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One World

The Ethics of Globalization

by Peter Singer

208 pages, Yale University Press, March 2004, Paperback

Known for his original and courageous thinking on matters ranging from the treatment of animals to genetic screening, in One World Peter Singer turns his attention to the ethical issues surrounding globalization. The book considers four global issues: climate change, the role of the World Trade Organization, human rights and humanitarian intervention, and foreign aid. Singer addresses each issue from an ethical perspective.

Praise for One World

"Many people have written about the economic meaning of globalization; in One World Peter Singer explains its moral meaning. His position is carefully developed, his tone is moderate, but his conclusions are radical and profound. No political theorist or moral philosopher, no public official or political activist, can afford to ignore his arguments."-- Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study

Quotes from One World

"We have now considered the four charges commonly made against the WTO. We found that, first, the WTO does, through its use of the product/process rule and its very narrow interpretation of Article XX, place economic considerations ahead of concerns for other issues, such as environmental protection and animal welfare, that arise from how the product is made. If the human rights of the workers were violated in the process of making the product, this would presumably be treated in a similar manner, if a complaint were made. Second, while the WTO does not violate national sovereignty in any formal sense, the operations of the WTO do in practice reduce the scope of national sovereignty. The WTO's defense to this charge, that the governments of member-nations have voluntarily opted for this curtailment, is weakened by the surprising interpretation its Appellate Body as given to Article XX; but even if this were not the case, and the member-nations had fully understood how the treaty they were signing would operate, it would still be the case that WTO membership curtails national sovereignty in the sense that, in the real world, it is often hard to leave the WTO and as long as it remains a member, a country's power to make some important decisions is eroded. Third the WTO is undemocratic both in theory and practice, firstly because a procedure requiring unanimous consent to any change is not a form of democracy, secondly because the dispute panels and the Appellate Body are not responsible to either the majority of members or the majority of the planet's adult population, and thirdly because the organization is disproportionately influenced by the major trading powers. On the fourth, and arguably most important charge against the WTO, however, that it makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, the verdict has to be: not proven. The available evidence is insufficient to convict either globalization or the WTO of that charge."


"Another strange aspect of The Law of Peoples is Rawls's readiness to invoke, against the idea of economic redistribution between nations, arguments that could easily be brought--indeed have been brought--against economic redistribution between individuals or families within the same nation. Thus he invites us to consider an example of two countries that are at the same level of wealth and have the same size population. The first decides to industrialize, while the second prefers a more pastoral and leisurely society and does not. Decades later, the first is twice as wealthy as the second. Assuming that both societies freely made their own decisions, Rawls asks whether the industrializing society should be taxed to give funds to the pastoral one. That, he says, 'seems unacceptable.' But if Rawls finds this unacceptable, how does he answer the critics of his position in A Theory of Justice who find it unacceptable for a person who has worked hard and achieved wealth to be taxed in order to support someone who has led a more relaxed life and so is now, in terms of resources held, among the worst-off members of society? Both cases raise a problem for anyone who supports the redistribution of wealth, and if the problem can be answered in the case of redistribution within a society, I see no reason why it cannot be answered in the case of redistribution between societies."

Table of Contents of One World

  1. A Changing World
  2. One Atmosphere
  3. One Economy
  4. One Law
  5. One Community
  6. A Better World?

About Peter Singer

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