International Justice and Health: A Proposal [Excerpt]

Ethics and International Affairs, Volume 16.2 (Fall 2002)

November 25, 2002

Ethics & International Affairs

This paper discusses obligations of international distributive justice-specifically, obligations rich countries have to transfer resources to poor countries. It argues that the major seven OECD countries each have an obligation to transfer at least one percent of their GDP to developing countries. The strategy of the paper is to defend this position without having to resolve the many debates that attend questions of international distributive justice. In this respect, it belongs to the neglected category of nonideal theory. The key to the strategy is to show that a significant amount of good would be accomplished by a one percent transfer, despite the fact that one percent is quite a small amount. To make this showing, the paper takes health as a fundamental measure of individual well-being and examines the improvement in life expectancy that would likely result from devoting the one percent transfer to the major determinants of health. It adduces data indicating that substantial progress towards raising life expectancy in developing countries to the global average of 64.5 years can be expected from expenditures of $125 per capita, divided between health care, education, and basic nutrition and income support. A one percent transfer from the major seven is enough to cover expenditures on that scale for the poorest fifth of the world's population.


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