Pogge suggests that rich countries contribute to the violation of human rights when they support a global order under which “hundreds of millions cannot attain “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights §25)?”” (Pogge, p. 3). As such, we, as an affluent nation, have a duty to improve global poverty, not as a matter of charity, but as a matter of justice.
But one doesn’t have to look to poor countries to find examples of individuals who lack adequate medical care, housing, and so on. One can look to the medical system in the United States to see how even those whose incomes put them above some construals of the poverty line can still lack adequate health care (see for example http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/01/health-care-horror-story_n_306572.html). Canada is certainly not exempt from the maladies of poverty. According to a recent UN report, 13.3% of Canadian children live in poverty, a problem that is particularly acute for aboriginal children (see http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/05/29/pol-cp-unicef-child-poverty.html) (For the sake of simplicity, I am considering aboriginal Canadians as part of the Canadian nation. I don’t mean to gloss over the question of aboriginal nationhood).
Given that there is a great deal of poverty within affluent countries, I can’t help but wonder: Where should our priorities lie? I certainly agree with Pogge that affluent nations have a duty to improve the conditions of poor countries, especially considering that our international policies prop up and perpetuate global poverty. But how are we to balance our international duties with our intra-national ones? If we agree with Pogge that we actively contribute to global poverty, is it ethically defensible to claim that we should prioritize improving local poverty over improving global poverty? Some may argue that it is easier for a country to improve internal matters, and thus this should be a greater focus. Others may argue that it is justifiable, and ultimately beneficial, for us to feel greater compassion for our fellow citizens than for members of other countries. However, if we agree with the luck egalitarian intuition that people shouldn’t suffer as a result of things beyond their control, including where they happen to be born, then these reasons may not be great enough to justify affluent nations giving priority to intra-national poverty. Or, if we agree with the prioritarian intuition that we should give greater moral weight to the worse off, we will reach the conclusion that the worst off, regardless of where they happen to reside, should receive the most priority.
So, how should we assign priority when faced with both local and global poverty? And what framework of justice best captures our intuitions on this matter?
Palevsky, Matthew. "Health Care Horror Story: Crippling Medical Bills Force Health Professional Into Foreclosure." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 01 Oct. 2009. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/01/health-care-horror-story_n_306572.html>.
Pogge, Thomas. “Poverty and Human Rights,” <http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/poverty/expert/docs/Thomas_Pogge_Summary.pdf>.
Press, The Canadian. "Poverty in Canada Has 'child's Face,' UN Report Says." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 29 May 2012. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/05/29/pol-cp-unicef-child-poverty.html>.