Economic Inequality and the Ethics of Concern

Many people throughout the world seek the substantial reduction, by political means, of the inequalities that free enterprise creates. They believe that fellow-members of their societies have a political duty to support measures taxing the best-off to help those who are worse-off, including people who are not poor. What is the moral basis of this duty? Anglo-American political philosophers typically share the political goal of greater equality, and base it on a requirement of fairness, due to John Rawls. But this foundation is vulnerable to powerful criticisms that it does not sustain such an extensive duty to give up benefits of successful enterprise to help others. A firmer foundation extends beyond the duty of political impartiality that Rawls emphasizes. It includes a personal duty of concern, a duty to be sufficiently responsive to others” needs that more responsiveness would worsen one”s life. While this duty lends powerful support to egalitarian political programs, further support may be required from another imperative, as well, a duty to give up benefits of exploitation to help meet needs.