Grupos de Investigación

Oportunidades/Prospera and social justice: Why cash transfers are not reducing injustice even if they increase people's capabilities

  • Oscar Garza (Universidad de las Américas Puebla, México y  Universidad de Bath, Reino Unido)
The paper evaluates Sen’s Idea of Justice (2009) in a specific context of injustice. Particularly, it assesses to what extent Sen’s comparative approach succeeds in providing a useful conceptual framework to reduce injustice in the real world. In the Idea of Justice, Sen revises and criticises ‘transcendental’ theories of justice for being inadequate to diagnose and examine injustice in the world. Instead of aiming to define what a perfectly just society is, Sen is explicitly concerned with developing an approach of justice that is practically useful for informing injustice-reduction interventions in the real world. To do this he insists that all we need is a comparative framework capable of ranking different social arrangements as more or less just considering that a situation where people enjoy more capabilities is more just than another. However, despite Sen’s insistence in practical remedies to reduce injustice, one could argue that there is very little guidance in Sen’s own writing about how to adequately translate his comparative framework into practice. The paper fills this gap by relying on the context of poverty in Mexico, and particularly the way in which it has been addressed through the conditional cash transfer (CTT) programme of Oportunidades (recently renamed as Prospera). It argues that despite successfully enhancing individual’s capabilities, these social improvements have not translated in a more just society. This in turn, implies that Sen’s approach to justice remains incomplete to deal with injustice appropriately.
The argument is developed as follows. Firstly, the paper presents Sen´s approach and its conceptual framework that enables his comparative method to be put into practice. Secondly, it identifies that Sen’s approach remains primarily normative, and hence, to assess its practical utility we need to reflect about the kind of political guidance that it can command to rectify injustices in the real world. Thirdly, the paper introduces a rationale for the case of study of Mexico which has been internationally praised for its ground-breaking method to fight poverty and exclusion via its main social programme, Oportunidades
rospera. In this respect, the paper justifies and defends the use of the CCT programme as an ad hoc illustration of Sen’s Idea of Justice in practice. Finally, by relying on different social and economic indicators, the paper concludes by highlighting the limited reach of Oportunidades
rospera, and thus of Sen’s framework, in transforming people lives and in transforming the unjust context in which their lives develop. This implies that despite Mexico’s success in enhancing people’s capabilities, it remains insufficient to create a more just society in the sense of constructing a society where people can be free to pursue their own life plan under conditions of more equal opportunities. The paper associates these shortcomings to the failure of capability-enhancing policies in accounting for the social/relational reproduction of injustice. Therefore, the paper argues that in order to create a more just society we need to go beyond the removal of capability-deprivations that people suffer and broaden the scope of injustice-reduction policies in order to address the ways in which injustice is reproduced through social interactions.

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