Distributive justice and the free market: Toward a reformed theological-economic approach

Kent A Van Til, Marquette University

Abstract

What constitutes distributive justice, (who is due what, and on which grounds) and does the free market contribute to or detract from the justness we desire? This dissertation articulates, orders, and justifies a proposal for a state of affairs in which persons receive the benefits and burdens that they are due. The context for this proposal is: contemporary capitalist economies and Christian faith. One significant point of debate within the realm of distributive justice concerns the role that the satisfaction of basic human needs ought to play. Here, we will argue that the Christian tradition holds that all humanity has a valid claim to basic material sustenance as an aspect of distributive justice, and that providing such sustenance is a primary indicator of the justice of a political/economic system. Given the predominance of free market economies in today's world, the question arises as to what extent will the free market serve this particular demand of justice? We will therefore analyze the free market in light of its capability to meet basic human material needs, drawing upon resources of both ethics and economics. We will show that while serving legal and commutative rights, the free market will not normally provide basic sustenance for all. In lieu of a purely market approach to distribution, we propose an alternative model for distributive justice that draws on the thought of theologian Abraham Kuyper, and contemporary political theorists Michael Walzer and David Miller. In this view, valid claims to goods can be made on the grounds of need, achievement, and equality. The inclusion of all of these norms for distribution will create conditions that are more just than a purely market based theory that grants validity only to claims grounded on economic achievement. People are due benefits and burdens on the basis of the type of sphere, or human relationship in which they are involved. Such relationships include our solidarity with other humans, our citizenship in nations, and our productive achievements. Each type of relationship has a corresponding norm that determines what constitutes fair distribution within it: solidarity--need, citizenship--equality, productivity--desert.

Recommended Citation

Kent A Van Til, "Distributive justice and the free market: Toward a reformed theological-economic approach" (January 1, 2003). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI3116853.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI3116853

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