Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

Category: Distribution (Page 2 of 4)

John Rawls and contemporary political philosophy

Last week, I was invited to say some introductory words at a non-academic event dedicated to the work of John Rawls. As the main speaker would tell more about the content of Rawls’ theory, I decided to focus on the following question: why is Rawls seen as the most important contemporary political philosopher? Robert Nozick’s claim of 1974, that contemporary political theorists either have to work within Rawls’ framework or explicitly explain why they don’t, is still applicable today. For Jerry Cohen, Rawls’ masterpiece A Theory of Justice is the third most important book in the history of Western political thought. Only Plato’s Politeia and Hobbes’ Leviathan have a higher status, or so does Cohen claim. But what is it, precisely, that makes the work of John Rawls that significant?

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Reminder – Call for Papers: Labour Market Injustice Workshop

Newcastle University & Durham University, 14-15 December 2016

Labour market injustice is a pressing problem both domestically and globally. None the less, there continues to be considerable disagreement about how to understand and locate the moral concerns involved. Many commentators understand labour market injustice in interactional terms, viewing it as a problem with the wage or contract terms employers offer their workers. But, there is also an emerging trend towards thinking about it in more structural terms. One such thread involves conceptualising labour market injustices as systemic problems, such as understanding exploitation or discrimination as group-to-group phenomena. Another thread involves articulating proposals to prevent labour market injustices through institutional and policy level responses.

This workshop will operate as a detailed discussion of a set of works-in-progress that consider these emerging angles on (domestic and global) labour market injustice. We invite submissions grounded in any area of political theory, including both applied work and more theoretical or methodological contributions, and also papers that consider the intersection with importantly related disciplines, such as law and economics. Topics may include, but are not limited to, areas such as:

  • Labour rights
  • Discrimination
  • Work-life balance
  • Business organisation
  • Supply chains
  • Brain-drain
  • Exploitation

Confirmed participants

  • Anca Gheaus (University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona)
  • Martin O’Neill (University of York)

Workshop Organisers

  • Elizabeth Kahn (Durham University)
  • Tom Parr (University of Essex)
  • Andrew Walton (Newcastle University)

Submissions

Abstracts of up to 500 words, accompanied by contact details and institutional affiliation, should be sent to andrew.walton@ncl.ac.uk by 30th September 2016.  We will notify accepted papers by 14th October.

For further information, please contact andrew.walton@ncl.ac.uk, tparr@essex.ac.uk, or elizabeth.kahn@durham.ac.uk

TTIP – What we’ve learned in the debate

This post is Part 2 of the special series on TTIP that we’ll be running in the coming weeks.

12/07/2014 - Protestors against the EU-US trade deal (TTIP - Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) march from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to Europe House, the London Headquarters of the European Commission and the European Parliament, in Smith Square, London.

Anti-TTIP protesters in London, 2014. Wikimedia Commons.

TTIP is a complicated issue – but the fact that there is so much public debate about it shows that we have, after all, learned something from the Great Financial Crisis, or so I will argue. Before this crisis, many debates about economic policy took the form of “more market, please” (usually coming from the right) versus “more state, please” (usually coming from the left). But this way of carving up the terrain overlooks the essential preconditions of markets that are themselves political. In addition to questions about “more market” versus “more state”, we need to ask questions about who sets the rules of the economic game.

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Call for Papers: Labour Market Injustice Workshop

Newcastle University & Durham University, 14-15 December 2016

Labour market injustice is a pressing problem both domestically and globally. None the less, there continues to be considerable disagreement about how to understand and locate the moral concerns involved. Many commentators understand labour market injustice in interactional terms, viewing it as a problem with the wage or contract terms employers offer their workers. But, there is also an emerging trend towards thinking about it in more structural terms. One such thread involves conceptualising labour market injustices as systemic problems, such as understanding exploitation or discrimination as group-to-group phenomena. Another thread involves articulating proposals to prevent labour market injustices through institutional and policy level responses.

This workshop will operate as a detailed discussion of a set of works-in-progress that consider these emerging angles on (domestic and global) labour market injustice. We invite submissions grounded in any area of political theory, including both applied work and more theoretical or methodological contributions, and also papers that consider the intersection with importantly related disciplines, such as law and economics. Topics may include, but are not limited to, areas such as:

  • Labour rights
  • Discrimination
  • Work-life balance
  • Business organisation
  • Supply chains
  • Brain-drain
  • Exploitation

Confirmed participants

  • Anca Gheaus (University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona)
  • Martin O’Neill (University of York)

Workshop Organisers

  • Elizabeth Kahn (Durham University)
  • Tom Parr (University of Essex)
  • Andrew Walton (Newcastle University)

Submissions

Abstracts of up to 500 words, accompanied by contact details and institutional affiliation, should be sent to andrew.walton@ncl.ac.uk by 30th September 2016.  We will notify accepted papers by 14th October.

For further information, please contact andrew.walton@ncl.ac.uk, tparr@essex.ac.uk, or elizabeth.kahn@durham.ac.uk

Would an unconditional basic income be just?

On June 5th, Switzerland will be the first country to vote on an unconditional basic income (UBI). UBI is “an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement”. Although not new, the idea is revolutionary in that it decouples income from work, and it conflicts with many people’s intuitions about justice. It cannot be fair if someone who chooses not to work because she wants to read novels all day is entitled to the same basic income as a person who cannot work due to disability, right? At the same time, the idea has been defended not only on economic and pragmatic grounds, but also for reasons of justice. I will assess the idea from the perspective of justice and conclude that justice recommends giving it a try.

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On what we should get out of work (other than money!)

bruegel_peasants

Remember what good things you hoped awaited you within a future job when you were very young and still preparing for one. And have you ever been unemployed long-term, worried that you’d not find work in the near future? Remember why this was distressing (if it was). Here I’ll talk about the things we can, and should, get out of work – and argue that these goods are so important that we ought to reorganise employment.

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Fairness(es) and the INDCs

It’s over 20 years since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force. According to Article 3(1) of the Convention, Parties would “protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities”. It was recognised that this meant that “the developed country parties should take the lead in combating climate change”.

Despite this recognition that equity and differential responsibility and capacity were important factors to consider in global efforts to address climate change, agreement on what exactly this would entail for sharing the burdens of mitigation proved hard to come by. 2015 saw something of a change of tack, here, with Parties to the UNFCCC now invited to present an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the Convention objective of stabilising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous climate change.

The move to nationally determined contributions has been lauded by some for its potential to facilitate cooperation. One of the ways in which it appears to do this is by bypassing any need for an international agreement on what exactly a fair distribution of the burdens of mitigation would look like. Instead, each Party is invited (though not required) to explain how it considers its INDC to be “fair and ambitious, in light of its national circumstances”. So, roughly speaking at least, rather than starting with an established emissions budget and trying to come to an agreement on how to share it fairly, Parties are now permitted to adopt any number of different conceptions of fairness in defence of their own INDC, with no guarantee that the resulting ‘fair’ shares will remain within the budget.

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What’s bad about unemployment and what should we do about it?

When we analyse the justifiability of different education policies as well as various governmental interventions in the job market, we typically do so on the assumption that there is something bad about unemployment – indeed, there are many things bad about unemployment.  Whilst this assumption is no doubt correct, I suspect that it is often helpful to be more precise about what exactly is bad about unemployment. This is because each of these bads may admit of very different solutions.

It is common to begin by noting that unemployment can be stigmatising, such that individuals who are unemployed are subject to others’ negative attitudes. This can be experienced as disrespectful and damaging to one’s self-confidence. It is significant that proponents of these attitudes typically defend their views on moralistic grounds: “The unemployed should be stigmatised because they are sponging off of the state – off of others’ efforts!”

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(One of) Effective Altruism’s blind spot(s), or: why moral theory needs institutional theory

Blick aus dem Bürofenster kleinThere has been much talk about effective altruism recently (see e.g. here or here) – the idea that you should try to do as much good as you can, using the most effective means. It reads a bit like an update of good old Jeremy Bentham and “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” by a McKinsey consultant. It is easy to ridicule, and ridicule is indeed a frequent reaction because humour eases the tension that one can feel when confronted with these ideas. For there seems to be more than a grain of truth in effective altruists’ claim that we could do so much more to help those who were less fortunate in the “natural lottery” of where and when they were born. One thing that speaks in their favor, after all, is that effective altruists ask serious questions about what it means to be a moral agent in today’s world. What I here want to pick out from the debate is their picture the social world and of human institutions, which I take to be flawed. It is an illustration of why moral philosophy should not neglect the world we live in and the institutions that structure it.

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Sacrificed for hope?

Sacrificed for hope?

Economic transition and intergenerational justice

« Poverty and oppression are here, and they will not

be alleviated by the possibility of a better future.”

Adam Przeworski

Suppose you believe that the nationalization of the means of production is necessary for the achievement of justice. Suppose, besides, that your political party enjoys enough popular support (an absolute majority) for this radical reform. Yet you know from experiences in other countries that such radical reforms engender an economic crisis, with higher unemployment and lower incomes. What you do not know is how the economy is going to fare in the future and how long the crisis can last.

These are a lot of assumptions, certainly, but please accept them for the sake of the argument. What I am asking you is to put yourselves into the shoes of western European socialist leaders from the first half of the 20th century. They faced both a strategic and an ethical dilemma.

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