Saturday, May 26, 2007

Allocating Social Resources

Global justice concerns may be raised about not only material resource allocations, but also "social resources" such as citizenship, which arise from networks of permission and restraint. Note that whether someone is accepted as a member of a functioning society -- permitted to work and live within the nation's borders, bound and protected by its institutions -- makes an extraordinary difference to their life chances. Yet, Will Wilkinson writes:

Strangely, there appears to be next to nothing in the mainstream political philosophy literature (though maybe I’m missing something), that drives home the arbitrary distribution of citizenship. It’s funny, because citizenship, unlike wealth, can be created out of thin air, and is distributed according to a few largely arbitrary principles.

Further, in starkly physical terms, it's not as though citizenship is some positive entity that we're simply omitting to provide. A non-citizen is not lacking in any intrinsic capacity. What citizenship provides is permission -- it simply serves to remove the obstructions we would otherwise place in their way. In other words, social resources are liberties, and arguably should be considered the natural 'default' or baseline position. Citizenship isn't something we grant; it's something we cease to deny.

So: is the current global allocation of social resources just? Or should, for example, functioning societies deny citizenship to fewer people?

[Cross-posted to Philosophy, et cetera.]


David Hunter said...

I think Will is missing something since there is some discussion of this in the global justice literature, although it is fair to say this literature most focuses of the redistribution of stuff as opposed to the redistribution of rights.

Yet it is an interesting and important topic to raise, since it seems reducing requirements for citizenship would have a considerable impact on the worlds poor. I might add that reducing the current "only if you are highly skilled" rules that many countries currently operate with would reduce the amount of cherry picking that likewise harms third world countries since there is a skills drain where the skilled leave the country in greater numbers because they can do better elsewhere. (There is a conference on this at Keele University which I hope to be presenting at later this year: )

I think that barriers to at least permanent residency are very hard to justify, although citizenship may be easier to defend.