Ethics Review Forum: Olson’s “The Solidarity Solution: Principles for a Fair Income Distribution”, Reviewed by Parr

Welcome to our Ethics Review Forum of Kristi A. Olson‘s The Solidarity  Solution: Principles for a Fair Income Distribution (OUP), reviewed by Tom Parr. Below, you’ll find a description of the book, along with a condensed version of Tom’s review. Kristi’s response to Tom will appear in the comments below.

From OUP’s blurb:

Kristi A. Olson asks: What is a fair income distribution? She rejects equal income shares: equal pay undercompensates workers in dangerous and onerous jobs. The envy test, which takes both income and work into account, fares better. Yet, a distribution in which no one prefers someone else’s circumstances to her own-as the envy test requires-is unlikely to exist, and even when it does exist, the normative connection between envy and fairness has not been established.

After critiquing existing answers, Olson invokes the idea of mutual justifiability: when someone claims that her situation should be improved at someone else’s expense, she must be able to give a reason that cannot be reasonably rejected by a free and equal individual who regards everyone else as the same. To give the answer bite, Olson distinguishes two types of envy. Reasons based on personal envy can be reasonably rejected; reasons based on impersonal envy cannot.

Olson then tests the solidarity solution against the theories of Ronald Dworkin, Philippe Van Parijs, and Marc Fleurbaey and applies it directly to the concrete issues of the gender wage gap and taxation. By providing a new approach to problems of fair resource allocation, The Solidarity Solution establishes philosophical discussion as critical to today’s fight to end economic injustice.

 

From Tom Parr’s review:

In the United States, the mean annual salary of a cleaner is about $31,000. The corresponding figure for a dentist is about $186,000. Many readers will be inclined to regard this inequality in earnings as unfair. But what could justify such a verdict? Why, exactly, is it unfair for cleaners to take home so much less than dentists?

Part of what makes these questions especially challenging is that there is no obvious common scale on which we can place, and thus rank, the two occupations in terms of their comparative burdensomeness. The tasks associated with the two occupations vary markedly: in many crucial respects, being a cleaner is not at all similar to being a dentist. Determining which is more onerous, and by how much, is therefore particularly tricky.

One response to these problems is to invoke the idea that, if each of us were identically talented, then these facts would pose no special difficulty. On this view, so long as the market operates smoothly such that we can compete with each other on equal terms, then we should regard whatever distribution of income that results as fair. This is because individuals’ incomes would reflect nothing other than their preferences over the type of work in question. In these circumstances, occupations that are regarded as more onerous would command a higher wage or become less burdensome since this would be necessary to induce individuals into these roles.

I am sympathetic to a view of this kind that emphasizes the fairness-serving potential of some markets. But plainly, it does not give us everything we want. After all, as a matter of fact, we are not identically talented. As a result, market wages reflect more than variations in individuals’ preferences. They are also a function of the comparative scarcity of individuals’ talents, whose distribution is arbitrary from the moral point of view.

How might we proceed? In this impressive book, Kristi A. Olson advances a sophisticated and systematic account of fairness in the distribution of income. She calls it the solidarity solution. Its core claim is that a fair wage is the wage that would clear the market in a counterfactual society in which those occupations exist unchanged, the demand for workers in each occupation remains the same as it is here and now, but ‘in which all individuals were equally qualified for all occupational positions’ (41). Accordingly, to calculate the fair wage for dentistry, for example, we must ask: what wage would be necessary to attract into the profession about 110,000 individuals (which is roughly the number of dentists in the United States today), if each of us were equally capable of entering any occupation? Let us stipulate that the answer is $80,000. Since the actual wage in our society comfortably exceeds that figure, then this must be because dentists benefit from the scarcity of their talents. And so, using the solidarity solution, we can condemn dentists’ actual earnings as unfairly generous.

Olson deepens her defence of the solidarity solution by showing that the distribution of income it sanctions satisfies a more foundational requirement of fairness, the principle of impersonal envy-freeness. The central idea is as follows: whether a distribution of resources is free of impersonal envy depends not on how we allocate given bundles of resources to particular individuals. Rather, it depends on how we bundle resources together in the first place (21-22). To be free of impersonal envy, we must divide resources in such a way that, so long as we are able to decide who gets each bundle, no individual must receive a set of resources that she disprefers to some other individual’s bundle. By contrast, a distribution contains impersonal envy if and only if the resources have been divided such that, no matter how we allocate each bundle among individuals, at least one individual will prefer someone else’s lot (21). Accordingly, we can know whether a distribution of resources satisfies the principle of impersonal envy-freeness by examining only the contents of the bundles being allocated, and information about who receives what is wholly irrelevant to that matter.

To illustrate, let us suppose that I must distribute a laptop, some books, and a $100 bill between two individuals, Alexa and Bertie. Let us also suppose that, whereas Alexa prefers any bundle that includes the laptop, Bertie would be content without the laptop only if he receives the books and the cash. Now, if I bundle the goods such that one individual will receive the laptop and the books, and the other will receive the $100, then it is inevitable that whoever receives the latter will end up with a set of resources that they disprefer compared with another bundle. By contrast, if I bundle the goods such that one individual will receive the laptop, and the other will receive the books and the cash, then it is feasible to allocate those bundles in a way that everyone is most satisfied with their lot, namely by giving the former to Alexa and the latter to Bertie. Accordingly, the principle of impersonal envy-freeness demands that I divide the resources in the second way.

Of course, having done this, malice or misfortune may mean that Alexa comes to possess the books and cash, and Bertie ends up with the laptop. Given their preferences, this outcome would be inefficient (25). But since the resources have been divided in a way that satisfies the principle of impersonal envy-freeness, Olson contends that we have eliminated one important source of unfairness.

The appeal of this principle depends on the idea that an individual possesses a special complaint when she prefers someone else’s bundle to the one allocated to her and where it would have been possible to avoid this outcome by dividing the resources in an alternative fashion such that no one would have to suffer that fate. For this to be correct, it must be the case that her complaint would have a different character, and lack comparable force, if she were to prefer someone else’s bundle to the one allocated to her but this were due merely to the assignment of bundles to particular individuals, rather than to how the resources are divided into bundles. To my mind, this is a crucial premise in Olson’s argument and, though she offers some remarks in its support (24-26), her defence of the solidarity solution would benefit from more sustained discussion of it.

Importantly, though, I believe that the solidarity solution suffers a more significant defect. The problem stems from the fact that, if we were to set wages in the way that the solution recommends, then the income of most of our society’s highest earners would decline very dramatically. And as these salaries decline, individuals would lose the incentive to use their talents as they did.

In considering this concern, Olson explicitly acknowledges that we may have reasons to incentivize the productive use of talents (36). But these are reasons of efficiency rather than of fairness, and we should be careful not to confuse the two (6).

However, my worry is that this move strips the solidarity solution of much of its import, for it means that, even if this approach is correct to assume that we can exhaustively explain the demands of fairness using the principle of impersonal envy-freeness, we can say nothing about whether there are decisive reasons to reduce the salaries associated with any given occupation or that they are objectionable all things considered. After all, it may turn out on Olson’s view that, though the salaries of society’s highest earners are unfair, they are nonetheless decisively justified given a concern for efficiency. Because of this, I fear that the solidarity solution proves to be a toothless tiger in the fight against economic injustice.

With this in mind, it pays to focus on one of the rival approaches that Olson considers and rejects, namely Ronald Dworkin’s equality of resources. One of the chief but insufficiently acknowledged advantages of that approach, in comparison with the solidarity solution, is that it specifies a comparatively precise mechanism for integrating the demands of fairness and efficiency, and so provides us with the theoretical resources with which decisively to condemn some individuals’ earnings as objectionable.

Olson presses several complaints against Dworkin’s equality of resources, but the main one targets his discussion of underemployment insurance. In a nutshell, Dworkin holds that, within various limits, we should determine an individual’s entitlement to fiscal support from her government by referring to the decisions that she would have made if she had enjoyed fair opportunities to insure against lacking marketable talents.

Olson alleges that this approach has some counterintuitive implications, namely it will sometimes result in those who work more hours earning less than their co-workers who work fewer hours (72-73). To see this, let us suppose that, if Brigitte and Clara had enjoyed fair opportunities to do so, each would have insured against having talents such that their maximum earning capacity is less than $60,000 annually. Additionally, let us suppose that, as things turn out, Clara’s only option is to work as a medical assistant for $30,000 per year but Brigitte has the additional option of working as a plumber for $60,000 per year. The insurance firm therefore pays out to Clara and not to Brigitte. This much seems straightforward. But now, let us suppose that Brigitte chooses to work as a medical assistant rather than as a plumber. In this case, Brigitte and Clara each earn $30,000 working as medical assistants performing identical tasks, but Clara’s income is then boosted by the insurance pay out that she receives.  In turn, this means that Clara may be able to cut her hours, perhaps even considerably, while continuing to earn more than Brigitte, despite performing identical work.

However, I believe that Olson’s analysis overlooks something important. To see what it is, we must dig into the details of the case a little further. Let us start by focusing on the fact that Brigitte, unlike Clara, is able to work as a medical assistant for $30,000 per year or to work as a plumber for $60,000 per year, and that she prefers the former less well paid option. Assuming she is not averse to having a higher income, we can infer that Brigitte must regard plumbing as a much more onerous occupation. But here is the crucial part: if plumbing for $60,000 per year is so undesirable to Brigitte, then shouldn’t we expect this fact to affect her insurance decisions? In particular, if Brigitte is aware that plumbing for $60,000 per year is a possibility, then why insure merely against having talents such that her maximum earning capacity is less than $60,000 annually? Doing this exposes her to considerable risk, in the event that she is able to become a plumber. Given Brigitte’s preferences, it would be rational also to insure against having talents such that the occupations available to her involve performing especially onerous tasks, even if the salary associated with these roles exceeds $60,000 annually. The general thought, then, is that insurers’ decisions, and so their eligibility to claim compensation via the insurance scheme, would reflect both their preference for income and their preference to avoid certain kinds of work. One problem with Olson’s analysis, I think, is that it neglects the italicized clause, which enables a response to the objection that Olson develops.

Though I have some reservations about the conclusions, Olson’s defence of the solidarity solution certainly remains formidable. Clearly, it warrants much more sustained philosophical scrutiny than a brief review of this kind permits.

21 Replies to “Ethics Review Forum: Olson’s “The Solidarity Solution: Principles for a Fair Income Distribution”, Reviewed by Parr

  1. I am very grateful to Tom Parr for his charitable and insightful review, to Peter Ohlin and OUP for an excellent publishing experience, and to Jordan MacKenzie and PEA Soup for organizing this discussion. Since Tom does a superb job capturing my view, I’ll jump directly to my responses.

    1. The appeal of the solidarity solution

    Tom’s first question concerns the appeal of impersonal envy-freeness (and hence the solidarity solution). To illustrate the underlying motivation, imagine we are dividing goods into bundles. And now consider two scenarios. In the first scenario, Jane receives a bundle she wouldn’t choose but someone else (in the distributive scheme) would choose. In the second scenario, Jane receives a bundle no one would choose.

    Are the two scenarios normatively different? Regardless of what you think about Jane’s claim (or lack thereof) in the first scenario, does she have a (different and stronger) claim in the second scenario? I think she does (and I would love to know what others think). But what explains the difference? The difference cannot be anything about Jane’s bundle or how well the bundle fits Jane’s preferences. After all, we can hold everything constant between the two scenarios except other people’s preferences. My suggestion is that the difference concerns Jane’s standing in the distributive community. The rough idea is this: when we knowingly and avoidably relegate someone to a bundle no one (including Jane) would choose, we do not stand as equals.

    The solidarity solution captures this idea. To ensure equal standing, the bundles must be impersonally envy-free. That is, the bundles must be compatible with an envy-free distribution (even if, as a result of the mapping of bundles, the envy-free distribution is not realized). The book uses the solidarity test to evaluate labor-leisure-income bundles. The solidarity test, however, is broadly applicable: we can use it to evaluate multidimensional equality in other contexts as well.

    2. Efficiency and toothless tigers

    Tom’s second concern is that, since I explicitly set aside efficiency (incentive) concerns, I do not offer any guidance about how to make tradeoffs between efficiency and equality. That’s true. Nonetheless, I am not convinced that this makes the solidarity solution a toothless tiger, as Tom suggests. Let me mention two ways in which the solidarity solution matters.

    First, suppose you believe inequalities are justified whenever they make the worst off better off. That tradeoff rule will justify different outcomes depending on what distribution is equal. Specifically, we cannot say whether (or how much of) an incentive is needed until we know whether equality takes into account labor burdens. Thus, before we can apply this tradeoff rule, we first need to identify an equal distribution. That is what the solidarity solution does.

    Second, the solidarity solution helps resolve an important dispute over the cause of inequality—a dispute that, I believe, motivates some of the hostility to redistribution. Specifically, Republicans tend to believe people are rich because they worked harder, while Democrats tend to believe people are rich because they had more advantages in life (Pew Research Center, 2017). The Solidarity Solution provides a thought experiment to tease these apart. If, for example, the income gap between dentists and cleaners would shrink in the world in which everyone had identical opportunities, then that portion of the gap is attributable to differences in circumstances. The thought experiment thus refutes one source of resistance to redistributive policies.

    3. Dworkin’s hypothetical insurance scheme

    Tom’s third objection is that I dismissed Dworkin’s hypothetical insurance scheme too quickly. In case you haven’t read Sovereign Virtue lately, here’s a brief recap. Imagine that before you know your earning capacity you are given an opportunity to purchase insurance that will pay you if and only if your maximum earning capacity is below the coverage level. Everyone with that insurance policy, however, pays the same premium. To illustrate, if you purchase insurance at the level of $60,000 and you turn out to have a maximum earning capacity of $75,000, you must pay the premium (say, $5,000) and you receive nothing. On the other hand, if you purchase insurance at the level of $60,000 but your maximum earning capacity is only $40,000, you receive the difference between your maximum earning capacity and the $60,000 coverage level, minus the premium (i.e., you receive $20,000 – $5,000 = $15,000). You can choose the coverage level, but the higher the coverage level, the higher the premium.

    Dworkin assumes that most people would insure at low levels of coverage. Here is (roughly) the reasoning: We would all want to insure; otherwise, we could be very badly off. But someone who chooses to insure at a high coverage level (with a correspondingly high premium) might be forced to work in her maximum earning capacity just to pay the premium. To minimize the possibility of being forced to work in a particular job, we will insure at low levels of coverage. Since the coverage is low, there will be less redistribution. But that is a tradeoff we make to maintain our occupational choice. Dworkin then uses his insurance thought experiment to justify relatively low levels of redistribution.

    I have many concerns about Dworkin’s insurance scheme (some of which are discussed in chapters three and five of the book). In the chapter Tom refers to, I explain that Dworkin’s insurance scheme could result in Bridget—who does the same job as Clara, but works more hours—receiving less than Clara. My point in the chapter is that, contrary to a widely-shared belief, Dworkin’s insurance scheme does not track hard work. To the contrary, the harder-working person will sometimes receive less, as a result of his insurance scheme. Tom responds that we can keep Dworkin’s insurance scheme but allow Bridget to purchase insurance against having a maximum earning capacity she finds repugnant (and the supplemental insurance, we are to imagine, would bring Bridget’s compensation up until she makes more than Clara).

    I agree with Tom that we could supplement Dworkin’s insurance with more insurance policies. But let me here consider a different proposal. Suppose an insurance company offers the following alternative policy: the insurer must pay the talent rent, if any, on whatever job she chooses to do (e.g., using Parr’s figures, if she chooses to be a dentist, she must pay, on average, $106,000). In return, she receives compensation if her job (e.g., as a cleaner) pays too little (as determined by the solidarity solution). Would someone choose this insurance in lieu of Dworkin’s original insurance scheme? Here is one reason she might: occupational choice is fully preserved. No one is forced to choose any particular job just to pay the premium since how much she pays depends on what she chooses to do. Moreover, if the insurer pursues a job without talent rent, she receives more generous remuneration than Dworkin’s original insurance scheme. So, we now have an alternative insurance scheme—functionally identical to the solidarity solution—that safeguards occupational choice while providing greater redistribution.

    Someone might object that, by eliminating the fixed fee premium, the new insurance policy forfeits efficiency and even risks bankruptcy. In response, the insurance company could build efficiency back in, e.g., by taxing 90% of the talent rent instead of 100% and redistributing less. (Perhaps the insurance company would allow insurers to choose their percentage level. Or perhaps the insurance company would set the rate at whatever level generates the most income.) Would people choose this policy? I’m not sure. But Dworkin himself seems open to such a suggestion (n. 9, p. 479.)

    To be clear, I don’t think we should settle the question with Dworkin’s insurance scheme (ingenious as it is). But if Tom’s worry is that I don’t explicitly address tradeoffs—and if he thinks Dworkin’s insurance scheme is the right way to settle such questions—then perhaps we could use Dworkin’s insurance scheme as a method for making this tradeoff. In any case, as I say in the book, I am pursuing a different question.

  2. Dear Prof. Olson,

    I had two quick questions that are unrelated to the discussion so far. I preface them by saying that it’s been a while since I read the book (I thought it was excellent!), so I apologize if you already dealt with them there.

    My first question is of a clarificatory nature. Your discussion in the book is framed as providing a solution to the question, What is a fair income? But it strikes me that you’re actually exploring a slightly different question, What is a fair wage? The income/wage distinction is somewhat technical, but I actually think a lot may ride on it. Income is the flow of money a person receives in a given year. A wage, by contrast, is an (hourly, weekly, monthly) payment that an employee receives from an employer as compensation for their labor. Notice that there are sources of income besides a wage. Rich people receive income without working by getting dividends from stocks, i.e., capital income. People who are unemployed or have disabilities that exclude them from the labor market receive income from social insurance or welfare programs. My question, therefore, is this: Since your book mainly focuses on issues like talent, job burdens, and the marketability of one’s skills, is it correct to say that you are providing an account of what a fair “wage” is? Or do you think that your “solidarity solution” also speaks to the question of whether, say, capital income or welfare programs are fair?

    More substantively, I wonder whether you might be overlooking an additional factor that may be relevant to determining what a fair income/wage is. Suppose two people perform the exact same job at two different companies. They both have the exact same talents and work for the same number of hours overall. But person A works in a small company that does not generate a lot of revenue, whereas person B works in a large company that generates a significant amount of revenue. Does your view imply that each worker should receive the exact same wage? I ask because some people think that a fair wage is relative to (something like) an employer’s ability to pay. For example, if one thinks of a fair wage as a fair division of the social surplus, then that seems to imply that the larger the social surplus, the larger the wage that an employee should receive (and vice versa). Do you agree? If so, then how is that consideration consistent with the solidarity solution? If not, then why is an employer’s ability to pay morally irrelevant?

    Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I really enjoyed the book!

  3. Dear Michael,

    Thanks so much for the question and for the kind words. The short answer to both questions is that I am discussing income in exchange for labor, but, crucially, I do not assume that the income must be paid by the employer. Rather, I am concerned with after-tax-and-redistribution income.

    With respect to your second question, I would need to ask whether the size of the company affects the conditions of employment (e.g., is it more enjoyable to work in a small company where everyone knows everyone else?) But, assuming that the size of the company does not affect the conditions of employment, then I would say that A and B should be paid the same.

    With respect to your first question, I do have a narrow focus on income in exchange for labor. But, offhand, it seems as though the general framework could be extended to include other sources of income. I will think more about this. Thanks for the suggestion!

  4. Thanks, Kristi! That’s really helpful.

    One worry about your answer to the second question is that it might violate the principle that “ought implies can.” For example, if the large company can pay X, but the small company cannot (and assuming, somewhat unrealistically, that everyone else in the company is paid fairly), then the latter would be morally required to do something that they cannot do. And that seems like a potentially worrisome implication of your view.

  5. Hi Michael,
    I am assuming that the difference would be paid by taxation and redistribution (and not by the employer). I don’t take my view to have any implications for what employers must pay. Does that fix your worry?

  6. Hi Kristi!

    As you know, I’m a huge fan of your book. I’d like to put to you a question/challenge that I’ve put to you before.

    The principles we construct under idealized conditions like Rawls’s original position are designed to regulate us here and now. We strip away morally irrelevant factors (such as power differentials) from the parties in the original position. But those parties are trying to design principles for real people—people who might have few marketable talents, or hold unusual religious convictions. The parties in the original position make choices for the real people they might represent and the principles they select thus reflect the interests of those real people. But the labor/income bundles that we select under your hypothetical auction are not designed with real people in mind. They are what we would choose for ourselves if we had the semi-godlike natural ability to perfectly perform any occupation. It’s not obvious to me that distributing labor/income bundles in the way that we would if we were equally situated semi-gods is a good way to instantiate relations of freedom and equality amongst real persons, many of whom have very limited occupational options. It might be cold comfort to tell someone in a low paying occupation who has few other options, “yes, but in a hypothetical world where everyone could perform any occupation, your occupation would have been in high demand, and so it’s only fair that in the real world, you should be paid relatively little”. If the differences between the hypothetical auction and the real world were morally insignificant, this might be an adequate justification. But the differences don’t seem morally insignificant—the person who is paid little in the hypothetical auction cannot complain in part because she has the ability to bid on any occupation. But the real person lacks this ability, and thus I’m skeptical that we should infer the equal standing from the one realm equates to equal standing in the other.

  7. Hi Jon,

    Thank you so much for the kind words and also for the challenging question!
    I regret to say that I’ve forgotten whatever response I had in the past but, in any event, it must not have been convincing. Here then is a first pass. Suppose Mason has five oranges and one apple, and he complains about how few apples he receives. The relevant response, I think, is to point out how many oranges he has. Similarly, if Mary complains about how little her job pays under the solidarity solution, the relevant response is to point out how great her job is in other respects. (After all, if her job were not so appealing in these other respects, it would not pay so little under the solidarity solution.) So, the relevant response would not be to tell her that many people would choose her job in the hypothetical world in which everyone were equally talented and that is why it pays so little. Rather, the relevant response is to point to the reasons why many people would choose her job in that hypothetical world.

    Of course, Mason and Mary might not be satisfied with these responses. They might say: “But I don’t even like oranges!” or “Other people might like a job with those features, but not me.” And now perhaps we owe them a second response. Here things become a bit more complicated. I agree with you that we shouldn’t tell Mason that he stands as an equal simply because, in the hypothetical world in which everyone was completely free and equal, this is a bundle someone would choose. Equal standing does not transfer realms in that way. Instead, I think the response would be something like: It’s unfortunate that you were not able to choose a different bundle of apples and oranges. We would change that fact if we could. But you should know that we still respect you as an equal. To see this, imagine a different scenario: suppose no one would choose your bundle and we still (knowingly and avoidably) relegated you to it. If that were the case, we wouldn’t be treating you as an equal. But now consider this additional fact: if we were to make your bundle any better (by taking from someone else’s bundle), then someone else would not be treated as an equal. Although you don’t like your bundle, it is nonetheless the case that the set of bundles is compatible with equal standing–and sweetening your bundle to make it better suit your tastes would create a scenario in which someone else’s bundle is not compatible with equal standing.

    That’s what I have so far, but I’ll keep thinking …

  8. Thanks for these characteristically illuminating responses, Kristi, and for organizing this discussion, Jordan.

    There’s lots about which I need to think more here, especially the stuff on talent rent, but let me focus on two particular claims. First, when you say that Dworkin uses fair insurance to justify ‘relatively low levels of redistribution’, what standard do you have in mind? Is it low levels of redistribution relative to what we see in the United States here and now? Presumably not. Is it low levels of redistribution relative to what we see in the social democracies of Scandinavia here and now? Again, I’d say not, but perhaps you disagree. Is it low levels of redistribution relative to the Solidarity Solution? I don’t think we can answer that question since your view is silent with respect to the issue of how much redistribution is required, all things considered.

    (Cheekily, I might ask, does fair insurance justify low levels of redistribution relative to what individuals *themselves* would want if they were fairly situated? Obviously not. Indeed, we can even consider an eccentric hypothetical case in which the individuals *actually were* fairly situated — say, because their talents don’t develop until adulthood, and they have fair opportunities to insure prior to this point.)

    Second, like you, I’d be interested in hearing about others’ responses to your case involving Jane. For what its worth, I don’t share your reaction that Jane’s claim in the second case is different and stronger than in the first. After all, the absence or presence of someone else who strictly prefers Jane’s bundle makes no difference to Jane, who’s stuck with an opportunity set that she regards as inferior to that enjoyed by others. But perhaps I’m missing something here, and my reaction might merely reflect the extent to which I’m in the grip of a dogma!

    Thanks again!

  9. Hi Tom,

    Thanks so much for the thought-provoking questions!

    You’re right that I did not mean relatively low levels of redistribution compared to the US! Dworkin exegesis is a bit tricky since the hypothetical insurance scheme changes. So let me begin by saying something about the structure of chapter 2 in Sovereign Virtue, at least as I interpret it. Dworkin first presents the insurance scheme in theory (Part V. Underemployment Insurance). He then considers how the insurance scheme would actually be implemented as a scheme of taxation and redistribution (Part VI. Tax as Premium).

    In Part V, Dworkin seems to permit exorbitant levels of inequality. Indeed, the incredibly wealthy would pay the same insurance fee as everyone else. Why do I say that? Dworkin seems to be thinking that the premium is a fixed fee, the same for everyone who insures at that level of coverage, but higher at higher levels of coverage. The fee functions as a lump sum tax: you must pay it no matter how much income you turn out to make. All of this seems essential to his conclusion in Part V: people won’t insure at high coverage levels because they don’t want to be forced to work at their maximum earning capacity just to pay the premium. That’s the tradeoff. But, if the incredibly wealthy pay the same fee as everyone else, then there will be relatively little redistribution, hence my comment.

    In Part VI, when Dworkin considers how we could move from the hypothetical insurance scheme to a tax and redistribution scheme, Dworkin changes some of his assumptions. Dworkin now suggests that the insurance company would offer insurers the option of paying “an increasing percentage of the income the policy holder turns out to earn” (p. 100). That’s a huge shift! He is no longer referring to the insured’s maximum earning capacity. And he is no longer assuming a flat fee, which played an important role in his conclusion that people would insure only at relatively low levels of coverage. Once he makes these changes, it might be the case that he permits a lot more taxation and redistribution. (Indeed, I think he would.) But I worry that now his levels of taxation and redistribution lose some of their theoretical support he developed in Part V.

    In my comments, I was speaking about Dworkin’s view as presented in Part V, since I take Part VI to be discussing the practical details of implementation. I might be wrong about that. But, in any case, we can set Dworkin aside, and just ask what his insurance scheme (however we design it) would justify. And here I would *not* say that the insurance scheme would always lead to relatively low levels of coverage. I say that in part because I think Dworkin’s insurance scheme could look very much like the solidarity solution. Instead of paying a flat fee (of a fixed percentage of their actual income), insurers would pay according to the amount of talent rent in their income.

    As a side note, I’ll add a different concern that I have if we say that someone in Dworkin’s insurance scheme who chooses fairly is forced to conclude that the outcome is fair. I can imagine a person having the following thoughts: “I’m pretty sure I could get by with less than $30,000 (if that is what fate holds in store for me)–and I don’t want to be forced into my maximum earning capacity–and so I’m only going to purchase insurance at the level of $20,000.” But before signing the insurance form, the person says to the insurance agent: “But I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a society in which some people have millions while others have less than $30,000. And I wouldn’t want other people I care about to be relegated to a life of less than $20,000, even if I think *I* could get by with that. So, even though I don’t want to be forced into my maximum earning capacity when I’m thinking about just myself, I would be willing to take that risk for the sake of others. All things considered, then, I want to insure for more than $20,000.” The insurance agent—at least if she works for Dworkin Inc.—would have to insist that the insurer purchase only $20,000 worth of insurance. In Dworkin’s insurance scheme, we purchase insurance thinking only about ourselves. But then I worry that people who are fairly situated could freely purchase insurance of their choice and nonetheless believe that the outcome is unfair. And moreover, the outcome might not be the one they would choose if they were allowed to take into account everyone else in their insurance decision.

    Your second comment about your intuition in the two Jane scenarios is really interesting. And now I especially want to know what other people think. I’d love to have a thought experiment to test this intuition. (Something along the lines of: Abigail receives a bundle she wouldn’t choose; Brandon receives a bundle no one would choose. You can help only one of them. Is it a matter of indifference who you help?) The problem with that thought experiment, however, is that it brings in considerations that are illicit. For example, we might think we should help Brandon because we suspect that his bundle is worse than Abigail’s in some objective way. But that introduces another variable, distinct from people’s preferences. So the test case seems to be the same person—Jane—whose bundle doesn’t change; the only change is in the preferences of other people. And now I’m stuck just reporting my own intuition: there is something uniquely objectionable about being relegated (knowingly and avoidably) to a bundle no one would choose. But I’d love to hear about other people think.

    Tom, thank you so much for taking the time to review my book. I’ve really enjoyed thinking more about Dworkin’s insurance scheme and variants to it.

  10. Greetings, Kristi and everyone. This has been a penetrating discussion so far. Kristi, you have a splendid project here and I can attest from our previous encounter that criticizing it is not easy! It’s a pretty seaworthy vessel you’re sailing.

    I’m also curious, as others are, about the question whether there’s “something uniquely objectionable about being relegated (knowingly and avoidably) to a bundle no one would choose,” such that a given distribution could change from objectionable to non-objectionable in a way that tracks exclusively the preferences of another party. I’m not sure how to answer the question, or how you should answer it, but it would help me to have an answer to what seems like a prior question, which I’ll now pose.

    Kristi, you hold that if we relegate someone to a bundle that no one else would choose, we fail to treat her as an equal. I understand that your claim is not psychological. It doesn’t imply that she actually experiences a subjective “sense” that someone has insulted or disrespected her. Your claim is evaluative: if we relegate her to this bundle, we don’t in fact treat her as an equal, regardless of how she happens to feel about our treatment of her. However, I would like to know whether you understand your claim as even counterfactually psychological. In other words, does the fact (i.e., that if we relegate Ellen to such a bundle, we don’t treat her as an equal) supervene upon any counterfactual psychological propositions about Ellen (or someone else) under specified counterfactual conditions? Or do you see “fails to treat someone as an equal” more like a formal property of distributions that aren’t impersonal envy-free?

  11. Thanks again, Kristi. Here’s a follow up on your final suggestion:

    Let’s suppose that Abigail receives a ticket to the opera; and Brandon receives $90; and Carla receives $100. We can stipulate that Abigail would prefer to receive $100 instead of the ticket to the opera; Brandon would prefer to receive the ticket to the opera instead of $100; and that Brandon receives a bundle that no one would choose (as everyone prefers $100 to $90).

    I’m not sure I’ve got it, but is your idea that, since Brandon receives a bundle no one would choose, we should help him — or at least have a distinctive pro tanto reason to help him — if we can help only one of them? And if so, are you ok with that result even if Abigail dislikes opera and so regards the ticket as pretty worthless?

  12. Thank you for your engaging book – and your 2018 PPA article (https://doi-org.eur.idm.oclc.org/10.1111/papa.12122)! I also really enjoyed the review and discussion so far.

    My question focuses on the *object* of no-envy and solidarity.

    It seems to me that your book freely (and implicitly) varies the object: no-envy is first introduced with extremely small, or local, examples, such as slicing and dividing a cake. It goes on to use a principle so motivated for grounding claims about income distribution, which is a much more complex context. And the “solidarity” label for your position also evokes a broader significance of income distribution for matters of quite broad, or global, matters of social justice.

    Most people in the literature do this. Indeed, the suggestion that the no-envy criterion can be formulated precisely in terms of local examples and at the same time has significance for global matters is also apparent in the economic no-envy literature. We have recently discovered that there is a 1930 article by Jan Tinbergen in which he presented no-envy (https://doi.org/10.23941/ejpe.v14i1.610), which predates Foley (1967). Also in this early formulation, Tinbergen on the one hand introduces no-envy as applying to combinations of hours worked and wages earned, and on the other hand he speaks about this criterion applying broadly to “social positions”. And, as you also discuss, his 1953 book focuses on income distribution in a similar way you do (by which I mean: he also starts from “local” examples, focuses on income distribution, and evokes “global” significance).

    I am wondering whether you’d have an explicit motivation for this strategy to switch objects of no-envy so freely. It is evidently popular across fields! I figure you might have interesting things to say about this. Perhaps one reason for why I am interested in this question is that there are, for instance, many countries in which there are stark differences in the distribution of income and wealth (for instance, the Netherlands has one of the most equal distributions of income but one of the most unequal distributions of wealth).

  13. Hi Jeff,

    Thank you so much for your support and for the terrific question! I’d like to be able to say that failing to treat someone as an equal is more like a formal property of distributions that aren’t impersonal envy-free. But I have some worries about that answer that might be going in the direction you are thinking:

    First, suppose the bundles are not impersonal envy-free (IEF), but everyone thinks they are IEF.

    Second, suppose the bundles are IEF, but everyone thinks they are not IEF.

    We can also imagine that the people in the distributive scheme disagree: some people think the bundles are IEF, while others think they are not IEF.

    When I consider these scenarios, I start to think that what really matters is whether people in the distributive scheme believe that the distribution is IEF. Is this a problem for my view? Or is it just a general feature about equal standing? I’m not sure of the answer, but I’d love to know what you think (especially if you have a solution)!

  14. Hi Tom,

    Yes! With the caveats below, that is precisely my view.

    The caveats:

    1. I am assuming (as I assume you are) that the people in the distributive scheme are equal in the morally relevant ways. That is, I assume that they are equally needy, equally deserving, and so forth.

    2. I am assuming (as I assume you are) that they are all participants in a common distributive scheme. I wouldn’t have anything to say if, for example, Abigail receives a gift from her grandmother, Brandon receives a gift from his uncle, and Carla receives a gift from her lover.

    3. I am also assuming that the distributor did not give Abigail the opera ticket specifically because she knew Abigail hates the opera. (If she did, then Abigail might also have a claim based on unequal standing.)

    Under these assumptions, if I happen to have $10 remaining in the pot, we have a pro tanto reason based on equal standing to give the money to Brandon. Of course, if we can also swap Brandon’s and Abigail’s bundles, we have Paretian reasons to do so.

    In response to your question about whether I am okay with the result in which Abigail considers the opera ticket worthless, I would say that Abigail’s fate is, to be sure, unfortunate. If I could help her, I would. (So in that sense I am not okay with the result.) What I deny is that we have reasons of equality to do so. (We could, of course, have a different criterion in which people are entitled to equal welfare. But I am assuming—from your excellent Political Studies paper (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0032321717720377 )–that, like me, you are not endorsing such a standard.)

  15. Hi Kristi,

    In the event that Abigail regards the opera ticket as worthless, I find it highly counter-intuitive that we have a pro reason of equality to prioritise Brandon’s claim over Abigail’s. After all, Abigail receives a bundle that she regards as utterly worthless, which is true for neither of the others. And while its true that Brandon receives a bundle that no one would choose, that will be cold comfort to Abigail given that Brandon still gets $90.

    (Do we therefore have a reason of equality to prioritise Abigail’s claim over Brandon’s when allocating the additional $10? Perhaps. I think the destination of the remaining funds should depend on the kinds of arrangements to the individuals would sign up to under fair conditions, where each of them knows the bundles available but is unaware of how those will be allocated to individuals. But now we are back over to the fair insurance, though admittedly a version of the view that may differ from the one favoured by Dworkin.)

  16. Hi Conrad,

    Thanks so much for your comments and question! I am delighted to see that Tinbergen’s contributions to the fairness literature are finally receiving greater attention, and I enjoyed your article “No Envy: Jan Tinbergen on Fairness.”

    I need to think more about your question but, offhand, I would make four points.

    1. I now think (picking up an objection made by Shlomi Segall) that I made a mistake. Impersonal envy-freeness is a test of equality, and not of fairness. In many distributions (e.g., dividing cake) this distinction does not matter. That’s because we normally think the fair distribution of cake is the equal one. But in other cases this distinction might matter. So, it might really matter in some contexts whether impersonal envy-freeness (or envy-freeness) is a criterion of fairness or equality. I’m inclined to say that a test of equality can be applied across (many*) contexts, but we should be a bit more cautious if it is a test of fairness. But this is just my initial thought.

    * See my next comment.

    2. [This next point might not be relevant to the criterion of envy-freeness, but it is relevant to my criterion.] Impersonal envy-freeness is a test of equal standing. And this affects the scenarios in which the criterion is appropriate. For example, we might not use such a criterion to describe the distribution of food and bedding to gerbils. Similarly, we might not use such IEF to compare victims of natural disasters. No one’s standing as an equal is thrown into doubt by the fact that she was struck by lightning, but her neighbor wasn’t. The criterion might, however, be relevant to the distribution of aid to (equally needy) victims of natural disasters. I’m a bit worried about this comment because I do want to use IEF quite broadly. I’m just reporting my initial thoughts.

    3. I also wouldn’t use impersonal envy-freeness (or envy-freeness) to compare people’s attributes. It’s true that I might prefer someone else’s athletic ability and intelligence over mine. Nonetheless, I take it that people are equal in the ways that matter. I thus make a distinction between someone’s possession of talents and the income they receive as a result of the unequal distribution of talents. I apply the criterion of IEF to the latter but not the former. Other philosophers (e.g., Philippe Van Parijs, 1995) apply something like the envy test (specifically, in his case, undominated diversity) to our internal endowments (talents).

    4. For the case you mention—comparisons of wealth—I would use impersonal envy-freeness, taking into account any burdens, such as deferred consumption and risk. Of course, if we want to redistribute wealth, we would also need to know whether people have a right to inherit/right to bequeath and whether those rights would be violated by redistribution. That’s just to say that the criterion of impersonal envy-freeness is limited. As Tom points out, it doesn’t tell us how to make tradeoffs (if there are any).

    Those are my initial thoughts, but I will keep thinking! Thanks for the question.

  17. Hi Tom,

    As you point out, what Dworkin gives us is a way of making tradeoffs. And I agree with you (especially in the case in which we have actual as opposed to merely hypothetical agreement) that we ought to defer to what Abigail, Brandon, and Carla would agree to ex ante. Maybe the disagreement, then, boils down to this: if we were to give the money to Abigail and not to Brandon (and when they did not agree to this in advance), is there something to regret? And, if so, what is it that we regret?

  18. Hi Kristi,

    Thanks for the terrific book. I especially liked the way you draw on ideas of mutual justifiability and equal standing in defending the solidarity solution. Like others, I’d like to see if I can get you to say a bit more about why impersonal envy-freeness realizes mutual justifiability and equal standing.

    When I try to explain for myself why it would be so wrong to relegate Jane to a bundle no one would choose, I’m drawn to the following thought: “A bundle couldn’t be so bad—it must meet some basic intersubjective standard of acceptability—if someone out there would willingly choose it.” Whereas in the scenario where Jane receives a bundle she wouldn’t choose but that someone else (in the distributive scheme) would choose, then perhaps that bundle is still intersubjectively acceptable even if Jane personally disprefers it. Is that the thought you’re having?

    When I reflect on it, I am not certain it is correct that the fact that someone would choose a bundle shows that the bundle is intersubjectively acceptable. One worry I have is about idiosyncratic preferences. Suppose I am attending a dinner, and one of the guests happens to love dried crickets so much he would prefer a plate of them to any other food he could be served (he grew up in Mexico, where they are considered a delicacy). My host, having served all the other guests, suddenly realizes she has run out of the main dish. She cannot redistribute the plates now: having already given them out, it would be unsanitary. But she does have a bag of dried crickets on hand, and she *can* put the dried crickets on my plate. Does the fact that someone else at the table really loves the dried crickets makes it more acceptable to *me* and compatible with *my* equal standing to give them to me? I know you discuss idiosyncratic preferences in the book, so perhaps you already have a good response to this concern.

  19. Hi Anna,

    Excellent question! Let me make two points:

    First, receiving a bundle that satisfies the solidarity test (i.e., a bundle from a set that is impersonally envy-free) is not sufficient for equal standing. There are other ways a distributor could fail to give you appropriate respect. For example, intentionally giving a vegetarian prime rib disrespects the vegetarian’s agency (even if prime rib is someone’s first choice). Something similar might be going on in the example you mention: if the host knew or had good reason to suspect that you would find this dish very unappealing, the host might be failing to give you appropriate respect. My claim, then, is that being relegated to a bundle no one would choose is one way in which equal standing is jeopardized.

    As a side note, if the host runs out of the main dish after people have been served (at a time when it is no longer possible to take some back), we might acknowledge that the host cannot now avoid giving someone an inferior dinner. As a result, the host could give you an explanation and a dinner–say, just side dishes–that no one would choose without violating the equal standing requirement.

    Second, the purpose of the solidarity test isn’t to ensure that the bundle isn’t all that bad. (Indeed, as you note, the bundle can be quite bad—at least for you.) Rather, the purpose is to ensure that you aren’t treated like a second-class citizen. And when you are (knowingly and avoidably) relegated to a bundle that no one would choose, it seems to me that you are treated like a second-class citizen. (I realize that my saying this won’t convince you. I am here just clarifying that the purpose isn’t to ensure that the bundle isn’t all that bad.)

    To be sure, it might be the case that you would be better off with a bundle no one would choose than with a bundle someone (but not you) would choose. My account allows you to opt for a bundle that no one would choose. The objection arises when you are relegated—without free choice on your part—to a bundle no one would choose.

    Thank you very much for the question. I will keep thinking!

  20. Thanks for this, Kristi. I don’t think there is anything to regret in giving the money to Abigail and not Brandon when they agree in advance (under fair conditions) to a contract that delivers outcome. As a defender of fair insurance, I’m tempted to say that nothing changes if they’re prevented from forming such an agreement because one of them — say, Brandon — discovers information about the allocation of bundles to individuals, and uses that information to privilege things in his favour. Of course, there may be other things to regret, such as that there aren’t more and/or other resources at our disposal, but that’s rather different to there being a reason to regret giving the money to Abigail over Brandon.

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