybody. This is especially the case when we transcend the level of individuals. Wealthy groups – for example a wealthy country or a group of wealthy countries – can help many people and maybe even everybody, and hence have a duty to do so.
(source, cartoon by Manny Francisco)
The topic of overpopulation has been discussed several times already on this blog (e.g. here and here), but now I want to focus more specifically on the links between overpopulation and migration. People often, but mistakenly in my view, see two types of links:
- The pressure to migrate from the undeveloped South to the richer North is mainly if not exclusively caused by overpopulation in the South.
- The reason why countries in the North restrict immigration from the South is the fear of overpopulation in the North, resulting from immigration. The relatively healthy economies of the North would not be able to withstand the population shock of major inflows of immigrants, especially given the fact that most immigrants are not high-skilled and tend to be a burden on an economy rather than an asset. Immigration needs to be restricted because it means importing poverty.
I’ll try to argue that both these arguments are wrong and that it is a mistake to link migration to overpopulation in these ways. I’ll start with the first point.
Two things are true about the first argument: migration towards developed countries has increased sharply during the last decades (see here), and population growth in the South has been faster than in the North (see here). What is not true, however, is that the latter has been the cause of the former.
Other social and economic factors, rather than overpopulation, have driven migration. Given the highly regulated nature of migration to the North (green cards, other types of labor certification, visa, border controls etc.), it’s obvious that the people who are able to immigrate are not the poor that are supposedly driven out of their own economies by overpopulation. Only the “jobworthy” who are successful at applying for entry-visas can migrate. (See also here.) And the same is true for illegal immigrants, i.e. those bypassing the regulations. They as well tend to be people who have work prospects in the North, or at least enough money to pay human traffickers.
All this also serves to disprove the second argument above: if migrants in general are not the poorest of the poor, then the second argument doesn’t hold.
However, back to the first argument for a moment. Another economic factor driving migration and completely unconnected to population levels, is the globalization of economic production. Employers in developed countries actively look for relatively cheap workers from the South, and technological improvements in communication, transportation and travel are making this easier.
(One could also point to war and violence as driving forces behind migration, but Malthusians would reply that the real driving force is overpopulation, causing first war and conflict, and then migration. There’s a lot to be said against this, but I’ll keep that for another time).
Regarding the second argument, one can make the following counter-claim. Let’s assume that immigration controls indeed serve the only purpose of keeping people out so as to keep the economy healthy and avoid population shocks which the economy wouldn’t be able to withstand. (Of course, immigration controls in reality serve many other purposes, e.g. pampering xenophobes). If we assume this, we should further assume that existing quotas on immigration (quotas as the result of visa policy, labor permits, family reunion policy etc.) are set in such a way that the number of migrants that are allowed into the country is roughly the number that the economy can sustain. Not higher because then immigration policy would defeat its purpose, but not much lower either because then the restrictions would be unjust and arbitrary.
Given these two assumptions, how do we explain the failure of massive numbers of illegal immigration to destroy host economies? Take for instance the U.S. It’s in an economic crisis right now, but nobody in his right mind claims that immigration is the cause. The U.S. economy was booming for years, and at the same time accommodated millions of legal and illegal immigrants.
To sum up, the tidal wave paranoia of the poor masses of the South engulfing the developed world is just another example of Malthusian hysteria. A simple look at population growth numbers make this abundantly clear. Population has indeed grown more rapidly in the South than in the North (partially because of higher birth rates), but only to return to the same proportion as a few centuries ago. The industrial revolution in the North resulted in more rapid population growth, and the South is now catching up. Fears of growing imbalances and “tsunamis of the poor” aren’t based on facts.
Sweatshops don’t have a very good reputation. They impose degrading working conditions, low salaries, and long hours, and they expose workers to harmful materials, hazardous situations and extreme temperatures. In many cases, the workers are young women who are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation – including sexual exploitation – by their bosses. On top of that, many sweatshops violate child labor laws. Hence, sweatshops have been called a form of modern slavery, and not without reason. They indeed look like a microcosm of human rights violations.
Most, but not all, sweatshops are situated in the third world countries, where labor regulations are lax, salaries low and trade unions not very powerful. Third world countries also don’t have a high level of technology intensity in industrial production, making it profitable to employ manual labor. Western companies often outsource high technology factories in the West to low technology sweatshops in the South. In the West, sweatshops also exist, but mostly in the illegal economy.
However, many economists who can’t possibly be accused of heartlessness or indifference when it comes to the problem of global poverty, have defended them. There’s for example Paul Krugman, Jeffrey Sachs and Nicholas D. Kristof. They argue that the alternatives in many countries are worse. Sweatshops may insult our western sense of justice, but that’s because our economies offer in general much higher standards of work. In third world countries, sweatshops are a step forward for many people. Without the opportunity to work in a sweatshop, many of them would be forced into subsistence farming, garbage scavenging, begging or even prostitution. All these alternatives offer lower incomes and worse conditions.
Furthermore, many of the young women working in sweatshops see their employment as a way out of gender discrimination. It’s a form of liberation from the oppressive local and traditional systems in their rural hometowns. They move to larger industrial towns, earn a living, have their own rooms, and as a result they can escape an early (and often arranged) marriage and early motherhood. And without the burden of an early marriage and motherhood, they can develop their education.
Developing countries starting their manufacturing sectors in the form of sweatshops, can expect improvements elsewhere in their economy:
The growth of manufacturing has a ripple effect throughout the economy. The pressure on the land becomes less intense, so rural wages rise; the pool of unemployed urban dwellers always anxious for work shrinks, so factories start to compete with each other for workers, and urban wages also begin to rise. Paul Krugman
So it’s probably not a good idea to try and abolish sweatshops, or to boycott products produced in sweatshops. We may do more harm than good when we force people out of sweatshops and into other types of employment. What we have to do, however, is to promote better labor standards and working conditions in existing sweatshops, and do so realistically. Demanding immediate implementation of western standards is silly, given the level of development of third world economies, and would result in the end of sweatshops. But western companies that use or trade with sweatshops can be pressured to do something about the worst aspects of sweatshop labor.
A few more words about the relationship between poverty and health (see this post for a more detailed discussion).
First of all: both are human rights issues. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration states:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
The concern is that people may find themselves in a trap. Their poverty causes ill health because healthcare costs money, because poverty leads to malnutrition etc. And their ill health leads to further poverty, because they aren’t as productive as healthy people.
The ill health of poor people isn’t a problem only for these poor people. If they were more healthy, they would be more productive and more creative, and the economy as a whole and the wellbeing of society as a whole would benefit. Healthy children are also likely to stay in school longer, and hence will be more valuable to society when they grow up.
There is, of course, some obscurity regarding the direction of the causation: rich countries may be more healthy on average mainly because they spend more on healthcare. But it may also be that they have become rich because their health was improved first. Impossible to disentangle all this, because the “wealth of nations” is the result of hugely complex processes of many forces and counter-forces.
For example, there were some developing countries that benefited from WHO assistance after World War II and from breakthroughs in medication (such as penicillin). These countries, therefore, didn’t improve their health through economic growth and increased wealth. Health improvements were caused by external forces. One result of these health improvements was increased life expectancy, but as a result of this increase, there was population growth that went beyond GDP growth, resulting in declining levels of income per head. After some decades, the economic benefits of having more people in the economy, and reduced birth rates caused by better healthcare (and access to contraceptives), reversed the trend. There’s an interesting study by Acemoglu and Johnson here.
Others, however, have pointed out that this is just a tiny piece of the puzzle, and other factors can push societies in other directions. An increase in the population doesn’t necessarily lead to Malthusian problems. International trade and cooperation for example, but also technological improvements have sharply reduced the possible impact on an economy of an increase in population levels.
All democracies arrest people without a charge or conviction, but they only do so for very short periods of time, usually a very limited number of days. Also, when a charge is filed, democracies want to have a court case as soon as possible. Detention on remand, as it is called, is confinement in a house of detention prior to treatment of a case in court. Generally, this type of detention is imposed, if a person is suspected of a serious crime and if he/she is prone to escape, to tamper with the evidence, to commit further crimes etc. Democracies also want to keep this detention on remand as short as possible, because there is always the risk that an innocent person is imprisoned.
In a well-functioning judicial system, there can be no excessively long detention without a charge or detention on remand. We do not want to incarcerate innocent people. Without a time limit – usually expressed in number of days – detention without charge or detention on remand would be arbitrary arrest. And arbitrary arrest is typical of tyranny. An arbitrary arrest is an arrest of a person without evidence of this person’s involvement in a crime. If there is such evidence, then there can be no problem presenting this evidence within a very short delay, after which the person can be formally charged and a court case can be decide on guilt or innocence, also within relatively short delays. A long delay between an arrest and a formal charge or between an arrest and a court decision on guilt or innocence, would create an injustice if it turns out that the person in question is innocent. The harm done by this possible injustice can be limited is the time frames are short. All this is part of treating people fairly and doing justice.
Unfortunately, the U.S., still a beacon of democracy and the rule of law, has decided that its war on terror forces it to imitate dictatorships and to detain people, in Guantanamo and other places, without a warrant, without a charge, without a fair trial and conviction, and for indefinite periods. Let’s hope the new administration will close these prisons soon and, if there is evidence, formally charge the inmates.
The government in the U.K., not having an equivalent of Guantanamo, has simply decided to change the period:
(source, click on the image to enlarge)
Is morality linked to culture? Or, in other words, is morality culturally relative? Does every culture have its own moral rules? This is relevant from a human rights perspective because human rights can be seen as moral rules for humanity. However, if morality is culturally relative, then this is a problem. Universality of moral rules then seems to be impossible and without universal moral rules it is difficult if not impossible to judge the practices of another culture. These practices may seem morally wrong from the viewpoint of the culture of the West for example, but the rules of the West, i.e. human rights, only apply within the morality of the West. Other cultures have their own rules and can only be judged by their own rules. One cannot apply the rules of American football to European soccer or vice versa.
As is often the case, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Whereas some moral rules are obviously very specific to particular cultures, other rules are globally accepted (which doesn’t mean respected). It follows that both extremes, imperialism and isolationism, are wrong. Human rights promoters should not go about and destroy cultural diversity, but cultural diversity is not the ultimate goal either. Cultures should not be isolated from human rights criticism. Individual rights matter just as much, if not more, than the rights of cultures. After all, if culture is important, it’s because it’s important for individuals.
The Cognitive Evolution Laboratory of Harvard University has started a project aimed at showing that morality is in essence universal. It has created a moral sense test which everyone can fill in (it’s available here, and takes less than 10 minutes to fill in; you’ll help these people by doing it).
I’ve written about the population problem before on this blog (see here). It’s quite common to hear the claim that many human rights violations, such as wars, genocides, famines, poverty and unemployment, are caused by the fact that there are too many people in the world.
This simplistic explanation of the world’s problems is popular since at least the 18th century when Thomas Malthus published his works.
According to Malthus, food and other resources are limited, and a population growth that exceeds a certain pace will inevitably hit a resource ceiling, and will result in decreasing standards of living, poverty, conflict over scarce resources, famine etc. (This is called a Malthusian catastrophe). Ultimately, population growth will halt because if this, and population levels will return to the “normal” equilibrium possible within the limits offered by nature (the so-called “carrying capacity”).
And if these disasters aren’t enough, active population control is necessary, including measures such as the abolition of social security (social security doesn’t incite people to birth control, see here) and even more extreme policies (many of which proposed by Malthus’ more enthusiastic followers rather than by himself).
Malthus agreed that humanity was capable of increasing its productivity, but believed that population growth would necessarily outpace this increase. The facts are, however, different. Standards of living have risen enormously over the last centuries, notwithstanding large increases in population numbers. GDP growth has even been faster than population growth, giving, on average, every human being more resources than ever before in history. Of course, these resources aren’t equally distributed, but that’s a problem of justice, not of population.
Blaming everything on overpopulation is simplistic. All major problems in life are multi-causal, and population isn’t a real or major cause in many cases (bad governance is often a more important cause). And when it is, population control isn’t the answer. Technology, productivity, consumer adaptation, better governance etc. are more promising solutions.
And three more cartoons (it’s incredible how popular this topic is):
The problem of poverty and related problems such as income inequality have received a lot of attention on this blog, because I consider poverty to be one of the most urgent human rights problems. Now and again, I’ve also mentioned the possibility of distinguishing between different types of poverty (here for example), and one such possibility in particular, namely the difference between absolute and relative poverty. Absolute poverty meaning the lack of basic resources, and relative poverty meaning income inequality.
I’ve taken the view that absolute poverty is a more urgent priority than relative poverty (see here), and that therefore measurements of income inequality – such as the Gini coefficient – are less relevant than measurements of absolute poverty – such as the $1 a day measure. It’s the absolute income of people that matters, not the fact that other people are richer than you are and can afford more luxuries, at least from a human rights point of view (the absence of a certain minimum amount of basic resources is a human rights violation in itself and renders many other human rights meaningless; see here).
Inequality of wealth is less urgent than the fight against absolute poverty, and opposition to income inequality can be easily categorized as the politics of envy. If inequality really matters it is the inequality of opportunity and other types of inequality not related to wealth (discrimination for example).
The one exception I was willing to make is the negative influence of high levels of income inequality on the adequate functioning of democracy (see here and here). And I also pointed out that there is a correlation between relative poverty and absolute poverty: countries with relatively unequal income distribution don’t score well on absolute poverty measures either (see here).
It now seems that I was wrong. Richard Wilkinson has pointed out, some time ago already, that relative poverty matters. Once economic growth has pushed up absolute (albeit average per capita) income levels and done away with penury, people tend to be more healthy and live longer if levels of income inequality are relatively low. Countries with lower per capita income levels but also lower income inequality, can do better in terms of public health than high income countries with higher levels of income inequality. Poorer countries with a more equal wealth distribution are healthier and happier than richer, more unequal ones. Here’s a graph (from another, unrelated study) linking inequality (measured not by Gini but by way of the concentration of wealth in the 10% richest people) to life expectancy and child mortality:
Some of the reasons are the stress of living at the bottom of the pecking order, the stress of disrespect and the lack of esteem and respect (including self-respect).
This doesn’t mean than countries shouldn’t try to achieve economic growth. I’ve shown here that economic growth and poverty reduction go hand in hand.
(source, Paresh Nath, The National Herald, India)
I know that it’s wrong to generalize, and that Africa is not a single, undifferentiated entity. I also know that many good things happen there, and that many people have a decent and happy life. Still, all indicators of human rights point to the fact that Africa, and particularly sub-Saharan Africa, is a human rights disaster and ranks at the bottom if we compare it to other regions in the world. There are many reasons for this, and most of them are beyond the responsibilities of African themselves. I will not attempt to deal with all of these reasons here, and I will certainly not given any solutions. This post just gives a summary of the different indicators.
- In Sub-Saharan Africa, GDP per capita shrank 14 percent and poverty rose from 41 percent in 1981 to 46 percent in 2001, and an additional 150 million people were living in extreme poverty. Almost half of the people still have to live on less than $1 a day. The proportion of children who are underweight is somewhat better than in South-Asia, but is still 1 in 3. And calorie intake numbers for both children and adults are very low.
- Africa has known some of the worst recent famines and genocides.
- Many of the counties in African are burdened with foreign debt. Most of the so-called Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) are in Africa.
- Africa receives almost half of the world’s development aid budget. Aid can be around half of GDP for some countries, making them dependent on aid.
- The practice of female genital mutilation occurs mainly in Africa.
- The rate of maternal mortality is highest in Africa. As is the rate of infant mortality, although it has been falling dramatically over recent decades.
- Not surprisingly therefore, life expectancy rates are lowest, mainly because of poverty and AIDS (HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death on the continent; three-quarters of all IADS deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa). Uniquely, life expectancy rates even went down during the last decades.
- Africa has the lowest density of health workers.
- Child labor rates are highest, even higher than in South-Asia.
- It has a very large number of child soldiers.
- Only half of the children receive primary education, the lowest level in the world. Also the rate of secondary and higher level education is the lowest in the world.
- Together with the Middle-East and South-Asia, it has the harshest penalties for homosexuality and the lowest approval rates in public opinion.
- 5 from the top 10 refugee producing countries are in Africa. And some of the top refugee receiving countries are in Africa as well.
- Apart from Iraq and Afghanistan, Africa has had most wars and battle deaths during the last decades.
- Most of the failed states are in Africa. And so are many of the most corrupt governments.
- Many authoritarian governments in Africa are propped up by foreign governments (e.g. China, see also here) or by the so-called resource curse.
- Africa has, together with Asia and the Middle East, the worst freedom and democracy rankings.
And this could go on for a while. It’s obvious that Africa should be THE priority for all those concerned about human rights.
As in every presidential election in the U.S., there’s controversy over campaign financing. Some say that Obama’s lead in the polls, and his likely election victory, result from his superior spending rather than the intrinsic attractiveness of his policies or character.
Intuitively, one senses that exaggerated campaign spending must distort the proper democratic process. Voters have to make a choice between candidates, but this choice is no longer based on rational, fair and equal examination of competing ideas. The candidate with the biggest budget receives more airtime and more exposure than the other and is therefore better known to the public. In addition, he or she can use this airtime to misrepresent the other candidate’s positions. So it seems that elections can be “bought”, by candidates or, more worryingly, by the funders behind the candidates. Given the steep increases in campaign spending over the last decades, this risk may have become a fact of political life.
However, it is difficult to prove such intuitive statements because we can’t redo an election and see what the results are without funding or with equal funding. However, Steve Levitt has made an attempt to do just this. He analyzed legislative races in which two opponents ran against each other more than once. By measuring such election races, Levitt was able to isolate the impact of money. It turns out that the amount of money spent by the candidates hardly matters at all. The impact of campaign spending is very small (albeit positive).
Levitt argues in favor of spending caps because fundraising is a waste of time given the small effect of money; time which could be spent on more useful political and legislative activities.
Levitt also argues against public funding but doesn’t seem to take into account the possible perversions caused by private funding (e.g. the candidate having to do something in return for funding).
More on the effects of money on democratic politics: there’s a post here on the pros and cons of public versus private funding for political parties. And there’s a post here on the way in which democracy can degenerate into a vote-buying system in which politicians “pay” for their votes by giving voters tax cuts, subsidies, benefits etc.
PS: this is part of the series called “human rights cartoons” because democratic government is a human right.
The shortage of organs for transplantation is a universal problem. The supply of organs is way below the demand. And demand is increasing due to progress in medical science and increasing average age. The demand comes mainly from developed countries. The reason is that life expectancy is higher in these countries, and therefore also the demand for organs. Also, the health care system is more developed and hence more likely to engage in transplants.
There are two ways to harvest organs: deceased organ donation, and live organ donation.
Deceased organ donation
In some countries, deceased organ donation is hampered by social, cultural, religious, legal and other factors. In some cases, donors have to state their intent while living. They have to opt in. In other cases, they have to opt out and hence they are donors by default, which tends to produce higher rates of donation.
In other cases still, family members of the deceased have to consent, which brings down rates.
Live organ donation
The use of live donors for non-vital organs such as kidneys and parts of liver, for example, is also practiced, but the purchase and sale of transplant organs from live donors are prohibited in many countries.
Transplant tourism and international organ trade
The shortage of a local supply of organs – due to some of the reasons given above, or a combination – has led to the development of transplant tourism and international organ trade. Poor people in developing countries are often forced to donate a non-vital organ; forced by poverty or forced by outright violence. People are kidnapped and operated under duress, and often don’t even get paid. Sometimes they simply get killed because this bypasses the requirement of consent. Corpses are also harvested, not rarely without the consent of the deceased or his or her relatives. The legality of live organ donations in some countries encourages poor people to sell some of their non-vital organs such as kidneys. However, the circumstances in which they are operated can turn a non-vital organ donation into a fatal one.
Rich people travel to countries where these different kinds of harvesting are possible, legally or illegally, and where hospitals are willing to cooperate in such a scheme and are relatively capable so as not to scare away patients. China is a well-known destination because there’s the enormous supply of thousands of people executed every year.
Although those who can afford to buy organs are obviously exploiting those who are desperate enough to sell their organs, the recipients may also suffer from the trade. They may receive substandard or even sick organs.
Some contend that the poor should be allowed to sell their organs, because we merely contribute to their poverty. Exploitation may be morally preferable to death, but given the risk of forced donation and of complications during surgery, this is a slippery slope.
Someone has aptly called the whole business New Cannibalism.
One can also see a trend to declare a person dead at an earlier stage than in the past, for example some seconds after cessation of brain activity or heart activity, rather than minutes. Some organs become useless after a certain waiting period. This means shifting the definition of life and death, and perhaps less reanimation enthusiasm. Another, and opposite form of abuse is keeping brain-dead people artificially “alive” as an “organ warehouse” for future donations.
Also, the use of cloning and designer babies for the purpose of organ production is controversial, as is the use of animal organs.
(source, Larry Wright, The Detroit News)
It’s true that most if not all human rights can be found, implicitly or explicitly, in all cultures and religions of the world. However, there’s also cruelty everywhere and universal respect for human rights requires more than simply looking for similarities and making the sum. Unity, consensus and universality will only be the result of hard-fought influence and difficult and prolingued processes of persuasion, not of the simple detection and addition of things that are equal and that exist, as such, independently of each other.
Persuasion, however, implies dialogue, intercultural dialogue for example. One culture or religion can discuss with others and try to convince others that something which is considers to be important is in fact important.This dialogue doesn’t have to be unconditional (dixit Obama) but too many conditions make it impossible. And progress can only be achieved through dialogue.
This kind of intercultural dialogue can engender universality or can at least bring universality somewhat closer, but then it has to be a dialogue between equals. Nobody is persuaded when one of the parties to the dialogue believes himself to be superior, speaks without listening, and considers the other to be “evil” (e.g. part of an “axis of evil” dixit Bush) and a legitimate target of a bombing campaign (dixit McCain).
It also has to be a dialogue where there is at least a possibility that one convinces the other – in both directions. A “dialogue de sourds” – a dialogue of the deaf – cannot create consensus. We must be open to the possibility that those whom we abhor may have something interesting to tell us. And anyway, we have to listen if we want to understand them, and to see why they act the way they act. Only then can we have a chance of changing them.
This means that extreme cultural relativism is not an option. Cultures have to be allowed to influence each other, to open themselves and to mix with each other. Sealing off cultures and keeping them out of each other’s way because of the protection of identities, makes a dialogue impossible. Being persuaded means changing certain elements of one’s identity.
The need to convince one another implies that no one should believe themselves to be in possession of the truth, and of the only correct and just system. It implies self-criticism, and also a certain degree of tolerance, freedom of expression etc. It seems as though the conclusion is implicit in the premises. The attempt to universalize human rights through intercultural dialogue already requires human rights. You cannot hold a dialogue with someone who is intolerant or who is not allowed to speak his or her mind.
A dialogue in this case is not a negotiation. There can be no negotiation on human rights. It is “take it or leave it”, even if one can accept a partial adoption of human rights for strategic reasons (the theory of basic human rights or rights minimalism). Something is not as good as everything, but it is better than nothing.
And an inter-cultural dialogue is even less a conversation, in which one culture needs to convince other cultures, as if some cultures need more convincing than other cultures. Persuasion is a two-way street and at least, as much an intra-cultural affair as an inter-cultural one.
Income inequality within a country is usually measured using the so-called Gini-index (see also here). When we look at the Gini indices for the U.S. at various times, we see an increase in inequality (a higher value means more inequality):
- 1967: 39.7 (first year reported)
- 1968: 38.6 (lowest index reported)
- 1970: 39.4
- 1980: 40.3
- 1990: 42.8
- 2000: 46.2
- 2005: 46.9
- 2006: 47.0 (highest index reported)
- 2007: 46.3
These data show an increasing gap between rich and poor over the period between 1970 and 2000 (no significant evolution since 2000). As a result, inequality in the U.S. is now higher than in other developed countries:
Before the 1960s, the U.S. became progressively more egalitarian. From the 1970s onward, average income continued to increase, but mainly thanks to large increases in the top incomes, which caused a change in the trend and an increase in inequality.
This trend of rising inequality since the 1970s in the U.S. and some other advanced industrial societies (especially the U.K.) goes against traditional wisdom.
Simon Kuznets argued that levels of economic inequality are in large part the result of stages of development. Kuznets saw a curve-like relationship between level of income and inequality, now known as Kuznets curve. According to Kuznets, countries with low levels of development have relatively equal distributions of wealth. As a country develops, it acquires more capital, which leads to the owners of this capital having more wealth and income and introducing inequality. Eventually, through various possible redistribution mechanisms such as social welfare programs, more developed countries move back to lower levels of inequality. Kuznets demonstrated this relationship using cross-sectional data. However, more recent testing of this theory with superior panel data has shown it to be very weak. (source)
The trend of rising inequality has been called “The Great U-Turn“, a phrase coined by Harrison and Bluestone. When we focus on the U.S., we can identify the following causes of this u-turn:
- Globalization and trade liberalization depressing the wages of the less skilled or threatening their jobs.
- Rising number of single parent families.
- Influx of women and immigrants in the low-end job-market has also depressed wages.
- Lower taxes for high incomes by the Reagan administration.
- The weakness of the labor movement in the U.S.
- A relatively large wage premium for a college education in the U.S.
- The work ethic in the U.S. typically favors large rewards for success.
- Increasing reliance on technology causing increased demand (and higher returns) for education and cognitive skills.
What can be done about it?
- Offer better education.
- Renewed public support for the right of unorganized workers to be represented by unions.
- Strengthen the social safety net, including universal coverage for health care.
- Vote for Obama. A study by the independent Tax Policy Centre found that the tax policies proposed McCain would widen the gap in after-tax income of rich and poor even more, and that the policies proposed by Obama would reverse the trend:
More on income inequality.
This is a follow-up of a previous post on the responsibilities of corporations in the field of human rights.
Corporate responsibility (also called corporate social responsibility, responsible or ethical business, or business ethics) has 2 dimensions:
1. Good corporate governance
A company is responsible for good corporate governance (much like a government of a country is responsible for good governance). It should govern its operations in a responsible manner. This can be divided into:
- Internal matters: e.g. labor conditions, rights of workers, forced labor, child labor etc.
- What goes out, or the consequences of a company’s actions: e.g. product safety, environmental consequences of production systems etc.
- What comes in, or possible problems in the supply chain: e.g. suppliers or subcontractors using child labor.
2. Corporate citizenship
This is about a company’s responsibilities for the wider community, and for the world in general, in a more general sense than the responsibilities for the immediate consequences of the actions directly related to its business (i.e. its products or services). How does a company act as a “citizen” of a state or as a “world citizen”? Does it respect the laws and regulations? Does it actively engage itself in everyday life? Is it genuinely acting for the wellbeing of the community, over and above the wellbeing as it is affected by its products or services? For example, does it reduce its own water consumption and is it also engaged in larger water management problems and systems? Does it engage in social investment, i.e. investments in organizations or projects that benefit the wider community, e.g. water purification or desalination systems, social housing projects or student loans? Does it engage in corporate philanthropy?
Ethics and self-interest
These two aspects of corporate responsibility go beyond the strict compliance with legislation. Ethical considerations come into play, as well as enlightened self-interest. Responsible behavior can cost a lot, but it can also positively impact a company’s public image, which can bring additional profits. Companies can use corporate responsible behavior to justify their presence in a certain market, a presence which might otherwise incite criticism. This also can increase profits, just as environmentally beneficial products or production methods which open up new markets with environmentally conscious consumers. There are many examples of the benefits of ethical behavior, although in many cases the immediate costs will outweigh the immediate advantages.
See some evidence here of the link between responsible behavior and financial gain.
Corporate responsibility means being responsible to different so-called stakeholders (stakeholders are those impacted by an organization’s activities):
- The company’s own workforce and their family members
- The company’s suppliers
- The company’s shareholders
- The consumers of the company’s products or services
- The wider community in which the company operates
- The government of the country in which the company operates
- The international institutions that regulate part of the company’s operations
- The world at large, including nature and the environment.
Corporate responsibility matrix
We can know put these two dimensions, stakeholders and the two components of corporate responsibility, in a matrix and add some examples (click on the image to enlarge):
Limitations of corporate responsibility
Although corporations have responsibilities and can and should contribute to a better world and respect for human rights, they obviously can’t solve all the world’s problems. Governments, citizens, international institutions, religious institutions etc. all have their parts to play.
And corporate responsibility shouldn’t distract from the fundamental economic role of businesses. A business should first of all be an expert in making products or delivering services, and should create added value if it wants to survive. This objective shouldn’t be forgotten. But neither should it override a company’s ethical obligations.
Indeed, rather than an excess of corporate responsibility we often see that corporate responsibility is nothing more than superficial window-dressing, an effort to give the impression of responsibility as a tool to ward off criticism of irresponsible behavior.
Some, particularly on the right of the political spectrum, say that corporate responsibility is not necessary. Corporations, they say, should respect the law but no further actions are required. Improvements in things such as public health, life expectancy and infant mortality rates have resulted from economic growth driven by free enterprise. However, personally I’m always skeptical of these “invisible hand” theories in which good things happen automatically when people are free to pursue their self-interest and personal gain. The world isn’t as simple as that.
On the extreme left of the political spectrum there are some, mirroring those on the extreme right, claiming that corporate responsibility is useless. According to them, this is treatment of symptoms. The root cause of all problems is not corporate irresponsibility but the existence of corporation as such. Capitalism must be abolished, not irresponsible corporations. I will criticize this position in a future post.
Support for corporate responsibility
All in all, however, the notion of corporate responsibility is gathering support and is becoming an important driver in many companies:
The Yellow Peril (or Yellow Danger) refers to the skin color of the Chinese, and the belief that the Chinese nation is a threat to the West. The concept of Yellow Peril, as it first surfaced by the end of the 19th century (and also during the Second World War when it included Japan), was initially racist and anti-immigration. Today it is no longer explicitly racist. The threat is not racial, nor is it linked to population theories or immigration fears. The Yellow Peril is now an economic one. China is a huge industrial complex, producing cheap goods that force western goods out of the shops, and force western workers, with their relatively high wages, out of their jobs.
Many believe that China, the new superpower, will not only undo the economic supremacy of the West and erode its wealth, but also threaten its political culture. If a non-democratic country that doesn’t seem to believe in human rights, becomes the world’s superpower, then democracy and rights will be jeopardized.
However, the economy is not a zero-sum game. It’s not because a country progresses that others must lose proportionally. The growth of the Chinese economy also creates a giant community of consumers able to buy more western goods. In addition, when China grows, it may become more liberal. There is some evidence that countries democratize at roughly the same speed as they develop economically.
Furthermore, Chinese growth is not destined to last. China faces many problems that may one day slow down its development or even bring it to a halt. Although China has been able to lift hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty, rural and urban inequality has grown at alarming rates, stirring unrest amongst the many who remain poor.
With massive layoffs in the rust-belt provinces, arbitrary local levies on farmers, pervasive official corruption, and toxic industrial dumping, many in the countryside are highly agitated. Chinese police records indicate a sevenfold increase in the number of incidents of social unrest in the last decade. Pranab Bardhan (source)
Ethnic problems in the west of China may develop into violence.
For many centuries, the homogenizing tradition of Chinese high culture, language, and bureaucracy has not given much scope to pluralism and diversity, and a centralizing, authoritarian Communist Party has carried on with this tradition. There is a certain pre-occupation with order and stability in China (not just in the Party), a tendency to over-react to difficult situations, and a quickness to brand dissenting movements and local autonomy efforts as seditious, and it is in this context that one sees dark clouds on the horizon for China’s polity and therefore the economy. Pranab Bardhan (source)
There are also some economic worries about China’s growth.
China’s share in the worldwide manufacturing value-added is below 9 percent, less than half that of Japan or the United States. Domestic private enterprise in China, while active and growing, is relatively weak, and Chinese banks are burdened with “bad” loans. Pranab Bardhan (source)
Projections of China’s GDP show that it’s not likely to take over the West as the economic superpower in the decades to come:
China’s authoritarian form of government is likely to impede its future economic growth:
China’s authoritarian system of government will likely be a major economic liability in the long run. Pranab Bardhan (source)
Another element of the Yellow Peril theory are the worries about China’s military development (see this post). However, here as well the data tell a different story:
(source, Riber Hansson, Svenska Dagbladet, Sweden)
Groups, and in particular, minority groups are often attacked, oppressed and persecuted. They are considered to be groups that are separated from the rest of society and that are legitimate objects of targeted attacks such as racism, xenophobia, discrimination, exploitation or even genocide. These attacks are often collective attacks. Persons are discriminated against or killed, for no other reason than their membership of a particular group. Colored people are oppressed because they are colored people.
Some people believe that a collective problem requires a collective solution. A minority that is collectively oppressed claims a collective right to protection, a collective right not to be oppressed. Acts that are expressed in collectivist terms have to be countered by rights using the same terms.
The question is whether it is really necessary or even opportune to solve the collective problems of some groups by way of collective rights or group rights. I believe that the often genuine problems of different groups and minorities (but also majorities) can be solved by applying a number of individual rights, such as the right to equality before the law (a law has to be general and equal for everybody and cannot be directed against or cannot discriminate against certain persons or groups), the right to equal treatment and to equal rights, the right not to be discriminated against, the right to life (in the case of genocide) and religious liberty.
The problem of gender discrimination in a number of Islamic countries is an example of a collective problem that can be solved by applying individual rights. There is no reason to solve this collective problem by adding so-called womenís rights or collective rights of women to the existing individual rights. Gender discrimination is not a violation of women’s rights. It is a violation of the human rights of women. The principles of equality and non-discrimination are sufficient to solve this problem.
Individual rights are sufficient in all cases, although I have to admit that protecting groups by way of individual rights ignores or neglects the nature of the problem. Only the right of a group (for example, a group of indigenous people) to equal treatment recognizes the existence of a certain kind of discrimination. The individual right to equality, even though it can stop group discrimination, ignores the nature of or the motivation behind the attack on the group, and does not distinguish between individual and group discrimination.
However, the advantage of countering a collective attack by way of an individual right is that the existence of individuals in the collectivity is thereby accentuated. The cause of a collective attack is precisely the belief that a group is a collectivity and a unity, in which the individuals do not count. By using his individual rights to protect a colored person against discrimination, racism or genocide, we accentuate his individuality. He is no longer “just another nigger”, someone belonging to a collectivity, which is a legitimate object of discrimination. Individual rights accentuate the individuality of the person claiming the right, and already hint that there is no reason for discrimination. Discrimination requires collectives and the absence of individuals.
Collective rights do the opposite. Recognizing collective rights can sanction the existence of collectives. It makes thinking in terms of collectives legitimate, it puts the different individualities in the background and it strengthens the opinions of those who oppose and persecute certain collectives.
Globalization means many different things. One of them is the ease with which multi-national companies can relocate (part of) their operations to other countries, or to involve subsidiaries or subcontractors in other countries in the process of production, design, distribution, sales or support. This relocation is called outsourcing or off-shoring. Modern technology and transportation are making it possible for more and more types of companies to outsource an increasingly wide array of activities.
Reasons to outsource
Outsourcing is normally done to cut costs (mainly labor costs, but also costs generated by legislation, taxes, transportation etc.) and to safeguard a company’s profits.
Wages, company taxes, labor regulations, environmental regulations etc. differ from one country to another. A company’s main objective is profit and shareholder value, and therefore it is rational for a company to locate in a country that offers the best mix of low wages and taxes and easy-going legislation.
Disadvantages of outsourcing
It’s not surprising that outsourcing is giving globalization and multinational companies a bad name. It means job losses and downward pressures on wages, taxes and legislation. Job losses can result in poverty. Relaxing legislation and cutting taxes as a means to keep companies in the country can result in pressure on the social safety net, social security, the environment and labor conditions. Companies can blackmail governments and employees: if governments don’t relax their legislation and taxes, and employees don’t soften their wage claims, then the companies go elsewhere. If companies decide to play off countries against one another, then there is the risk of “a race to the bottom”, with countries having to offer ever lower standards in a global competition.
Reasons not to outsource
Fortunately, things aren’t as simple as this. Companies don’t only look at labor costs, regulation and taxes. They are often willing to accept high thresholds in these matters when worker productivity is high as well. Their public image also counts, and they don’t want to face protests or perhaps even boycotts by consumers angered by outsourcing and the things that are often associated with it: sweatshops, modern slavery, child labor etc.
Advantages of outsourcing
Cheaper production elsewhere means cheaper products for the country that has lost jobs. So the consumers, including the workers who lost their jobs as a consequence of outsourcing, get something in return.
Furthermore, the relocated jobs are mostly created in relatively poor developing countries. This job creation is a terrific boost to the economies of these countries, lifting the people there out of poverty. It is estimated that the jobs created by Western firms in low-income countries average about 8 times the wages that are normally paid there (source).
So if we take the global view, the price paid by some workers in countries with relatively good social safety nets is no match for the gains by poor workers in developing countries, especially if we take the commodity price factor into account which can cushion some of the losses due to job cuts. The balance is even more positive if we take stock of the fact that the gains in developing countries are not limited to the higher wages of the people working in Western companies. These higher wages mean more purchasing power, and hence more demand for local products and more income and job creation in local companies not affiliated with the Western, outsourcing companies.
Public opinion on outsourcing
However, the losers in the West are more vocal than the winners in the South. And a mix of demagogy, interest group politics, vote-buying and economic egoism has resulted in an overall negative perception of outsourcing in the West:
(source, Pavel Constantin)
I agree that a complex contemporary society needs a complex system of law, and I’m the last one to adopt a libertarian philosophy in which the state is evil (necessary evil or not) and should be kept as small as possible. I accept that the state has a role to play in poverty reduction and redistribution, for example. Laisser-faire leads to injustice.
However, the more rules there are, the more restrictions on individuals’ freedom to act. The rule of law, as opposed to a simple system of legislation, was designed precisely to limit the realm of state action and to open up a realm of society, distinct from the state, in which freedom can rule and laws do not apply (see also this post). The more laws, the smaller this space of freedom (although one very general and vague law can also reduce this space to nothing). A big state is an enemy of freedom.
The rule of law limits the state and opens up the realm of society in the following way. It limits the number and scope of laws because it allows only laws that are discussed, voted and published according to formalized procedures, and that stay into force until the same procedures result in another conclusion. Moreover, laws in a system of rule of law must respect the fundamental laws, the constitution, and cannot go beyond what is allowed by the constitution (for example civil rights, in a democratic constitution). So the rule of law creates a legal system in which laws are limited and stable. The rule of law therefore creates freedom (from the law) and is incompatible with an ever expanding system of law.
By comparison, the legal system in an autocratic rule by a dictator (as opposed to the rule of law) can result in whatever law the dictator decides, and whatever change in the law he decides (if he bothers at all to use laws for the purpose of his rule). Such a system is inherently unstable, unpredictable, unlimited and expanding.
Another reason why laws should not be too numerous, distinct from the concern for freedom, is that an extensive system of law makes it very difficult to respect the law and without respect for the law, there is no rule of law. People should be given the opportunity to plan their lives in such a way that they can respect the law and can avoid running foul of the law. That’s very difficult when there are too many laws.
Knowing what things the law penalizes and knowing that these are within their power to do or not to do, citizens can draw up their plans accordingly. One who complies with the announced rules need never fear an infringement of his liberty. Unless citizens are able to know what the law is and are given a fair opportunity to take its directives into account, penal sanctions should not apply to them. John Rawls
For the same reason, i.e. giving people the possibility to respect the law, it is also unacceptable to have secret laws, retroactive laws (laws that punish acts that have occurred before the law came into force) and unstable laws (laws that change all of the time). Bad law as well is unacceptable, again for the same reason (by bad law I understand complex, incomprehensible and contradictory law, which are types of law that make it impossible for citizens to respect the law).
A related but not altogether identical problem is the risk of rights inflation. I’ve posted about this before.
Forms of corruption
Corruption can take on many forms:
- From limited competition when awarding government contracts to the setting up of wasteful mega-projects designed specifically for the corruption opportunities these can yield.
- From small bribes by ordinary citizens “in order to get things done” to larger payments as a means to escape criminal justice.
- From the nepotism of a father trying to get his children in a good school to outright kleptocracy (“rule by thieves”) infecting an entire government administration and political class.
However, it always means the use of governmental powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain.
Corruption in itself is not a human rights violation, and there is no right to live in a country that is not corrupt or that suffers no corruption. However, corruption does have consequences for human rights:
- It harms the economy and can create or exacerbate poverty.
- It destroys democratic government, even if it doesn’t take the very specific form of electoral corruption (hence it violates people’s political rights)
- Corruption in the judiciary compromises the rule of law and the effective enforcement of human rights law.
Consequences of corruption
Corruption is anti-democratic :
- Decisions do not reflect the will of the people but the private will of individuals or corporations who bribe elected or unelected government officials. Government policies serve individual interests rather than the public interest or the interest of the public.
- Persons engaged in corruption are likely to inhibit the democratic systems that guarantee free flows of information. If these systems can be distorted, it becomes much more difficult to expose corruption, to hold officials accountable and to force them to justify their actions. Such actions can have disastrous consequence for freedom of speech in general.
- Corruption also undermines the legitimacy of government and can lead to revolt and the outright destruction of democracy.
Corruption is economically unsound and unfair :
- In a corrupt economy, resources tend to flow to those already in a position of power, while those at the bottom of the economy have to spend a part of their scarce resources on bribes.
- Corrupt officials lay their hands on a part of the proceeds of natural resources and other sources of prosperity that should belong equally to the whole population.
- Corrupt governments will be more inclined to set up grandiose but foolish and wasteful mega-projects, because this gives them more opportunities for corruption. They thereby divert public investment from sectors that need it more or that yield more benefits for ordinary citizens.
- Corruption is a tax on investment, which hampers investment and economic growth. Especially the often all-important foreign investments (the import of technology and knowledge) diminish as corruption increases.
- Corruption increases the cost of business.
- It distorts the level playing field, giving an unfair advantage to firms with connections. These firms are perhaps not the most efficient but are propped up by corruption. As a result, the overall economy is not the most efficient.
- It discourages people to start or expand businesses because potential profits are taken away.
The graph below shows the correlation between low levels of GDP and high levels of corruption (Corruption Perception Index, or CPI, of Transparency International):
Here’s another study pointing to the same conclusions:
In 2004, the global cost of corruption was estimated at $1 trillion a year.
Causes of corruption
- Lack of transparency and free flows of information
- Lack of a free press
- Lack of government accountability through a system of democratic elections
- Inability of civil society or NGO’s to monitor the government
- Weak rule of law
- Incentives, such as poverty or low wages
- Unclear rules of behavior for government officials
- Resource curse
- “Old boy networks”
Pervasiveness of corruption
There is corruption everywhere in the world, but some countries perform better than others. This is the country ranking of the CPI (Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International) in 2007:
The CPI measures the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians. High numbers indicate relatively less corruption, whereas lower numbers indicate relatively more corruption.
- Clear rules on what is admissible behavior rather than broad or poorly defined powers
- Rule of law, law enforcement
- Eliminate incentives (proper wages)
- Employee training, competence
- Free press
- Democratic accountability
I mentioned here that a democracy must regard all citizens as equally valuable human beings. But why are all people equally valuable? Or why do all people have an equal value?
This seems to be something we believe intuitively. It is an idea with a long history. Christianity, for example, is based on it (all people are children of God and created in His image). Everybody understands the importance of being recognised and treated as a human being with a certain value equal to that of all other human beings. No one wants to be treated as an inferior being, as an animal or a thing. If this belief in universal equivalence were absent, then it would be acceptable for one man to treat another as a means, an animal or a disposable thing. Man would be allowed to subjugate other men. The will of one would be a duty for another.
Bad health and suffering create the same problems as poverty. You have to be healthy and without pain, in order to have a cultural and political life and to be able to use freedom rights and political rights. A sick, suffering or toiling person is thrown back upon himself and unable to relate to the outside world, just as a person who concentrates exclusively on his or her body for pleasurable reasons.
Intense bodily sensations of any kind – positive and negative – shut us off from the world, because they make it impossible to perceive anything except our own body. In other words, they make our public and political life and the use of our classical rights impossible or undesirable.
Hunger and consumption, as well, force you to concentrate on yourself and your body. You do not have the time, the energy or the desire to concentrate on the world. When you are eating or thinking of eating, you are imprisoned in cyclical biological necessities and in your metabolism with nature necessary for the preservation of life. You have to avoid sickness, pain and hunger – as well as their extreme opposites – to be open to the world and fit for cultural and political life.