An Ethical Approach to Public Debts - The Need for a Global Discussion

3 July 2015 by Thomas Reinert , Ricardo Farinha

This paper asks in how far public debts can be categorized and on which ethical grounds their legitimacy is to be assessed. It attempts to construct a line of reasoning that has the harm principle as the nexus between two broad ethical schools of thought – communitarianism and cosmopolitanism – which are often depicted as mutually exclusive. However, by taking the harm principle as the theoretical linchpin, it is shown that both schools can concede to the idea that each country has the right to establish an audit commission in order to evaluate whether its debts are legitimate, odious, illegitimate, unsustainable, or simply illegal.

Besides introducing such a taxonomy of debts, this paper (roughly) presents two possible ways of how to assess public debts via an audit commission. By doing so, it hopes to pave the way for a much needed discussion about the ethical evaluation of sovereign debts.

Here the full paper


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