Economic efficiency and social justice

The Logical Place

by Tim Harding

At first sight, the concepts of economic efficiency and social justice might seem unrelated or even counterposed.  Some people intuitively feel that in the economic sense, efficiency works against fairness and therefore equality. Economic inequality just seems unfair and wrong.

In this essay, I propose to argue that the concept of economic efficiency can be used as part of a case that social justice does not require economic equality.  My case is primarily based on the works of Frankfurt; but Rawls’ Difference Principle is also of assistance.  I also intend to consider some objections to this case, and to either provide counter-arguments against them, or to suggest that the objections are not sufficiently important to outweigh the case I am putting forward.

Economic efficiency is typically defined as a Pareto optimum – a state of affairs in which it is impossible to make anybody better-off without…

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