debating equity

In my public policy course today, my students took a short opinion survey that I created for them, with questions about the justice or injustice of a variety of circumstances. For instance:

  • Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, was paid about $45 million last year. A customer service representative at Disney starts at $10.43/hour. Is this unjust?
  • A child raised in Lexington, MA can expect a much better education than a child raised in Lowell, MA, who can expect a much better education than a counterpart born in Jackson, MS, who (in turn) is likely to get much more schooling than a child born in Malawi. Are those gaps unjust?
  • Who has the responsibility to fix the Lexington/Jackson gap? If the gap between Lexington and Lowell persists, does that imply that Massachusetts voters hold unjust values or attitudes?
  • Most Amish or [Haredi] Orthodox Jewish children will grow up to have lower incomes and less advanced health-care than average Americans. Is this unjust? Are the Amish or Orthodox parents responsible for an injustice toward their children?
  • Was this (below) a bad thing to express?
  • Are people who object to David Geffen’s Tweet demonstrating the vice of envy?
  • If David Geffen self-isolated on his yacht but didn’t Tweet about it, would it be OK?

Many of the examples in my survey are derived from Tim Scanlon’s very useful article, “When Does Equality Matter?” ?

The survey’s forced choices generated a range of responses. In discussion, students offered more nuance.

You can take the survey yourself and then look at the aggregate responses.

See also defining equity and equality; sorting out human welfare, equity and mobility; college and mobility.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.