Chapter 9, section 2
Chapter 9 Justice and Development: Commons-Based Strategies for Human Welfare and Development
Liberal Theories of Justice and the Networked Information Economy
Commons-Based Strategies for Human Welfare and Development
There is a long social-democratic tradition of focusing not on theoretical conditions of equality in a liberal society, but on the actual well-being of human beings in a society. This conception of justice shares with liberal theories the acceptance of market economy as a fundamental component of free societies. However, its emphasis is not equality of opportunity or even some level of social insurance that still allows the slothful to fall, but on assuring a basic degree of well-being to everyone in society. Particularly in the European social democracies, the ambition has been to make that basic level quite high, but the basic framework of even American Social Security-unless it is fundamentally changed in the coming years-has this characteristic. The literature on global poverty and its alleviation was initially independent of this concern, but as global communications and awareness increased, and as the conditions of life in most advanced market economies for most people improved, the lines between the concerns with domestic conditions and global poverty blurred. We have seen an increasing merging of the concerns into a concern for basic human well-being everywhere. It is represented in no individual's work more clearly than in that of Amartya Sen, who has focused on the centrality of development everywhere to the definition not only of justice, but of freedom as well.
The emerging salience of global development as the core concern of distributive justice is largely based on the sheer magnitude of the problems faced by much of the world's population.//2 In the world's largest democracy, 80 percent of the population-slightly more people than the entire population of the United States and the expanded European Union combined-lives on less than two dollars a day, 39 percent of adults are illiterate, and 47 percent of children under the age of five are underweight for their age. In Africa's wealthiest democracy, a child at birth has a 45 percent probability of dying before he or she reaches the age of forty. India and South Africa are far from being the worst-off countries. The scope of destitution around the globe exerts a moral pull on any acceptable discussion of justice. Intuitively, these problems seem too fundamental to be seriously affected by the networked information economy-what has Wikipedia got to do with the 49 percent of the population of Congo that lacks sustainable access to improved water sources? It is, indeed, important not to be overexuberant about the importance of information and communications policy in the context of global human development. But it is also important not to ignore the centrality of information to most of our more-advanced strategies for producing core components of welfare and development. To see this, we can begin by looking at the components of the Human Development Index (HDI).
The Human Development Report was initiated in 1990 as an effort to measure a broad set of components of what makes a life livable, and, ultimately, attractive. It was developed in contradistinction to indicators centered on economic output, like gross domestic product (GDP) or economic growth alone, in order to provide a more refined sense of what aspects of a nation's economy and society make it more or less livable. It allows a more nuanced approach toward improving the conditions of life everywhere. As Sen pointed out, the people of China, Kerala in India, and Sri Lanka lead much longer and healthier lives than other countries, like Brazil or South Africa, which have a higher per capita income.//3 The Human Development Report measures a wide range of outcomes and characteristics of life. The major composite index it tracks is the Human Development Index. The HDI tries to capture the capacity of people to live long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, and to have material resources sufficient to provide a decent standard of living. It does so by combining three major components: life expectancy at birth, adult literacy and school enrollment, and GDP per capita.
Figure 9.1: HDI and Information
As Figure 9.1 illustrates, in the global information economy, each and every one of these measures is significantly, though not solely, a function of access to information, knowledge, and information-embedded goods and services. Life expectancy is affected by adequate nutrition and access to life-saving medicines. Biotechnological innovation for agriculture, along with agronomic innovation in cultivation techniques and other, lower-tech modes of innovation, account for a high portion of improvements in the capacity of societies to feed themselves and in the availability of nutritious foods. Medicines depend on pharmaceutical research and access to its products, and health care depends on research and publication for the development and dissemination of information about best-care practices. Education is also heavily dependent, not surprisingly, on access to materials and facilities for teaching. This includes access to basic textbooks, libraries, computation and communications systems, and the presence of local academic centers. Finally, economic growth has been understood for more than half a century to be centrally driven by innovation. This is particularly true of latecomers, who can improve their own condition most rapidly by adopting best practices and advanced technology developed elsewhere, and then adapting to local conditions and adding their own from the new technological platform achieved in this way. All three of these components are, then, substantially affected by access to, and use of, information and knowledge. The basic premise of the claim that the emergence of the networked information economy can provide significant benefits to human development is that the manner in which we produce new information-and equally important, the institutional framework we use to manage the stock of existing information and knowledge around the world-can have significant impact on human development.