The inegalitarian ethos: Incentives, respect, and self-respect

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 12 (1):93-111 (2013)
Abstract
In Cohen’s vision of the just society, there would be no need for unequalizing incentives so as to benefit the least well-off; instead, people would be motivated by an egalitarian ethos to work hard and in the most socially productive jobs. As such, Cohen appears to offer a way to mitigate the trade-off of equality for efficiency that often characterizes theorizing about distributive justice. This article presents an egalitarian challenge to Cohen’s vision of the just society. I argue that a society where all internalized the egalitarian ethos would be one lacking equal respect among its members, in which certain groups lacked the grounds of self-respect. Section 1 defends equal respect and a form of equality of self-respect as values with broad-based appeal to egalitarians, and argues that a particular form of hierarchy would undermine both equal respect and the grounds of self-respect. Sections 2 and 3 reveal that just such a hierarchy would emerge in a society in which all had internalized the egalitarian ethos, in the case of both carers and the untalented. Thus, Cohen’s proposed society is shown to fail to unite equality and efficiency. Instead, Cohen’s society would be characterized by a lack of equality
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DOI 10.1177/1470594X12447777
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