In this post, Huub Brouwer and Thomas Mulligan introduce a four-part Justice Everywhere series on the question: What is a just wage? Over coming weeks, this will feature posts by Andrew Lister, Peter J. Boettke et al., Peter Dietsch, and Joseph Heath. 

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, smoldering questions about what just wages are, and whether markets are providing them, have erupted again. Some charge that unprecedented inequalities in income and wealth threaten national comity and are injustices in themselves. For others, regulation and egalitarian transfer policies are the real culprits, hampering efficiency and treading on property rights. Still others would like a world where people get what they deserve, and income and wealth come not through inheritance or social connections but effort and skill.

These are debates in the public sphere, but, of course, philosophers have discussed the nature and the possibility of a just wage for millennia. Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Adam Smith—among many others—all grappled with the issue. But despite this timelessness, it seems to have new relevance now.

Is the very idea of a just wage a coherent one? Joseph Heath has recently published an article in the Erasmus Journal for Economics and Philosophy in which he cautions against attempts to morally justify market outcomes. Heath argues that those who try to morally justify these outcomes read more into them than there is to find. The task of markets is to direct factors of production to their most efficient uses. It is not to reward productivity or talent, nor to divvy up the benefits of cooperation fairly.

We invited 9 economists and philosophers to take Heath’s article as a starting point and reflect on new aspects of an old question: What is a just wage? The result is a special issue of the Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, which can be found here (open access). Over the course of the next month, Justice Everywhere will publish extended abstracts of three of the contributions, followed by a blog post in which Joseph Heath responds.

The schedule for publication is:

  1. Talents and Wages, by Andrew Lister, on March 11th.
  2. Is the Market Wage the Just Wage? A Reassessment of Factor Pricing and Distributive Justice, by Peter J. Boettke, Rosolino Candela, and Kaitlyn Woltz, on March 18th.
  3. On the Very Idea of an Efficient Wage, by Peter Dietsch, on March 25th.
  4. Response, by Joseph Heath, on April 1st.

Stay tuned for the full series!

Huub Brouwer is a PhD candidate in Political Philosophy at Tilburg University, specialising in desertist and luck egalitarian theories of distributive justice.

Thomas Mulligan is a visiting scholar at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics, where he conducts research in, primarily, economic justice and collective decision-making. He is the author of the 2018 monograph, Justice and the Meritocratic State.