An earlier version of this essay was prepared for the United Nations and presented during the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs Conference on international Economic and Social Justice, November 12–14, 1998.
Distributive Justice and International Trade
Version of Record online: 11 APR 2006
Ethics & International Affairs
Volume 13, Issue 1, pages 175–204, March 1999
How to Cite
Kapstein, E. B. (1999), Distributive Justice and International Trade. Ethics & International Affairs, 13: 175–204. doi: 10.1111/j.1747-7093.1999.tb00334.x
- Issue online: 11 APR 2006
- Version of Record online: 11 APR 2006
Public officials frequently assert that nations shape their own economic destiny. This statement implies that the international economy presents a level playing field for all participants. If the rules of globalization were somehow written in favor of certain countries, however, that would not be true, and the legitimacy of the economic system would be cast in doubt. This essay examines the structure of the international trade regime. Following John Rawls, it asserts that “justice is the first virtue of social institutions.” This leads to the question: Is the trade regime just?
The essay seeks to answer that question through both a theoretical and empirical exploration of the trading system. Building on the Rawlsian “original position,” it sketches the fundamental principles that would underlie such a regime. It then traces the history of North-South trade relations as a case study.
The essay concludes by suggesting that concerns with the trade regime's normative framework have played an important role in shaping its basic principles. But that does not mean that the regime is just. Greater transfers from North to South would be one of the major requirements of justice that currently are not being met