Justice as fairness and property rights: beyond property-owning democracy

Schaafsma, Gerrit (2017-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.

Thesis

ENGLISH SUMMARY: The aim of this thesis is to place the debate about the relationship between property rights and justice as fairness on a new footing. I begin by exploring Rawls’s argument that justice as fairness is compatible with both a system of private property rights and a system of collective ownership, before shifting the focus to Rawls’s favoured regime type, namely property-owning democracy. This is a regime type in which property is privately held, but widely distributed. Rawls opts for property-owning democracy, in part, to show that contemporary capitalist welfare states, which also allow the private ownership of property, do not meet the requirements of justice as fairness. In the first part of the thesis, I argue that (i) the methodology behind Rawls’s appeal to property-owning democracy as a regime type is flawed and (ii) the core features of property-owning democracy – that property be both privately owned and widely held – conflict with one another. Having shown that Rawls’s understanding of the relationship between private property rights and justice as fairness fails, I present an alternative approach. First, I argue that the idea of a property-owning democracy should be abandoned and that theorising about the appropriate institutions for a just basic structure must be grounded in the specific circumstances of a given society. This implies that devising just institutions is a matter of non-ideal, rather than ideal theory. If this argument is accepted, it implies that institutions are always only provisionally just. Changing circumstances might require that the institutions of the basic structure be altered in order to maintain background justice. Next, I show that it is possible to justify private property rights within the framework of justice as fairness only if they form part of a larger set of interlocking institutions. Following this, I argue that, if private property can only be justified in this way, and if the institutions of the basic structure may have to be periodically altered, this has implications for the way in which distributive justice is dealt with within justice as fairness. I conclude that the use of pure procedural justice to settle questions about what constitutes a just distribution must be abandoned and replaced with imperfect procedural justice in order to deal with my findings about how the justness of the basic structure can be maintained over time. The notion of imperfect procedural justice offers proponents of justice as fairness a more viable approach to the difficult questions of distributive justice.

AFRIKAANS OPSOMMING: Die doel van hierdie tesis is om die debat oor die verband tussen privaat eiendomsregte en geregtigheid as billikheid op ’n nuwe grondslag te plaas. Ek begin met ‘n ondersoek na Rawls se argument dat geregtigheid as billikheid versoenbaar is met beide ’n stelsel van privaat eiendomsregte sowel as ‘n stelsel van kollektiewe eienaarskap, alvorens ek die fokus na Rawls se voorkeur regime-tipe verskuif, naamlik eiendombesittende demokrasie (“property owning democracy”). Dit is ’n regime-tipe waarbinne eiendom privaat, maar wydverspreid, besit word. Rawls kies vir eiendombesittende demokrasie ten dele om te bewys dat die kapitalistiese welsynstaat, wat ook die privaatbesit van eiendom toelaat, nie die vereistes van geregtigheid as billikheid nakom nie. In die eerste deel van die tesis, argumenteer ek dat (i) die metodiek agter Rawls se gebruik van eiendomsbesit demokrasie as ‘n regime-tipe gebrekkig is en (ii) die kerneienskappe van eiendombesittende demokrasie – dat eiendom beide privaat en wydverspeid besit kan word – in konflik met mekaar staan. Nadat ek veruidelik het hoekom Rawls se begrip van die verwantskap tussen privaat eiendomsregte en geregtigheid as billikheid faal, bied ek ’n alternatiewe benadering aan. Ek argumenteer eerstens dat die idee van eiendomsbesittende demokrasie laat vaar moet word, en dat die voorwaardes vir geregtigheid waaraan instellings moet voldoen aan die spesifieke omstandighede van ’n gegewe samelewing gemeet moet word moet word. Dit impliseer dat die ontwerp van regverdige instellings ’n saak vir nie-ideale, eerder as ideale teorie is. Indien hierdie argument aanvaar word, impliseer dit dat instellings altyd slegs tydelik geregtig is. Veranderende omstandighede mag verg dat die instellings van die basiese struktuur aangepas moet word om agtergrond-geregtigheid in stand te hou. Vervolgens bewys ek dat dit slegs moontlik is om die reg tot privaateiendom as deel van geregtigheid as billikheid te hanteer in soverre die instelling van eiendom deel uitmaak van ’n groter stel aaneengeskakelde instellings. Ek demonstreer verder dat, indien privaateiendom slegs op hierdie gronde regverdig kan word, en indien die instellings van die basiese struktuur periodiek aangepas moet word, dit implikasies inhou vir die manier hoe distributiewe geretigheid binne regverdigheid as billikheid hanteer word. Ek kom tot die gevolgtrekking dat die gebruik van suiwer prosedurele geregtigheid laat vaar moet word en met imperfekte prosedure-geregtigheid vervang moet word, ten einde met my bevindings te handel oor hoe die regverdigheid van die basiese struktuur met die verloop van tyd onderhou kan word. Die gebruik van die idee van imperfekte prosedure-geregtigheid is van waarde, in soverre dit aan voorstanders van geregtigheid as billikheid ‘n nuwe en meer sinvolle manier bied ten einde moeilike vrae van distributiewe regverdigheid te benader.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/100833
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