Subscriptions to The Philosophers' Magazine
Full refund within 30 days if you're not completely satisfied.
page:
contents page
previous next
zoom out zoom in
thumbnails double page single page large double page
fit width
clip to blog
page:
contents page
previous next
zoom out zoom in
thumbnails double page single page large double page
fit width
clip to blog

est is, indeed, barely “ethical” at all. It by-passes ethics, grounding action that helps others in an awareness that the action is also helping the actor. Enlightened self-interest does not create duties: I am always free to ignore my own interest. However, it does potentially create rights, this time belonging to the enlightened actor. Enlightened self-interest is only possible if the actor has a genuine self-interest. By far the most likely basis for this self-interest is that severe misfortune on the part of the potential recipient can have adverse consequences for the actor: misfortune creates spillovers. If the spillovers are sufficiently adverse, the victim of these spillovers potentially has the right to rectify them: the owner of the smoky chimney that pollutes the neighbouring laundry may find his freedom to pollute curtailed by public action. Thus, just as “fairness” invites some softening of the concept of national sovereignty, so does enlightened self-interest, though from a different perspective. With fairness the prospective recipient needs to soften sovereignty in order to create the right to the retrofitting of insurance institutions. With enlightened self-interest the donor needs to soften sovereignty in order to create the right to redress adverse externalities. Enlightened self-interest has the disadvantage of not being able to tap in very readily to the huge pool of potential energy constituted by morality: many citizens of rich countries want to do something that does not serve their own interest. However, offsetting this, it has two big advantages. One is that one of the key criteria for assistance is going to be effectiveness. Whereas guilt-based provision is effectiveness-blind, self-interest demands that resources be made to work. The other is that the recipient does not need to feel either aggrieved or grateful: the basis for any assistance is mutual advantage. Whereas the first three ethical bases for action all seek the pretence of “partnership” between aid givers and aid recipients – the pretence that preferences are coincident – enlightened self-interest seeks bargains . Bargaining acknowledges differences in interests but searches for mutually beneficial deals. To sum up, the present focus on “poverty reduction”, motivated by some melange of guilt, a sense of unfairness, and compassion, while understandable, is neither ethically well

based, nor practically helpful. It is mistaken because it misses the real development challenge, which is to reverse the divergence between societies. Its consequences are dire because it produces both unreasonable interventionism in matters that should be left to African societies themselves, notably the balance between the poorest and ordinary members of a society, and unreasonable feebleness in a reluctance to insist that assistance be effective. Most seriously, it furnishes the developing world with a mental frame in which it is cast as the victim. This is very debilitating and drains societies of the purposive energy they will need to achieve convergence. In that struggle international assistance in a wide variety of forms can be very useful. For our own enlightened self-interest we should be providing it on a scale and in a style that will maximise its effectiveness. Of course, in the practical world collective action is grounded in alliances of different interests. There is a natural affinity between compassion and enlightened self-interest. Both are interested in being effective. There is also scope for an alliance between “fairness” and self-interest, in the softening of national sovereignty. Hence, I do not in the end wish to argue against “fairness” and compassion. Both have their place in motivating OECD action. But I do not see them as the bedrock of the case for international assistance. P M T

f

forum 57

poverty&thedutyofassistance

TP M

4th quarter 2006