On the possibility of Paretian egalitarianism

Journal of Philosophy 102 (3):126-154 (2005)
We here address the question of how, for a theory of justice, a concern for the promotion of equality can be combined with a concern for making people as well off as possible. Leximin, which requires making the worst off position as well off as possible, is one way of combining a concern for making people’s lives go well with a special concern for those who are especially poorly off. Many egalitarians, however, reject its near-monomaniacal focus on the worst off position (to the exclusion of other poorly off persons). In this paper, we explore the possibility of combining a weak kind of egalitarianism with a weak kind of efficiency requirement in a way that avoids leximin’s obsession with the worst off position. For example, one may consider solving all cases where efficiency is not at issue by choosing the alternative that is most equal according to the Gini-coefficient or some other well-established inequality measure. All standard inequality measures sometimes judge an alternative as more equal than another alternative even though the latter maximizes the benefits of the worst off. Thus it may seem like a promising way of avoiding the leximin approach within an egalitarian framework. Surprisingly, given certain generally accepted assumptions, this turns out to be impossible. The only possible way of combining weak egalitarianism with weak efficiency requires, we shall show, the rejection of a widely accepted—but perhaps dubious—contraction consistency condition on justice or the acceptance of some version of the leximin principle
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