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The Difference Principle, Capitalism, and Property-Owning Democracy

  • Andrew Lister EMAIL logo


Jason Brennan and John Tomasi have argued that if we focus on income alone, the Difference Principle supports welfare-state capitalism over property-owning democracy, because capitalism maximizes long run income growth for the worst off. If so, the defense of property-owning democracy rests on the priority of equal opportunity for political influence and social advancement over raising the income of the worst off, or on integrating workplace control into the Difference Principle’s index of advantage. The thesis of this paper is that even based on income alone, the Difference Principle is not as hostile to property-owning democracy as it may seem, because the Difference Principle should not be interpreted to require maximizing long run income growth. The main idea is that it is unfair to make the present worst off accept inequality that doesn’t benefit them, for the sake of benefitting the future worst off, if the future worst off will be better off than they are anyway.


I wrote the first draft of this paper while I was an Honorary Fellow at the Hoover Chair for Social and Economic Ethics, Université Catholique de Louvain. I would like to thank the participants in the Vives Seminar, Axel Gosseries, Ãsbjørn Melkevik and three anonymous reviewers for their very helpful criticisms and comments.


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Published Online: 2017-9-28
Published in Print: 2018-6-26

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