Digital Theses Archive


Tesi etd-12172016-191207

Type of thesis
Cosmopolitanism as the moral basis for global de-commodification of labour
Scientific disciplinary sector
SCIENZE POLITICHE - Politics, Human Rights and Sustainability
relatore Prof.ssa HENRY, BARBARA
Membro Prof.ssa DUNDOVICH, ELENA
Presidente Prof.ssa LORETONI, ANNA
  • capitalism
  • commodification
  • contracts
  • cosmopolitanism
  • de-commodification
  • distributive justice
  • domination
  • exploitation
  • freedom
  • global justice
  • globalisation
  • labour market
  • labour republicanism
  • negative duties
  • neo-republicanism
Exam session start date
In this thesis I propose a new theory of global justice based on a minimum de-commodification of labour power. The idea is that the unequal global distribution of assets is causing a form of systemic domination to those individuals who have been deprived of an acceptable alternative to selling their labour performance in the market at exploitative conditions. The restoration of individual autonomy would require the neutralisation of economic systemic domination. The remedy is what I define as a minimum de-commodification of labour power (MDL), the decoupling of the capacity to sustain a minimum welfare from the participation in the labour market.<br><br>In the first section of the thesis, that consists of the first three chapters, I make a detour into the current debate on cosmopolitanism. I start with Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of history and with the philosophical arguments that link Kant’s tradition to contemporary cosmopolitan thinkers. Then, I discuss seven different contemporary accounts of global justice: contractarian cosmopolitanism, the capability approach, cosmopolitan utilitarianism, prioritarianism, sufficientarianism, left-libertarianism and negative duties of justice à la Pogge. I make this analysis of the most relevant cosmopolitan theories of justice in order to explain in what my proposal differs from them and what are the advantages of focusing on levels of labour commodification. I maintain that my work on labour commodification can help clarify why market interactions between international actors can pose problems of justice, because of limited individual autonomy, regardless of whether a global basic structure does actually exist. I argue that the theory of labour de-commodification will employ the notion of capabilities in a different way from Nussbaum’s capability approach, because from a de-commodification prospective it does not really matter whether a person is enjoying a set of basic capabilities at a given moment, but rather whether the enjoyment of that basic set is independent from market participation. Moreover, even though the theoretical evolution from utility to priority and from priority to sufficiency has represented an important step toward a more attentive approach to extreme poverty, this line of thought is unable to condemn some forms of economic injustice that only an account based on labour commodification can capture. Lastly, I deal with those thinkers who demand a global redistribution of resources not in virtue of a commitment to an universalistic conception of socioeconomic justice, rather as compensation stemming from the previous performance of wrongful actions. And I maintain that left-libertarianism is unarmed against the issues of injustice that arise out of procedurally just market interactions, while the discourse on negative duties of global justice should be extended to a form of harm that is overlooked by Pogge, the deprivation of a reasonable alternative to sell the labour performance in the market at exploitative conditions.<br><br>In the second section, that is divided into the fourth and the fifth chapters, after having discussed the most influential theories of global justice, I move on to develop an alternative account of global justice based on what I named as minimum de-commodification of labour power. I start from the notions of vulnerability, exposure to risks and resilience to propose a definition of labour commodification, discussing in particular why the level of labor commodification and the harshness of the job are not structurally interconnected. Following the arguments proposed by the British economist Guy Standing, I explain how the level of commodification of someone’s labour can be concretely measured by looking at the composition of her social income (self-production + wage + community benefits + enterprise benefits + social benefits + private benefits). Then, I conclude this empirical part discussing how labour commodification emerged with the advent of modern capitalism, why these phenomena cannot but go hand in hand, and what does it mean for the human component of the labour commodity to be fully exposed to the mechanisms of the market principle. In this historical excursus I mainly employ Marx’s idea of proletarian twofold freedom and three sociological notions presented by Karl Polanyi: embeddedness, fictitious commodities and the double movement. My aim is to argue that Polanyi was much more optimistic about market liberalism than today would be the case, because in the second era of globalisation there are some structural factors that have altered the equilibrium of powers that the double movement guaranteed during the first phase of modernity. This work will set the conceptual bases for the following chapter of the second section, where I will discuss the link between labour commodification and capitalist systemic domination.<br><br>In the fifth chapter, I maintain that highly commodified individuals are subject to a form of systemic domination, due to their exclusion from the ownership of productive assets. I hold that the republican ideal of freedom as non-domination should be broadened to include labour commodification as a matter of concern, following the intuition of labour republicans. Nonetheless, I develop a different position from both neo-republicans and labour republicans. For I maintain that systemic domination materializes only in exploitation, not in interpersonal domination. That is to say, I explain why, in my view, labour republicans are right when they hold that the extremely commodified individual undergoing wage slavery is subject to systemic domination, due to an unequal access to productive assets, but they are wrong in thinking that this specific individual is also victim of interpersonal domination by the specific employer who hires him. Then, I defend my account of domination from two objections. The first one is that every time that the employer arbitrarily subtracts something from the hypothetical work relation the employee had imagined at the moment he was made the job offer, the employer performs arbitrary interference over the employee and dominates him. The second one is that the dire conditions of commodified individuals could be mitigated through individual effort and industriousness. In response to the first one, I hold that we cannot hold that systemic domination materializes in interpersonal domination unless we maintain that the employer, for the sole reason of having capital available, has the duty of offering to the employee an ideal contract. I discuss how Philip Pettit has dealt with the issue of the benchmark of options’ payoffs and I conclude that the introduction of the idea of the benchmark in job contracts would lead us to troubling conclusions that we cannot accept. While in response to the second one, I state that if we look today at the global proletariat we do not even have to recognize, as G. A. Cohen does, that extremely commodified persons are individually free to ameliorate their condition. <br><br>This leads me to present a theory of global justice based on a minimum de-commodification of labour power. I firstly reason about how a completely de-commodified society would look like. I argue that a complete de-commodification of labour power would limit exploitation to rare cases – only those in which a person craves for an extra-good that is non-economic or that is much above the threshold set by de-commodification - and would fully neutralise the structural domination stemming from the unequal distribution of assets. Nonetheless, a complete de-commodification of labour power, I argue, is both economically unsustainable and lacking a normative justification. Therefore, I conclude that we should rather opt for a minimum de-commodification of labour power (MDL), a system that creates a protective sphere around a basic set of capabilities – interpreted basically as a minimum livelihood in terms of health and food - in order to decouple them from voluntary and side effects of the capitalist system. <br><br>After having presented the idea of the minimum de-commodification of labour power, I argue why it should be interpreted as a cosmopolitan principle of justice. My basic argument is that the source of capitalist systemic domination is global, and even if single states were able to implement MDL nationally, leaving to them the economic burden of MDL would be unfair. I propose four different arguments for the global implementation of MDL. Firstly, labour is much more local than capital, hence those people who control capital are able to move their productive assets out of the reach of proletarians, thus rendering proletarians’ dependence on them extreme. Secondly, in the current global order states suffer domination by other states and non-state agents. Systemic domination of states by other states and non-states agents is a different matter from capitalist systemic domination, but the former serves as justification for globalizing the efforts to halt the latter as long as the first form of domination limits the economic capacity of the single state to correct for the negative effects of the second form of domination. Thirdly, unregulated movements of capital across borders do contribute to making foreign people more commodified. I make the example of land acquisitions by foreign public and private investors. Fourthly, without a global implementation of MDL, individuals living in developed countries would run the serious risk of benefiting from the exploitation of poor workers made possible by capitalist systemic domination. Here I explain how capitalist systemic domination is also related to sweatshop production.<br><br>Lastly in this fifth chapter, after having discussed some of the most relevant literature on global justice in the first section, and after having presented my theory in the second section, I can conclude my analysis of the philosophical differences that we have between existing theories and MDL – that I also anticipated in my critical review of the state of the art. I explain the difference between the idea of the threshold, as used in both sufficientarianism and the capability approach, and the de-commodification standard, and I also linger on the different philosophical justifications that subtend the three distributive criteria. Then, I argue that a person who is concerned with the minimum de-commodification I have advocated has good reasons to be dissatisfied with the redistribution proposed by Georgist left-libertarians, because the latter depends on a compensation that is related to natural resources only and is unable to protect people from capitalist structural domination. This leads me to maintain that my discourse on labour commodification can contribute to the contractarian debate by shedding some light on the market mechanisms that erode background justice between actors that make agreements and entertain transactions. And at the same time, there is also one aspect of MDL theory that takes precedence over issues of background justice and that concerns the negative duty not to participate in a global system that unduly infringes individual autonomy. Talking of negative duties of justice, it is important for me to explain why my approach is different from the one developed by Pogge. For while I envision a direct connection between inequality and unfreedom, due to the domination that the unequal distribution of property brings about, Pogge falls back on justice in acquisition when he has to propose the redistributive part of his theory.<br><br>In the final section, that consists in the sixth chapter, I deal with four strong objections usually levelled against cosmopolitan justice: the compatriot priority principle, the coercion view, the allegations of uselessness and infeasibility. With regard to the first objection I maintain that all those theories that resort to property rights or negative duties of justice can hold out against the liberal-nationalist objection enshrined in the compatriot priority principle. I demonstrate that given the peculiar justification and the non-comparative nature of MDL it can also be embraced by those who believe in the existence of special duties toward compatriots. While, in responding to the coercion view, I argue that it does not scratch MDL, because the theorists of the coercion view do actually recognize that the respect of negative duties of justice should take global priority over domestic issues of socioeconomic justice triggered by state coercion, but then they fail to see that a violation of these negative duties is systemically occurring within the structure of global capitalism. So I explain why it is occurring, recalling some of the arguments put forward in the previous chapters. While in responding to the allegation of uselessness I state that, apart from leading us towards intermediate, and more achievable, moral goals, the objective of a theory of global justice based on a minimum de-commodification of labour power is also to offer new inspiration to the already active members of the cosmopolitan avant-garde. Lastly, dealing with the allegation of infeasibility, I discuss those that I consider the more relevant proposals and existing practices of global taxes and regulations, I propose a tax on wealth to be independently administered by states as the best solution for funding MDL, and I sketch a proposal for spending the money collected through a global tax for MDL while respecting the cosmopolitan tenet of individualism, relying on the idea of development vouchers. <br>