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The Birthright Lottery: Citizenship and Global Inequality

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The vast majority of the global population acquires citizenship purely by accidental circumstances of birth. There is little doubt that securing membership status in a given state bequeaths to some a world filled with opportunity and condemns others to a life with little hope. Gaining privileges by such arbitrary criteria as one's birthplace is discredited in virtually all The vast majority of the global population acquires citizenship purely by accidental circumstances of birth. There is little doubt that securing membership status in a given state bequeaths to some a world filled with opportunity and condemns others to a life with little hope. Gaining privileges by such arbitrary criteria as one's birthplace is discredited in virtually all fields of public life, yet birthright entitlements still dominate our laws when it comes to allotting membership in a state. In The Birthright Lottery, Ayelet Shachar argues that birthright citizenship in an affluent society can be thought of as a form of property inheritance: that is, a valuable entitlement transmitted by law to a restricted group of recipients under conditions that perpetuate the transfer of this prerogative to their heirs. She deploys this fresh perspective to establish that nations need to expand their membership boundaries beyond outdated notions of blood-and-soil in sculpting the body politic. Located at the intersection of law, economics, and political philosophy, The Birthright Lottery further advocates redistributional obligations on those benefiting from the inheritance of membership, with the aim of ameliorating its most glaring opportunity inequalities.


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The vast majority of the global population acquires citizenship purely by accidental circumstances of birth. There is little doubt that securing membership status in a given state bequeaths to some a world filled with opportunity and condemns others to a life with little hope. Gaining privileges by such arbitrary criteria as one's birthplace is discredited in virtually all The vast majority of the global population acquires citizenship purely by accidental circumstances of birth. There is little doubt that securing membership status in a given state bequeaths to some a world filled with opportunity and condemns others to a life with little hope. Gaining privileges by such arbitrary criteria as one's birthplace is discredited in virtually all fields of public life, yet birthright entitlements still dominate our laws when it comes to allotting membership in a state. In The Birthright Lottery, Ayelet Shachar argues that birthright citizenship in an affluent society can be thought of as a form of property inheritance: that is, a valuable entitlement transmitted by law to a restricted group of recipients under conditions that perpetuate the transfer of this prerogative to their heirs. She deploys this fresh perspective to establish that nations need to expand their membership boundaries beyond outdated notions of blood-and-soil in sculpting the body politic. Located at the intersection of law, economics, and political philosophy, The Birthright Lottery further advocates redistributional obligations on those benefiting from the inheritance of membership, with the aim of ameliorating its most glaring opportunity inequalities.

45 review for The Birthright Lottery: Citizenship and Global Inequality

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dilek Karasoy

    First part -citizenship as a property right and birthright privilege tax- is better than the second part... Innovative way to approach global inequality. The book aims to initiate scholar debates, hope and believe will do.

  2. 5 out of 5

    sdw

    “The harsh facts on the ground are such that most people alive today, especially the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, remain largely ‘trapped’ by the lottery of their birth”(4). How does the country of your birth affect your life chances? The unevenness of life chances shaped by such a chance occurrence as place of birth offers up the fundamental premise of The Birthright Lottery . Ayelet Shachar brings property law to citizenship theory. She argues that citizenship is a form of inherite “The harsh facts on the ground are such that most people alive today, especially the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, remain largely ‘trapped’ by the lottery of their birth”(4). How does the country of your birth affect your life chances? The unevenness of life chances shaped by such a chance occurrence as place of birth offers up the fundamental premise of The Birthright Lottery . Ayelet Shachar brings property law to citizenship theory. She argues that citizenship is a form of inherited property through which the benefits of a nation are handed down to its progeny. This stands true regardless of whether citizenship is handed out through jus soli (“the law of the soil”) or jus sanguinis (“the law of blood”). She challenges the conventional logic that jus soli is a fairer more liberal distribution system for citizenship than jus sanguinis by demonstrating how both serve to structure and enforce global inequity. As she argues, “If we focus on these transfer mechanisms, we soon realize with some surprise that today’s birthright citizenship laws resemble ancient property regimes that shaped rigid and tightly regulated estate-transmission rules” (2). She draws on Alexis de Tocqueville to argue that citizenship globally has become the inherited property that is the basis of enduring privilege. Once Shachar has discussed the global inequity enforced through citizenship transfer regimes and exposed their similarity to problematic and now-discredited property inheritance regimes, she argues for a distributive method to counter-act the privileges of first-world citizenship. She argues against both closed and open borders, suggesting that citizenship should remain a category in part because it has not only negative qualities. It also has positive qualities as opportunity-enhancing and encouraging equality within the nation-state. She also suggests that national citizenship is not in opposition to other forms of political belonging on the local or global level. However, she argues for a birthright privilege levy whereby there is a transfer of wealth from those in the countries whose citizens most benefit from birthright citizenship to those whose citizenship leaves them the most underprivileged. Thus foreign aid becomes motivated not by moral obligation, charity, or political interests but as a legal obligation. She uses her argument about citizenship as property to argue in a legal framework for the necessity of a global redistribution of wealth. By wealth she means not simply money but knowledge, services and infrastructure or what she terms a “worldwide safety net” ensuring that basic needs of all people are met worldwide. The second half of the book turns towards questions of citizenship and belonging within the United States and other first world countries. She argues that birthright citizenship leaves some members over included in the polity. For example, in a country where parentage decides citizenship, a person could ostensibly claim citizenship despite never have been in the country and even without their parents ever having been in the country (“the nominal heir”). She also argues that it leads to underinclusion with long-term residents denied citizenship (“the resident stakeholder”). She argues, compellingly for jus nexi citizenship. That is, she argues for citizenship based on social ties and actual participation and belonging in the community. She defines jus nexi as “the genuine-connection principle of membership acquisition” (164) that “establishes a tie between citizenship and the social fact of membership rather than blind reliance upon the accident of birth” (165). Thus she calls for a legal remedy in determining citizenship based on a principle of “real and effective citizenship” (167). Fascinatingly, she deals with the question of undocumented immigrants through a series of legal principles in property law that best resemble the concept of squatters’ rights.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

    An attack on both jus soli and jus sanguinis methods of transmitting citizenship.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sho

    Work of a critical genius.

  5. 5 out of 5

    D Schmid

  6. 5 out of 5

    Costica

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mariana

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mateusz Gotowiec

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mahmoud

  10. 5 out of 5

    Christine Fan

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sayran

  12. 4 out of 5

    May

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Cloward

  14. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  15. 5 out of 5

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nesi Altaras

  17. 4 out of 5

    Yining

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey P.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Frank

  21. 5 out of 5

    Yasha Greenberg

  22. 5 out of 5

    Shannon Mullen

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brad

  24. 4 out of 5

    M0rningstar

  25. 5 out of 5

    Irene

  26. 5 out of 5

    David

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chris Stratton

  28. 5 out of 5

    Akhila

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Conner

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kwame

  31. 5 out of 5

    Hilarie

  32. 5 out of 5

    آية العوبلّي

  33. 4 out of 5

    Siddartha

  34. 5 out of 5

    Arjun Mishra

  35. 4 out of 5

    Andy Richardson

  36. 4 out of 5

    Nordash

  37. 4 out of 5

    Aida

  38. 4 out of 5

    Dave

  39. 5 out of 5

    Fabio

  40. 5 out of 5

    Zachary Backes

  41. 4 out of 5

    Amr Farrag

  42. 5 out of 5

    D'Arcy

  43. 5 out of 5

    Trudy

  44. 4 out of 5

    Briana

  45. 4 out of 5

    Yumna Ismail

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