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The second main specification problem involves time frames. Many distributive principles identify and require that a particular pattern of distribution be achieved or at least be pursued as the objective of distributive justice. But they also need to specify when the pattern is required. One version of the principle of strict equality requires that all people should have the same wealth at some initial point, after which people are free to use their wealth in whatever way they choose, with the consequence that future outcomes are bound to be unequal.
See Ackerman , 53—59,—,—; Alstott and Ackerman The most common form of strict equality principle specifies that income measured in terms of money should be equal in each time-frame, though even this may lead to significant disparities in wealth if variations in savings are permitted. Hence, strict equality principles are commonly conjoined with some society-wide specification of just saving behavior see justice: intergenerational.
In practice, however, this principle and the starting-gate version might require more similar distributions than it first appears. This is because the structure of the family means the requirement to give people equal starts will often necessitate redistribution to parents, who due to bad luck, bad management, or simply their own choices, have been unsuccessful in accruing or holding on to material goods. There are a number of direct moral criticisms made of strict equality principles: that they unduly restrict freedom, that they do not give best effect to the moral equality of persons, that they conflict with what people deserve, etc.
But the most common criticism is a welfare-based one related to the Pareto efficiency requirement: that everyone can be materially better off if incomes are not strictly equal Carens It is this criticism which partly inspired the Difference Principle.
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The wealth of an economy is not a fixed amount from one period to the next, but can be influenced by many factors relevant to economic growth. These include, for example, technological advancement or changes in policy that affect how much people are able to produce with their labour and resources. More wealth can be produced and indeed this has been the overwhelming feature of industrialized countries over the last couple of centuries. The dominant economic view is that wealth is most readily increased in systems where those who are more productive earn greater incomes.
This economic view partly inspired the formulation of the Difference Principle. The most widely discussed theory of distributive justice in the past four decades has been that proposed by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice , Rawls , and Political Liberalism , Rawls Rawls proposes the following two principles of justice:.
Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all; and in this scheme the equal political liberties, and only those liberties, are to be guaranteed their fair value. Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: a They are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and b , they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society.
Rawls , pp. Where the rules may conflict in practice, Rawls says that Principle 1 has lexical priority over Principle 2 , and Principle 2a has lexical priority over 2b. While it is possible to think of Principle 1 as governing the distribution of liberties, it is not commonly considered a principle of distributive justice given that it is not governing the distribution of economic goods per se.
Equality of opportunity is discussed in the next section. In this section, the primary focus will be on 2b , known as the Difference Principle. The main moral motivation for the Difference Principle is similar to that for strict equality: equal respect for persons. Indeed, since the only material inequalities the Difference Principle permits are those that raise the level of the least advantaged in the society, it materially collapses to a form of strict equality under empirical conditions where differences in income have no effect on the work incentive of people and hence, no tendency to increase growth.
The overwhelming economic opinion though is that in the foreseeable future the possibility of earning greater income will bring forth greater productive effort. This will increase the total wealth of the economy and, under the Difference Principle, the wealth of the least advantaged. Opinion divides on the size of the inequalities which would, as a matter of empirical fact, be allowed by the Difference Principle, and on how much better off the least advantaged would be under the Difference Principle than under a strict equality principle. Rawls is not opposed in principle to a system of strict equality per se ; his concern is about the absolute position of the least advantaged group rather than their relative position.
If a system of strict equality maximizes the absolute position of the least advantaged in society, then the Difference Principle advocates strict equality. If it is possible to raise the absolute position of the least advantaged further by having some inequalities of income and wealth, then the Difference Principle prescribes inequality up to that point where the absolute position of the least advantaged can no longer be raised.
Because there has been such extensive discussion of the Difference Principle in the last 40 years, there have been numerous criticisms of it from the perspectives of all the other theories of distributive justice outlined here. Briefly, the main criticisms are as follows. Advocates of strict equality argue that inequalities permitted by the Difference Principle are unacceptable even if they do benefit the absolute position of the least advantaged.
The problem for these advocates has been to explain convincingly why society should be prevented from materially benefiting the least advantaged when this benefit requires a deviation from strict equality. For the strict egalitarian the relative position of people is all important and the absolute position is either not important at all or lexically inferior. For Rawls, at least with respect to the social and economic inequalities, the opposite is true. In an early reply to Rawls, Crocker explains the value of paying attention to the relative position as a way of understanding the value of solidarity.
His approach fits into a set of views in which being materially equal, or striving towards it, is an important expression of the equality of persons. In particular, if some people are significantly better off materially than others then that can result in them having significant power over others. So, for instance, very large wealth differentials may make it practically impossible for poor people to be elected to political office or to have their political views represented. These inequalities of wealth, even if they increase the material position of the least advantaged group, may need to be reduced in order for the first principle to be implemented.
At the heart of issues contributors are grappling with are questions over how to transform conflict through efforts of governance that stimulate greater justice for poor and marginalized groups. While issues about neutrality and personal liberty go beyond debates about distributive justice they also have application within these debates. George, Henry, , Progress and Poverty, 5th ed. It discusses whether Kant's rational theory of the state recognises the fact that certain exceptional social situations, such as the extreme poverty of some parts of the population, could request institutional state support in order to guarantee the attainment of a minimum threshold of civil independence. If it is uncertain or indeterminate how a particular distributive principle might in practice apply to the ordering of real societies, then this principle is not yet a serious candidate for our consideration.
Virtual monopoly employers in regions of developing economies give a stark illustration of this phenomenon. Of course, Rawls can appeal in such cases to the empirical claim that such differentials do not maximize the long-term position of the least advantaged. The empirical question will be whether all such large differentials which result in large differences in economic power also demonstrably have the result of worsening the absolute position of the least advantaged. The utilitarian objection to the Difference Principle is that it does not maximize utility.
In A Theory of Justice , Rawls uses utilitarianism as the main theory for comparison with his own, and hence he offers a number of arguments in response to this utilitarian objection, some of which are outlined in the section on Welfare-Based Principles.
Libertarians object that the Difference Principle involves unacceptable infringements on liberty, property rights, or self-ownership. For instance, the Difference Principle may require redistributive taxation for the benefit of the poor, and libertarians commonly object that such taxation involves the immoral taking of just holdings see Libertarian Principles.
The Difference Principle is also criticized as a primary distributive principle on the grounds that it mostly ignores claims that people deserve certain economic benefits in light of their actions. Advocates of desert-based principles argue that some may deserve a higher level of material goods because of their hard work or contributions even if their unequal rewards do not also function to improve the position of the least advantaged.