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In What Sense Is Unemployment a Proper Object of Moral Concern?

  • Mark R. Reiff

Abstract

Few non-Marxists argue that there is or at least should be something like a right to be employed—that is, an independent individual right to some sort of meaningful job that is enforceable against either a particular private employer or the state, and I do not intend to spend any time discussing the Marxist posi- tion here, for two reasons. First, because such discussions are already plentiful elsewhere.1 And second, because I am going to start with the assumption that we have already decided, for whatever reason, that we will not seek to replace capi- talism with socialism—that is, we have already decided to opt for mostly private ownership of the means of production and a free-market economy moderated by the protections of political liberalism instead of a system of public ownership of the means of production and a centrally planned economy, with or without the protections of political liberalism, regardless of the effect on unemployment that this decision may or may not have. So while I believe that Marxism (and for that matter all other forms of what we commonly call socialism) does not provide an attractive answer to the problem of unemployment, all things considered, I shall not argue for that position here, although I shall use the work of some Marxist critics of capitalism as well as the work of a great many capitalist economists to help explore what capitalism and especially liberal capitalism really entails. Nevertheless, nothing I am going to say in this work requires anyone to abandon the view that some form of socialism offers an attractive solution to the problem of unemployment if that is the view they currently maintain.

Keywords

Distributive Justice Moral Obligation Difference Principle Full Employment Moral Concern 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    See, e.g., Richard J. Arneson, “Meaningful Work and Socialism,” Ethics 97 (1987): 517–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    The “full information” and “instantaneous adjustment” qualifiers are of course necessary, for otherwise unemployment could still arise in a perfectly competitive market. See, e.g., Axel Leijonhufved, “Effective Demand Failures,” The Swedish Journal of Economics 75 (1973): 27–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    The origination of the term “Homo Faber” is usually credited to Benjamin Franklin but the term was perhaps used most extensively by Hannah Arendt and Max Scheler. See, e.g., Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition: Second Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).Google Scholar
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    Prominent luck egalitarians would include Ronald Dworldn, G. A. Cohen, Thomas Nagel, Erik Rakowski, John Roemer, Richard Arneson, and Philippe Van Parijs, although each elaborates the content of luck egalitarianism in different ways. See Richard J. Arneson, “Luck Egalitarianism and Prioritarianism,” Ethics 110 (2000): 339–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Indeed, avoiding the leveling down objection is often offered by supporters of the difference principle as the reason why their view is superior to that of strict egalitari-anism. See Campbell Brown, “Giving up Levelling Down,” Economics and Philosophy 19 (2003): 111–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Pavlina R. Tcherneva, “Reorienting Fiscal Policy: A Bottom-up Approach,” Journal of Post-Keynesian Economics 37 (2014): 43–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Mark R. Reiff 2015

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