A Critique of the Incentives Argument for Inequalities

Kriterion: Journal of Philosophy 25 (1):40-52 (2011)
According to the incentives argument, inequalities in material goods are justifiable if they are to the benefit of the worst off members of society. In this paper, I point out what is easily overlooked, namely that inequalities are justifiable only if they are to the overall benefit of the worst off, that is, in terms of both material and social goods. I then address the question how gains in material goods can be weighed against probable losses in social goods. The ultimate criterion, so my idea, is how these gains and losses affect a person’s ability to reach her goals in life. Based on the idea that goals in life cannot be taken as given, I conclude that the absolute material gains are negligible compared to the losses of social goods and the disadvantage in the relative position caused by material inequalities.
Keywords inequality  egalitarianism  Rawls  distributive justice  incentives argument  difference principle
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