Social Justice and Economic Systems: On Rawls, Democratic Socialism, and Alternatives to Capitalism

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This essay is concerned with the question of what kind of economic system would be needed in order to realise Rawls’s principles of social justice. Hitherto, debates about ‘property-owning democracy’ and ‘liberal socialism’ have been overly schematic, in various respects, and have therefore missed some of the most important issues regarding the relationships between social justice and economic institutions and systems. What is at stake between broadly capitalist or socialist economic systems is not in fact a simple choice in a single dimension, but rather a range of choices across a range of different dimensions. This essay, then, has a dual objective: firstly, it aims to provide a richer account of this normative territory, while showing how issues of economic democracy, decommodification and the limits of markets, and the role of democratic economic planning, all raise questions of justice that are not well-captured by focussing only on questions of ownership. Secondly, it aims to show how the case for democratic socialism can be developed from Rawlsian foundations, in a way that is sensitive to the normative affinities between Rawlsian liberal egalitarianism and themes in socialist political thought, and which attends carefully to the different kinds of institutional elements which a stable, just, and democratic society would require. Taking these aims together, the hope is that we can move onwards to a richer debate about the ways in which the realisation of democratic socialist institutions may be seen as a requirement of social justice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Topics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2022

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  • socialism
  • Rawls
  • economic systems
  • social justice
  • capitalism
  • planning
  • public ownership
  • workplace democracy
  • economic democracy

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