America Beyond Justice: Critical Review of Peter Temin, The Vanishing Middle Class, MIT Press 2017

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Opening paragraph:

America Beyond Justice:

Critical Review of Peter Temin, The Vanishing Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, MIT Press, 2017


Peter Temin’s ambitious monograph on the recent political history of the USA combines economic data about inequality, a complementary theory of politics, and a consequent discussion of how those politics have produced, and sustain, various negative social effects. It is no accident that the book opens with the economic data. In Temin’s view it is America’s radical inequality, with its persistent inter-woven strand of racism, that explains much else about America’s oligarchic form of government. [Gilens & Page, 2014; Temin, 2017, pp. 71–85, p. 115] (Temin gives his reasons for preferring the term “plutocracy” to “oligarchy”. [Temin, 2017, p. 94]) He believes that the negative social effects of both inequality and oligarchic governance follow ineluctably from Thomas Ferguson’s “investment theory of politics” that Temin endorses in the second part of this book. [Ferguson, 1995]

I will divide this Critical Review as follows: the first section describes some key economic data to provide a context for Temin’s discussion; the second section describes his characterization of his “bi-sectoral” model of the US economy; the third section turns to the key problem of social mobility. The fourth section discusses Temin’s account of the Investment Theory of Politics. Section five discusses the role of private debt in Temin’s argument while while section six addresses some of the broader issues raised by the book….

Read the full review here:

‘Are Pre-distribution and Property-owning Democracy Mutually Compatible’ by Alan Thomas MANCEPT September 11–13.


Convenor: Professor Mark Reiff

New Ideas in Economic Justice


Recent egalitarianism challenges the orthodox model of welfare state capitalism to argue that our focus ought to be on fair access to capital and not redressing income inequality.[1] There are two ways of presenting this novel focus: as pre-distributive as opposed to re-distributive and as committed to the realization of a property-owning democracy. Are these two commitments mutually compatible?

The argument that they are not is this: the attraction of pre-distribution is its promise to equalize the market power of agents – effected by putting in place background institutions that capitalize such agents on an on-going basis – to exemplify that which Rawls called “pure procedural justice”. So there is a tension between this goal and the normative justification for being concerned with assets, and not income, at all. This justification contrasts productive activity with rent-seeking. Yet the most feasible scheme for realizing this goal – a property-owning democracy – can only ever approximate to a balance between the productive and “pure ownership” components in the holding of capital. This tension is latent in the critiques of asset-based egalitarianism in the work of Edmundson [2017] and Vallier [2014].

If we can only satisfice in the achievement of our policy aims, then this seems to be an instance of Rawlsian “imperfect procedural justice” – taking aim at an independent standard where one may not succeed. So these critics argue that proponents of asset based egalitarianism need to choose between their two foundational commitments. This paper responds that – on the correct understanding of both pre-distribution and a property-owning democracy – this apparent tension is, indeed, merely apparent and this critique can be resisted.


Selective Bibliography

Atkinson, Anthony B. [2015] Inequality: What is to be Done? Harvard University Press.

Edmundson, William [2017] John Rawls: Reticent Socialist, Cambridge University Press.

Kerr, Gavin [2017] The Property-Owning Democracy, Routledge.

Hockett, Robert [2017] A Society of Owners: Jeffersonian Democracy, Hamiltonian Finance, and a Program of post-Crisis Politico-Economic Renewal, Yale University Press.

O’Neill, Martin [2017] ‘Predistribution: the Very Idea’, conference paper.

Piketty, Thomas [2013] Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Harvard University Press.

Thomas, Alan [2017] Republic of Equals: Predistribution and Property-Owning Democracy, Oxford University Press.

Reiff, Mark R. [2013] Exploitation and Economic Justice in the Liberal Capitalist State, Oxford University Press.

Vallier, Kevin [2014] ‘A Moral and Economic Critique of the New Property-Owning Democrats: On behalf of a Rawlsian Welfare State’, Philosophical Studies, vol. 172, no. 2, pp. 283–304.

[1] Prominent examples include Atkinson [2015], Hockett [2017], Kerr [2017], Piketty [2013],Thomas [2017]. Edmundson [2017] is in some respects a dissenting voice, but requires those major productive assets that “command the heights” of an economy to be in public ownership – as a matter of constitutional fiat. He draws on a distinction between “pure ownership” and the productive use of capital which is also a leitmotif of Reiff [2013].

‘Republicanism, Liberalism and the Political Psychology of Emotion’, by Alfred Archer, Bart Engelen and Alan Thomas, University of York, Conference on Republicanism, June 26–27 2017


This paper compares and contrasts Pettit’s republican conception of justice with Rawls’s conception of justice as fairness. It does so by taking up a novel perspective on the two views: the implications of each for political psychology and the emotions that bear on political justification: shame, envy, malice and the will to dominate. The overall aim is to make headway on the complex question of the relation between the two views.

We know from Pettit’s work that a person who is dominated is craven, deferential and may resent this predicament. Positively, Pettit has endorsed Adam Smith’s conception of a just society as one in which citizens can appear in public without shame. He also adds that it is a crucial aspect of a republican view that a citizen must possess boldness, or self-confidence, in advancing their projects – an issue that he believes falls beyond the scope of state action. [Pettit, 2012, pp. 84–85]

Rawls’s political psychology is more prominently a part of his strategy of justification. The parties in the original position seek to assure the material basis of the self-respect of those whom they represent. A just distribution ought not to elicit reasonable envy and, in Justice as Fairness, the whole structure of Rawls’s justification of his principles is re-cast to take into account the role played by emotion. The two principles are first justified while bracketing the “destabilizing special attitudes”; they are then revised, as part of the theory of stability, with the malicious, anti-social attitudes of the would-be dominator taken into account.

We will draw the following conclusions from this comparison: first, Pettit’s conception of republican justice cannot, given some plausible claims about positional goods and the emotions that feature in their evaluative profile, meet Smith’s standard. Because this standard is sufficientarian it is, by Rawls’s lights, only weakly egalitarian in that Pareto improvements to the situation of the better off that do not make anyone else worse off are mandatory (if the worst off have met the sufficient standard). In light of this fact it seems that Frederick Neuhouser was correct to conclude that “more radical transformations that address asymmetries in the economic structure of society, though not ruled out, play little role in [Pettit’s] reflections on the policy implications of republicanism ”. [Neuhouser, 2013, p. 217. n.31]

Our positive proposal is that the republican ought to adopt Rawls’s strongly egalitarian conception of justice. This is for two reasons. First, it avoids the conclusion that Smith’s criterion of appearing in public without shame is unavoidable in the republican polity. Second, Rawls plausibly argues that those who lack the material basis of their self-respect will fail to value either themselves or their own projects. They will, therefore, lack the kind of confidence that Pettit recognizes as essential to the liber, but takes to be outside the scope of state action.

So our examination of the logic of positional goods leads us to conclude that only a society that guarantees the material underwriting of non-dominated status with a strong egalitarianism will allow the joint realization of adequate self-worth, the lack of stigmatizing shame, and republican “boldness”.

Two Reviews of Republic of Equals

Nicholas Vrousalis (forthcoming, The Philosophical Review):

Phil Parvin, Political Theory

Cross Posting at Pea Soup Ethics Blog

Republic of Equals

9780190602116 Kindle edition now available:

UK publication (hardback) December 1

US publication (hardback) December 6

ISBN-13: 978-0190602116

ISBN–10: 0190602112

Braga Workshop: October 24, University of Minho


Call For Participation: Conference on Republic of Equals: Predistribution and Property-owning Democracy

Invited key-note speaker: Professor Alan Thomas
When: 24 October 2016
Where: University of Minho, Braga (Portugal)

This conference will discuss some of the central themes of Alan Thomas’s book Republic of Equals: Predistribution and Property-owning Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Possible topics for submissions include:

– the relationship between liberal and republican traditions in political thought;
– whether political philosophy can address the ‘New Inequality’ in affluent Western Societies from the 1970s to the present day;
– whether a property-owning democracy is a realistic utopian ideal;
– whether processes of globalisation constrain egalitarian projects;
– the contrast between property-owning democracy and welfare state capitalism;
– the relationship between property-owning democracy and market socialism;
– the relationship between capitalist forms of economic organization and oligarchic forms of governance.
– the relationship between predistribution and redistribution;
– the relationship between basic income and reciprocity, …

Abstracts of between 300 to 500 words on any of these topics (or related topics) should be submitted to Roberto Merrill ( by August 25.
Notification of acceptance: September 1.

It is anticipated that presentations at the conference will be 20 minutes long with 20 minutes reserved for discussion.

NB: The book may be out by the time of the conference (the current plan is October) but Professor Alan Thomas will certainly have the page proofs with correct pagination, which will be available for participants.

Participation fee: 20 euros
This event is organized by the Political Theory Group of CEHUM, University of Minho (Braga),
Contact: Roberto Merrill (