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Full Access The Structural Injustice of Forced Migration and the Failings of Normative Theory

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The Structural Injustice of Forced Migration and the Failings of Normative Theory

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AbstractI propose to criticize two strands of argument—contractarian and utilitarian—that liberals have put forth in defense of economic coercion, based on the notion of justifiable paternalism. To illustrate my argument, I appeal to the example of forced labor migration, driven by the exigencies of market forces. In particular, the forced migration of a special subset of unemployed workers lacking other means of subsistence (economic refugees) cannot be redeemed paternalistically as freedom or welfare enhancing in the long run. Further, contractarian and utilitarian approaches are normatively incapable of appreciating this fact because the kinds of reasons that they adduce for justifying the long-term freedom-enhancing consequences of forced migration are not ones that would be acceptable to the migrants themselves. I conclude that only a discourse ethical approach, which mandates direct, empathetic communication between would-be migrants and members of potential host communities, captures the full range of reasons that would be acceptable to both migrants and members of these communities. These reasons—appealing both to agency-enhancing communal attachments as well as to agency-enhancing freedom of choice—fully reveals the extent to which a global capitalist system composed of relatively closed national communities coerces the world’s poorest migrants.

Affiliations: 1: Loyola University Chicago, Email:, URL:


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