Author Archives: kieran oberman

Free Money for All: Karl Widerquist’s Argument for Basic Income


In what ways do theories of property and the social contract affect an individual’s freedom? Are members of a reasonably just society morally obliged to contribute to its economic system even in ways they might not want to, and within structures they might not agree with?

These are the questions that stand at the centre of  Karl Widerquist’s exploration of freedom in capitalist societies, laid out in his book Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income – A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No. Continue reading

Global Epidemics and Social Justice

health worker

Health Worker at Ebola Isolation Ward in Kabala, Sierra Leone. UN Photo: Marine Perret

By Markus Fraundorfer

Imagine a virus which kills a person within days causing horrible pain and suffering. Imagine this virus spreads within weeks, or even days, from city to city, from country to country, crossing state boundaries as if they never existed. Imagine this virus travels by aeroplane crossing oceans and continents without the slightest obstacle. Imagine that during its long journeys this virus infects hundreds of thousands of people. And imagine, there is no vaccine or successful treatment available. This is not the storyline of a thrilling novel; it is the storyline of what could have happened in 2014, the year of the most dangerous outbreak of Ebola since the virus was detected in 1976 in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The most lethal strain of the Ebola virus, with a mortality rate ranging between 70 and 90 percent, can kill a person within several days. Continue reading

Philanthropy and Development


Photo: Gates Foundation.

By Paul Spray

I come from a particular context. I have worked all my life in international development – for developing country governments, for international NGOs, for the British government Department for International Development, and (albeit only for 18 months) for a philanthropic foundation. I am currently a Board member of Christian Aid.

  1. What’s going on: Philanthropy and development

There has been a rapid increase in the money given by Foundations for international development. In 2011 philanthropic North-South flows from OECD countries were at least US$59 billion, and probably a lot more. That’s already half of governments’ official aid. Continue reading

 Retrieving the Heart of the Market?

Leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron delivers a speech at The Conservative Party Big Society conference in central London, Wednesday March 31, 2010. Photo By Andrew Parsons

Photo: Andrew Parsons.

By Emma Dowling

In September 2014, the G8 Social Investment Taskforce (established by the UK presidency of the G8) produced a report entitled The Invisible Heart of Markets, outlining a strategy for G8 member states to develop a social investment market, invoking the metaphor of the market’s ‘invisible hand’ invoked by the 18th century political economist Adam Smith (1776) in The Wealth of Nations. According to dominant readings of Adam Smith’s theory, it is through the pursuit of one’s self-interest that social activity is steered via a market in beneficial ways for the collective good. The quip in the G8 Social Investment Taskforce report then seems to want to suggest that the market not only has an invisible hand that steers it, it also has an invisible heart that beats for the good of society. Continue reading

Five Bad Arguments Against Divestment

Photo: Augustine Ruiz.

Last year, Glasgow University became the first university in Europe to commit to fossil fuel divestment. Since then SOAS and Bedford have followed suit. Who, one wondered, would be next? The obvious answer was Edinburgh. Edinburgh has long prided itself on its ethical credentials. It was the first university in Europe to sign up to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment. In 2014, it set up the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability, which swiftly launched a consultation on investment policy. The Just World Institute contributed by issuing a response document and collaborating in a packed out public debate. Finally, in the autumn, the matter moved to another level: the university set up a committee to formally consider the future of its £290 million endowment.   Divestment seemed like a real possibility. Continue reading

Should Scotland vote for what is best for Scotland?


Photo: Scottish Government.

On the face of things, the positions taken by the Yes and No camps in the referendum campaign would seem to be diametrically opposed. Yes argue that an independent Scotland would be better off: it would be richer, stronger, greener and fairer, resembling Norway or Sweden as much as the UK. No argue that an independent Scotland would be worse off: it would be poorer, jobs would head south and it would lose, along with its EU membership, the disproportionately large influence it has internationally by being part of the UK. Yet despite the appearance of opposition there is something that Yes and No have in common, which is that both are offering answers to the same question: what is best for Scotland?

But why think that “what is best for Scotland?” is the relevant question to ask? Here’s a strikingly different approach we could take. We could ask, “What is best for everyone in the world, no matter where they live?” Asking this question would force us to think beyond Scotland’s borders and take into account the interests of all those upon whom the referendum will have an effect. Clearly, the outsiders who will be most affected are those living in the rest of the UK. In the event of a Yes victory, politics within the rest of the UK is set for a shake up. Continue reading

Immigration is a human right

Photo: Motograf

Freedom of movement in Europe is under attack and not just in the UK. Earlier this year, the Swiss voted to introduce quotas for EU immigration, thus invalidating the Swiss-EU Free Movement of Persons Agreement. The Belgium government has sent thousands of letters (2,712 in 2013) to out-of-work EU immigrants, informing them that they have become an “unreasonable burden” on the state’s benefit system and as such must leave or face deportation. The German government is thinking of following suit, with a proposal to deport EU migrants who have not found work within three months.

Much has been written on what is motivating this wave of anti-immigration politics. Here, let us ask a different question: what motivates those who remain pro-immigration? Why should anyone think that freedom of movement in Europe is something worth defending? Continue reading

The Crimean crisis: justified secession, Russian aggression or both?

The current standoff in the Crimea raises a number of philosophical problems.  The first is whether regions within countries have a right to secede and if so under what conditions.  In their condemnation of the deployment of Russian troops, Western politicians have been keen to stress the importance of Ukrainian territorial integrity.  But why should we judge Ukrainian territorial integrity so important?  Most people seem to think that if the majority within a defined region wish to secede, that region has a right to secede, perhaps especially if has a history of independence and if the majority of its inhabitants are of a distinct ethnic or national group.  Thus most people seem to think that David Cameron was not only right, but also obligated, to sign the Edinburgh Agreement that paved the way for the Scottish independence referendum.  In their view, Scotland has a right to secede.  As I indicated in a previous article, I am far from convinced, but if we assume the truth of this pro-secessionist sentiment, the implication seems to be that Crimea also has a right to secede.  Continue reading

Does Scotland have a right to secede?

Photo by Scottish Government

What is perhaps most striking about the debate regarding Scottish independence is not what people are saying but what they are ignoring.  When one brings the philosophical literature on secession to bear on the public debate one notices that a number of points are being assumed that require defence.  In this article, I wish to address a crucial assumption made on both sides, by the No camp as much as the Yes camp, by the UK government as much as the SNP: the assumption that Scotland has a right to unilaterally decide it’s future.

What gives Scotland a moral right to secede anyway?  One plausible view of secession is that an area of a state only has a right to secede if it is suffering serious forms of abuse.  Something close to this view is defended by perhaps the most prominent theorist of secession, Allen Buchanan.  It is also the view invoked in the world’s most famous secessionist document, the US Declaration of Independence.  According to the Declaration, “Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes”.  Secession can only be justified in light of “a long train of abuses”.  It was the long train of abuses that George III had supposedly inflicted against the thirteen colonies that, in the eyes of the Founding Fathers, justified their bid for secession.  What “long train of abuses” can the residents of Scotland complain of? Continue reading

How sweatshops benefit workers and why they are unjust

Photo by Rijans007

On April 21 2013, the Rana Plaza building, an eight story factory building in Greater Dhaka collapsed, killing over a thousand workers.  The factory collapsed because, quite simply, the building was not designed to be a factory.  The building had been built to house offices and shops.  When the building’s owner later converted the building, he added industrial sewing machines and the generators to power them, but not the additional supports necessary to ensure that the building could withstand the resulting vibrations.  The day before the collapse, cracks appeared in the walls of the building and workers were sent home.  But the next morning, supervisors declared the building safe and ordered workers back to work.  Those who were reluctant to enter the building were threatened with a dock in pay. Continue reading