Document Type

Article

Publication Title

Brigham Young University Law Review

Publication Date

2009

Abstract

The world has never been richer. At the same time, the number of people living in poverty has increased by almost 100 million and the chasm between the rich and the poor has become unfathomable. In 2004, 969 million people lived on less than a dollar a day. As former World Bank President Robert McNamara summed up, these people experience "a condition of life so characterized by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to be beneath any reasonable definition of human decency."' Yet there are more billionaires than ever before, people who have more money than some less developed countries, people who, as Barack Obama put it, "make more in [ten] minutes than a worker makes in [ten] months."' As a recent United Nations University study explained, global wealth is distributed as "if one person in a group of ten takes 99% of the total pie and the other nine share the remaining 1%."

Few argue that this is inevitable" or unimportant," but there is little consensus on how to proceed. What should be done?' Who should do it? These questions should not be left entirely to politicians, economists," and celebrities. Rather, theory can illuminate what has become a series of heated but murky arguments. It can clarify the possibilities. Part II of this Article explains why theory in general is both necessary and problematic in this context. Part III explains how liberal theories in particular dominate post-Cold War poverty law, as shown in three major legal instruments. It then introduces other theories of poverty, those of liberalism's "discontents, " " conspicuously absent from post-Cold War poverty law. Part IV, explains why theory itself is impoverished in two distinct senses. First, as Marx noted 150 years ago, "being creates consciousness."

That is, theory is the result of material, historical conditions rather than a force capable of transforming them. Second, because of the particular historical conditions that exist now, including the absence of the discontents, under international law the rich North has no legal obligation to aid the poor South. Rather, the liberal international legal system has neither the legal muscle to effectively address global poverty nor the political will to develop it.

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