Monday, June 25, 2012

ANNOUNCING: Global Ethics Network

Dear Readers,

We are pleased to announce the launch of our new social media platform: Global Ethics Network, a site dedicated to rethinking international relations. It will be taking the place of Fairer Globalization in the Carnegie Council's family of online publications going forward.

Built around a core group of Global Ethics Fellows and their home institutions, the Network is compiling new multimedia resources that explore the ethical dimensions of international affairs. We hope that you'll join the growing community over there and continue to contribute the insights that animated this blog over the years.

Thank you for your readership.

Sincerely, Eds.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Ties that Bind Japan

I was recently interviewed in the press about the recent Olympus scandal in Japan.

The Olympus episode illustrates competing moral virtues in Japan. In this case, it was the virtue of loyalty winning out over the virtue of honesty. I am increasingly coming to believe that one of the core problems in Japan is that while the elite may thoroughly understand the country's problems, it isn't necessarily in their short-term interest to push for change.

Real change will come from a change in thinking, which means education. People had put their hopes in seeing societal change come about from the election of the DPJ in 2009 or from the response to the earthquake in 2011. People also put hopes in corporate change coming from the response to business scandals like Livedoor and then Olympus. But it didn't happen. Now analysts are wondering whether a debt crisis (that some expect to hit Japan by 2018) might do the trick. I doubt it. Change will come about over a long term shift in the country's values.

When I recently visited Japan many people were talking about kizuna (social bonds), which was voted "the kanji of the year" for 2011. Sure Japan demonstrated the virtues of its strong community ties (or bonds) in its response to the earthquake and tsunami. But in a way, the bonds that tie Japan together are also part of the problem. They are binding Japan to the status quo or inertia. People are aware of this issue and are skeptical of powerful people taking advantage those bonds and the peoples' trust. For example, companies are using kizuna in their TV commercials and there is a new political party called kizuna. As one person told me, kizuna is fine as long as the social relations are on equal footing. Without equity, it's exploitation.

Now foreign investors are more likely to question the accounting books at Japanese companies. They are also more suspicious about Japanese corporate strategies for mergers and acquisitions. When the question of Tokyo becoming Asia's financial center comes up, people usually look around the room nervously like someone just told a bad joke.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Conversation with Thomas Pogge

Last week, philosopher Thomas Pogge spoke at Carnegie Council. Our intern Sarah Aston summarizes his talk below:

Today’s international and economic system is founded on the principle of “profit maximization at any cost” and our challenge is to change this attitude argues Thomas Pogge of Yale University. Talking with Carnegie Council as part of the Ethics Matters series, Pogge reflected on his education under the guidance of political philosopher and advocate of universal justice John Rawls, and how seemingly abstract theories of justice can, and should be, applied to areas of international and social politics.

Pogge is known for his bold comparisons of today’s population in the developed world with the German population of 1930s Nazi Germany. Like the latter, we are, according to Pogge, part of a huge organism that allows for terrible atrocities to happen to our fellow mankind. Statistics show that one-third of all deaths today are premature due to poverty and yet we do not actively seek any solution to this problem in our system.

Drawing on this comparison, Pogge explained that he was compelled to develop Rawls’s theory of justice and practically apply it to areas of society. Rawls argues that there are two principles of justice that must be met within society and that all rational human beings would agree to these principles under a “veil of ignorance” in which they are unaware of their position in society. The first principle of Rawls’s theory is “First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others” and this is where Pogge develops on Rawls’s work.

While Rawls argued that it was up to economists and politicians to satisfy this principle, Pogge argues that there must be clear instructions and guidance in order to change the system. His work with the Health Impact Fund is an example. Talking to Carnegie Council, Pogge explained that during research into the pharmaceutical industry he saw that the industry was driven by profit margins and competitive pricing rather than aiding those in need of the drugs. Pogge’s proposal to change the incentive system with a government - sponsored scheme of rewarding those companies that provide drugs to the most people with the highest impact and the lowest prices is a way of providing guidance on how to satisfy Rawls’s first principle of justice.

Pogge has chosen to focus on the pharmaceutical industry, but he told the Council that his work could be applied to all areas of the international system and that the system itself needed to address its system of incentives. When asked if he was optimistic about the future of the system he responded by saying we needed to design an economic system that meets the basic requirements of everyone and the way to do that is through education which will take a long time to filter through. The crisis we face today, however, offers an opportunity to reevaluate and re-structure our system.

- Sarah Aston