The Civic Minimum: On the Rights and Obligations of Economic Relationship

By Stuart White | Go to book overview

Chapter 4 Justice as Fair Reciprocity

Q. What is the alternative to the present unequal distribution of work and good things?

A. That all should be obliged to do their fair share of the work, and to content themselves with a fair share of the good things.

(J. L. Joynes, The Socialist Catechism1)

In this chapter I shall bring together the ideas introduced in Chapters 2 and 3 and summarize the conception of justice which animates the philosophy of economic citizenship presented in this book: justice as fair reciprocity. Fair reciprocity centres on a commitment to substantive economic reciprocity. But it integrates this commitment with those of the kind presented in Chapter 2 : the commitments to respect and uphold basic civil liberties, and to protect citizens from significant brute luck disadvantage and from market vulnerability. It holds that where the institutions governing economic life satisfy these (and certain other) commitments to a sufficient extent, citizens who claim the generous share of the social product available to them under these institutions have an obligation to make a decent productive contribution to the community in return.

It is important, however, to distinguish between ideal and non-ideal forms of justice as fair reciprocity. In its ideal form, fair reciprocity requires that the institutions governing economic life fully prevent or correct for brute luck inequality in access to external wealth and in marketable talent, and compensate appropriately for brute luck handicaps. These institutions must produce what I term a comprehensively egalitarian society. In Section 4.1 I explain the ideal form of justice as fair reciprocity in more depth. Focusing specifically on brute luck inequality in marketable talent, I outline a system of redistribution, the egalitarian earnings subsidy scheme (ESS), which corrects perfectly for brute luck inequality of this kind. However, while having considerable

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