Is Good Luck Unfair? (Religion & Philosophy)

Article excerpt

"What is Egalitarianism?" by Samuel Scheffler, in Philosophy & Public Affairs (Winter 2003), and "Equality, Luck and Hierarchy" by Ronald Dworkin, in Philosophy & Public Affairs (Spring 2003), 41 Williams St., Princeton, N.J. 08540.

"Life is unfair," President John F. Kennedy once famously observed. A school of philosophers has arisen in recent decades with a (theoretical) solution: Redistribute economic resources to compensate for advantages conferred by luck, and let advantages stemming from individuals' own choices stand. But this "luck egalitarianism," as it's been dubbed, misconstrues the ideal of equality, contends Scheffler, a professor of philosophy and law at the University of California, Berkeley.

According to Scheffler, "luck egalitarians" such as Ronald Dworkin, Will Kymlicka, and John Roemer deny "that a person's natural talent, creativity, intelligence, innovative skill, or entrepreneurial ability can be the basis for legitimate inequalities." On the other hand, earning more money than others by choosing to work more hours than they do is fine--and so, luck egalitarians argue, the extra money shouldn't be taxed.

But the ideal of equality, as commonly understood, Scheffler says, "is opposed not to luck but to oppression, to heritable hierarchies of social status, to ideas of caste, to class privilege and the rigid stratification of classes, and to the undemocratic distribution of power. …