Economic Justice in American Society

Economic Justice in American Society

Robert E. Kuenne
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 460
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvf9g
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Economic Justice in American Society
    Book Description:

    America is entering a new age of economic discord, warns Robert E. Kuenne. In addition to a panoply of other structural economic troubles, the nation must now confront unprecedented demands for the kind of "distributive justice" that will meet the needs of the elderly, handicapped, and impoverished. Furthermore, American society faces the pressing problems of the disadvantaged with no explicit code of economic justice. Claims to various kinds of government entitlements are based increasingly on appeals to "economic justice," but no real national agreement exists on what that expression means. In this ambitious work, Kuenne sets out to remedy this want of consensus.

    After an extensive evaluation of earlier thinking about distributive justice, Kuenne proposes a new theory, "dualistic individualism," that is consistent with the American ethos of political and economic liberalism. He then frames a formal Bill of Economic Rights and Obligations, which defines proper governmental conduct in the economic terrain as the American Constitution does in the political. Defending a form of governmental policy that strikes a balance between the egoistic and compassionate elements of American individualism, Kuenne also considers the practical tasks of program implementation, and goes on to assess the feasibility of meeting concrete redistributive goals over the next thirty years. His thorough investigation of one of the country's most urgent predicaments could do much to stimulate debate over the ad hoc and unprincipled distributive policies that now prevail in the United States.

    Originally published in 1993.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6359-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. PREFACE
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  6. Part I: American Conceptions of Economic Justice
    • Chapter 1 THE IMPLICIT ECONOMIC ETHIC IN THE MARKET ECONOMY
      (pp. 3-26)

      In the definition of the principles that shape and constrain their governing institutions, societies are notorious muddlers. But even in those instances in which political rules of governance are given explicit formulation, as in the case of the American Constitution, the deeper philosophical notions of the individual’s rights and obligations in the social context are left to be discerned and debated. Somewhat paradoxically, perhaps, in the social area at least, submerged foundations are not uniquely determined by the visible architecture nor does their structure have much direct visible influence on the additions to and modifications of the superstructure as practical...

  7. Part II: Theoretical Bases for Economic Justice
    • Chapter 2 THEORIES OF SOCIAL EQUITY: EGOISTICALLY ORIENTED THEORIES
      (pp. 29-58)

      At the core of traditional liberal thought is the notion of the individual as the fundamental unit of moral concern. Whether the precept is grounded in religious or secular principles, the sanctity of the individual’s life, the respect for his or her dignity on the basis of recognized moral equality, the protection of the freedom of will and action of the individual in the face of all but the most exigent social circumstances, and the basic rectitude of his or her search for personal gratification are corollaries of this fundamental notion of the integrity of the personality, the individuality of...

    • Chapter 3 THEORIES OF SOCIAL EQUITY: SOCIALLY ORIENTED THEORIES
      (pp. 59-95)

      In chapter 1 the general model presented for the analysis of a theory of economic equity highlights two antagonistic strands of concern that are sourced in the multifaceted implications of individualism. Prominent theories that feature the first of those themes—the egoistic—were presented in chapter 2. This chapter continues the exposition with the focus on theories with the other orientation—that of the social. Of course, the emphases in both cases are less than total in either direction, but they are sufficiently in evidence to make the distinction meaningful.

      The social content of the concept of equity recognizes the...

    • Chapter 4 A FRAMEWORK FOR JUDGMENT
      (pp. 96-113)

      In chapter 1social equitywas defined to be a concept which is dichotomized intosodal ethicsandsocial justice,leaving them to be distinguished later. The distinction that is now adopted follows John Stuart Mill’s definitions ofduties of imperfect obligationandduties of perfect obligation,which closely parallel Kant’s notions of the hypothetical and categorical imperatives but are not identical to them.¹ I shall use social (and, more narrowly, economic) ethics to denote the former and social (economic) justice the latter. The concepts have been discussed in the treatment of Mill's utilitarianism in chapter 3, but it will...

    • Chapter 5 A CRITIQUE OF THE EGOISTICALLY ORIENTED THEORIES
      (pp. 114-143)

      In chapter 2 three basic types of egoistic-directed theories of social equity were presented, with several variants of the contributory theories and the natural rights theories. The relevance of such theories to systems of economic justice in general and to operational systems of economic justice for the American society is not immediately apparent. It is time now to apply the framework developed in chapter 4 to each of the social equity theories of chapter 2 to seek helpful direction in the task of the constituent assembly.

      I showed in chapter 2 that the laissez-faire marginal productivity theory of distribution which...

    • Chapter 6 A CRITIQUE OF THE SOCIALLY ORIENTED THEORIES
      (pp. 144-176)

      There remains the task of applying the framework of analysis developed in chapter 4 to the theories of social equity whose principles of right lean strongly in the direction of the compassionate strain of individualism. These theories have been presented in chapter 3, and reference will be made to those discussions in elaborating the points made in this chapter. The three theories included in this category are taken in turn: the Kantian theory, utilitarianism, and the Rawlsian theory of justice as fairness.

      Kant’s moral system is at once the most profound and complexly structured of any of those systems being...

    • Chapter 7 THE BASES FOR ECONOMIC JUSTICE IN AMERICA: PHILOSOPHY, RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS, AND POLICY
      (pp. 177-206)

      We have reached the point in our presentation where we can pose the three questions whose answers constitute the goals of the inquiry:

      1. What philosophy of economic justice is most appropriate for American society, given its values, norms, and governing mechanisms and their capacity for change in the foreseeable future?

      2. With this philosophy serving to provide guidelines, what rights and obligations of the individual should be formalized in constitutional law to define applicable bounds for economic policy?

      3. In the light of this bill of individuals’ economic rights and obligations, what guidelines for policy formulation and administration are...

  8. Part III: The Patterns of Income Distribution in the United States
    • Chapter 8 MEASURING INEQUALITY: A MENU OF PROBLEMS AND CHOICES
      (pp. 209-233)

      The discussion of chapter 2 asserted that no theory of economic justice could be acceptable as an operational alternative without some concern for feasibility within the context of the ethos. However desirable a pattern of distribution dictated by an abstract scheme of justice might appear were it to be instituted in some perfectly plastic social matrix, its placement against the backdrop of existing values, beliefs, norms, and mechanisms could lead to rejection or substantial alteration on account of incompatibility. In individualist and materialist societies especially, the redistribution of incomes away from the market-dictated status quo must be expected to be...

    • Chapter 9 THE DISTRIBUTION OF INCOME IN THE UNITED STATES IN THE POSTWAR PERIOD
      (pp. 234-310)

      The discussion of chapter 8 is a chart of the minefields that await the unwary explorer of income distribution terrain. A primary lesson of the caveats expressed in that chapter is that no single measure can encapsulate the multidimensional concept of inequality, so that any approach with the prospect of an adequate depiction must be multifaceted. In this chapter, therefore, an effort is made to display and interpret the data in a variety of forms with two goals in mind: first, to obtain some realistic picture of the profile of inequality in the present U.S. society and its evolution from...

    • Chapter 10 THE FEASIBILITY OF REDISTRIBUTIVE PROGRAMS UNDER THE DUALISTIC INDIVIDUALISM THEORY OF ECONOMIC EQUITY
      (pp. 311-335)

      Within the context of the American ethos and the distribution patterns of the market mechanism discussed in chapter 9, are the potential redistributive implications of the dualistic individualism theory of economic justice, as developed in chapters 7 and 8, feasible? If so, what are the limits to such feasibility in the short and long terms? The questions concerning short-run feasibility are addressed in this chapter, and chapter 11 deals with longer-term feasibility.

      It is desirable to emphasize once more the limited ends of the analysis. First, only the narrow distributive implications of the theory will be analyzed within the framework...

    • Chapter 11 THE LONGER-TERM IMPLICATIONS OF DUALISTIC INDIVIDUALISM
      (pp. 336-380)

      Having gauged within broad limits the feasibility of an economic justice system based on dualistic individualism within the present social context, I will end the consequentialist analysis with a look ahead. With present trends and the likelihood of their continuance, what magnitudes of taxpayer burdens are implied for the long run if a 40-percent-of-medianincomes policy is adopted and maintained? Does it offer the prospect of feasibility, given the capacity of the ethos to yield greater scope to the social strand of individualism and the potential lessening of the burden through the growth of the economy?

      The first part of this...

  9. Part IV: Reprise and Prospect
    • Chapter 12 COMPASSIONATE CAPITALISM
      (pp. 383-404)

      Any economic mechanism adopted by a society to allocate its scarce resources among goods productions and to distribute those goods among its citizens must be judged by the three E’s: efficiency, ethos, and equity.

      Ideal economic efficiency is attained when, with fixed amounts of factor services available to the society, (1) resource allocations are made in such manner as to permit the production of more of any good or group of goods only if one or more other goods are reduced in quantity; (2) goods distributions among recipients are such that it is impossible to benefit one or more persons...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 405-426)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 427-435)