The German “philosopher of justice” Prof. Thomas Pogge will participate at this year’s DW Global Media Forum. He talks about the relations between poverty and education and the responsibility of industrial countries.
Thomas Winfried Menko Pogge (born 1953) is a German philosopher and is currently the Director of the Global Justice Program and Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University (Leitner Program www.yale.edu). Pogge’s World Poverty and Human Rights is one of the most prominent and controversial books in contemporary political philosophy.
DW: You are labelled in the media as one of present days’ most radical philosophers of justice. What do you criticize?
TP: Our present supranational order is surely in need of improvement. But one might put this point more sharply: this order maintains a world in which still one third of all human beings, some 18 million each year are dying from poverty-related causes. It does so by cementing and even aggravating extreme inequality: while today the average income is nearly $10,000 per person globally, it is only $550 in the poorer half of humanity and only $300 in the poorest quarter. Although severe poverty is entirely avoidable today, the number of chronically undernourished people has recently exceeded 1 billion — for the first time in human history.
DW: You raise awareness of global injustices and point to the “negative duties” that industrial countries have to live up to in order to overcome this situation. What do you propose?
TP: When we think of poor people in the less developed countries, we typically see ourselves as potential helpers and benefactors. This view overlooks, however, that we are deeply implicated in the misery of the poor: through our participation in global markets, through our contributions to climate change and resource depletion and through the contribution our country makes to the design and imposition of unjust supranational rules and practices. Our moral responsibility thus arises not merely from our helping too little, but much more strongly from the fact that we — along with many other wealthy people worldwide — do far too much harm to the global poor.
DW: One of your claims is that only strong bottom-up movements will be capable of making change happen. But these movements depend on education and information. What is the role for the media in this context?
TP: The media must become aware of their responsibility to be the conscience of citizens or at least to inform and stimulate their conscience. When in 2001 the Millennium Declaration of the UN General Assembly was falsified — so that the number of extremely poor people still permissible in 2015 was raised by 335 million and the permissible number of chronically undernourished people by 127 million — I tried hard to get the media interested in this fraud at the expense of the poor. But only one medium-sized newspaper, in Germany, gave me 800 words for this topic. With the help of the media, this crime could have been prevented. But the media condoned the fraud; and so we find Western citizens joining the celebrations when they are told that the Millennium Development Goals have — at least approximately — been achieved.
DW: Campaigns against poverty are frequently linked to efforts to increase education and public health – for good reasons, it seems. But how do you make sure that these efforts do not remain limited to punctual interferences and single projects? What about the overarching strategy?
TP: The world economy is structured by the rich for the rich, and development assistance then mitigates some of the worst suffering so caused. It would be much better if the interests of the great majority were taken into account already in the structural design decisions. In the present system, for example, new medicines are rewarded through patent-protected mark-ups with the foreseeable result that few poor people can gain access through charitable subsidies. It would be much better if states collaborated to support a different reward system, the Health Impact Fund, which I have been working on for several years alongside a fabulous interdisciplinary and international team.The HIF would enable pharmaceutical innovators to register their best new products for ten years of reward payments based on each medicine’s real health impact. In return, the innovator would agree to sell the product everywhere at cost.The HIF proposal exploits the fact that current rules and practices are not merely grievously unjust but also inefficient and self-undermining. This has its good side insofar as one can design reforms that would bring substantial moral gains without requiring significant financial sacrifices from the wealthy elites. The HIF would greatly enhance the cost-effectiveness of the worldwide provision of medicines.