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However, nothing prevents broadening the scope of application of equality of opportunity. For example, one might uphold the ideal of a global marketplace in which all transactions conform to formal equality of opportunity applied world-wide. It should be noted that formal equality of opportunity so understood puts moral constraints on market decisions. Equality of opportunity is violated if investors decline to invest in a company just because its CEO is a black, or a woman, and they are prejudiced against blacks and women.

If one operates a business and provides a product or service to the public for sale, formal equality of opportunity is violated if one refuses to sell to some class of potential customers on grounds that are whimsical no sales to people with brown hair, or wearing black shoes or prejudiced no sales to people of some disfavored race, religion, or skin color.

By the same token, the ideal of formal equal opportunity puts constraints on the behavior of customers of firms and purchasers of goods and services as well as constraints on would-be providers. If a Jewish individual starts a business and people decline to purchase goods from her in virtue of the fact that she is Jewish, formal equality of opportunity is violated. In the same way, to refuse to purchase a product on the ground that its manufacture employed the labor of women in skilled jobs violates formal equality of opportunity. Suppose the owner of a small business hires her family members or friends instead of advertising job openings and picking among the applicants according to the merits of their applications.

This might be deemed a private matter and, for this reason, not a violation of formal equality of opportunity. However, if this same small business, a restaurant, serves whites only and refuses to accept blacks, Hispanics, and others as customers, this decision might well be deemed to lie in the public sphere and to constitute a violation of formal equality of opportunity. A perhaps controversial case of a type of decision that might be thought to lie in the public or in the private sphere with respect to the application of equality of opportunity would be decisions of business-oriented social clubs that are traditionally exclusively male or white in their membership to continue to deny membership to nonwhites and nonmales who might seek admission.

Since valuable business contacts are made at these private social clubs, and business deals are sometimes made on the premises, the exclusion of women and minorities from membership in them might be deemed wrongfully discriminatory and a violation of equality of opportunity. Notice that selection among applicants for a job by a random procedure that gives all applicants an identical chance of getting the job actually violates formal equality of opportunity as here interpreted on equal opportunity as a lottery procedure, see Rae et al.

At least, if there are relevant standards of merit that could be applied to the applicants and that would predict successful job performance, a lottery to select who gets the job would not qualify as selection according to merit. Only if all applicants are equally qualified or there is no feasible and cost-effective way to distinguish among the applicants according to their merit would a lottery satisfy the ideal of equality of opportunity. The idea of being most qualified for a post is not transparently clear. One might hold that being qualified is meeting perfectionist criteria of excellence that are internal to roles and crafts.

A good carpenter has the skills and other traits that render one competent at using wood to build things. The position or post is associated with a goal, and excellence is what enables nonaccidental successful pursuit of the goal. If a post is associated with several goals, there may be no definitive ranking of their relative importance, hence no definitive precise notion of being more qualified than another candidate for the post.

A good psychotherapist may help patients in several distinct ways, so there may be only partial commensurability in rankings of psychotherapists. A post may be associated with quite different conflicting goals, some problematic. Suppose a mediocre professional hockey player tends to become embroiled in brawls during games. His thuggish conduct pleases fans, and raises ticket sale revenues. If the purpose of professional hockey is to create profits for hockey team owners, the mediocre hockey player may be more qualified for a position on the team than better players.

The carpenter with excellent skills and an unwillingness to do shoddy work may not be qualified for a job with the construction firm whose profit-maximizing business strategy is to build cheap affordable houses. Similar issues can arise in the nonprofit sector. An international aid agency may do better to hire photogenic young aid workers, who will attract favorable press coverage, rather than workers more able to do the work that will help the agency's intended beneficiaries.

If airline business travelers prefer to be served by physically attractive women rather than attractive men or unattractive individuals of either sex, a profit-seeking firm will regard being female and attractive as job qualifications Yuracko a. If white workers rebel at being bossed around by a supervisor who is not white-skinned, being white-skinned may be a job qualification for the supervisor post. One response to these examples is to identify the most qualified applicant for a post as the one whose hiring will do most to advance the morally legitimate purposes of the enterprise.

This formulation allows the construction firm to consider the excellent carpenter who insists on working to the highest standards as unqualified and likely guides us to regard hiring the airline stewards and stewardesses as a difficult borderline case. These verdicts are plausible. But notice that the firm that caters to the racist prejudices of its workers has the morally innocent aim of making profits. One problem here is that the firm pursues its aim by catering to wrongful desires, and indeed wrongful desires of just the type that equal opportunity aims to overcome.

In contrast, selecting a black actor to play the lead role in Othello seems unproblematic, and so does selecting a female medical doctor to serve as a gynecologist for a clientele of women who feel more comfortable being treated by a woman rather than a man. However, the latter example is not beyond challenge. The judgment of the case may depend on the underlying motivation of the customers, as seems probable if we introduce variations of the example. We might imagine that the women who prefer a female gynecologist simply dislike men as such.

In an alternative scenario, imagine that the women clients feel more comfortable being treated by a male gynecologist because they view the doctor's role as involving a social authority that properly belongs to males. Here there seem to be violations of formal equality of opportunity. A society could satisfy the careers open to talents ideal even though the economy is overwhelmingly oriented to satisfying wrongful consumer desires for unhealthy food and cruel sports spectacles, just so long as the desires being satisfied are not wrongful by virtue of offending against an element of the formal equality of opportunity ideal.

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How to draw the line between desires that are offensive in this way and those that are not is a tricky matter. The desire of consumers not to purchase products in which the labor of those deemed lower-caste individuals is embedded in any except menial roles is clearly on the wrong side of the line. The desire of elderly women to be attended by female nurses is clearly not. Several factors may be in play. One is that desires that express hostile attitudes against people in virtue of their group membership are inherently inimical to careers open to talents.

Another is that desires that reflect accurate statistical judgments are not inherently offensive to equal opportunity. Perhaps elderly women believe correctly that they are more apt to receive sensitive, caring treatment from members of their own sex. Desires that arise in group-hierarchical culture and would not have arisen in an equal opportunity society are arguably not just on this basis reasonably deemed offensive to careers open. Another factor that perhaps ought to guide classificatory judgments in this area is disparate impact on which, see section 6. The formulation toward which this discussion points is that for purposes of determining whether formal equality of opportunity is satisfied in given circumstances, any member of society must be allowed to apply for positions that confer advantage, applications must be judged on their merits, and selection of applicants for the position must proceed by selecting the top-ranked applicant first, then successively lesser-ranked applicants, in order of their fitness for the post as revealed by their applications.

An application is meritorious to the degree that it shows that selecting this individual would better advance the morally legitimate aims of the enterprise by means that are not morally forbidden and specifically not wrongfully discriminatory than would selecting any other applicants.

If an applicant would do better in a post by satisfying desires and choices of customers that are in violation of equality of opportunity, then hiring the applicant on that basis would also violate equality of opportunity Wertheimer This formulation does not rule out some selection decisions that some might want to classify as violations of formal equality of opportunity. Two lawyers apply for a job in a law firm. One is better at lawyering work but comes from a nonwealthy family background; the other is worse at lawyering work but comes from a wealthy family, has many wealthy friends, and can be expected to draw more wealthy clients and thus more revenue to the firm than her less connected fellow applicant.

The wealthy applicant is chosen, because hiring her would do more for the firm's expected profits than hiring the other. The example illustrates that even if the ideal of formal equality of opportunity is uncontroversial if abstractly and vaguely stated, any detailed specification of the norm will be controversial.

Another controversial selection criterion is age. Suppose that state-funded openings for qualifying education for medical doctors are restricted to applicants whose age does not exceed some stated maximum. Or suppose there is a compulsory retirement age set by law for certain occupations, or set by some individual business firms. Are such public or private policies wrongfully discriminatory so as to render them violations of formal equality of opportunity?

On age discrimination, see also the discussion in section 2. Another controversial selection criterion is physical appearance see Post In January , the City Council of Santa Cruz, California, considered a proposed city ordinance that would have prohibited discrimination against individuals on the basis of physical appearance.

In the context of employment, such an ordinance would rule out disfavoring an application for hiring or promotion on the ground that the candidate is physically attractive or unattractive, and also on the grounds that the candidate fails to conform to conventional standards of dress or appearance. The proposed ordinance would have allowed an exception when physical appearance is a bona fide occupational qualification BFOQ , when a certain appearance is required in order to carry out essential functions of the job.

Would passage of such an ordinance represent an advance or a setback for the cause of formal equality of opportunity or careers open to talents? The candidate ordinance clearly overreaches by casting its net of prohibition too widely. A business might aim to attract customers by presenting a dressed-up or dressed-down tone, and refusing to follow the appearance code for staff that is intended to achieve the desired tone should not be protected behavior under an antidiscrimination norm, even if appearance does not qualify as an essential job function.

On the other hand, an appearance code can reinforce conventional beliefs that hinder disfavored groups from genuine equal access to the workplace. Suppose an appearance code requires women to use cosmetics and maintain their hair in expected styles while no comparable requirements are imposed on men in the same job role. How to draw boundary lines here is not easy to discern see Yuracko a,b.

Deborah Hellman proposes that wrongful discriminatory treatment occurs if and only if the discrimination demeans some of those who are being treated. Hellman's proposal offers a principled way of resolving disputed boundary lines between acceptable and unacceptable discrimination, which set the standard of formal equality of opportunity. In this tangled area of thought, the success of the proposal is hard to judge.

One worry is that even if the proposal gives a sufficient condition for wrongful discrimination, the proposal may fail as a necessary condition. Suppose a society's employment practices are set by a religion that reveres women but dictates that their proper role is that of traditional homemaker, and that the only public sphere employment suitable for women is temple prostitute a highly regarded, indeed sacred calling. These practices of discrimination do not demean women, but their this-worldly consequences are seriously harmful to women and arguably, in virtue of this fact, wrongly discriminatory.

Another concern is that the proposal may fail as a sufficient condition as well. Suppose a society countenances giving lesser weight, in public and private decision making, to the interests of severely cognitively disabled individuals than to the nondisabled, on the ground that these human individuals fail to have the rational agency capacities that qualify sentient beings as full persons.


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The practices of the society may demean the severely cognitively disabled without being wrongfully discriminatory. On Hellman, and on wrongful discrimination generally, see Lippert-Rasmussen , and on discrimination against the severely cognitively impaired, see McMahan Formal equality of opportunity careers open to talents as characterized so far could be satisfied in a society with guild restrictions that are legally enforced, so long as the restricted economic positions and roles are open to all applicants and applications are assessed on their merits.

This feature of the characterization is open to objection. Consider a society in which no one is allowed to practice law, medicine, college teaching, haircutting and manicure provision, real estate, carpentry, plumbing, taxicab driving, and so on without special schooling and a special state-supplied license, few of which are available for distribution.

Even if the procedures for certifying schools and selecting recipients for licenses are impeccably fair and fairly administered, the system is subject to criticism on grounds of unfairness, and in particular, criticizable for denying equal opportunity as between the officially licensed provider of goods and services and the individual unlicensed to provide goods or services of that type who wants to sell them to willing customers. It is possible that the restrictions on free trade just described amount to state-established cartels.

If so, there is a case for maintaining that these restrictions constitute a denial of equality of opportunity in an intuitive sense and the definition of the term should be revised to accommodate this judgment. It is also possible that the restrictions on free trade just described are justifiable on the ground that consumers lack the knowledge and judgment appropriately to determine whether the complicated services being provided are worth their price and best satisfy their preferences all things considered. If this is so, and if the restrictions qualify as justifiable paternalism—restriction of people's liberty against their will for their own good—then the restrictions would not plausibly be regarded as violating equality of opportunity rightly construed.

Given that the restrictions could conceivably be sustaining cartels, one might hold that the notion of formal equality of opportunity should be reinterpreted to accommodate this possibility. An opposed view would urge that the examples of restraint of trade are objectionable, but not an offense against the ideal of equality of opportunity, rather an offense against the different ideal of free trade.

In favor of holding cartel-establishing restraints on free trade to be a violation of equality of opportunity is this consideration. It is plausible to judge that if the king imposes unjustified restrictions on people's opportunities to interact with each other on mutually agreeable terms, that in itself counts as violation of the ideal of careers open to talents or equal opportunity in the formal sense. Here is an alternative formulation of formal equality of opportunity that accommodates this judgment: Careers open to talents requires that individuals be free, under justified regulation, to buy and sell goods and services on mutually agreeable terms and that enterprises that confer positions of advantage select individuals to fill these posts through competitions open to all, with applications assessed by relevant criteria of merit.

Promotions and advancement of individuals in positions of advantage should be conducted in a similar meritocratic way. Although whimsical hiring violates formal equality of opportunity just as much as discrimination against some applicants done because the applicant is a member of a socially disfavored group, the latter is evidently a more serious violation of formal equality of opportunity.

Whereas being the object of discrimination because one belongs to a group that has been targeted for oppressive treatment in the past is likely to be a wound to one's sense of dignity and self-respect, being the victim of whimsical or idiosyncratic hiring practices is less likely to inflict a significant psychic wound over and above the loss of the job itself.

Also, since whimsical discrimination is idiosyncratic, it will not lead to cumulative harm by causing anyone to be the object of economic discrimination time after time unless whimsical hiring were common and one were extremely unlucky. Also, in the context of a competitive market, there is the pressure of market competition that punishes whimsical economic decisions that lead to subpar economic performance, so one expects whimsy to be a marginal economic phenomenon.

Discrimination on the basis of group membership might under certain conditions be rational behavior on the part of economic agents and might lead to efficient outcomes. Market competition would not tend to drive out such discrimination. Consider stereotypes, rough generalizations about traits of groups. For example, if an employer seeking factory workers values steady attendance at work, and absenteeism is known to be somewhat higher among African-American youths than other youth, the employer might simply set aside all applications from African-American youth and choose workers among the remainder of the applicant pool.

Discrimination that is cost-effective in this way and does not involve any misuse of available information is sometimes called statistical discrimination. The results for people who become the objects of statistical discrimination can obviously be bad. But this does not mean that statistical discrimination violates formal equality of opportunity.

As so far specified, formal equality of opportunity requires that applicants be assessed by appropriate criteria relevant to performance on the post and that the most qualified candidate be offered the post. But it would be excessively demanding to require that no expense be spared to discover, so far as is possible, which candidate is really most qualified. If the general idea of formal equality of opportunity in a market setting is that all agents must be treated equally as potential means of gain, then those means of selecting candidates should be required that maximize the hiring firm's prospects for gain unless the firm's prospects register wrongfully discriminating behavior by its customers or suppliers.

Seen this way, statistical discrimination would not violate formal equality of opportunity. In some societies, the law of equal opportunity forbids statistical discrimination when the basis of the discrimination is race or sex. The employer must base hiring and promotion decisions on facts about the individual applicants other than their being black or white, male or female, or the like even if basing decisions on accurate stereotypes is the most cost-effective way to proceed. The rationale for this legal policy might be to ensure that historically invidious forms of discrimination are not continued by prohibiting forms of discrimination that are superficially similar and reminiscent of past evils.

Formal equality of opportunity as characterized in this entry would not rationalize this legal policy. Discrimination against members of a group might be based on aversion to the group, which might exist quite independently of the actual characteristics of actual group members. For example, an employer might simply dislike Catholics or Jews or women, and be averse to hiring them, or to hiring them for other than unskilled low-paid jobs.

One might suppose that if one has a taste for discrimination of this sort, one must incur costs if one acts on it Becker If one refuses to hire Catholics or Jews or women even when they are most qualified, the product one offers for sale will be more costly to produce as a result, and if the market for this product is competitive, one cannot raise the price at which one sells it but must accept lesser profit than one would have obtained had one's hiring decisions been unprejudiced.

On this basis one might speculate that competitive markets will tend to drive out such discrimination. However, if large numbers of people share a discriminatory social norm, one can see that the market will reward compliance with the norm and punish noncompliance, so there will in that case be no tendency for the market to squeeze out discriminatory behavior. For example, if consumers will not purchase widgets that are manufactured with the skilled labor of Catholics, Jews, or women, and if skilled Protestant male workers employed in the widget industry will not cooperate with Catholics, Jews, or women if they are hired as skilled co-workers, the widget manufacturer who simply wishes to maximize her profits will be led to comply with the social norm against the employment of the targeted groups in skilled jobs Akerlof , Discrimination against people on the basis of their observable group traits is an enemy of equality of opportunity.

This is a common-sense observation. If all discrimination were statistical discrimination, the common-sense observation would be true only to a very limited degree. If observable group traits such as skin color or sex are correlated with traits that employers reasonably value, hiring on the basis of the observable group traits can be rational from the standpoint of the employer seeking both to hire qualified workers and minimize hiring search costs. Discrimination can also express and reinforce group status hierarchies.

If possession of white skin confers status and attracts the esteem of others, derogating nonwhite individuals can help to build and sustain a top position for whites in the skin color hierarchy. Discrimination can take the form of favoring whites in hiring and promotion decisions, but can also take the form of participating in caste rituals and practices that proclaim the superiority of whites over others. Discrimination of this sort aims to preserve caste subordination. A successful discriminatory regime produces economic advantages for the dominant caste members, and also sweeping social advantages, so that sheer possession of white skin will predict that one will enjoy better life prospects than those who lack white skin.

Group status hierarchies are entrenched and sustained by social norms that dictate costly individual behaviors directed at favoring fellow group members if one belongs to the superior group and at exhibiting deferential and submissive behavior if one belongs to a disfavored group. Conformity to the norms is rewarded and deviations punished McAdams The stability of group status hierarchy regimes raises the question, what motivates individuals to follow the norms that sustain the regime and to punish those who deviate even though following and punishing incur costs and often run against the individual's self-interest.

Part of the answer appears to be that in an ongoing status hierarchy, people internalize the norms and esteem those who follow the norms, and the desire for this esteem motivates one to conform. Expressing admiration of those who adhere to social norms one accepts is often not costly behavior for an individual, but rather a pleasant activity. Moreover, we humans evidently have a native disposition to be rule-following punishers, who tend to accept current dominant social norms and to desire to punish those who violate them even when doing so is disadvantageous for us Bicchieri The same generic trait that leads us to be disposed to punish those who steal and lie and neglect their children can also lead us to be disposed to punish those who challenge established group status hierarchy norms such as white supremacy.

State-enforced laws can help create and sustain such a regime, as with Jim Crow segregation laws in the U. South in the twentieth century, but discriminatory social norms can arise and thrive and confer benefits on dominant caste members in the absence of legal enforcement. Group status hierarchy can form on the basis of any arbitrary observable trait—skin color, supposed race, ethnicity, sex, heterosexual or nonheterosexual sexual behavior, age, and so on—but a trait that is exploited for this purpose will not be regarded as arbitrary by those who uphold the hierarchy.

If the basis of the status hierarchy is white skin color, white skin will be prized as inherently attractive and as a marker for other valuable qualities such as intelligence and virtue.


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Those who uphold the status hierarchy can then see themselves not simply as advancing group self-interest but as defending a desirable moral order. A status hierarchy then will be ideological, based on false beliefs that serve some people's interests. This thumbnail sketch of derogatory discrimination and group status hierarchy helps explain how and why public policy measures to enhance equality of opportunity tend to be controversial in complicated ways. When a group status hierarchy is officially dismantled, people may disagree widely on such questions as whether the underlying prejudiced attitudes have disappeared or have persisted in subtler and less overt forms.

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The problem with formal equality of opportunity is that it is merely formal. Imagine a society ruled by a hereditary warrior class as in B. Reformers bring about a change. From now on, membership in the warrior class will not be drawn exclusively from the wealthy stratum of the society. Warriors will instead be selected on the basis of a competitive examination in military prowess administered to any young adult member of society who seeks admission into this elite class. However, it turns out that only scions of the wealthy stratum pass the exam and become warriors.

Everyone in society except the wealthy is poorly nourished, and being well nourished is a prerequisite for developing the military skills needed to succeed on the competitive examination. In this setting, advocates for the nonwealthy strata of society might object that none but members of the traditional wealthy elite have a chance to satisfy the eligibility requirements for admission to the warrior class.

Even if all are eligible to apply for a superior position and applications are judged fairly on their merits, one might hold that genuine or substantive equality of opportunity requires that all have a genuine opportunity to become qualified. In the example just sketched, this would mean that all members of society have the opportunity to develop the needed military skills. One can imagine the society taking a variety of steps to provide opportunities to all. Nutrition supplements are made available to those whose diet is inadequate.

Scholarships to military academies can be won by poor children. Warrior skills coaches are dispatched to every village. As more is done to provide opportunities that enable ambitious and talented youth from any social group to acquire proficiency at warrior skills, at some point the complaint that none but the wealthy have a chance to enter the warrior class begins to sound hollow.

At some point it might be held that sufficient or good enough opportunities to become qualified have been provided to all. The idea would be that substantive equality of opportunity prevails with respect to some desirable position or ranked order of positions just in case all members of society are eligible to apply for the position, applications are fairly judged on their merits and the most meritorious are selected, and sufficient opportunity to develop the qualifications needed for successful application is available to all.


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  • Scholarships are provided for some poor children, but wealthy parents can hire private fencing and jousting tutors. Some families own horses and can impart horse riding skills to their children, which gives them a competitive advantage over others. Fair equality of opportunity FEO is satisfied in a society just in case any individuals who have the same native talent and the same ambition will have the same prospects of success in competitions that determine who gets positions that generate superior benefits for their occupants.

    In other words, if Smith and Jones have the same native talent, and Smith is born of wealthy, educated parents of a socially favored ethnicity and Jones is born of poor, uneducated parents of a socially disfavored ethnicity, then if they develop the same ambition to become scientists or Wall Street lawyers, they will have the same prospects of becoming scientists or Wall Street lawyers if FEO prevails. It should be noted that the specification of FEO just given departs from the specification in Rawls There Rawls defines FEO so it requires only that the socio-economic status into which one is born has no impact on one's competitive prospects.

    There is also the issue to be discussed below, whether the rights of parents to raise their children as they choose take priority over FEO and constrain its fulfillment. He sees FEO as instead demanding that all individuals especially including the disadvantaged should have opportunities to develop their talents. What extent of opportunities? This formulation looks like weak tea. Rawls exegesis aside, the formulation that sees FEO as requiring equal chances for the equally well endowed, a perfect meritocracy if you will, is interesting, controversial, and resonates with concerns about chances for mobility in the context of modern market economies.

    In the remainder of this entry, FEO refers to this broader ideal. FEO articulates the ideal of a classless society of a sort. If the mark of a class society is that positions in the social hierarchy are passed along from generation to generation, then the society that satisfies the FEO ideal is classless in so far as parents can pass along advantages to their children only by genetic inheritance and by socialization that instills ambition.

    Notice that FEO so understood is violated if some individuals gain significant advantages by gift or inheritance. One could amend FEO so that it permits gift and inheritance, deemed private transactions, and imposes constraints only on public sphere competitions. Otherwise the advantages that well-off parents can confer on their children by providing better education and socialization than others receive or by providing access to a social network of well-off individuals are entirely eliminated or offset in the FEO society. If wealthy parents provide high-quality day care and nursery school and private tutoring for their children, society arranges public education practices so that children of nonwealthy parents get the same or equivalent advantages.

    Equality of Opportunity

    In the same spirit, if some parents, rich or poor, are more strongly motivated than others to help their children get ahead in life, these efforts are somehow exactly offset, so having the good luck to have especially concerned parents does not affect one's comparative life prospects. The end result is that one can try to give one's own children a leg up in social competition, but whatever boost one provides will be met by a similar boost provided for other children whose native talent is the same as that of one's own children.

    In passing it should be noted that when better-off parents provide various amounts of special boost for their children, FEO taken strictly and literally requires that whatever is the maximal special aid provided for individuals with a certain genetic talent endowment and ambition, the equivalent of that aid must also be provided to all other individuals, including individuals of better-off parents who are getting less than the maximal aid. FEO as characterized here is a demanding ideal. What if FEO becomes impossible to satisfy if inequalities in outcome become too extreme?

    In that case FEO requires extinguishing any inequalities in outcome among members of one generation that would bring it about that FEO cannot be satisfied among members of subsequent generations. Fia, Magali and Sacconi, Lorenzo Justice and Corporate Governance: Journal of Business Ethics,. Frye, Harrison P Social Justice Research, Vol.

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    Retrieved 16 August Summary of Give Us Liberty: Haidt, Jonathan 16 October Retrieved 17 March Formisano 4 April Reflections on the Revolution in France: Genuine freedom as Marx described it, would become possible only when life activity was no longer constrained by the requirements of production or by the limitations of material scarcity…Thus, in the socialist view, freedom is not an abstract ideal but a concrete situation that ensues only when certain conditions of interaction between man and nature material conditions , and man and other men social relations are fulfilled.

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