How should economic resources be distributed in a just society?

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  1. How should economic resources be distributed in a just society?

This question addresses the topic of theories of justice, and more specifically, distributive justice, which relates to how resources are distributed in society. In relation to the distribution of economic resources, there are three pivotal arguments which illustrate the views surrounding this topic. Each of these arguments will be discussed and a conclusion will be reached in relation to which is best suited in a ‘just society.’

There are few more suitable to begin with in this area than liberal egalitarian Jonathon Rawls. Rawls was one of the most influential philosophers in the topic of theories of justice, and his book, A Theory of Justice, attempted to answer questions of fair and equal distribution. In his work, Rawl’s uses a purely hypothetical thought experiment, known as the ‘Veil of Ignorance’ and ‘Original Position’, both of which attempted to allow people to make decisions on economic distribution and the like from an unbiased and excluded position. In this position and behind this ‘veil’, they would not know anything about those of their characteristics or situations which may influence their decisions, thus attempting to prevent arbitrary facts about citizens from influencing the agreement among their representatives.  However, more relevant to this question are his two main principles. The first is the liberty principle which asserts that “each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights”, and this is lexically prior to the second principle. However, it is the second principle, known as the ‘difference principle’ which gives us the greatest insight into Rawl’s beliefs on economic distribution in a just society. Under the difference principle, inequalities in distribution are allowed only if they work to the advantage of all, and, attached to positions and offices open to all. To explain this, Rawl’s believed distribution should be equal, unless unequal would benefit the least advantaged more than equal distribution would. For instance, paying skill workers more to take on more difficult jobs will allow companies to thrive and the state’s general welfare to increase, thus increasing the pay for those working in lower jobs. It was assumed the parties would favour Rawls’ two principles over the likes of utilitarianism because these provide a better basis for enduring cooperation among all citizens.

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Rawl’s theory was a monumental discovery in distributive justice, yet still, his work attracted ample criticism, both from libertarians and egalitarians. Foremost, it was argued that his theory placed a huge amount on liberty, however as Nozick notes, inequalities in wealth and power which would be created under the difference principle will ultimately produce inequalities in liberty, thus undermining Rawl’s key point. I am of the opinion that whilst his theory has many plausible benefits, it may not be suited to the society we live in today.  The winner takes all mentality which is so prominent in the US and ...

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