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What is Distributive Justice

Foram Mehta Aug 22, 2020
The theory of Distributive Justice deals with the distribution of 'equal material goods and services' to all the members of the society.
The doctrine of distributive Justice is concerned with number of goods to be distributed in totality, how to distribute them and the distribution pattern formed. This theory can also be linked to the 'Pareto Optimality' theory which states that a change in allocation of resources should be made in such a way that at least one individual should be made better off without worsening any other individual's condition.
A major contribution on the concept of distributive Justice has been made by the philosopher, John Rawls. His theory 'Magnum Opus' which is a theory of justice is considered as an important political theory. He says that a person's birth, socioeconomic status and his family are a matter of his destiny; which is not something that he can control.
Therefore, policies and laws should be made in such a way that the effect of the luck/fate factor in a person's life can be negated. Rawl's influence was on liberal egalitarianism.
For example: A person may have been born in a very poor family, thus their social status is low and the family members would also be living in the state of poverty and illiteracy. The government policies should be such that, a boy form a poor or a rich family, 'both' should be able to have access to equal facilities; and this is what a governing body should aim at.
Robert Nozick a renowned philosopher in politics has always spoken in defense of free-market libertarianism. He stated that the ultimate aim of a distributive justice is not the outcome of the process but the way in which the process has been set up.
He is against the equal redistribution system as people's needs are different; and equally distributing the factors will widen the gap of inequality. Therefore, in his theory he lays emphasis on the process of distribution and not the outcome of the distribution.

Principle of the Distributive Justice Theory

Equal Distribution

Equal distribution would refer to distributing resources such as wealth, national income and natural resources to all the individuals equally. However, this principle does not consider the prevailing wealth and income held by people. If we again equally distribute the resources the gap of inequality will only widen.
However, there are a few basic necessities that have to provided to all the individuals in an economy irrespective of their current socioeconomic status. Goods like petrol, diesel, health and education services will have to provided equally, irrespective of the individuals current holdings.

Levels of Need

Another principle to be followed for equal distribution of material goods and services is by addressing distribution process depending on an individuals needs. This helps in solving the problem faced in the principle of equal distribution. Although, a few resources need to be distributed only after eventuating the levels of different individuals needs.
For example: National Income should be utilized for the poor and the needy people and not as much for the affluent class. As the optimum utilization and equal distribution of goods and services will be made only if it reaches the genuine needs of the individuals. The distribution of the resources should eventually target to take the poor and the affluent class to a common average.

Principle of Equity/ Contribution to Productivity

The principle of equity states that the resources should be distributed according to the amount of contribution made by an individual. If an individual has contributed more, he should get more added benefits as an appreciation for his work.
This will create a healthy environment and also keep the contributors motivated. However, this cannot be applied in all the aspects of an economy; but it can surely be applied to organizations and firms to increase the efficiency of work. Giving incentives to the best performer in an organization can be one example for this.
The above mentioned three principles are to be considered to create a distribution process. However, there are two ways in which the effect of distribution is measured. First is the outcome of the distribution process' and the second is 'how the distribution process was evaluated'. Both these measures have to be taken into consideration to attain distributive justice.

Why is Distributive Justice Important?

The theory of Distributive Justice is important because, resources such as wealth and natural resources are limited. National resources and national income are resources that belong to no one in particular but to all the members of an economy. Therefore, it is important that these scarce resources are allocated in the fairest possible way. Each one should receive a 'fair share'.
Distributive theory addresses to the equal distribution of 'all the goods and services' like military services, basic necessities like food, clothing, health care facilities and housing, taxation, education, religious activities, wealth distribution and political power.
The worlds economy does not come under the principles of distributive injustice. There are inter-regional and intra-regional inequalities of different types. Distributive justice is important to help the following issues:

To Curb Poverty

This can be done by implementing policies and laws in a way that it helps the poor the most and mobilize them to get out of the viscous circle of poverty. The National Income and the National Expenditure should be utilized in a way, which leads to equal developments in terms of different regions, different sects and overall global development.

To Prevent Racism

When all the individuals have equal rights and equal status, irrespective of what their religion, cast and creed is, it brings 'unity in diversity' in real terms.

Affirmative Action

The theory of distributive justice helps in making policies which are non-discriminative. Implementing fair economic and financial policies is the ultimate aim of a economic body. This will make an economy egalitarian and will bring in the confidence of the people in their governing system.

To Avoid Social Unrest

If we ask, "why does social injustice exist?", we all know that somewhere it's because of general inequality prevailing in our society. Inequality on the basis of wealth, income, power, religion, race, education, etc. Think about the hypothesis, "What if everything was in an equilibrium?"
If everything was in equal balance, everyone would have had everything and the feeling of deprivation and outcast would be curbed. Certainly, the hypothesis I have mentioned is not 100% attainable, but that has to be the aim.
The solution to the problem of inequality can be 'redistribution of income' to make changes in the social structure. Another way of attaining equilibrium would be by 'balancing out gross inequalities of wealth'. This is very difficult to attain as not one entity will willingly let-go his social and economic status for the improvement of the other.
Though the fact is, that not everything that has and is contributing to an economy is entirely theirs. Majority of the wealth that is still being used by economies was obtained during colonization by snatching it away.
Who does it 'really' belong to?

All that a good government aims at... is to add no unnecessary and artificial aid to the force of its own unavoidable consequences, and to abstain from fortifying and accumulating social inequality as a means of increasing political inequalities.
- James F. Cooper