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The Inequality of Markets

  • Kenneth F. Rogerson (a1)

For some time there have been arguments in favour of the claim that “free markets” are necessary for a proper account of distributive justice. Traditionally the arguments have come from two quarters. On the one hand markets are recommended for reasons of efficiency. This fits into a utilitarian argument claiming that market economies best promote the greatest good when compared to the alternatives. On the other hand there is a libertarian argument claiming that only free markets are consistent with individual liberty. Neither of these arguments have been met with widespread support. However, Ronald Dworkin has offered an argument supporting markets that breaks new ground. He argues that market economies have the considerable virtue of treating people as “equals” with respect to their preferences for goods and careers. This fits well with his larger claim that social justice in economics and politics requires treating people as equals.

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1 Dworkin Ronald, “What is Equality? Part 1: Equality of Welfare”, Philosophy and Public Affairs 10/(1981), 185.

2 Dworkin Ronald, “Liberalism”, in Hampshire Stuart, ed., Public and Private Morality (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1978), and What is Equality? Parts 1 and 2”, Philosophy and Public Affairs 10/3–4 (1981).

3 In the limiting case where we can assume that talents are equally distributed in the society the distinctions are the same.

4 Dworkin, “Liberalism”, 132.

5 Ibid., 130.

6 In the more rare case of limited resources, markets work in the opposite way. If there are many people with preferences for rubies and few with preferences for diamonds, then even if the intrinsic cost of “producing” each gem were the same, popular preferences would be priced higher than unpopular ones. I thank one of the anonymous referees for this point.

7 Dworkin, “Liberalism”. 131, and “What is Equality? Part 2: Equality of Resources”, 288.

8 Dworkin. “Liberalism”, 129.

9 Dworkin, “What is Equality? Part 2: Equality of Resources”, 304f.

10 See ibid., 288 and 301–304.

11 See Alexander Larry and Schwarzchild Maimon, “Liberalism, Neutrality, and Equality of Welfare vs. Equality of Resources”, Philosophy and Public Affairs 16/1 (1987), 90103, for a more detailed version of this criticism.

12 See Dworkin, “What is Equality? Part 2: Equality of Resources”, 293f.

13 Dworkin, “Liberalism”, 131.

14 Ibid., 130.

15 Ibid., 134.

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
  • URL: /core/journals/dialogue-canadian-philosophical-review-revue-canadienne-de-philosophie
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