What does justice demand of individuals in an unjust society?
The distribution of benefits and burdens in the actual world is unjustly unequal and will continue to be unjustly unequal for the foreseeable future. Most egalitarians think that the state ought to reduce distributive injustice through, for example, redistributive taxation. However, some egalitarians believe that individuals faced with distributive injustice have no egalitarian reason to carry out redistributive acts if the state does not legally compel them to do so. Others believe that, although some individuals faced with injustice do have an egalitarian reason to carry out direct redistributive acts, there is no reason to redistribute any further once one has the share of advantages that one would have in the counterfactual world in which all existing benefits and burdens were redistributed justly. In this essay, I argue that both of these beliefs are mistaken. I argue for two claims. (1) The reasons to believe that fully just institutions are necessary, sufficient, or both, to bring about a just distribution do not support the claim that only institutions can reduce injustice. (2) On the most plausible ways to measure the injustice of inequality, any transfer which reduces or removes an egalitarian complaint without creating an equivalent or larger complaint will reduce injustice. An implication of this is that every individual faced with distributive injustice, other than the very worst off individual, has an egalitarian reason to redistribute advantages to people worse off than themselves. If one were to combine these claims with the claim that reasons of justice have special force or primacy over other reasons, we must conclude that each of us has powerful reasons, which go beyond mere beneficence, to transfer advantages to the worse off.