Friday, September 17, 2010

Singer and Acting Locally

Subsidiarity and Global Thinking

By John Taylor; 2010 Sep 17, 'Izzat 07, 167 BE

The great moral imperative of our time is to unite the human race under one law and one government. Any other ethical discussion is, by comparison, mere hairsplitting, a distracting waste of time. Prominent ethical philosopher Peter Singer, one of the founders of the animal rights movement, is one of the few members of his profession to follow up on Aristotle's argument that politics is born of ethics and not the other way around, and to understand that the implication of this constitutes the primary moral imperative of our time. Singer has remarkable courage and clear sightedness, and carries his arguments where few other leaders of thought dare go. Although some of his conclusions are daring to the point of shocking, I cannot but admire his uncompromising stance on the need to grow an ethical backbone for globalization.

In his book "One World" Singer argues that each of us has an incontrovertible moral duty to set aside a percentage of our income, however small, to raise the poorest humans on earth out of their destitution, which is both dire and life threatening. He calculates that it would take negligible sacrifice on the part of the rich once and for all to put an end to human misery around the world.

He points out that we use the word "charity" too lightly. We blithely lump a fund raiser for an extension to the local country club in with real charities, like Unicef's Save the Children fund, which save lives that otherwise would be wasted. He argues that our moral duty to save a life is not diluted by distance. This duty is undiminished, even if the life in danger happens to be located on the other side of the planet. However, he points out, such personal charity is only likely do real good if it takes place in the context of a stable world order.

We need not leap headlong into globalism, Singer points out. Instead we can add onto it a moral dimension. We can "accept the diminishing significance of national boundaries and take a pragmatic, step-by-step approach to greater global governance." (Singer, Peter, One World, The Ethics of Globalization, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2002, p. 200) It should be possible to do this if we take it step-by-step, starting by establishing, monitoring and regulating core labor and environmental standards.

"If these standards are developed and accepted, they would not be much use without a global body to check that they are being adhered to, and to allow other countries to impose trade sanctions against goods that are not produced in conformity with the standards. Since the WTO (World Trade Organization) seems eager to pass this task over to the ILO (International Labor Organization), we might see that organization significantly strengthened. Something similar could happen with environmental standards. It is even possible to imagine a United Nations Economic and Social Security Council that would take charge of the task of eliminating global poverty, and would be voted the resources to do it." (Id.)

How centralized a world government would have to be is not clear. However, the success, wealth and stability of the world's parliamentary democracies demonstrate that it is hardly inevitable that a strong world government will degrade into global tyranny.

Another nightmare scenario is that the world government would breed a massive, plodding and inefficient central bureaucracy. This can be averted, Singer says, by the same thorough, systematic approach, by holding global elections, by rule of law and by applying the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity would see to it that decisions always are made at the lowest level capable of dealing with the problem. This principle is being actively applied by the European Union. If it proves to be successful there "it is not impossible that it might work for the world." Subsidiarity, then, is the centripetal force that counterbalances the centrifugal force of global federalism. It is what makes sense of the saying, "Think globally, act locally."


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