Theories of Distributive Justice and Post-Apartheid South Africa

Politikon 41 (1):23-38 (2014)

Carl Knight
University of Glasgow
South Africa is a highly distributively unequal country, and its inequality continues to be largely along racial lines. Such circumstances call for assessment from the perspective of contemporary theories of distributive justice. Three such theories—Rawlsian justice, utilitarianism, and luck egalitarianism—are described and applied. Rawls' difference principle recommends that the worst off be made as well as they can be, a standard which South Africa clearly falls short of. Utilitarianism recommends the maximization of overall societal well-being, a goal which South Africa again fails to achieve given its severe inequality and the fact of the diminishing marginal value of money—that a given amount of money tends to produce more utility for a poor person than it does for a rich person. The final theory, luck egalitarianism, aims to make distributions sensitive to individual exercises of responsibility. This view also objects to South Africa's inequality, this time on the basis that the poor are overwhelmingly worse off through no fault or choice of their own. These major theories of distributive justice therefore all propose large-scale redistribution to the benefit of the (predominantly black) poor. Perhaps more surprisingly, all three views also provide support for socio-economic affirmative action, as opposed to South Africa's race-based Black Economic Empowerment.
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