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World Poverty and Human Rights

  • Thomas Pogge


Despite a high and growing global average income, billions of human beings are still condemned to life long severe poverty, with all its attendant evils of low life expectancy, social exclusion, ill health, illiteracy, dependency, and effective enslavement. The annual death toll from poverty-related causes is around 18 million, or one-third of all human deaths, which adds up to approximately 270 million deaths since the end of the Cold War.



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1 World Health Organization, World Health Report 2004 (Geneva: WHO, 2004), Annex Table 2; available at

2 For detailed income poverty figures, see Chen, Shaohua and Ravallion, Martin, ‘How Have the World's Poorest Fared since the Early 1980s?’ World Bank Research Observer 19, no. 2 (2004), p. 153; also available at (reporting 2001 data). Ravallion and Chen have managed the World Bank's income poverty assessments for well over a decade. My estimate of the poors' share of the global product is justified in Pogge, Thomas W, “The First UN Millennium Development Goal: A Cause for Celebration?” Journal of Human Development 5, no. 3 (2004), p. 387. For a methodological critique of the World Bank's poverty statistics, see “The First UN Millennium Development Goal,” pp. 381–85, based on my joint work with Sanjay G. Reddy, “How Not to Count the Poor”; available at

3 World Bank, World Development Report 2003 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 235 (giving data for 2001).

4 Pogge, Thomas W., World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002). All in-text citation references are to this book.

5 For a fuller reading of Locke's argument, see Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, ch. 5.

6 One might say that the existing global order is not unjust if the only feasible institutional modifications that could substantially reduce the offensive deprivations would be extremely costly in terms of culture, say, or the natural environment. I preempt such objections by inserting the word “reasonably.” Broadly consequentialist and contractualist conceptions of justice agree that an institutional order that foreseeably gives rise to massive severe deprivations is unjust if there are feasible institutional modifications that foreseeably would greatly reduce these deprivations without adding other harms of comparable magnitude.

7 See Pogge, Thomas W., ‘Human Rights and Global Health,” Metaphilosophy 36, nos. 1–2 (2005), pp. 182209.


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