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The Distributive Justice of the Market

Uploaded by palma on Oct 11, 2000

Sam Vaknin's Psychology, Philosophy, Economics and Foreign Affairs Web Sites


(1) Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all.

(2) Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both:

(a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent with the just savings principle, and

(b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity. "

(John Rawls, "A Theory of Justice", 1971, p.302)

Resources are scarce. This is the basic, dismal truth of the dismal science. The second truth is that people consume resources. A basic existential anxiety makes them want more resources than they can consume (the "just in case" principle). This raises the question of fairness, a.k.a. "distributive justice". How should resources be allocated in a manner which will conform to one or more just principles ?

This apparently simple question raises a host of more complex ones : what constitutes a resource ? what is meant by allocation ? Who should allocate these resources or should this better be left to some Adam Smithean "invisible hand" ? Such an invisible hand (working through the price mechanism) - should its mode of operation be guided by differences in power, in intelligence, in knowledge, in heritage ? In other words : what should be the entitlement principle, how can it be determined who is entitled to what ?

Everything constitutes a resource : income, opportunities, knowledge, brute power, wealth. Everything, therefore, is subject to distribution to individuals (natural persons), groups of people, certain classes. There are many bases for distribution, but the issue is HOW JUST these bases are and how can we ensure that we are distributing resources using a just distribution base.

We all face opportunities to acquire resources. In a just society, everyone is granted the same access to these opportunities. Access does not translate into ability to make use of it. Idiosyncrasies and differences between accessees will determine the latter, i.e. the outcome of such access. The ability to use is the bridge between the access and the accumulated resources. Given access and the capacity to utilize it - resources (material goods, knowledge, etc.) will accrue to the user.

There is a hidden assumption in all this : that all men are born equal and...

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Uploaded by:   palma

Date:   10/11/2000

Category:   Social Issues

Length:   11 pages (2,413 words)

Views:   1450

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