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Cosmopolitan ethics in global finance? : a pragmatic approach to the Tobin Tax

By James Brassett


The thesis provides a critical analysis of the problems and possibilities for\ud developing cosmopolitan ethics in global finance. With reference to Ideas and\ud debates within the campaign for a Tobin Tax, it is argued that cosmopolitanism is\ud a promising, but limited, agenda for global reform. Extending principles of\ud justice to support the re-distribution of wealth from financial markets towards an\ud expanded program of global welfare provision is laudable. Likewise, the\ud possibility of improving accountability mechanisms and fostering democratic\ud inclusion in the global financial system should be supported. However, the thesis\ud identifies and reflects upon some important ethical ambiguities relating to\ud financial, institutional and democratic universalism. A requirement for capital\ud account convertibility, a cash-based approach to global justice and proposals for\ud state-centric world authority to administer the Tobin Tax infers that the proposal\ud would entrench many of the logics its supporters might oppose. The thesis\ud develops a pragmatic approach to these questions based on the philosophical\ud pragmatism of Richard Rorty. A pragmatic approach acknowledges the historical\ud and cultural contingency of cosmopolitanism, but questions how the ambiguities\ud and tensions that pervade global ethics can be engaged. In this sense, and\ud developing Rorty's concept of sentimental education, it is argued that the Tobin\ud Tax campaign has generated a broad-based public conversation about global\ud finance, increasing sensitivity to the suffering caused by global finance and the\ud ways in which it might be changed. While such conversation may not solve all\ud the dilemmas identified, it does allow for increased awareness of the ambiguity\ud of ethics. The thesis points to a number of instances in the campaign where the\ud constitutive ambiguities of the Tobin Tax have been questioned and alternative\ud practices suggested. A pragmatic approach to the Tobin Tax campaign therefore\ud situates cosmopolitan ideas in the extant dilemmas and indeterminacies of global\ud ethics, looking to suggest alternatives where possible

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