“The Priority of the Political in the Global Order: Reconsidering Global Justice”
Rawls’ legacy in international political philosophy is twofold. First, the overarching importance of his normative focus on economic distribution, which leads to, second, an absence of the demand for a politically just global order. This dual legacy results in the consistent prioritization of economic questions and Rawls’ defeatist (more sympathetically his concerns seem almost realist) acceptance of decent consultation hierarchies. The field of global justice, in fact, focuses almost exclusively on distributive questions. In both ideal and non-ideal circumstances, the dedication to the priority of redistribution covers over the question of political institutions and participation. Contemporarily, this debate takes the form of a question concerning whether global institutions ought to be judged based on criteria of justice or legitimacy.
While Laura Valentini has argued that no such decision needs to be made (i.e. that we can assess both via the idea of global political justice; understood as equal respect, which requires basic rights protections and democratic participation), I claim that global political justice is both normatively and empirically prior to global economic justice. That is, global economic institutions will continue to be unjust so long as they are not brought under the control of global democratic mechanisms. There are both theoretical and empirical reasons for this. Empirically, the global economic order operates via shareholderism rather than stakeholderism: entities with the most economic strength have the greatest influence on economic regulation and policy. This results in a set of institutions designed, sometimes even explicitly, to protect the interests of economically powerful entities, institutions, and individuals. Where institutions do not explicitly do so, as in the case of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), their programs for economic aid and development are scrutinized for their non-democratic, or anti-democratic, nature. As such, global economic justice will not be done until it can be brought under democratic control via the participation of all affected.
Theoretically, if the site of justice is global institutions (or, something like the nascent global basic structure) the fact that we live in a non-ideal world implies that such institutions cannot become just via just means without democratization and centralization of those same institutions. The final section of the paper utilizes the long standing Eurozone sovereign debt crisis as an example of the attempt to achieve economic justice, institutionally, in non-ideal circumstances. I argue that because the site of justice is institutions, but such institutions are insufficiently democratic, they do not contain within them the resources to determine institutionally what economic justice requires. Worse, the institutional resources to develop a set of rules for an economically just set of institutions require the implementation of central and democratic institutions: put otherwise, political justice is both normatively and empirically prior to economic justice where global or supranational organizations are concerned.