Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Local Justice

Local Justice: How Institutions Allocate Scarce Goods and Necessary Burdens

Jon Elster
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7758/9781610441834
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Local Justice
    Book Description:

    The well-being of individuals routinely depends on their success in obtaining goods and avoiding burdens distributed by society.Local Justiceoffers the first systematic analysis of the principles and procedures used in dispensing "local justice" in situations as varied as the admission of students to college, the choice of patients for organ transplants, the selection of workers for layoffs, and the induction of men into the army. A prominent theorist in the field of rational choice and decision making, Jon Elster develops a rich selection of empirical examples and case studies to demonstrate the diversity of procedures used by institutions that mete out local justice. From this revealing material Elster fashions a conceptual framework for understanding why institutions make these crucial allocations in the ways they do.

    Elster's investigation discloses the many complex and varied approaches of such decision-making bodies as selective service and adoption agencies, employers and universities, prison and immigration authorities. What are the conflicting demands placed on these institutions by the needs of applicants, the recommendations of external agencies, and their own organizational imperatives? Often, as Elster shows, methods of allocation may actually aggravate social problems. For instance, the likelihood that handicapped or minority infants will be adopted is further decreased when agencies apply the same stringent screening criteria-exclusion of people over forty, single parents, working wives, and low-income families-that they use for more sought-after babies.

    Elster proposes a classification of the main principles and procedures used to match goods with individuals, charts the interactions among these mechanisms of local justice, and evaluates them in terms of fairness and efficiency. From his empirical groundwork, Elster builds an innovative analysis of the historical processes by which, at given times and under given circumstances, preferences become principles and principles become procedures.Local Justiceconcludes with a comparison of local justice systems with major contemporary theories of social justice-utilitarianism, John Rawls'sA Theory of Justice, Robert Nozick'sAnarchy, State, and Utopia-and discusses the "common-sense conception of justice" held by professional decision makers such as lawyers, economists, and politicians. The difference between what we say about justice and how we actually dispense it is the illuminating principle behind Elster's book.

    A perceptive and cosmopolitan study,Local Justiceis a seminal work for all those concerned with the formation of ethical policy and social welfare-philosophers, economists, political scientists, health care professionals, policy makers, and educators.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-183-4
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    A classical definition of economics is that it deals with the allocation of scarce resources with alternative uses. An equally well-known definition of politics is that it is about “who gets what, when, and how.” According to these definitions, the issues raised in this book belong equally to economics and to politics. Among many others, I discuss questions such as the following:

    Who gets a kidney for transplantation?

    Who is admitted to selective colleges?

    Who is selected for layoffs?

    Who is chosen for military service?

    Who is allowed to adopt children?

    Who shall be...

  5. 2 Problems of Local Justice
    (pp. 18-61)

    In this chapter I survey some central cases of local justice. Need-less to say, the list of allocative situations that fall under the heading of local justice is endless, especially when we range farther in space and time than I do here. Most of my examples are taken from current American practices, with excursions into other periods and societies. They have been selected partly because of their substantive importance, as measured by their impact on any given individual and by the number of individuals concerned,¹ partly for their conceptual interest.

    In this chapter, and in the book as a whole,...

  6. 3 Principles of Local Justice
    (pp. 62-112)

    In this chapter I survey the main principles and procedures that have been used to allocate scarce goods and necessary burdens. The survey aims at being exhaustive, at least in the sense of covering all the major principles. It does not offer a natural typology, based on first principles that would generate exhaustive and mutually exclusive categories. I think it belongs to the nature of the case that no classification of this kind is possible. The best one can do is to survey as many cases of local justice as possible, enumerate and classify the principles used (or, in some...

  7. 4 Consequences of Local Justice
    (pp. 113-134)

    In this chapter I discuss how a scheme for allocating a good or a burden can have consequences over and above the consequences embedded in the scheme itself. Assume that the scheme offers the good to all and only the members of X, as defined by one of the principles discussed in Chapter 3. I shall refer to this fact as theprimary consequenceof the scheme. It may also be the case, however, that members of X (or at least those members who actually end up with the good) are also, or disproportionately, members of Y. This consequence of...

  8. 5 Explaining Local Justice
    (pp. 135-183)

    In this chapter I shall develop a framework for explaining principles of local justice, that is, for explaining why, at a particular time and place, a particular institution adopts a particular principle for allocating a particular good. On the one hand, we need to understand why allocators, authorities, recipients, and public opinion develop certain preferences with respect to the allocative principles. On the other hand, we must try to understand how these preferences are aggregated to yield the final allocative scheme. As mentioned in the Introduction, I shall not try to offer atheorythat could serve across the board,...

  9. 6 Local and Global Justice
    (pp. 184-245)

    In the preceding chapters I have been concerned with the nature, causes, and consequences of local justice. In this chapter I return to an issue briefly mentioned in the Introduction, concerning the relation between patterns of local justice and philosophical theories of global, society-wide justice.

    The main purpose of the chapter is to improve our understanding of the justice-related arguments of the main participants in allocative systems. Actors at all three levels of decision making, as well as the general public, often argue for allocative schemes in terms of efficiency and fairness. Even when ultimately moved by self-interest or partiality,...

  10. 7 Conclusion: Some Unexplored Issues
    (pp. 246-250)

    I shall not try to summarize the analyses in the previous chapters. Instead, I shall draw attention to some of the topics that I have not been able to treat as fully as I would have liked to. In doing so, I shall also suggest some directions for further research.

    1. In the Introduction, I said that “One could write the fictional biography of a typical citizen, to depict his life as shaped by successive encounters with institutions that have the power to accord or deny him the scarce goods that he seeks.” Toward the end of Chapter 4, I...

  11. References
    (pp. 251-262)
  12. Index
    (pp. 263-283)