Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Book: Tax Justice and the Political Economy of Global Capitalism

I mentioned in a previous blog that the book Tax Justice and the Political Economy Of Global Capitalism, 1945 to the Present (Leaman and Waris, eds) is out. I didn't include pictures, so I'll do that now. 

Here is the cover:

And here is me with a copy of it:

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Visualising Interpretations of Egalitarianism

I thought I would share the way I have visualised two different forms of egalitarianism when thinking about and teaching them. It might be useful to others, or spark off a useful debate. I start with a simple representation of the role of the state or government in distributing or redistributing resources to maintain a just distribution.

The question for egalitarians is how the state should work out how to adjust the resources people have in order to have an equal outcome. I'm sure there are many candidates, but I will focus on two very prominent ones; equality of resources and social egalitarianism. The former was first presented by Ronald Dworkin in the early 1980s and discussed in detail in his book Sovereign Virtue (2000). It may be possible to present other versions of 'luck egalitarianism' in this same way. The idea is that a distribution of resources is fair if every individual has no complaints that another person has been treated better than them. Differences in resources should therefore be justified to all. I will illustrate this by emphasizing that the individual in question should look to the resources that others have received.

I have highlighted one of our citizens in yellow and drawn arrows to indicate how that person is to judge whether she is equal to others. She would consider whether the amount of resources that she obtains are fair when compared to those of others. Of course this will not require the resources to be exactly the same; people are different and this should be reflected in the resources that they obtain. So one person might work more than others and earn and save, while others enjoy a more leisured existence. Furthermore, some people might receive additional resources because they have some disability relative to others which everyone accepts would entitle them to additional compensation. 

The second approach to equality been suggested under several names, such as democratic egalitarianism (Elizabeth Anderson, "what is the point of equality?" Ethics, 1999), and relational egalitarianism. In some ways this latter name is the most accurate since the approach focuses on relationships between people, not the different treatment with regard to resources. However, the first approach is also relational and so it is potentially misleading. The motivation for this approach is that people should all members of society should feel themselves to be equal to others. The challenge to resource egalitarianism is that it might produce distributions of resources that enable some people to look down on others, that are in some sense hierarchical (see Scheffler, "What is egalitarianism?" Philosophy and public affairs, 2003). 

According to this theory, what matters is that our yellow person considers herself an equal to all others in society. No one should look down on anyone or feel inferior to others, and resources should be distributed in such a way that such judgments would be avoided. 

The social egalitarian charge against resource egalitarianism is that it might result in this kind of inequality for several reasons. This could be because people have to claim extra compensation for their disabilities which means they have to consider themselves inferior to others. In addition, there can be large differences in resources as a result of people's different working and spending choices, which would allow big differences in wealth which would result in hierarchies.

Must we choose between these two different approaches? 
Yes - they are different interpretations of egalitarianism. It may happen to be, of course, that the two approach would coincide; the equal outcome according to one could be the equal outcome according to the other. However, this doesn't seem likely. Furthermore, even if they did coincide, we would be interested to know which of the two was the reason for wanting this (then less controversially) equal outcome.

What are the differences between the two approaches? 
Well, the first emphasizes that what matters primarily is the way the government treats its citizens while the second emphasizes the relationships between people in society. So if we go with the second then it could be that the government should give some people extra resources at the expense of others in order to stop those others from looking down on them. 

I find the former approach more attractive. It is an empirical question whether the two approaches would require different distributions, but I do not think that the distribution should be so influenced by how people might judge one another based on their resources. I'd also question whether the relational approach would not be self-defeating since people would resent those who get additional resources solely because they would otherwise be looked down upon. This seems exactly against the spirit of the approach - I would not feel like an equal if I got extra resources because I wouldn't otherwise have as much as others and others may well resent me for getting resources because I chose not to work as hard as them. The response to this would presumably be that in a large society people most people are strangers and will be judged based on appearances and so these are what matter.

Perhaps more importantly, the former approach allows people responsibility for their resources and what they want to do with their lives. If I am concerned with how people perceive me then I can focus on that, but if I am concerned with other things then I accept that people might judge me as they see fit. Personally, I don't think that these judgments are that important when compared to this idea of people being entitled to do what they want compatible with what others want to do. 

I recommend Zosia Stemplowska's writing in this area, such as ‘Responsibility and Respect’, in Responsibility and Distributive Justice, Oxford University Press, 2011, 115-35