Economic Justice

The radical moral implications of luck in human life

In July 2018 (when we first published this piece), there was a minor uproar when Kardashian scion Kylie Jenner, who is all of 21, appeared on the cover of Forbes’s 60 richest self-made women issue. As many people pointed out, Jenner’s success would have been impossible if she hadn’t been born white, healthy, rich, and famous. She built a successful cosmetics company—now valued at $900 million, according to Forbes—not just with hard work but on a towering foundation of good luck.

Why Do We Think Poor People are Poor Because of Their Own Bad Choices?

Cecilia Mo thought she knew all about growing up poor when she began teaching at Thomas Jefferson senior high school in south Los Angeles. As a child, she remembered standing in line, holding a free lunch ticket. But it turned out that Mo could still be shocked by poverty and violence – especially after a 13-year-old student called her in obvious panic. He had just seen his cousin get shot in his front yard.

The American Dream Abides

Is the American dream on life support? That’s the perennial claim of “declinists,” who are convinced that the American spirit of opportunity is at death’s door. That claim was recently bolstered by research from a team of top economists, who found that half of today’s 30-year-olds are worse off than their parents were at the same age. A closer look at that study, however, reveals that opportunity is alive and well.

How Equal Should Opportunities Be?

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln gave a short speech to a sanitary fair in Baltimore. While the address itself is of little note, it does contain a passage that sheds much light on the character of political debates in America. “The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty,” said Lincoln, “and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.

Rich Kids Stay Rich, Poor Kids Stay Poor

On Friday, a team of researchers led by Stanford economist Raj Chetty released a paper on how growing up in poverty affects boys and girls differently. Their core finding: Boys who grow up in poor families fare substantially worse in adulthood, in terms of employment and earnings, than girls who grow up in the same circumstances. (The Washington Post has a good write-up of the paper and its implications.) But beyond its immediate conclusions, the paper, like much of Chetty’s recent work as part of his Equality of Opportunity Project, points to a deeper truth: In the U.

The False Promise of Meritocracy

Americans are, compared with populations of other countries, particularly enthusiastic about the idea of meritocracy, a system that rewards merit (ability + effort) with success. Americans are more likely to believe that people are rewarded for their intelligence and skills and are less likely to believe that family wealth plays a key role in getting ahead. And Americans’ support for meritocratic principles has remained stable over the last two decades despite growing economic inequality, recessions, and the fact that there is less mobility in the United States than in most other industrialized countries.

Distributive Justice and Access to Advantage: G. A. Cohen's Egalitarianism

Should egalitarians seek to equalize welfare, resources, opportunity, or some other indicator of well-being? G. A. Cohen's classic writings offer one of the most influential responses to the currency of the egalitarianism justice question. In this …

Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth

President Obama’s second Inaugural Address used soaring language to reaffirm America’s commitment to the dream of equality of opportunity: “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.”

Why Income Inequality Is Here to Stay

Before the global financial crisis, income inequality was relegated to the underworld of economics. The motives of those who studied it were impugned. According to Martin Feldstein, the former head of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors, such people must have been motivated by envy. Robert Lucas, a Nobel prize winner, thought that “nothing [is] as poisonous” to sound economics as “to focus on questions of distribution.” But amid bailouts, unemployment, and ever-fresh financial scandals among the top 1%, the issue of income inequality has seeped into the mainstream economics and become a legitimate subject of research.

Anarchy, State, and Utopia

First published in response to John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia has become a defining text of classic libertarian thought. Challenging and ultimately rejecting liberal, socialist, and conservative agendas, …