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Welfare Luck Egalitarianism and Expensive Tastes

Nils Holtug


In his classic paper “Equality of What? Part 1: Equality of Welfare”, Ronald Dworkin argued that we should reject the notion that welfare is the currency of egalitarian justice. One reason is that this notion implies we should compensate individuals for expensive tastes they have deliberately cultivated. However, several egalitarians have objected that Dworkin conflates the resource/welfare and the luck/choice distinction. In particular, welfare luck egalitarianism implies that expensive tastes that are deliberately cultivated may not be compensable. In response to this criticism, Dworkin has more recently argued that welfare luck egalitarianism in fact collapses into ordinary welfare egalitarianism, or relies on an account of luck that is either incoherent or at least cannot provide a basis for egalitarian redistribution. Therefore, according to Dworkin, welfare luck egalitarianism does not solve the problem of expensive tastes. In the current article, I critically assess these recent arguments of Dworkin’s about the inadequacy of welfare luck egalitarianism. I argue that Dworkin has not shown that this notion collapses into ordinary welfare egalitarianism, or that it harbours a problematic account of luck.


For comments on this paper, I would like to thank Matt Adler, Martin Marchman Andersen, Gustaf Arrhenius, Ralf Bader, Simon Caney, Rasmus Sommer Hansen, Carl Knight, Gerald Lang, Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, Søren Flinch Midtgaard, David Miller, Wlodek Rabinowicz, Shlomi Segall, Peter Vallentyne, Alex Voorhoeve, Andrew Williams, two anonymous referees and participants at the Nordic Network for Political Ethics Conference in Vejle 2011, the International Society for Utilitarian Studies Conference in Lucca 2011, the MANCEPT Conference in Political Theory 2011, the Symposium on Priority, Equality, and Utility, University of Turku 2011 and the Oxford Graduate Conference in Political Theory, University of Oxford 2013.

Published Online: 2015-03-13
Published in Print: 2015-05-01

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