Wages, Talents, and Egalitarianism
Keywords:classical liberalism, desert, economic rights, high liberalism, luck, meritocracy, self-respect
This paper compares Joseph Heath’s critique of the just deserts rationale for markets with an earlier critique due to Frank Knight, Milton Friedman, and Friedrich Hayek. Heath shares their emphasis upon the role of luck in prices based on supply and demand. Yet he avoids their claim that the inheritance of human capital is on a moral par with the inheritance of ordinary capital, as a basis for unequal shares of the social product. Heath prefers to argue that markets do not tend to reward talent as such. The paper raises some doubts about this factual claim, and argues that sweeping the issue of talent under the rug threatens to make our theory of justice less egalitarian than it would otherwise be. The paper also addresses the objection that claims of unfairness based on the arbitrariness of the distribution of innate abilities will undermine self-respect.