The theory of resources equality by Ronald Dworkin

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The general idea[edit | edit source]

Ronald Dworkin.

We need to get rid of the idea that equal resources means equal results or that Dworkin starts from the idea that everyone should be given the same thing. Equal resources means the possibility of having equitable resources so that everyone can carry out their conception of what is good. This implies, in a certain way, considering what the poorest people are and what the poorest people are not.

Dworkin, like any self-respecting theorist of justice in this debate, starts by asking himself the question of what to equalize and starts to attack, like others, the idea that, somewhere, what to equalize is well-being. For a variety of reasons, well-being is too subjective and we don't know what that means. Dworkin focuses on something that we can evenly call resources.

His problem with Johns Rawls is this. Rawls proposes a model of justice theory that makes more sense from a liberal perspective.[8] Two things pose a fundamental problem because they go against our intuition.

The first thing is that Rawls does not sufficiently consider the problems of physical handicap.[9][10] If it is a question of equalizing a minimum of primary social goods, that is one thing, they are external resources. What about when it comes to considering the dignity of people who are affected by a natural physical disability for which they are not responsible. For Dworkin, Rawls' problem is that the fact that he does not consider this example says something about his theory because according to Dworkin, Rawls is aware of the fact that if it is a question of improving the lot of the most deprived, but with a severe disability, it would mean that theoretically, everything that is produced by society, but which should be redistributed according to the second principle for the most deprived, could go to a single person with a disability in order to try to improve his or her well-being.[11][12] We are in the symbolic realm of what it means to improve the lot of the most deprived when the most deprived are people with disabilities and suffering and whose suffering cannot be alleviated by most of the resources of others. This is a case that Dworkin puts forward to say that there is something in Rawls' intuition and the second principle that needs to be explored further.

The second point of attack is that Dworkin attacks Rawls on a basic point which is that the most disadvantaged category is not enough.[13] For Dworkin, there's no reason, that someone who has decided to dedicate his life to surfing and who finds himself at forty-five years of age with no physical ability to enjoy himself and with no training, no opportunity for employment, then there's no reason for society to fund his social benefits because he's disadvantaged because of choices he's made and not because of some bad luck that would have befallen him beyond his control.[14][15] Dworkin puts some order back into the category of the most disadvantaged that Rawls used in an overly essentialist way. For Dworkin, intuitively, we have a problem. Intuitively, we all have a desire to help through forms of redistributive justice the person who suffers from a mismatch of resources because of bad luck, be it social or physical, but intuitively, we cannot follow the idea that it is necessary to give the fruits of our redistribution on the basis of taxation to people who have decided to appear it instead of earning a living. He introduces the distinction between choice and circumstance, which in his opinion is too undeveloped in Rawls and opens up important problems in terms of justice. For Dworkin, there is no reason to cover up certain inequalities if they can be shown to be the product of the conscious choice that individuals make.[16]

"Egalitarian" does not necessarily mean "progressive" because what Dworkin says has been easily picked up and shared by a whole bunch of conservatives with the principle of accountability, which is the principle that everyone is responsible for their choices.[17][18][19]

For Dworkin, if we are at a disadvantage because of our choices, that is certainly an inequality, but it is not an injustice. There are situations that express forms of inequality, but that do not necessarily mean that there are injustices.

Dworkin tries to think of a theoretical model that allows us to consider two things, a form of redistribution that, on the one hand, as a good liberal, starts from the idea that individuals must be free to pursue their conception of the good, that is sensitive to differences in aspiration.[20] For Dworkin, the conception of justice must take this into account; on the other hand, it must be independent of initial endowments. This means that it considers on an equal footing people with and without a natural disability problem. A just model has to be one that tries to equalize injustices or inequalities that people are not responsible for, that is, a distribution that is independent of natural goods that is not a justice that rewards the able-bodied and burdens the unemployable (1). On the other hand, it is a distribution that considers the distinction between choice and circumstance (2).

Equality of resources as a sovereign virtue[21][edit | edit source]

An important element of all of Dworkin's liberalism is the idea of equal attention. What characterizes the Liberal model for him? A democratic and just state? It is the fact that the state pays equal attention to people's choices and lives.[22][23] In this sense, Dworkin could join a certain presupposition to the Nozick. Any conception of the good, if it does not prejudge the right of others, must be accepted by the State in the broadest possible way. A government that decides that certain conceptions of the good that people must live and pursue are de facto superior to one another does not treat everyone equally. We can expect a very broad policy or forms of recognition where the State basically recognises the specificity of all our choices. This is where Dworkin introduces two criteria to restrict things.

This is the principle of equal value and the principle of special responsibility.[24][25] For him, it is not because the state must pay equal attention to all people, that they are treated with equal attention, but it does not mean in the same way. With "equal attention" means according to one's dignity, which can result in treating him differently in order to make him more equal. In other words, this means respecting the specificities and possible differences of each individual.

Where Dworkin gets overwhelmed with Nozick and Rawls is on the fact that he says that a purely procedural design just doesn't make sense. It is necessary to put some ethical theory in order to defend these principles.[26][27][28][29]

For Dworkin, the equal value is to start from the idea that everyone has an interest in having something out of their lives. It starts from the idea that everyone should be put in a position to ensure that their lives are not wasted.

The principle of special responsibility is the idea that in the exercise of one's freedom, the individual is the master of one's will and therefore responsible for one's life choices. It's a concept we haven't seen much of at Rawls. Here, something is trying to put a moral point on the issue of responsibility for one's own choices. An unequal allocation of resources can be fair and stems from the intentions of the actors concerned. Being responsible for one's choices means that for redistribution or staffing to be equitable does not mean that everyone must have the same thing. It is possible to imagine that people will make different choices and therefore their resources will be different without this leading to injustice. Moreover, the individual can only be responsible for what he or she wanted in his/her life project and not for hazards. We are responsible for what we have been able to choose. There is an empirical problem that we can already anticipate that raises a whole bunch of questions, namely what it means to "completely choose one's life plan". The question of what we wanted as a choice is a little more complicated than what Dworkin seems to admit. Sometimes we make choices that we think we are our own, but which are actually constrained by context.

For Dworkin, equality of resources is an egalitarian distributive mechanism of socio-economic resources, seen as the most equitable approximation possible of equal attention.[30][31][32] The idea is to ensure that people have a fair, if not equal, distribution of resources so that they can make choices about the goods they want. Under the principle of special responsibility, all of this, by accepting the idea, that once they make choices, they will have to take them on.

If we start from the idea, as some people say, that equality of well-being is basically the criterion of distribution, then what should we do with people who have luxury tastes? The threshold between a morally valid conception of what needs to be equalized is something counter-intuitive. When we look at certain billionaire monarchical political regimes, we can well imagine that these luxury tastes are financed by someone.

Where do we put this threshold? From a theoretical point of view, it is clear: between bad luck and the luck that results from the options chosen. The special responsibility obliges us to make our choices. On the other hand, in order to make them less unequal, it is necessary to anticipate the situations of people who find themselves in situations of inequality.

The main aspects of Dworkin's theory[edit | edit source]

Dworkin distinguishes between external and internal resources.[33][34] External resources are social and economic resources that are outside the individual, and internal resources are for example natural talents or physical fitness that are things that belong to the individual.

How do we proceed? First, we proceed by internal resources. What is the thought experience he envisions? Dworkin imagines a hundred shipwrecked people who land on a desert island and have no chance of being found in the short term. So they have to organize themselves as a society and they have to decide how to distribute the resources that are given by the island. Dworkin's idea is to organize an auction.[35] Each receives a hundred shells. The one hundred shipwrecked people will be auctioned off with their shells and there are a number of lots to be auctioned off. Individuals will inquire about these lots and get information. Each will have one hundred shells. In front of each of the lots, each will put the number of shells he is willing to use to finance his desire. In Dworkin's idea, there is no inequality because everyone will have the same resources so no one will be able to buy everything, there will be no monopoly story, and everyone will have to make calculations about what he is willing to put in order to defend a certain social project or not. From the moment he chooses, according to Dworkin, the person commits his special responsibility.[36][37]

How does Dworkin start from the idea that the situation will be fair? He talks about the idea of an envy test. The distribution, i.e. the end of the auction, will be considered fair as long as each person does not envy the other's endowment. If everyone is happy with what they have been able to buy with their shells, starting from a situation of equality, if we arrive hypothetically at a situation where there is no envy because everyone has been able to buy their own conception of the good, then, at that point, we will be in a hypothetical situation of non-injustice, but rather of fair distribution that respects equally the desires, interests, preferences and tastes of everyone without the State intervening. For external resources, the idea is that one can imagine situations that would allow for the establishment of forms of unjust distribution.

It is someone who thinks that the market economy system is necessary because this auction is being held in accordance with the market economy and on the fact that, in a way, everyone is prepared to put a price on their aspirations.[38] Someone who wants a highly coveted good, but is not prepared to put a price tag on it, cannot cry foul if he finds himself in a situation where one does not have it and the other does. The implications of the mechanism can still go quite far.

Dworkin wonders what to do for people who after the shipwreck would have been injured, and what do we do for people who will inevitably get sick and who at some point, if they have made the choice to grow carrots, by getting sick, will no longer be able to grow carrots, so what do we do? In other words, what do we do about things that are not choices, but are bad luck? Dworkin, unlike Rawls, takes it much more seriously, and the solution he proposes is one that has to do with the idea of insurance.[39][40] With these hundred shellfish, people not only have what they're going to buy as an endowment and as a type of resource, but they're also going to decide what they're willing to put into some sort of insurance fund that should give them a hand in case they get sick. In other words, the question is how many of those 100 shellfish they will be willing to put into the insurance fund. His model allows for different strategies with those who play the maximin, that is, they will put in the maximum of the minimum to be well covered, there may be people who play the maximax, that is, the maximum of the maximum with no shellfish for insurance putting everything into the acquisition. For Dworkin, this too involves the special responsibility of everyone. If we decide not to insure ourselves against bad luck, at some point we will have to assume, but it is not possible to do the freerider, i.e. take advantage of goods financed by others, but without contributing to their financing. People will have to be able to decide how much they are going to finance, but also imagining that at some point society, whatever it is, will also have to presuppose special help, because someone with a profound disability will need much more than a hundred shells in order to have a dignified life. The compensation fund will make it possible to use the solidarity of others to return to that person an amount of shellfish in order to treat the person with equal care. This insurance fund is also a pot that will later be used to support cases of serious misfortune and severe physical disability. The question is what to do with disabilities that are the product of choice. In this case, there is a whole debate that is not settled.[41][42][43][44][45][46]

Some criticisms of chance egalitarianism[edit | edit source]

This current of liberalism is called the egalitarianism of luck, which is a Dworkian approach.[47][48][49] This is an important approach that starts from the idea that the issue of luck must be considered in theory.[50][51][52][53] This has been the subject of much criticism.[54][55][56][57]

In What is the Point of Equality? published in 1999, Elisabeth Anderson wonders what to do with people who made the wrong choices from a Liberal perspective.[58] Should we leave them to their dismay, or should a certain conception of the person or a certain human dignity imply that they should still be taken care of? The question is rather rhetorical. Anderson starts from the idea that you simply can't morally suspend helping people who are suffering from a situation that leads to conditions of human non-dignity. For her, the distinction of Dworkin makes it possible to mark out a few situations, but nevertheless, in the face of people who have made the wrong choice, what do we do with a firefighter? Can a firefighter who is a person whose life expectancy is lower because of risk-taking, start from the idea that he is responsible for his choice? Is it the idea that the firefighter should not be helped because he suffered a work accident and said that he did not have to be a firefighter?

There are a whole bunch of cases where what means "bad luck" and "bad choice" is very problematic. Between a firefighter burned during an intervention and the surfer who, despite all the avalanche danger warnings, decides to go down a mountain, is this the same situation? The question that arises is what is the intuition and the argument behind the idea that we need to help him. In political theory, the interesting question is why help is needed. From which perimeter of the relationship is there a duty to help? When should we recognize our citizens as individuals to whom we owe special obligations according to certain philosophers? One of the questions is whether we have more obligations and responsibilities with people with whom we share something or not. If we help the surfer, we help him or her because he or she is a human being, a neighbour or a acquaintance or not helping can have an impact on tourism. Behind the ultimate reason, there can be a whole bunch or no positions.

For Anderson, what matters is to avoid power inequalities and forms of oppression. That is what creates injustice and undermines equality, not the fact that people can make a bad choice. According to Dworkin, a person must be able to choose and pay their own costs. But what does it mean when someone has to flee war or famine as a choice? There is a strong empirical dimension behind what makes or does not make a choice. It is difficult to decide these questions philosophically. The more theoretical and general question is whether it is necessary for any inequality in relation to the original good to redistribute. For Dworkin, the answer is no, there are inequalities that are just, there are inequalities that depend on people's unwillingness or on the options that people have made. At that point, the state does not have to intervene. On the other hand, the state, unlike Rawls, must take much more seriously the situation of people who naturally have disabilities or forms of suffering that do not allow them to have an adequate quality of life. At that point, the state must intervene more. Case law of the Federal Supreme Court accepts the position of a health insurance fund, which has established in its case-law that a fund is no longer required to reimburse a medicinal product in excess of 100,000 euros. If someone is one of those unfortunate people who have a rare disease with little research carried out and very expensive drugs, the Swiss Federal Court has set a threshold at 100,000. -. In a way, a life is worth 100,000. -. Beyond that amount, there is nothing more to do. One could imagine that around such an issue, there is still a democratic decision about how much we are willing to invest or put into medical research before guaranteeing health. In this case, it's a legal decision. So maybe it is true that the caisses cannot pay more than a certain amount for economic reasons, but in reality, it means that a life is worth 100,000 - and beyond that, it is too expensive for society. The question that Dworkin asks is also this question, namely, treating people with equal attention, also means that society must make an effort to try as much as possible to at least facilitate the condition of these people.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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