If You’re an Egalitarian, You Shouldn’t be so Rich

The Journal of Ethics 25 (3):323-337 (2020)

Abstract

G.A. Cohen famously claims that egalitarians shouldn’t be so rich. If you possess excess income and there is little chance that the state will redistribute it to the poor, you are obligated to donate it yourself. We argue that this conclusion is correct, but that the case against the rich egalitarian is significantly stronger than the one Cohen offers. In particular, the standard arguments against donating one’s excess income face two critical, unrecognized problems. First, we show that these arguments imply that citizens have no duty to further egalitarian political institutions—a conclusion that Cohen’s Rawlsian opponents cannot abide. Second, these arguments yield unacceptable implications for other questions of justice. We conclude that even moderately rich egalitarians are obligated to donate their excess income.

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Author Profiles

Jason Brennan
Georgetown University
Christopher Freiman
College of William and Mary

References found in this work

Political Liberalism.John Rawls - 1993 - Columbia University Press.
Justice as Fairness: A Restatement.John Rawls (ed.) - 2001 - Harvard University Press.
Rescuing Justice and Equality.G. A. Cohen (ed.) - 2008 - Harvard University Press.
Two Concepts of Rules.John Rawls - 1955 - Philosophical Review 64 (1):3-32.

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