National Responsibility and the Just Distribution of Debt Relief

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The Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative is the largest multilateral effort aimed at providing debt relief. In this essay, we address the question of whether this program is consistent with a view of justice commonly known as liberal egalitarianism. We argue that the HIPC initiative violates two basic liberal egalitarian principles. More generally, we show why the debate on debt relief must move beyond a discussion of whether or not countries should be held responsible for their sovereign debt. We urge a more careful and broader classification of which of the factors affecting a country’s situation it should be held responsible for and which it should not. While there are good arguments for sometimes not holding poor countries responsible for their sovereign debt, it is hard to see why the same arguments should not also apply to many other factors that affect a country’s net disposable income.

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Category: Article, Issue 21.1, Special Issue: On the Ethics of Sovereign Debt

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