Abstract

Research on income inequality in the United States, generally, neglects the subject’s inherent philosophical content because of economics’ propensity to avoid evaluative judgments. In result, John Rawls’s theory of justice, a better conception of justice than those often presumed by economists, is disregarded in policy conversations about income inequality. This thesis has two objectives: 1) to demonstrate that economics fails to acknowledge the link between theories of distributive justice and income inequality, and in consequence, economists are settling for a weaker theory of justice. 2) To examine what Rawls’s theory of justice implies for the United States’ current income distribution.

I achieve the first objective in two parts. In Part One I illustrate the link between distributive justice, politics, and income inequality by examining income inequality’s causes, impacts, and current and historical statistics. In Part Two, I present three theories of justice – utilitarianism, Robert Nozick’s libertarianism, and John Rawls’s liberalism. I achieve my second objective in Part Three, where I examine what Rawls’s theory implies for income inequality in the United States. I find that Rawls’s principles of justice, specifically the difference principle, calls for policy that equalizes opportunity.

Advisor

Thomson, Garrett

Second Advisor

Burnell, Barbara

Department

Economics; Philosophy

Disciplines

Economic Theory | Ethics and Political Philosophy | Income Distribution | Macroeconomics | Political Economy

Publication Date

2014

Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis

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© Copyright 2014 Ryan J. McCormack