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Document Details :
Title: Collective Responsibility and Global Poverty
Author(s): MILLER, David
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 19 Issue: 4 Date: 2012
The present contribution aims to show why the notion of collective responsibility plays an essential role in our thinking about global poverty. It distinguishes outcome responsibility – where agents are held liable for the effects of their actions – from remedial responsibility – where agents are identified as having a special responsibility to rectify some harm – while arguing that the former is often the source of the latter. Outcome responsibility for global poverty must be attributed to collectives, especially nation-states, rather than individuals. But when is it appropriate to include individuals in outcome responsibility? Liberals are reluctant to do this unless a person has voluntarily chosen to join the collective. Through a series of examples, the article challenges this view, and shows that individuals in non-voluntary associations may only be able to avoid collective outcome responsibility by doing everything they reasonably can to oppose what the collective is doing. It then considers whether we could abandon collective outcome responsibility altogether, and assign remedial responsibility for global poverty simply on the basis of capacity to pay. It argues that if the rationale for this is to avoid assigning obligations to individuals as a result of the bad luck of involuntary membership, it does not succeed. It concludes by comparing states with nations as bearers of outcome responsibility, and claims that although there are practical advantages in focussing attention on states, it is often nations as amorphous groups that are really responsible for the outcomes we observe.