The Difference Principle, Capitalism, and Property-Owning Democracy

and Andrew Lister
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  • Department of Political Studies, Queen’s University, 68 University Ave., Kingston, Ontario, 3N6, Canada
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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.

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Moral Philosophy and Politics is an international, peer-reviewed journal for original philosophical articles on issues of public relevance. Of particular interest to the journal are the philosophical assessment of policy and its normative basis, analyses of the philosophical underpinnings or implications of political debate and reflection on the justice or injustice of the social and political structures which regulate human action.