Implementing Political Ideologies with Technology

How can new technology ease the transition, or better communicate the moral imperative, of institutional alternatives under which such severe and extensive poverty would not persist? I have an ambitious (and mostly ignorant) idea of implementing a technology as a bridge for one such ideology.

The Segovia
GiveDirectly is a non-profit that uses a mobile payment platform to give money directly to the worlds poorest people. They recently spun out a for-profit software company called The Segovia, and claim to have a sufficiently large head start in the space of providing direct cash transfers to the unbanked in emerging markets. They are therefor creating a service with which to financially transact with all connected markets.

A Global Resources Dividend
The kind of service Segovia wants to provide can be used as an infrastructure to implement Thomas Pogge’s Global Resources Dividend (GRD). The GRD “proposal envisions that states and their governments shall not have full libertarian property rights with respect to the natural resources in their territory, but can be required to share a small part of the value of any resources they decide to use or sell. This payment they must make is called a dividend because it is based on the idea that the global poor own an inalienable stake in all limited natural resources.”

Its goal is to ensure that all human beings can meet their own basic needs with dignity.

GiveDirectly has said that the infrastructure their service is providing could be used for such a service.

Some relevant moral considerations
“Affluent people use vastly more of the world’s resources, and they do so unilaterally, without giving any compensation to the global poor for their disproportionate consumption. Yes, the affluent often pay for the resources they use, such as imported crude oil. But those payments go to other affluent people, such as the Saudi family or the Nigerian kleptocracy, with very little, if anything, trickling down to the global poor.”

“The global poor get to share the burdens resulting from the degradation of our natural environment while having to watch helplessly as the affluent distribute the planet’s abundant natural wealth amongst themselves”

A proposal for the GRD
Pogge says that the capacity gained from the GRD presupposes that the poor “are freed from bondage and other relations of personal dependence, that they are able to read and write and to learn a profession, that they can participate as equals in politics and in the labor market, and that their status is protected by appropriate legal rights which they can understand and effectively enforce through an open and fair legal system.” However, I think the results of GiveDirectly’s RCTs prove its benefit even before these presuppositions.

“In light of the vast extent of global poverty today, one may think that a massive GRD would be necessary to solve the problem But I doubt this is so. Present radical inequality is the cumulative result of decades and centuries in which the more affluent societies and groups have used their advantages in capital and knowledge to expand these advantages even further. This inequality demonstrates the power of long-term compounding more than powerful centrifugal tendencies of our global market system. It is, then, quite possible that, if radical inequality has once been eradicated, quite a small GRD may, in the context of a fair and open global market system, be sufficient continuously to balance those ordinary centrifugal tendencies of markets enough to forestall its reemergence.”

The GRD requires
that the governments of any developing country have clear and strong incentives toward eradicating domestic poverty. This incentive could be created by rewarding progress: by allocating more of the global funds to the citizens of the progressing country. The GRD would therefor be a way to accelerate economic improvement, and may therefor lead to a peaceful international competition in effective poverty eradication.

However, this incentive may not always prevail.  In some poor countries, the rulers care more about keeping their subjects destitute, uneducated, docile, dependent, and hence exploitable. In such cases, being able to provide direct cash transfers is necessary in bypassing the corruption, and making the poor harder to oppress.

The GRD can be an alternative to conventional development assistance (ODA)
“The ODA has an aura of handouts and dependence, while the GRD avoids any appearance of arrogant generosity. It merely incorporates into our global institutional order the moral claim of the poor to partake in the benefits from the use of planetary resources. It implements a moral right — and one that can be justified in multiple ways: 1) by its effects of eradicating systemic poverty, and 2) by reference to the evolution of the present economic distribution” (as having emerged from a single historical process that was pervaded by massive, grievous wrongs).

“Moreover, the GRD would also be vastly more efficient. The disbursement of ODA is governed by political considerations. It tends to be spent for the benefit of agents capable of reciprocation.. The GRD by contrast would provide 39 times as much support towards exclusively meeting the basic needs of the global poor.”

“Since the GRD would cost more and return less in direct political benefits, many of the wealthier and more powerful states might be tempted to refuse compliance.” Therefor, the GRD would have to be backed by a globally held sanction. But the sanctions could be decentralized. Participating countries can enforce the GRD by imposing duties on imports from, and perhaps also similar levies on exports to, the non-compliant country, in order to raise funds equivalent to its GRD obligation. Such decentralized sanctions stand a very good chance of discouraging small-scale defections.” But this does require upfront participation from the wealthy nations (US & EU).

Is this reform realistic?
John Locke has said that the rules of human coexistence may be changed only if all can rationally consent to the alternation, that is, only if everyone will be better off under the new rules than anyone would be under the old. From this view, no, it is not realistic.

That said, moral convictions can have real effects even in international politics. A similar moral mobilization of the citizens of powerful states may also be possible.

However, I think using technology to tunnel through barriers to implement previously unreachable political ideologies is interesting. In its most explicit sense, its an attempt to create a large utilitarian shift of power dynamics. The approach is still grounded in the idea of Marginal Revolution, but is just trying to create a larger margin.

Finding a realistic intersection between technology and reformation
What revision to the GRD would make it more pragmatic? How can access to direct cash transfers to the connected population help distribute global wealth to the poor? What are the first principles of the GRD? What institutional benefits can exist through use of direct cash transfers?

“There is a need to work together across disciplines to conceive a comprehensive solution to the problem of world poverty, and across borders for the political implementation of this solution.”


excerpts are from Thomas Pogge’s essay Eradicating Systemic Poverty: Brief for a Global Resources Dividend

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