Economy and Justice: A Conflict without Resolution?**

By Hecker, Christian; Nutzinger, Hans G. | Management Revue, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Economy and Justice: A Conflict without Resolution?**


Hecker, Christian, Nutzinger, Hans G., Management Revue


Problems of justice, such as high managerial salaries or the introduction of minimum wages, today arouse a lot of public attention and debate. This hints at the general fact that "justice" cannot be reduced to mere efficiency questions as economists very often tend to assume. Therefore, this paper deals with opportunities to include aspects of social justice in economic analyses. The authors describe the historical development from the Aristotelian concept of justice (which includes both iustitia commutativa and iustitia distributiva) via the medieval idea of pretium iustum towards the classical liberal approach of Adam Smith (which excludes almost all aspects of distributive justice from the analysis of economic problems). The "social question" in the 19th century revealed the limits of classical liberalism; nevertheless, the vision of increasing "wealth of nations" became true for most market-oriented economies during the 20th century. But problems of poverty remained, especially for many countries of the South, but also for some strata of the population in successful market economies. Therefore, the limits of a pure liberal concept of justice even in modern market societies are revealed which in turn indicate the necessity of an integrated approach that applies the instruments of contemporary economics, but also allows for the restrictions of the liberal point of view. In contrast to present-day neo-liberalism, the approach of "ordo-liberalism", originated by Walter Eucken, which distinguishes between the "frame order" of an economy and the economic process itself offers various opportunities to deal with current questions of justice, e.g. in the field of climate protection or in the issue of minimum wages, in a way which combines elements of justice with prerequisites of economic efficiency. These examples are discussed at the end of the paper.

Key words: Aristotelian concept of justice, pretium iustum, liberalism, neo-liberalism, ordo-liberalism, social question, climate protection, problems of poverty, integration of justice issues

1. Introduction

A look at the current controversies in economic policy over issues such as minimum wages or high managerial salaries shows that economic and moral arguments are often put forward with equal determination in newspapers and political debates. So, for instance, both redistribution measures and a greater liberalisation of markets are being called for, in many cases also from the point of view of justice. In contrast, it is in particular economists that regularly warn against neglecting economic laws of matter by "moralising" issues of economic policy. A look at history shows the following: From the earliest days of Christianity, the relationship between the abstract ethics of economic conduct and the concrete behaviour of the actors in practice (including that of the Christian churches) has been characterised by fierce conflict but also by efforts to bring about practical compromise (see Brentano 2008 [1923], Essays II and III, for instance). However, the contradiction between economic practice and ethical norms had already been a typical feature of classical Greek philosophy as Aristotle reveals in his contrasting account of household management to meet actual needs (oikonomid) and chrematistics (the art of getting wealth) (Aristotle: Politics, Book I, 1253 b1). Therefore, this paper will attempt to not only go over the history of these conflicting relationships but to also outline a way in which moral postulates - based on traditional philosophical ethics and the demands of Christian social doctrines (which, besides Biblical sources, also avail themselves of the philosophical traditions of classical antiquity) - and the functional requirements of a modern and increasingly globalised economy may be connected with each other (even though they cannot be reconciled).

We'll proceed in six steps: Following a brief survey of the Aristotelian-Scholastic concept of the just price (Section 2), we'll outline how economics, in the works of Adam Smith (1723-1790), became a science in its own right by taking leave of the traditional Aristotelian-Scholastic notions of justice for the most part (Section 3). …

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