Freedom and Justice in Trade Governance

Review essay on Frank J. Garcia’s Consent and Trade: Trading Freely in a Global Market and Mathias Risse and Gabriel Wollner’s On Trade Justice: A Philosophical Plea for a New Global Deal.

“Freedom and Justice in Trade Governance,” Ethics & International Affairs Volume 34, Special Issue 3 (The United Nations at Seventy-Five: Looking Back to Look Forward), Fall 2020, pp. 401-412

Abstract: Two recent books consider the future of trade governance. Consent and Trade proposes reforms to trade agreements so that states can consent more freely to their terms. On Trade Justice defends reforms to the World Trade Organization, arguing that multilateralism is the foundation for a “new global deal” on trade. Each book describes trade’s distinctive features and proposes a principle to regulate both trade and trade governance. Consent and Trade defends a principle of respect for state consent in trade agreements. On Trade Justice offers a theory of trade justice that requires nonexploitation. Consent and nonexploitation are important principles for economic exchanges. However, trade governance and trade itself are different forms of cooperation, with different agents and different interests at stake. Consent and nonexploitation are less compelling as principles for trade governance than for trade itself. Both books understate the conflict between their principles for trade governance and liberal justice.

The Impact of Trade Policy Decisions on Social Justice

The Impact of Trade Policy Decisions on Social Justice, Res Publica, Volume 27, Issue 1 (2021), pp. 59-76:

Some recent trade decisions, such as the U.S.’s imposition of protectionist measures against China, have attracted fervent popular support as well as outrage. Critics of these trade policies argue that they fail to promote society’s own interests. This paper catalogues the different ways that trade decisions can hinder and facilitate a society’s pursuit of social justice. I adopt a simple description of trade liberalization: a society forgoes the use of certain policy options (such as tariffs), in order to pursue greater economic productivity through increased trade flows. Using this simple descriptive account, the paper identifies two pathways for a society’s trade policies to shape its pursuit of social justice. First, greater economic productivity improves a society’s capacities to realize justice, especially distributive justice. I will argue that the value of greater economic capacities depends upon the society’s existing capacities and its inclinations to pursue justice. When a society has greater capacities and fails to extend their benefits to its worse off citizens, these citizens have more serious grounds for complaint. Second, a society forgoes certain policy options when it liberalizes trade, and some of these options may be instrumentally valuable or even necessary for the society’s pursuit of justice. I will argue that, under non-ideal conditions, it can be desirable for a society to limit its own policy space so it cannot feasibly select policies that are unjust. Certain protectionist policies have taken on the expressive meaning that some groups are inferior in social and moral status.

This paper is the subject of a Critical Exchange, hosted by CRITIQUE (Centre for Ethics and Critical Thought at Edinburgh University):

When is Work Unjust? Confronting the Choice between “Pluralistic” and “Unifying” Approaches

Forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Philosophy (Open Access at
Individuals have different experiences of work when they are self-employed, when they perform tasks in the gig economy, and when they follow directives from managers. But such differences are not represented in some of the most prominent non-ideal theories of work. These describe workers as a coherent group, with a position in the structure of the liberal capitalist economy. I present an alternative that does better at acknowledging difference, through a description of work and workers that has greater “pluralism” and less “unifying coherence.” Some might insist that their “unifying” description has superior empirical plausibility. But if “pluralistic” descriptions are valid rivals to provide an accurate characterization of our current condition, then we should consider whether their use in theory can serve valuable aims. I identify the distinctive and valuable non-ideal aims—epistemic, evaluative, and normative—that can be pursued with “pluralistic” descriptions of work and workers.

Fair Trade

‘Fair Trade,’ The International Encyclopedia of Ethics, Second Edition, ed. Hugh LaFollette,

In general, an argument for fairness must specify the grounds of the argument, the relevant claimant(s) and duty-bearer(s), and the contested goods. Arguments for fair trade are grounded in at least one of the following two reasons. First, trade is a particular kind of relationship with valuable goods at stake, and it is appropriate for the participants in this kind of relationship to have duties of fairness to one another. Second, fairness in a trading relationship is valuable in virtue of its consequences, including its impact beyond the scope of the relationship. Both justifications raise important questions that must be addressed in order to complete an argument for fair trade. Who are the participants in trade? What are the goods that trade produces? Some arguments about fair trade reference a description of trade as an economic relationship between individuals and groups based in different countries. Other arguments reference a description of trade as an economic relationship between nation-states. A further set of arguments describe trade with reference to the subject of justice, which may consist in practices, dense associations, or institutions. The meaning of an argument for fair trade depends on its description of trade. For all descriptions, however, there is a common question about the appropriate method of ethical reasoning about trade. Should trade be described and evaluated as a distinct subject, so that it makes sense to distinguish between its “internal” fairness and its “external” consequences?

Discrimination and the Job Market

“Discrimination and the Job Market,” in the Routledge Handbook of the Ethics of Discrimination, ed. Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (Routledge, 2017), pp. 301-311.

Comparisons of men and women, blacks and whites, and other groups show different patterns of employment and different average levels of compensation for work. These differences persist, to a degree, in comparisons of individuals with similar levels of educational attainment and job experience. When individuals of different genders and racial groups are matched on these characteristics and other observable traits, white males enjoy higher wages, higher non-wage compensation, a lower probability of experiencing unemployment, and other advantages. Economists and sociologists cannot fully explain these patterns on the basis of observable differences between members of these groups, other than group membership itself. Empirical research in this field seeks to identify the impact of discriminatory decision-making in the job market, and distinguish it from the knock on effects of personal choices and differential treatment in society’s other institutions.

In this chapter, I describe common points of reference and topics of interest for both the empirical literature and the philosophical literature on discrimination in the job market. A common point of reference is the pattern of job allocation that would result from non-discriminatory hiring practices. Empirical researchers generally assume that, were it not for the impact of discrimination, employers would allocate jobs to the most qualified applicants. Philosophers disagree about how employers ought to allocate jobs; this is an important disagreement for those who view discrimination in the job market as morally wrong when it results in a job being denied to its rightful holder. A second commonality is interest in the mental states of employers and other economic decision-makers, particularly how their tastes and factual beliefs influence their assessments of job seekers and employees. Finally, in both literatures there is interest in the relationship between discrimination in the job market and differential treatment in the broader society.

How to Trade Fairly in an Unjust Society: The Problem of Gender Discrimination in the Labor Market

“How to Trade Fairly in an Unjust Society: The Problem of Gender Discrimination in the Labor Market” Social Theory and Practice Volume 42, Issue 3 (July 2016), pp. 555-580

Social scientists disagree about the causes of the “wage gap” between male and female workers and, in particular, how much of the gap is due to differences in workers’ productivity. Understanding the underlying causes is important, insofar as this helps identify who is responsible for closing the gap. This information is particularly relevant for specifying the responsibilities of employers, who have dual social roles as economic actors and as citizens. In this paper, I begin with the assumption that many employers underestimate the qualifications of female job applicants in hiring and promotion decisions. The paper then describes a form of discrimination that occurs when many economic actors make this kind of correlated error in their judgments. The paper argues that an individual employer has responsibilities not to make these errors in judgment about female workers, due to the harmful impact on women’s opportunities. An employer also has duties not to exploit female employees, which occurs when he pays them lower wages than he would if other employers did not discriminate against them.

Fair Trade: Global Problems and Individual Responsibilities

“Fair Trade: Global Problems and Individual Responsibilities,” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Volume 21, Issue 4 (2018), pp. 521-543

Winner of the CRISPP Essay Prize for Best Article in Volume 21 (2018) Awarded by the Editors of the Journal

The topic of global trade has become central to debates on global justice and on duties to the global poor, two important concerns of contemporary political theory. However, the leading approaches fail to directly address the participants in trade and provide them with normative guidance for making choices in non-ideal circumstances. This paper contributes an account of individuals’ responsibilities for global problems in general, an account of individuals’ responsibilities as market actors, and an explanation of how these responsibilities co-exist. The argument is developed through an extended case study of a consumer’s choice between conventional and fair trade coffee. My argument is that the coffee consumer’s choice requires consideration of two distinct responsibilities. First, she has responsibilities to help meet foreigners’ claims for assistance. Second, she has moral responsibilities to ensure that trades, such as between herself and a coffee farmer, are fair rather than exploitative.

How Should Donors Select International Charities? New Considerations for Effective Altruists

Effective altruists (EAs) have made several valuable contributions to ethical debates about international assistance. Most notably, EAs make use of evidence to produce practical guidelines for how a donor should select charities for her donations. This paper accepts the EAs’ method of ethical reasoning about international assistance from the perspective of an individual donor. However, my argument challenges the EAs’ recommendation that donors should select global charities with a narrow focus on specific projects for which there is strong evidence of effectiveness. I argue that EAs misunderstand how the donor acts to make a difference through international assistance. The donor makes a difference indirectly, by enabling and encouraging charities to act and make choices that promote good outcomes for beneficiaries. In addition, EAs overlook social scientific evidence that suggests it is often more effective for donors to grant charities discretion to use their judgment over how they choose and implement their programs. Finally, I argue that EAs should advise individuals to take action to address deficiencies in funding and public information about international assistance. EAs have good reasons to recommend action to address these problems with the institutions of international assistance, because they undermine the donor’s potential to make a difference.

If we don’t value trade in general, what do we mean with our sanctions?

Many liberal democratic governments are sanctioning Russia in response to its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, through restrictions on goods that directly and indirectly support Russia’s military activities and on financial services. I find it striking that public support for the sanctions remains high, even as costs mount for the sanctioning states and some commentators question the impact on Russia. This paper defends a potential value in a liberal democracy’s sanctions against countries that violate ethical standards in their institutions and policies. I argue for the potential value of sanctions as a meaningful expression. A liberal democracy can make a meaningful expression about its principles, by no longer involving itself in trade with a particular state. But I have doubts about whether the liberal democracies are in a good position to act meaningfully in imposing sanctions. Many liberal democracies have taken action to restrict trade in response to their partners’ trade and economic practices, which they judge to be ‘unfair.’ I will argue that some of these actions are inconsistent with their valuation of trade and trading partnerships. If citizens of a liberal democracy do not value trade in general, what do their sanctions mean? I will analyze the need for consistency across trade and other policy areas, in order for liberal democracies to act meaningfully when they sanction particular states.