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In a "Theory of Justice" (published 1971, p. 302), John Rawls described an ideal society thus:
"(1) Each person is to have an equal right to most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all. (2) Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both: (a) to greatest benefit of least advantaged, consistent with just savings principle, and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity."
It all harks back to scarcity of resources - land, money, raw materials, manpower, creative brains. Those who can afford to do so, hoard resources to offset anxiety regarding future uncertainty. Others wallow in paucity. The distribution of means is thus skewed. "Distributive justice" deals with just allocation of scarce resources.
Yet, even basic terminology is somewhat fuzzy. What constitutes a resource? what is meant by allocation? Who should allocate resources - Adam Smith's "invisible hand", government, consumer, or business? Should it reflect differences in power, in intelligence, in knowledge, or in heredity? Should resource allocation be subject to a principle of entitlement? Is it reasonable to demand that it be just - or merely efficient? Are justice and efficiency antonyms?
Justice is concerned with equal access to opportunities. Equal access does not guarantee equal outcomes, invariably determined by idiosyncrasies and differences between people. Access leveraged by application of natural or acquired capacities - translates into accrued wealth. Disparities in these capacities lead to discrepancies in accrued wealth.
The doctrine of equal access is founded on equivalence of Men. That all men are created equal and deserve same respect and, therefore, equal treatment is not self evident. European aristocracy well into this century would have probably found this notion abhorrent. Jose Ortega Y Gasset, writing in 1930's, preached that access to educational and economic opportunities should be premised on one's lineage, up bringing, wealth, and social responsibilities.
A succession of societies and cultures discriminated against ignorant, criminals, atheists, females, homosexuals, members of ethnic, religious, or racial groups, old, immigrant, and poor. Communism - ostensibly a strict egalitarian idea - foundered because it failed to reconcile strict equality with economic and psychological realities within an impatient timetable.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and searcheurope.com.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com