PTRG seminar: Can Benign Leverage Be Relied On to End Global Poverty? 9 November 2016
(Source: Radio Okapi, flickr, CC BY 2.0)
Should people maximize the good they can do by earning much money as they can, so they can donate as much as they can to charitable programs? This is the argument of Effective Altruism. This view seems perfectly right to us, but Professor Tim Hayward holds the opposite view. The theme of his paper Can Benign Leverage be Relied on to End Global Poverty is to challenge benign leverage, the assumption of Effective Altruism and to show that it is a problematic solution to overcoming global poverty.
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
[Here we re-blog the third of Tim Hayward’s pieces for the Global Justice Academy on what socially responsible investment means for the university.]
To think about the fundamental principles that should guide a responsible investment policy it is helpful to get back to conceptual basics. So I shall start with a moment of philosophical reflection.
Reality is all of what we apprehend, in our human lives, under the forms of space and time. Our lives themselves have objective aspects (what we observably do) and subjective ones (how we interpret our experiences). Investment is, in the broadest sense, a putting of oneself into some venture or commitment: we invest our energies and our time in activities whose objective fruits yield what we apprehend, subjectively, as benefits. Where an abundance of those benefits is achieved, we have a circumstance that can be referred to as wealth. This has both objective and subjective elements: what has been objectively assembled is subjectively appreciated. But what of investment in a narrower sense, that of bestowing money on others that they may in due course return the sum and, hopefully, with more besides? Is this a special case of the general idea or something rather different? Continue reading
In its current consultation on its investment policy, the University of Edinburgh reminds us that its Strategic Plan aims to make a socially responsible contribution to the world in three key areas: health, economic growth, and cultural wellbeing. The social reasons for seeking to promote health and cultural wellbeing are readily understandable, but what about economic growth? Unlike health or wellbeing, which are values counted among fundamental human rights, economic growth is not a direct good for people. It is at most a proxy for measuring the potential means to achieve the wealth that may in turn be good for people.
The assumption that economic growth is a good thing implies a judgement about macroeconomic morality. I want to examine that assumption and how it relates to the principles of responsible investment. A commitment to such principles means being prepared to forego a financial return if that could only be achieved at the expense of unacceptable costs being inflicted on people or planet. The University of Edinburgh has already taken this kind of stand with regard to investments in tobacco and drones technology. It is thus committed to certain principles of microeconomic morality. Continue reading
As Edinburgh University publishes a consultation paper on responsible investment, JWI director Tim Hayward offers some reflections (re-blogged from Global Justice Academy Blog)
Why should a university be socially responsible? A question thrown into relief by the current debate over universities’ investments concerns the social role of the university and the relation of that to its core academic activities. In a thoughtful response to an earlier blog where I argued in favour of the fossil fuel divestment campaign, a critic, Nick Geiser, objects that the campaign is ‘forcing universities to “take a side” in the climate change debate and committing the university to a particular set of political objectives.’ This, he maintains, ‘is a radical attack on the principles of scholarship and academic freedom and threatens open debate in higher education.’ Since that sounds like a damaging charge, I’d like to consider more carefully why we should suppose that urging a university to take a decision that may be perceived to have a distinctive political colour is necessarily a threat to academic freedom or any other core value of a university. Continue reading