Department of Political Science

Markets, Distributive Justice and Community: The egalitarian ethos of G.A. Cohen

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While markets are widely lauded as efficient and attractive allocation mechanisms, their moral limits remain a source of controversy. The writings of G. A. Cohen provide an important contribution to this debate. Cohen offers two critiques of the market. One is a distributive critique, which maintains that markets fail in eliminating the influence of differential luck on people’s lives. The other is a community critique, maintaining that market relations fall short of a community of mutual caring. These critiques differ in important ways from critiques developed by Satz and Sandel, and suggest a need to assess markets beyond desperate exchanges and the adverse effects of incentives. Cohen’s work also points to how we can realize distributive justice and community. His solution utilizes the supply and demand mechanism of the market as a signaling device rather than an allocation mechanism. High wages signal the importance of a specific job, but wage differences are subsequently taxed away. This peculiar market arrangement relies on moral rather than economic incentives and only works if it is combined with a communitarian ethos. This ethos solution is evaluated in light of recent criticisms that it would compromise the freedom to pursue personal projects, that incentives may express community, and that the competition it utilizes mitigates against community. In the end, these critiques are not deemed persuasive.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Pages (from-to)376-398
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019

    Research areas

  • G.A. Cohen, Market, Community, Equality, ethos, distributive justice, markets, A, Cohen, egalitarianism, moral incentives, G, egalitarian trilemma, INCENTIVES, community, EQUALITY, luck egalitarianism

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