Distributive Justice

Distributive Justice
Catalog # SKU3989
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 2.00 lbs
Author Name John A. Ryan
ISBN 10: 0000000000
ISBN 13: 0000000000000


Distributive Justice

The Right and Wrong of Our
Present Distribution of Wealth

John A. Ryan

Distributive justice is primarily a problem of incomes rather than of possessions. It is not immediately concerned with John Brown's railway stock, John White's house, or John Smith's automobile. It deals with the morality of such possessions only indirectly and under one aspect; that is, in so far as they have been acquired through income.

--New Edition, large 13 point font



Moreover, it deals only with those incomes that are derived from participation in the process of production. For example; it considers the labourer's wages, but not the subsidies that he may receive through charity or friendship. Its province is not the distribution of all the goods of the country among all the people of the country, but only the distribution of the products of industry among the classes that have taken part in the making of these products.

These classes are four, designated as landowners, capitalists, undertakers or business men, and labourers or wage earners. The individual member of each class is an agent of production, while the instrument or energy that he owns and contributes is a factor of production. Thus, the landowner is an agent of production because he contributes to the productive process the factor known as land, and the capitalist is an agent of production because he contributes the factor known as capital; while the business man and the labourer are agents not only in the sense that they contribute factors to the process, but in the very special sense that their contributions involve the continuous expenditure of human energy. Now the product of industry is distributed among these four classes precisely because they are agents of production; that is because they own and put at the disposal of industry the indispensable factors of production. We say that the agents of production "put the factors of production at the disposal of industry," rather than "exercise or operate the factors," because neither the landowner nor the capitalist, as such, expend continuous energy in the productive process. All that is necessary to enforce a claim upon the product is to contribute an instrument or factor without which production cannot be carried on.

The product distributed in any country during a single year is variously described by economists as the national product, the national income, the national dividend. It consists not merely of material goods, such as houses, food, clothing, and automobiles, but also of those non-material goods known as services. Such are the tasks performed by the domestic servant, the barber, the chauffeur, the public official, the physician, the teacher; or any other personal service "that is valued, as material commodities are valued, according to their selling prices." Even the services of the clergyman are included in the national income or product, since they are paid for and form a part of the annual supply of good things produced and distributed within the country. In the language of the economist, anything that satisfies a human want is a utility, and forms part of the national wealth; hence there can be no sufficient reason for excluding from the national income goods which minister to spiritual or intellectual wants. The services of the clergyman, the actor, the author, the painter, and the physician are quite as much a part of the utilities of life as the services of the cook, the chambermaid, or the barber; and all are as clearly utilities as bread, hats, houses, or any other material thing. In a general way, therefore, we say that the national product which is available for distribution among the different productive classes comprises all the utilities, material and non-material, that are produced through human agents and satisfy human desires.

In the great majority of instances the product is not distributed in kind. The wheat produced on a given farm is not directly apportioned among the farmers, labourers, and landowners that have co-operated in its production; nor are the shoes turned out by a given factory divided among the co-operating labourers and capitalists; and it is obvious that personal services cannot be returned to the persons that have rendered them. Cases of partial direct distribution do, indeed, occur; as when the tenant takes two-thirds and the landowner one-third of the crop raised by the former on land belonging to the latter; or when the miller receives his compensation in a part of the flour that he grinds. To-day, however, such instances are relatively insignificant. By far the greater part of the material product is sold by the undertaker or business man, and the price is then divided between himself and the other agents of production. All personal services are sold, and the price is obtained by the performers thereof. The farmer sells his wheat, the miller his flour, and the barber his services. With the money received for his part in production each productive agent obtains possession of such kinds and amounts of the national product as his desires dictate and his income will procure. Hence the distribution of the product is effected through the conversion of producers' claims into money, and the exchange of the latter for specific quantities and qualities of the product.

While the national product as a whole is divided among the four productive classes, not every portion of it is distributed among actually distinct representatives of these classes. When more than one factor of production is owned by the same person, the product will obviously not go to four different classes of persons. For example; the crop raised by a man on his own unmortgaged land, with his own instruments, and without any hired assistance; and the products of the small shopkeeper, tailor, and barber who are similarly self sufficient and independent,-are in each case obtained by one person, and do not undergo any actual distribution. Even in these instances, however, there occurs what may be called virtual distribution, inasmuch as the single agent owns more than one factor, and performs more than one productive function. And the problem of distributive justice in such cases is to determine whether all these productive functions are properly rewarded through the total amount which the individual has received. Where the factors are owned by distinct persons, or groups of persons, the problem is to determine whether each group is properly remunerated for the single function that it has performed.

The problem of the morality of industrial incomes is obviously complex. For example; the income of the farmer is sometimes derived from a product which he must divide with a landowner and with labourers; sometimes from a product which he shares with labourers only; and sometimes from a product which he can retain wholly for himself. The labourer's income arises sometimes out of a product which he divides with other agents of production; sometimes out of a product which he divides with other labourers as well as other agents; and sometimes out of a product of which he receives the full money equivalent. The complexity of the forces determining distribution and income indicate a complexity in the forces affecting the morality of income. Moreover, there is the more fundamental ethical question concerning the titles of distribution: whether mere ownership of a factor of production gives a just claim upon the product, as in the case of the landowner and the capitalist; whether such a claim, assuming it to be valid, is as good as that of the labourer and the business man, who expend human energy in the productive process; whether different kinds of productive activity should be rewarded at different rates; and if so in what proportion.

Why should the capitalist receive six per cent., rather than two per cent., or sixteen per cent.? Why should the locomotive engineer receive more than the trackman? Why should not all persons be compensated equally? Should all or any of the benefits of industrial improvements go to the consumer? Such are typical questions in the study of distributive justice. They are sufficient to give some idea of the magnitude and difficulty of the problem. Scarcely less formidable is the task of suggesting means to correct the injustices of the present distribution. The difficulties in this part of the field are indicated by the multiplicity of social remedies that have been proposed, and by the fact that none of them has succeeded in winning the adhesion of more than a minority of the population. We shall be obliged not only to pass moral judgment upon the most important of these proposals, but to indicate and advocate a more or less complete and systematic group of such reforms as seem to be at once feasible and righteous.

476 pages - 7 x 8½ softcover

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