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Punishing States that Cause Global Poverty

14 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2009  

Thom Brooks

Durham University

Date Written: February 20, 2009


The problem of global poverty has reached terrifying proportions. Since the end of the Cold War, ordinary deaths from starvation and preventable diseases amount to approximately 250 million people, most of them children. Thomas Pogge argues that wealthy states have a responsibility to help those in severe poverty. This responsibility arises from the foreseeable and avoidable harm the current global institutional order has perpetrated on poor states. Pogge demands that wealthy states eradicate global poverty not merely because they have the resources, but because they share responsibility for its continuation. For Pogge, global poverty is more than a wrong imposed on the poor: it is a violation of human rights and a crime.

In this paper, I critically examine Pogge's claim that global poverty is a crime. My aim is to demonstrate that Pogge's conclusions do not follow from his arguments. That is, if affluent states have a negative duty to assist those in severe poverty, their duty is not absolute because they are not fully responsible for this poverty. Moreover, if global poverty is one of the greatest crimes against humanity, then it seems inappropriate at best to champion proposals, pace Pogge, that lets the guilty parties walk free.

Keywords: Brooks, Pogge, Rawls, Mill, human rights, rights, poor, poverty, global, global poverty, global justice, justice, jurisprudence, law, distributive justice, negative duties, assistance, obligation, starvation, institutional order, affluence, crime, rights violation, punishment, retributivism

JEL Classification: K0, K10, K14, K19, K30, K39, K40, K42, K49

Suggested Citation

Brooks, Thom, Punishing States that Cause Global Poverty (February 20, 2009). William Mitchell Law Review, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2007. Available at SSRN:

Thom Brooks (Contact Author)

Durham University ( email )

Durham Law School
Durham University
Durham, County Durham DH1 3ET
United Kingdom
+441913344365 (Phone)


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