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Global Equality of Opportunity and National Integrity*

  • Bernard R. Boxil (a1)


Philosophers have long distinguished various interpretations of the principle of equal opportunity and argued over their implications and justifications. But they have almost always tacitly assumed that the context was a national one. They have not, in particular, considered whether some interpretation of the principle could apply and be justified globally, that is, to all people without regard to their nationality or citizenship. Yet, such an investigation is clearly demanded. The leading moral theories seem to support a case for at least some interpretation of the equal opportunity principle, and it is not obvious that they can support it only domestically.

Consider, first, those moral theories which place great value on negative liberty, for example, libertarianism. Libertarianism supports a standard interpretation of the equal opportunity principle – “formal” equality of opportunity; formal equality of opportunity requires that legal restrictions j on the taking of opportunities be lifted, and such restrictions diminish negative liberty. But libertarianism would also seem to support a global. version of formal equality of opportunity, for example, that laws be rescinded which require that candidates for jobs in a country be citizens of that country, or which restrict emigration or immigration. Such laws also diminish negative liberty.

Or consider those moral theories which place great value on efficiency, for example, utilitarianism. Utilitarianism probably supports formal equality of opportunity because legal restrictions on the taking of opportunity not only diminish negative liberty, but also often prevent talent and skill from going where it can best be used and thus reduce efficiency.



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1 See, for example, Beitz, Charles, Political Theory and International Relations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), pp. 143153.

2 Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 6590.

3 ibid., pp. 293–303.

4 See, for example, Seers, Dudley, “The Transmission of Inequality,” Gardiner, R. K. A., Anottee, M.J., and Patterson, C. L., eds., Africa and the World (Addis Ababa: Oxford University, 1970), pp. 157184; or Perkins, James A., “Foreign Aid and the Brain Drain,” Foreign Affairs, July 1966, pp. 608619; or Bhagwati, Jagdish N., “International Migration of the Highly Skilled: Economics, Ethics, and Taxes,” Third World Quarterly, vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 1630.

5 Hudson, James L., “The Ethics of Immigration Restriction,” Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 10 (Summer 1984), p. 202.

6 As Seers notes, the brain drain is a “perverse” movement, moving “resources to areas where they are less needed”; “The Transmission of Inequality,” p. 160. Domestically, brain drains may also apparently have serious effects, for example, the creation of an underclass. See Lehmann, Nicholas, “The Origins of the Under Class,” The Atlantic, vol. 257 (June 1986), pp. 3155. This view has been adumbrated in the writings of many black radicals. See, for example, Carmichael, Stokely and Hamilton, Charles V., Black Power (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), p. 53.

7 It is, however, controversial how useful these remittances are for the development of the country of emigration. See Bohniny, W. R., “Elements of A Theory of International Economic Migration to Industrial Nation States,” Kritz, Mary M., Keely, Charles B., and Tomasi, Silvano M., eds., Global Trends in Migration: Theory and Research on International Population Movements (New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1981), p. 41. On brain drains being not always harmful, see “International Migration of the Highly Skilled: Economics, Ethics and Taxes,” p. 18.

8 Thus the typical working class opposition to large-scale immigration. W. A. Lewis, The Evolution of the International Economic Order, p. 20. If there is a shortage of labor, immigration could lead to a higher GNP and eventually to a higher per capita income. But, of course, this may be too late for many workers.

9 As W. A. Lewis observes “LDC nationals with high qualifications can find jobs almost anywhere. This limits the ability of their native countries to hold down their salaries to levels comparable with those of other groups who cannot enter a brisk international market.” Lewis, W. A., “Development and Distribution,” Cairnoroso, A. and Puri, M., eds., Employment, Income Distribution and Development Strategy (London: Macmillan, 1976), p. 32.

10 A Theory of Justice, p. 73.

11 ibid., p. 74.

12 ibid.

13 ibid., p. 511.

14 Lewis, Oscar, “The Culture of Poverty,” Scientific American, vol. 215, no. 4 (Oct. 1966).

15 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto.

16 Bruton, Henry J., “The Search for a Development Economics,” World Development, vol. 13, no. 10/11, p. 1103.

17 Hirschman, Albert O., “Obstacles to Development: A Classification and a Quasi-Vanishing Act,” Economic Development and Cultural Change, vol. XIII, no. 4 (July 1965), p. 385.

18 ibid.

19 Lewis, Arthur, The Theory of Economic Growth (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965), p. 113.

20 “Obstacles to Development,” p. 386.

21 Lewis, W. A., Foreword to Epstein, T. S., Economic Development and Social Change in South India (Manchester: Manchester University Press), p. x.

22 “The Search for a Development Economics,” p. 1102.

23 Mill, J. S., On Liberty (New York: Penguin Books, 1960), p. 00.

24 Rawls, John, “Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical,” Vol. 14 (Summer 1985), p. 225.

25 A Theory of Justice, p. 79.

26 A Theory of Justice, pp. 93, 94.

27 Rawls, John, “Fairness to Goodness,” Philosophical Review, vol. 84 (Summer 1975), pp. 543544. Rawls also protests that his principles do not “require” people to strive for gain and that the Difference Principle only “permits” inequalities that raise the expectations of the least advantaged. “Fairness to Goodness,” p. 544. The first of these is irrelevant to my argument, and the second introduces a new interpretation of the Difference Principle and undercuts the main argument for it. Rawls had noted the two interpretations in A Theory of Justice, pp. 78, 79.

28 A Theory of Justice, pp. 542, 543. Here, Rawls explains why liberty comes to have priority over further economic improvement. His explanation is very similar to my proposal, but should not be confused with it. The priority of liberty over economic improvement is consistent with considerable economic improvement. My proposal takes the priority of liberty as given and tries to explain why eventually the drive for economic improvement declines.

29 A Theory of Justice, pp. 269, 315, 336.

30 Political Theory and International Relations, p. 157.

31 ibid.

32 A Theory of Justice, p. 142.

33 For a discussion, see Falk, Richard A., “International Jurisdiction: Horizontal and Vertical Conceptions of Legal Order,” Temple Law Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 3 (Spring 1959), pp. 295320.

34 Political Theory and International Relations, pp. 152–153.

35 ibid., p. 173.

36 A Theory of Justice, p. 234.

37 Rawls, John, “The Basic Liberties and Their Priority,” McMurrin, Sterling M., ed., The Tanner Lectures on Human Values III (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1982), p. 43.

38 I stress “analogous” since the danger in the domestic case is that the better off may use their advantages to control the electoral process and thus the state, while in the international case there is presumably no world state for the rich to control to their advantage. Clearly, however, this may also make their advantages even more dangerous.

39 In Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Albert O. Hirschman claimed that exit could be dysfuctional because those exiting would work for reform if denied exit. To which A. H. Birch commented that if people are “locked in” they could also be “locked up.” Hirschman then suggested the secret ballot as a way to make “voice” retaliation proof. This seems to me to be insufficient. See Hirschman, Albert O., Exit, Voice and Loyalty (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), p. 241; and Birch, A. H., “Economic Models in Political Science: The Case of Exit, Voice and Loyalty,” British Journal of Political Science, vol. 5 (1974), pp. 6982.

40 Nozick, Robert, Anarchy, State and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974), p. 173. Nozick, of course, thinks that the patterned distributional principles people may want to avoid are unjust.

41 A Theory of Justice, pp. 152–153.

42 Naipaul, V. S., “Michael X and the Black Power Killings in Trinidad,” The Return of Eva Peron with the Killing in Trinidad (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), p. 71.

43 Lewis, W. A., “The Development Process,” The Case For Development: Six Studies, United Nations Center for Economic and Social Information (New York: Praeger, 1973), pp. 5282.

44 Political Theory and International Relations, p. 159.

* I am grateful to the members of die Triangle-Circle Ethics Group at Chapel Hill and to the editors of Social Philosophy & Polity for helpful criticisms of earlier versions of this essay. This paper was written while I was a fellow of the National Humanities Center.

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Global Equality of Opportunity and National Integrity*

  • Bernard R. Boxil (a1)


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