State of Justice In India: Issues of Social Justice

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Each curve is a cumulative distribution function of income of the set of workers whose parents have a given pair of educational levels. The curve furthest to the left is the cumulative income distribution function of male workers whose parents lack education entirely, and the curve furthest to the right is the income distribution of those workers whose parents have at least some tertiary education. Observe, for example, that the median income 0. More equality of opportunity, in this case, would require that the differences between these cumulative distribution functions are reduced.

The example indicates that several choices must be made in discussing inequality of opportunity. First, what are the circumstances for which individuals should be compensated? But one can expand this list considerably. So if one expands the list of circumstances to include other measures of disadvantage, the role of effort and choice will be diminished. A society will thus determine what equality of opportunity means by the choice of circumstances it wishes persons to be compensated for.

Equality of opportunity is therefore a concept that is defined as relative to the conception of circumstances and responsibility that a society wishes to adopt. Salient questions are how much of income inequality is due to circumstances, and how much to differential choice?

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If in addition one includes a variety of other indicators performance on reading and mathematics tests, a behavioral problems index, perceived quality of time spent with parents, two parents or single parent, smoking and drinking habits of parents , the resulting extended set of circumstances would account for fully 46 per cent of the income inequality.

The extended list of circumstances would account 36 per cent of the income inequality in the UK. We cannot indicate what role circumstances play in all countries because the relevant data have not yet been collected. However, for less comprehensive lists of circumstances, we can say that inequality of income opportunity is smallest in the Nordic countries and increases gradually as we move south in Europe to Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal. In developing countries, inequality of opportunity is much greater still. To summarize, the fertile discussion in political philosophy of the last 30 years of the twentieth century marked a move from the utilitarian view of justice to an egalitarian view.

But whereas utilitarianism advocated the view of justice as the maximization of total well-being, the egalitarian view did not advocate equality of well-being but rather equality of primary goods, functionings and capabilities, resources, or opportunities, in its various versions. Needless to say, the theory of equality of opportunity has made huge progress, yet it is not a complete theory of justice. So far it does not consider political participation democracy and civil rights.

Neither is it a complete theory of distributive justice as it does not address inequality of income as such, but only differential access to income.


It is conceivable that we could have a society with virtually full equality of opportunity for income with respect to a comprehensive list of circumstances, but still considerable differences in income, and that would be undesirable, because it is probably impossible for people to treat each other as citizens with equal dignity if their material conditions are vastly different. Cohen addressed this issue when he argued that the achievement of community among citizens requires limitations on the extent of income differences.

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Whether limiting income differences once equality of opportunity has been achieved should be considered an issue of justice or one of the decency of a society is an open question. Figure 9.

Cumulative distribution functions of income, male workers in Ecuador, partitioned into seven types based upon parental levels of education. The theoretical literature we have reviewed above has also inspired empirical investigations examining which principles individuals use when making judgments on the fairness of a given earnings distribution. In spite of the differences that naturally arise across studies, the overwhelming consensus is that most people are indeed sensitive to individual relative responsibility in producing their earnings. First of all, full equalization of outcomes generally attracts little support when individuals are asked to evaluate earnings allocations.

In the context of vignette studies Schokkaert and Capeau, ; Konow, , individuals would abide by an egalitarian principle only in the special case when those variables that are normally relevant for individual responsibility are perceived as having been equally applied.

To be sure, these studies do not address utilitarian theory as such, because the currency being redistributed is individual earnings. Nonetheless, a general lack of support for strict egalitarianism is evident. Interestingly, very few people seem to adopt the Rawlsian difference principle either see section 2.

In general, most groups seem to reach consensus on a mixed rule, that is, to maximize expected income subject to a constraint on the minimum income, the so called Boulding hybrid principle Boulding, ; Frohlich et al. Second, and perhaps most importantly, individuals are clearly willing to reward individual effort or abilities when these are conducive to greater earnings.

The amount of redistribution requested by experiment participants is considerably higher when luck, rather than individual effort, determines earnings Durante et al.

Nonetheless, Cappelen et al. Perhaps surprisingly, the most numerous category in this experiment is formed by strict egalitarians, who pursue full income equalization. The contrast with the evidence reported above is likely due in part to differences in the experimental design and in part to the sample nationality. The experiment was in fact conducted in Norway, where egalitarian norms are, arguably, part of the national social ethos see section 3. By contrast, libertarians are more than twice as numerous in the US as in Norway.

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Farina and Grimalda find comparable results. Differences in the way people assess inequality in their societies also emerge in survey studies. Osberg and Smeeding find in general gross underestimation of the extent of income inequality in each of the country being surveyed, where perceived inequality is measured by the ratio of the estimated earnings of firm CEOs to production workers.

Such underestimation is largest in the US. Most importantly, opinions differ widely across countries on the extent to which people at the top end of the income scale are entitled to earn in relation to people at the bottom. The acceptable ratio of top earnings to bottom earnings can vary from a mean value of The evidence on this aspect is scant, but seems to favor the view that some attributes for which people should not, in principle, be held responsible, such as their natural talents in performing certain tasks are seen as valid entitlements to acquiring larger earnings Konow, In other words, people generally seem to favor a meritocratic view whereby individuals are entitled to reap the benefits from all the attributes of their person, but not those of random events external to their person.

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Few studies assess how people react to relative need. In one of these studies, Cappelen et al. In particular, willingness to transfer resources by individuals living in rich countries toward individuals living in poor countries is higher than the share of income given as foreign aid. Nonetheless, factors other than needs, such as individual merit, appear to be even more relevant in explaining preferences for redistribution. Overall, their evidence suggests that perceptions of international justice might differ from perceptions of national justice.

Cross-country empirical evidence is still in its infancy; therefore we need more research to check the robustness of the findings here reported. A Science and Technology Studies STS perspective shifts focus from a normative discussion of how justice and equality ought to be conceived to the concrete practices by which they have been achieved.

Attention is directed to how multiple interpretations of in justice and in equality are enacted and become embedded in more or less durable institutional structures, technologies of governance and social norms. These configurations, or sociotechnical assemblages, are comprised of practices, collective norms, shared expectations, theories, laws, accounting techniques, machinery, built environments, rules of ownership and access, IP, market mechanisms, financial instruments, commons management and taxation regimes.

In a world where great inequality persists and many millions of people live in dire poverty it is tempting to focus on all the barriers to the achievement of social justice and well-being. But this will not necessarily contribute to a forward looking endeavor where we are being asked to project onto the future what social science has learnt about how society learns, adapts and transforms. The STS perspective employed here asks what can be learnt by examining the diversity of path dependent processes involved in practically enacting and achieving social justice.

Section 5. It also examines some important mechanisms of state and community governance that have been employed in specific national and regional contexts to monitor or achieve social justice and increased well-being. A feminist perspective on paradigms of justice emerging from Western European thought distinguishes between theories that emphasize justice as freedom, justice as equality, and justice as solidarity Ferguson, Those seeking forms of social justice, including gender justice, have participated in projects informed by all of these theories, but only some have radically transformed specific causes of injustice.

Justice as freedom is conceived within this framework as a neoliberal or libertarian form of justice in which individual and political liberties—including the right to private property—are prioritized over any collective or government control that might jeopardize these liberties. Justice as equality is, as the previous sections have demonstrated, the predominant formulation that has influenced policy making directed at promoting equality in its various guises.

At the global level this form of justice informs development projects by which wealthier nations act on their obligations to poorer nations they have historically harmed Pogge, However, the capacity to equalize opportunity for all by state-led distributions of social surplus is limited by the untouchable nature of privatized wealth protected by the very freedoms espoused by libertarian theories of justice.

Both these ideals of justice and their accompanying practices and policies challenge neither the capitalist economic growth paradigm, nor the operations of the state as an enabling agent of capitalist development. Indeed they work nicely to affirm the key individualizing ideologies that normalize capitalist practice and obfuscate the collective theft of wealth and its concentration in few hands, that is, the manufacture of social injustice. The extent to which these theories of justice create actually existing social justice and well-being for all classes and categories of people is thus limited, but there are nevertheless situations in which, guided by these theories, processes for creating social justice and well-being for many have worked in historically contingent and path dependent contexts as other sections of the Chapter demonstrate.

The final form, justice as solidarity, is informed by a relationality that places the ethical principle of care for the other at the center of justice concerns.

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Importantly these practices enable people to develop their human capabilities and to engage in democratic participation in social decisions. The redistributive actions involved are not limited to reallocations of social wealth appropriated by the state, but include non-state led interventions that share access and right to the production of wealth and access to basic needs. One entry point into the complexity of path dependency is to look to the ways in which theories of justice with their diverse emphases have interacted with political decision making and technologies of governing to inform social processes that have created well-being and social justice in place.

In Section 5. In spite of the concerns exposed above on the possibility of founding a sound notion of social justice on subjective well-being see section 2. Partly, this interest is due to the popularization of the so-called the Easterlin paradox in economics and of the theory of hedonic adaptation in psychology Kahneman et al.

Figures 10a and 10b illustrate the paradox in the case of the US and Japan. The Easterlin paradox points to a disconnect between objective well-being, as proxied by income, and subjective well-being, as measured by survey questions. The paradox has been confirmed in country-level cross-sections as well.

Figure 11 shows the relationship between Gross National Product per capita and aggregate happiness from 65 countries based on the World Values Survey Inglehart and Klingemann We observe a slightly positive association, as indicated by the moderately positive slope.

More specifically, we see that the slope which shows the improvement in happiness as a change in national income is greater among low-income countries, and flatter among high-income countries. In fact, if we only look at the high-income countries, clustered at the top right-end of the distribution, then the variation in happiness is small indeed.

If we draw a horizontal line that cuts across countries, for example from the Philippines to Austria, we can see that happiness is indistinguishable between a low-income country such as the Philippines compared to a high-income country such as Austria. The horizontal line thus suggests that national income does not explain variations in happiness very well. In other words, Belarus and Brazil are nearly identical in terms of national income, but worlds apart in terms of happiness.

We thus arrive at the same conclusion, that objective well-being is not a sound predictor of subjective well-being. That is, individuals derive utility not just from consuming a given good or service but also by consuming it while others cannot. The owner of a luxurious sport car will be normally much happier if she is the only owner of such a car in her neighborhood than when everyone owns an equally valuable sport car in her neighborhood.

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Social status is by construction a scarce resource, which is eroded as more people get access to the goods conferring social status. Social status is at its highest when only one individual owns the good. Consumption by additional individuals erode the social status of individuals who already owned the good.

At the limit, when everyone owns the good, no social status can be gained.

Clearly not all goods have the characteristic of being positional. However, for those goods that are indeed positional, a rather perverse mechanism is set in place. That is, consumption by an additional individual creates a negative externality , that is, a loss in the utility from consuming the good, among previous consumers. It is precisely such a negative externality that may be the root cause of the Easterlin paradox.