‘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

Abstract

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].



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