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Outreach, Impact, Collaboration: Why Academics Should Join to Stand Against Poverty

  • Thomas Pogge and Luis Cabrera
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1 Professional associations include the Development Studies Association, the International Development Ethics Association, the International Global Ethics Association, the International Ethics section of the International Studies Association, and numerous country-specific associations of development economists. Each does extremely valuable work in bringing academics together to discuss their own research, identify important developments, and set research emphases. We see tremendous potential for effecting positive change in helping members of such groups collaborate on outreach and impact efforts on specific issues.

2 See, e.g., Chandy, Laurence and Gertz, Geoffrey, “Quantifying Poverty's Global Decline,” Brookings Institution, October 2011; Chandy and Gertz argue that global poverty, as measured according to the World Bank's $1.25 per day poverty line in purchasing power parity, has trended steadily downward in recent years, due especially to growth in China and other “rising power” countries. For a discussion of some grave problems with the World Bank's poverty measures, and related measurement problems with the MDG aim of halving global poverty by 2015, see Pogge, Thomas, Politics As Usual: What Lies Behind the Pro-Poor Rhetoric (Cambridge: Polity, 2010), chaps. 3–4. And see ibid., pp. 100–107, for reasons to be skeptical about some of the claims made for growth and poverty reduction in China. The discourse around measurement issues is rich and complex, of course, and this is not to suggest that any one account provides the answer. For cutting-edge discussion of such issues, see the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative website at Work conducted within the initiative, which is headed by Sabina Alkire, is fine-grained and instructive for the ways in which it seeks to take into account the full range of issues that arise in the measurement of aspects of poverty.

3 For a representative articulation of this argument, addressed to philosophers and normative theorists, see Gaus, Gerald, “Should Philosophers ‘Apply Ethics’?Think (Spring 2005), pp. 6367.

4 Climate change, e.g., could have grave effects on global food production, increasing hunger dramatically in many of the poorer countries. See Brown, Molly E. and Funk, Christopher C., “Food Security Under Climate Change,” Science 319, no. 5863 (February 2008), pp. 580–81; see also Lobell, David B. et al. , “Prioritizing Climate Change Adaptation Needs for Food Security in 2030,” Science 319, no. 5863 (February 2008), pp. 607–10. And see Simon Caney, “Addressing Poverty and Climate Change: The Varieties of Social Engagement,” this issue.

5 See Cirincione, Joseph, Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), esp. chap. 5. Cirincione details how, though nuclear tensions are not as acute as during the height of the cold war, pressing issues remain.

6 Detailed information on global poverty has become more widely available in recent years, though there are some of the same measurement issues noted above. For a discussion that relies on some problematic measurements but nonetheless offers an instructive geographic mapping of global poverty, see Elvidge, Christopher D. et al. , “A Global Poverty Map Derived from Satellite Data,” Computers & Geosciences 35, no. 8 (2009), pp. 1652–60.

7 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Food Outlook: Global Market Analysis,” June 2011,

8 See Pogge, Thomas, World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008); and Wenar, Leif, “Property Rights and the Resource Curse,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 36, no. 1 (2008), pp. 232.

9 Kar, Dev and Curcio, Karly, Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: 2000–2009 (Washington, D.C.: Global Financial Integrity, 2011). This outflow is over four times larger than all official development assistance, which, during this period, averaged $83 billion annually, of which only $8 billion was allocated to “basic social services.” United Nations, MDG Indicators;

10 Hollingshead, Ann, The Implied Tax Revenue Loss from Trade Mispricing (Washington, D.C.: Global Financial Integrity, 2010), p. 15, Table 2.

11 Global Humanitarian Forum, The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis (Geneva: Global Humanitarian Forum, 2009), pp. 1 and 6061.

12 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Agricultural Policy Monitoring and Evaluation 2011: OECD Countries and Emerging Economies (Paris: OECD, 2011), p. 18 (which also states that in 2010 government subsidies accounted for 18 percent of gross farm receipts in OECD countries).

13 These special responsibilities could be grounded in negative duties, where individuals are understood to be contributing to the harms identified and thus are obligated to help end them. A complementary positive duties grounding would see the materially secure within affluent states as especially well placed to advocate for the changes in governance that would address the harms, and thus as having positive duties to do so. For an account emphasizing the former, see Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, esp. chaps. 4–6. For one emphasizing the latter, see Cabrera, Luis, The Practice of Global Citizenship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), esp. pp. 9095.

14 For discussion of some salient issues around the use of expert witnesses, in particular economists, in the U.S. context, see Posner, Richard A., “The Law and Economics of the Economic Expert Witness,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 13, no. 2 (Spring 1999), pp. 9199.

15 See Francis, John A., Shea, Amy K., and Samet, Jonathan M., “Challenging the Epidemiologic Evidence on Passive Smoking: Tactics of Tobacco Industry Expert Witnesses,” Tobacco Control 15, Suppl. 4 (December 2006), pp. iv68iv76.

16 An exemplar would be Oxfam's GROW campaign, seeking to address fundamental problems in global food production and distribution;

17 See Maas, Ad and Hooijmaijers, Hans, eds., Scientific Research in World War II: What Scientists Did During the War (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009). Some efforts, of course, such as the development of nuclear weapons, cannot be simply lauded. In the context of this essay, however, it is important to note that many of the same scientists whose work was instrumental in developing these weapons helped lead postwar efforts to control their spread. Einstein in particular suspended his core scientific work to campaign globally for a unified political solution. See Susan Caudill, “Trying to Harness Atomic Energy, 1946–1951: Albert Einstein's Publicity Campaign for World Government,” Journalism Quarterly 1–2 (Spring/Summer 1991), pp. 253–62.

18 Total deaths related to World War II (1939–45) are estimated at more than 48 million: some 8 or even 10 million per annum. The total includes some 7.6 million military deaths on the Axis side, and more than 3 million Axis country civilian deaths, as well as 14.2 million Allied military deaths and more than 24 million civilian deaths in the Allied countries, including China. Dear, Ian and Foot, M. R. D., eds., The Oxford Companion to the Second World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 225.

19 The blog is underwritten financially by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation;

20 For background on most states’ unwillingness to make firm, time-specific commitments to actually achieving the MDGs, rather than softer commitments to strive toward their fulfillment, see David Hulme, “The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): A Short History of the World's Biggest Promise,” Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper 100 (September 2009), esp. pp. 36–43;

21 In the exercise, whose current iteration is called the Research Excellence Framework 2014, impact is defined as “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia.” Higher Education Funding Council for England, “Assessment Framework and Guidance on Submissions” (July 2011), p. 48;

22 See Harriet Swain, “Higher Education White Paper is Provoking a Winter of Discontent,” Guardian, September 27, 2011.

23 The project is titled the “Global Poverty Consensus Report.” Details are available at

24 The Beyond 2015 website is at

25 The UN Millennium Project was headed by Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs. From its UN commissioning in 2002 through 2006, it drew on the expertise of a wide range of academics to produce recommendations for implementing and achieving the major Millennium Development Goals, including halving chronic hunger globally, achieving universal primary education, decreasing child and maternal mortality, and reducing deaths from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria. The final reports of the various task forces under the project are available at Project leaders were active in outreach, including placing numerous opinion pieces reporting their assessments and supporting the MDG effort generally in major newspapers. For a representative public-dialogue critique of the MDG effort, especially on some challenges in actually measuring the stated goals, see the guest editorial by former Sachs collaborator and principal in the founding of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Amir Attaran, “Necessary Measures,” New York Times, September 13, 2005;; see also Amir Attaran, “An Immeasurable Crisis? A Criticism of the Millennium Development Goals and Why They Cannot Be Measured,” PloS Medicine 2, no. 10 (September 13, 2005).

26 The organization was launched by former U.S. hedge fund managers seeking to ensure that their own contributions to poverty alleviation would be as effective as possible; ASAP recently sponsored a GiveWell event at Yale University designed to showcase the work of the organization and to recruit interns for it.

27 See Banerjee, Abhijit Vinyak, “Making Aid Work,” in Cohen, Joshua, ed., Making Aid Work (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007), pp. 326; see also Vinyak Banerjee, Abhijit and Duflo, Esther, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethink of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (New York: Public Affairs Books, 2011).

28 Details on this effort, launched by King's College London philosopher Leif Wenar, are available at

29 The development of this effort, the Health Impact Fund, has involved scores of academics and specialists around the world; see See also Banerjee, Amitava, Hollis, Aidan, and Pogge, Thomas, “The Health Impact Fund: Incentives for Improving Access to Medicines,” Lancet 375 (2010), pp. 166–69.

30 For a stellar recent exploration of how very poor people manage their incomes and try to make ends meet, see Collins, Daryl et al. , Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 Per Day (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2009).

31 For details, see the project website, “Measuring Poverty and Gender Disparity”:

32 See, e.g., Narayan, Deepa et al. , Voices of the Poor: Can Anyone Hear Us? Vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). Detailed information on the full project is available at Voices of the Poor, at

33 See Ackerly, Brooke, Universal Human Rights in a World of Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

34 For an account focused in part on unauthorized immigrants and the poor in immigrant-sending areas of Mexico and some other states, see Cabrera, The Practice of Global Citizenship. Cabrera's field research included more than 250 interviews with immigrants, as well as immigrant-rights and anti-immigration activists in the United States, Mexico, and Western Europe. For an account that takes significant steps toward including the voices of poor women, see Nussbaum, Martha, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Jonathan Wolff, Avner De-Shalit, and colleagues interviewed 100 persons in Britain and Israel, including social workers and their clients, to develop a normative theory of disadvantage rooted in Nussbaum's capabilities approach (Wolff, and De-Shalit, , Disadvantage. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

35 For example, the vulnerabilities and deprivations suffered by many dalits are chronicled in their own voices in the two-volume set produced by Indian civil society groups, with funding from the Netherlands; see S.J., Aloysius Irudayam, Mangubhai, Jayshree P., and Lee, Joel G., Dalit Women Speak Out: Violence Against Dalit Women in India (Delhi: National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, 2006). Some aspects of the Voices of the Poor project also would fit in the oral history tradition.

36 Shapiro, Ian, The State of Democratic Theory (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003), pp. 3943.

37 For details on the evolution of the campaign, including its international links, see Bob, Clifford, “‘Dalit Rights Are Human Rights’: Caste Discrimination, International Activism, and the Construction of a New Human Rights Issue,” Human Rights Quarterly 29, no. 1 (2007), 167–93.

38 The term is William Easterly's. He draws a broad contrast in development efforts between “Planners,” who are said to want to apply grand, centrally controlled designs to global social problems, and “Searchers,” who are said to work more incrementally toward specific solutions for specific problems. Easterly, William, The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), esp. pt. I.

39 Horton, Keith, “An Appeal to Aid Specialists,” Development Policy Review 28, no. 1 (2010), pp. 2742. And see Horton, “How Academics can Help Make Better Decisions Concerning Global Poverty,” this issue.

40 See Roger Riddell, “Navigating Between Extremes: Academics Helping to Eradicate Global Poverty,” this issue.

41 See Martin Kirk, “Beyond Charity: How ASAP Could Help NGOs Lead a Transformative New Public Discourse on Global Poverty and Social Justice,” this issue.

42 Gaus, “Should Philosophers ‘Apply Ethics’?”

43 See also Keith Horton, “Academics Stand Against Poverty: The Story So Far” (2011);

44 See Shue, Henry, “Mediating Duties,” Ethics 98, no. 4 (1988), pp. 687704.

45 Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, esp. chaps. 3–5.

46 See Miller, Richard, “Cosmopolitan Respect and Patriotic Concern,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 27, no. 3 (1998), pp. 202–24.

47 For recent accounts offering general critiques of strong compatriot priority in distributions, see Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights; Caney, Simon, Justice Beyond Borders: A Global Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Moellendorf, Darrel, Global Inequality Matters (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); and Brock, Gillian, Global Justice: A Cosmopolitan Account (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

48 See Horton, “Academics Stand Against Poverty: The Story So Far.”

* For helpful feedback, the authors would like to thank Ashok Acharya, Simon Caney, Onora O'Neill, Henry Shue, Gareth Wall, and the editors of this journal. We give special thanks to Greg Kucich, for making this dialogue possible through hosting the symposium, “Academics Stand Against Poverty: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?” at the University of Notre Dame London Centre in October 2011.

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