Marx and Equality (Was: Why Decry the Wealth Gap?)

Wed Jan 26 21:17:42 PST 2000

Max raises some problems with the needs principle, To Each Accordiungs to His Needs. But I think these are arguments that the Neeps Principle is defective, and that we require, even under communism, some principles of justice, whether they are principles of equality or otherwise. They are not arguments that the NP is really a principle of equality.

In a message dated 00-01-26 23:48:14 EST, you write:

<< I think you demolished most of CB's arguments

except the first one, which goes to "to each

according to need."

> How would one distinguish among persons in

respect of "need," putting aside obvious

differences due to a physical impairment,

old age, infancy, etc.

Right, the NP is hard to make out beyond what one might call basic needs. In a 1993 paper, from Libertarianism to Egalitarianism, Social Theory & Practice 1993, I distinguished between "use" needs and "harm" needs. IIn the sense of use needs, I need anything I require to do womething I might do, whether it would harm me or or not and whether i want to do it or not. My example there was that I need Agent Orange to defoliate my neighborhood, although I do not want to do it and doing it would harm me. A less wacko use need is, say, Sammy Sosa's need for bats to hit home runs. He can't do it without a bat, although not doing it would not harm him. Then there are harm needs. These are needs for things without which I would be harmed. Food, shelter, medical care, etc., are obvious examples.

I suspect that in formulating the NP, Marx was thinking about harm needs. His idea was that everyone's harm needs would be fully satisfied. That is, not equally satisfied, just fully satiusfied. He thought that with the springs of social wealth flwoing more abundantly, we wouldn't have to make tradeoffs here, so we wouldn't require a principles of jsutice such as, everyone's harm needs are to satisfied equally. But even if we grant thsi, not all needs are harm needs. And probably we ought not grant that we will move beyond scarcity.

> You got two able-bodied blokes of working

age, different abilities but that's not

a matter of need. What is the basis for

saying one needs more than another? If

there is none, equality becomes the rule

of thumb, no?

Well, if we are talking about harm needs and scarcity is not a problem, we needn't ask.

> Suppose I have an expensive hobby -- jumping

out of airplanes, and someone else is into

tiddly winks. Under communism, are both

hobbies indulged on the basis of 'need'?

I doubt it. The expensive stuff is

rationed and made accessible in some

kind of fair manner. By lottery,

first-come/first-served, whatever.

Some way of not discriminating among

claimants to the good. Equality.

I agree. But Marx didn't think this through this far.


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