Global justice, inequality and natural resources: a debate

By Chris Armstrong, Professor of Political Theory

As we are often reminded, ours is a world of massive inequality. A paper of mine called ‘Sovereign Wealth Funds and Global Justice’ has recently been published by Ethics and International Affairs (available free). In it I argue that those of us concerned about global inequality should turn our attention to Sovereign Wealth Funds. These are vehicles for immense wealth, but their workings are subjected to very little debate. Neither are their purposes. Hoarding assets in these funds is presumably a sensible idea – at least if we can judge by the sheer number of such funds set up in recent years. But what, exactly, is the money being stored for? How should it be spent?

The question should be of interest, to those working on global justice, not only because of the sheer size of the funds, but also because of the source of the money contained in most of these funds. With some exceptions, these funds tend to be filled with receipts obtained from selling natural resources like oil and gas. But theorists of global justice have often asked questions about why such resources are to be considered the ‘property’ of individual nation-states in the first place. Aren’t the world’s natural resources to be considered a common heritage for humankind, to be shared by all of us? Political theorists very often thought so in the past. Why not now?

The question raises a whole set of interesting issues, and Ethics and International Affairs has just published an Online Exchange on my paper which pursues many of them. Four experts – including political theorists, economists, and experts on sovereign wealth funds – pose a series of challenges to my argument. Moreover, a discussion forum is now open. If you’re interested in inequality in today’s world, make your own contribution!

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