Why Equality Demands Egalitarian Occupational Choice But Not Forced Labour
Some egalitarians think that occupational benefits and burdens are part of the distribuenda of distributive justice, and that egalitarian justice requires individuals to undertake occupations which bring about equality (the occupational equality thesis). Others have objected that if this were true, egalitarianism would have unjust or morally repugnant consequences. I consider two objections of this kind to the occupational equality thesis and argue that they are both unsuccessful. The inegalitarian hierarchy objection claims that a social ethos which induced egalitarian occupational choice would bring about an inegalitarian social hierarchy with those who contribute the most labour to society at the top of the hierarchy, and those who contribute least at the bottom. I argue that one can distinguish between two kinds of just ethos. One kind would induce people to bring about equality alone. A second kind would induce people both to realise equality and maximise the size of each person’s share. Only the second kind of ethos is vulnerable to the inegalitarian hierarchy objection, but it is implausible to regard this kind of ethos as a requirement of egalitarian justice. The forced labour objection claims that if occupational benefits and burdens are part of the distribuenda of distributive justice, then from the point of view of equality alone, there is no relevant difference between coercively bringing about equality through redistributive taxation and forced labour. Since egalitarians usually believe that coercive taxation promotes justice, they are also committed to swallowing the unpalatable claim that forced labour promotes justice. I argue that egalitarians should accept that forced labour could promote justice in principle, but deny that it would under realistic conditions.