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Social Justice – A Key Tool to Fight Against Social Inequality

Social Justice – A Key Tool to Fight Against Social Inequality Economy Near Us (XLIV)

Theoretical Aspects of the Social Justice Approach 

By considering that social justice is a principle for generating the basic structure of the society, three such approaches to social justice theory are known in the specialty literature: the approach based on fairness, the approach based on capability and the approach based on entitlement. Some considerations about each type of approach will be presented below.

Thus, the approach based on fairness refers to the origin of social justice in the social contract. More precisely, it is about the origin of the basic structure of society, that is, the basic political principles of the functioning of society. The most important representative of this approach is John Rawls, whose theory is considered representative for contractarianism. The theory holds that, in an original position, the members of the future society agree, under the veil of ignorance, to choose certain basic principles that will be the driver of the organisation and functioning of the future society. The fundamental assumption here is that, if the basic principles are correct, then the result of their application is also correct (so, a kind of proceduralism).

The second approach, based on capability, also appeals to the social contract. The approach based on capability is not a procedural approach like the fairness-based approach, but it is an outcome-based approach. This type of approach is defined by focusing on the moral significance of individuals' capacity to achieve the kind of life they appreciate. The points of view expressed by the most important representatives of this orientation, Amartya Kumar Sen and Martha C. Nussbaum, are briefly presented, as arguments, in favour of the above statements. Sen, criticising Rawls' procedural approach and (partially, more implicitly) utilitarianism, argues that well-being should not be examined from the perspective of utility but from the perspective of functionality and capabilities (basic capabilities).

Nussbaum, drawing from ethical considerations, formulates a list of ten capabilities in her book
“Frontiers of Justice”, which she discusses in detail, considering that adaptation is a state of acceptance of a state of affairs, of an order perceived by the individual. The author considers that there is no room for adaptive preferences in the approach to capabilities because there is no need for them.

Finally, the approach based on entitlement, whose main representative is Robert Nozick, emphasizes that the individual must not suffer injustices, and if he accidentally suffers injustices, they must be remedied. 

Rawlsian Principles 

The two principles set out by Rawls in his work “A Theory of Justice” are presented in a lexicographical order. The first principle is an institutive principle, it refers to the equal “distribution” of freedoms and rights (which he called primary goods) by ensuring a clear procedure for access to any social resource or position, whatever its nature (economic, political, cultural, etc.).

According to the first principle, every person has an equal right to a full and adequate system of equal rights and freedoms, which is compatible with the same system for all; and, in this scheme, equal political freedoms and only those freedoms will be guaranteed as fair values.

The second Rawlsian principle is a distributive-regulatory principle, it achieves an application of the greatest generality of the institutions laid down by the first principle and refers to the fact that social and economic inequalities must fulfil two conditions of validity, namely: they must be attached to positions/benefits in society open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunities, and they must be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society, compared to any other possible arrangement of them (of social and economic inequalities).

The current concern of some economists with the field of inequality, more specifically, to the phenomenon of increasing inequality, has resulted in the formulation of an analytical definition of the difference principle which is expressed as follows: “in a just society, social and economic inequality is acceptable only if it represents an arrangement of inequality which generates, for the disadvantaged class of society, the greatest advantages compared to any other arrangement of inequality”.

In the case of the Rawlsian principles, the first principle is responsible for ensuring social equality, and the second principle, through the second condition, especially, ensures the correction of any injustices that have occurred. 

Social Inequality 

The recent crises (economic, social, health, etc.) have had a negative impact on factors influencing social inequality. A list of factors of increasing social inequality would include unemployment, unequal income distribution, unequal distribution of taxes and benefits, technological progress and automation, trade between countries, etc. Concrete initiatives that societies are taking today include measures in education, training and lifelong learning, gender equality, equal opportunities, improved employment prospects, access to fair wages, social protection and social inclusion.

If we refer to social inequality in Romanian society, we can say that it is generated by unpredictable public policies affecting the business environment, inefficient public administration activity, a low-skilled workforce, weaknesses in the education system, poor quality of infrastructure, regional disparities, and, not least, weak (both technological and social) innovation capacity in the society as a whole, but especially in the economic field.

Social justice measures aimed at attenuating the growth of social inequality would include the design and adoption of medium and long-term public policies in the field of social inclusion, social protection, income and opportunities equality, as well as the upgrading of skills and working practices brought about by technological developments, and, also, action to upgrade the skills of low-skilled workers, the tax system, and, not least, to stop the transmission of unjustifiable inequality of any kind from one generation to the next.

Meeting human needs and the advance of the social justice, through social, economic and political changes that lead to less social inequality, can create societies where the central objective of increasing production and consumption are harmoniously combined with building communities based on equality and justice. Such issues will be subject to future interventions.



The Romanian-American Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture (RAFPEC)
Amfiteatru Economic

OEconomica No. 1, 2016