Springer Verlag (2019)

This book develops a novel approach to distributive justice by building a theory based on a concept of desert. As a work of applied political theory, it presents a simple but powerful theoretical argument and a detailed proposal to eliminate unmerited inequality, poverty, and economic immobility, speaking to the underlying moral principles of both progressives who already support egalitarian measures and also conservatives who have previously rejected egalitarianism on the grounds of individual freedom, personal responsibility, hard work, or economic efficiency. By using an agnostic, flexible, data-driven approach to isolate luck and ultimately measure desert, this proposal makes equal opportunity initiatives both more accurate and effective as it adapts to a changing economy. It grants to each individual the freedom to genuinely choose their place in the distribution. It provides two policy variations that are perfectly economically efficient, and two others that are conditionally so. It straightforwardly aligns outcomes with widely shared, fundamental moral intuitions. Lastly, it demonstrates much of the above by modeling four policy variations using 40 years of survey data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.
Keywords distributive justice  desert theory  luck egalitarianism  applied theory  Rawls  wealth redistribution
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Reprint years 2020
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ISBN(s) 978-3-030-21125-7   978-3-030-21126-4   3030211258   3030211282   9783030211257
DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-21126-4
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Chapters BETA
The Individual Moral Agent

This chapter seeks to identify who or what is in fact a moral agent that might deserve a distributive justice reward. Reviewing the empirical research into intergenerational earnings dynamics, this chapter highlights a number of exclusions that the Just Deserts proposal would not recommend, includin... see more

Measure for Merit

Moving to the other side of the coin in the “correspondence” between desert-basis and reward, this chapter examines what distributive justice reward might best correspond to “value contributed” from the preceding chapter. Considering welfare, resources, and capabilities, this chapter ultimately argu... see more

Economy and Desert

Seeking to translate the preceding chapters into policy, this chapter lays a foundation for a “correspondence” between desert-basis and reward by examining what philosophers and economists have recommended as the specific distributive justice grounds for receiving or holding some as yet undefined ec... see more


This chapter briefly sums up the book’s motivations, conclusions, and aspirations for the future.

The Just Deserts Economy

This chapter notes that, were the Just Deserts proposal in fact implemented, the economy would look much different. As such, the chapter highlights three areas of impact: philanthropy, women, and disability. By separating chance from merit, philanthropic organizations will see the characteristics of... see more

Just Deserts Outcomes and Aggregate Analysis

This chapter compares the Original pre-tax distribution of lifetime “value contributed” to the distribution thereof under four Just Deserts policy variations. The chapter presents the basic descriptive findings of these distributions, while also describing the distribution of chance, the desert-basi... see more

Just Deserts

This chapter walks through the steps of creating an initial, plausible baseline for estimating the desert-basis for each individual in the United States. Using 40 years of data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, I share the natural lottery outcomes selected for inclusion in the baseline model.... see more

The Natural Lottery Alone

Although what one deserves requires evaluation of chance, this is not perfectly feasible as a public policy given current limitations in our knowledge. As a result, some have recommended a political process to determine what counts as chance. This chapter rejects this suggestion and argues that a fu... see more

Liberty and Just Deserts: Slaves, Dynasties, and Moral Agents

As the reader might fear that the Just Deserts proposal runs roughshod over individual liberty in an effort to redistribute, this chapter addresses two potential objections. First, many modern liberals are perfectly comfortable with taxes but reject lump-sum endowment taxes as described in the last ... see more

Efficiency and Just Deserts: Economists’ Big Trade-Off

A popular understanding of the principle of efficiency is one that seems to require a laissez-faire market economy because, supposedly, taxes always reduce aggregate welfare. This chapter argues that the Just Deserts proposal, by imposing a carefully designed endowment tax, may realize a perfectly e... see more

Equal Opportunity and Just Deserts: Better Late than Before

At first, equality of opportunity seems to require a process of “leveling the playing field.” I argue in this chapter that the Just Deserts proposal, by using an agnostic and ex post procedure, will more simply, accurately, and coherently equalize opportunity. This chapter defines opportunity, robus... see more

Autonomy and Desert

Having established a theory of moral responsibility, the Just Deserts proposal needs to integrate this within a theory of desert. First, I delimit the scope of what I mean by distributive desert. Then I present a formal representation of desert and sketch various lines of argument that I see as impo... see more

The Die Is Cast: Chance, Merit, and Inequality

Today, morally arbitrary chance dominates the distribution of economic resources. How ought we morally assess an individual who is morally responsible for an outcome when that outcome is, to some extent, governed by pure chance? Chapter 2 begins by offering a theory of moral responsibility, a necess... see more


How ought we justly allocate economic resources among individuals? That is the central question of this book. Although it may come as a surprise to those currently concerned with inequality, poverty, and economic immobility as moral wrongs to be undone, the principle of justice that will serve as th... see more

References found in this work BETA

The Concept of Mind.Gilbert Ryle - 1949 - Hutchinson & Co.
What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Leviathan.Thomas Hobbes - 1651 - Harmondsworth, Penguin.

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