Poverty and the Local Contingency of Universal Rights

Keith Dowding, Martin van Hees

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This paper considers theoretically the relationship between what rights people may be said to have, the normatively defensible distribution of wealth between people within nations & across the world, & people's empirical responses to poverty within their own state & across the world. We argue that rights are universal, & that rights & freedoms do entail a duty to reduce poverty. However freedom is defined, greater poverty entails, either conceptually or causally, reduced freedom. Since levels of freedom determine the material existence or non-existence of rights, poverty affects the rights that people can be said to enjoy. However, the duty to reduce poverty does not imply a duty to ensure universally uniform provision, which is neither an empirically plausible expectation nor a requirement of justice. Nonetheless, we owe more to the world's poor today than we did in the past. Globalization expands the moral community that we live in & thus affects our & others' rights & duties: the greater the level of economic interaction, & the greater the interdependencies of economies, the greater the extent to which the threshold values below which rights lack material existence are likely to converge. In particular, the growth of such interdependencies entails that the threshold values for the developing world should increase. 29 References. Adapted from the source document.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-312
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Social Science Journal
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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