Economic Analysis Meets Distributive Justice

Social Theory and Practice 26 (2):327-345 (2000)
Abstract
Some of the best philosophers do not hold academic appointments in philosophy departments. Wouldn't you rather have the ghost of Frank Ramsey (the Cambridge mathematician who died in the 1920s) as a hall mate instead of some of your current colleagues? Confining our attention to the living, we find some economists among the more philosophically inclined intellectuals. The best of these fellow traveling economistphilosophers are the Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen and also John Roemer. In the early 1980s Roemer did brilliant work on the analytical foundations of Marxist theory. He has also accomplished an imaginative retooling of the Lange-Lerner models of market socialism. For the past dozen years or so Roemer has been thinking and writing about distributive justice. This work has culminated in the two impressive books that are the subject of this review essay. Theories of Distributive Justice is explicitly a bridge-building effort. Roemer announces that his aim is to provide a philosophical perspective on recent writings by economists that are relevant to the topic of distributive justice and to provide an economist's perspective on recent writings by philosophers on distributive justice. He further announces that his primary aim is to facilitate traffic in one direction--to interpret and formulate the ideas of contemporary philosophers on distributive justice so as to introduce them to economists with a view to increasing the philosophical sophistication of work by economists on these normative issues. I endorse this aim. But since I am not a trained economist, I shall not attempt to assess the extent to which this project is successfully completed. This review explores the adequacy of Roemer's survey of contemporary theories of justice and the philosophical interest of his own contributions to debates about distributive justice. These Roemerian contributions appear interspersed among critical discussions in Theories of Distributive Justice as well as in the more recent monograph Equality of Opportunity. 1..
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