Towards a Theory of Injustice in Work

Liberal egalitarians have developed innovative criticisms of the role of work in capitalist societies. Their arguments often draw insights from non-liberal traditions, particularly from Aristotle, Marx, and neorepublicanism. This paper presents a friendly criticism of these liberal egalitarian arguments. I will argue that the applicability of liberal justice to work is dependent upon certain facts about a society. Following the distinctively liberal method of reasoning about justice, I argue that a theory of justice in work should be responsive to facts about a society’s pluralism and its capacities to realize justice through self-regulation.

Fair Trade

‘Fair Trade,’ forthcoming in The International Encyclopedia of Ethics, Second Edition, ed. Hugh LaFollette.

In general, an argument for fairness must specify the grounds of the argument, the relevant claimant(s) and duty-bearer(s), and the contested goods. Arguments for fair trade are grounded in at least one of the following two reasons. First, trade is a particular kind of relationship with valuable goods at stake, and it is appropriate for the participants in this kind of relationship to have duties of fairness to one another. Second, fairness in a trading relationship is valuable in virtue of its consequences, including its impact beyond the scope of the relationship. Both justifications raise important questions that must be addressed in order to complete an argument for fair trade. Who are the participants in trade? What are the goods that trade produces? Some arguments about fair trade reference a description of trade as an economic relationship between individuals and groups based in different countries. Other arguments reference a description of trade as an economic relationship between nation-states. A further set of arguments describe trade with reference to the subject of justice, which may consist in practices, dense associations, or institutions. The meaning of an argument for fair trade depends on its description of trade. For all descriptions, however, there is a common question about the appropriate method of ethical reasoning about trade. Should trade be described and evaluated as a distinct subject, so that it makes sense to distinguish between its “internal” fairness and its “external” consequences?

Discrimination and the Job Market

“Discrimination and the Job Market,” in the Routledge Handbook of the Ethics of Discrimination, ed. Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (Routledge, 2017), pp. 301-311.

Comparisons of men and women, blacks and whites, and other groups show different patterns of employment and different average levels of compensation for work. These differences persist, to a degree, in comparisons of individuals with similar levels of educational attainment and job experience. When individuals of different genders and racial groups are matched on these characteristics and other observable traits, white males enjoy higher wages, higher non-wage compensation, a lower probability of experiencing unemployment, and other advantages. Economists and sociologists cannot fully explain these patterns on the basis of observable differences between members of these groups, other than group membership itself. Empirical research in this field seeks to identify the impact of discriminatory decision-making in the job market, and distinguish it from the knock on effects of personal choices and differential treatment in society’s other institutions.

In this chapter, I describe common points of reference and topics of interest for both the empirical literature and the philosophical literature on discrimination in the job market. A common point of reference is the pattern of job allocation that would result from non-discriminatory hiring practices. Empirical researchers generally assume that, were it not for the impact of discrimination, employers would allocate jobs to the most qualified applicants. Philosophers disagree about how employers ought to allocate jobs; this is an important disagreement for those who view discrimination in the job market as morally wrong when it results in a job being denied to its rightful holder. A second commonality is interest in the mental states of employers and other economic decision-makers, particularly how their tastes and factual beliefs influence their assessments of job seekers and employees. Finally, in both literatures there is interest in the relationship between discrimination in the job market and differential treatment in the broader society.

How to Trade Fairly in an Unjust Society: The Problem of Gender Discrimination in the Labor Market

“How to Trade Fairly in an Unjust Society: The Problem of Gender Discrimination in the Labor Market” Social Theory and Practice Volume 42, Issue 3 (July 2016), pp. 555-580

Social scientists disagree about the causes of the “wage gap” between male and female workers and, in particular, how much of the gap is due to differences in workers’ productivity. Understanding the underlying causes is important, insofar as this helps identify who is responsible for closing the gap. This information is particularly relevant for specifying the responsibilities of employers, who have dual social roles as economic actors and as citizens. In this paper, I begin with the assumption that many employers underestimate the qualifications of female job applicants in hiring and promotion decisions. The paper then describes a form of discrimination that occurs when many economic actors make this kind of correlated error in their judgments. The paper argues that an individual employer has responsibilities not to make these errors in judgment about female workers, due to the harmful impact on women’s opportunities. An employer also has duties not to exploit female employees, which occurs when he pays them lower wages than he would if other employers did not discriminate against them.

Fair Trade: Global Problems and Individual Responsibilities

“Fair Trade: Global Problems and Individual Responsibilities” published online in Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (2016):


The topic of global trade has become central to debates on global justice and on duties to the global poor, two important concerns of contemporary political theory. However, the leading approaches fail to directly address the participants in trade and provide them with normative guidance for making choices in non-ideal circumstances. This paper contributes an account of individuals’ responsibilities for global problems in general, an account of individuals’ responsibilities as market actors, and an explanation of how these responsibilities co-exist. The argument is developed through an extended case study of a consumer’s choice between conventional and fair trade coffee. My argument is that the coffee consumer’s choice requires consideration of two distinct responsibilities. First, she has responsibilities to help meet foreigners’ claims for assistance. Second, she has moral responsibilities to ensure that trades, such as between herself and a coffee farmer, are fair rather than exploitative.

How Should Donors Select International Charities? New Considerations for Effective Altruists

Effective altruists (EAs) have made several valuable contributions to ethical debates about international assistance. Most notably, EAs make use of evidence to produce practical guidelines for how a donor should select charities for her donations. This paper accepts the EAs’ method of ethical reasoning about international assistance from the perspective of an individual donor. However, my argument challenges the
EAs’ recommendation that donors should select global charities with a narrow focus on specific projects for which there is strong evidence of effectiveness. I argue that EAs misunderstand how the donor acts to make a difference through international assistance. The donor makes a difference indirectly, by enabling and encouraging charities to act and make choices that promote good outcomes for beneficiaries. In addition, EAs overlook social scientific evidence that suggests it is often more effective for donors to grant charities discretion to use their judgment over how they choose and implement their programs. Finally, I argue that EAs should advise individuals to take action to address deficiencies in funding and public information about international assistance. EAs have good reasons to recommend action to address these problems with the institutions of international assistance, because they undermine the donor’s potential to make a difference.

Trade in the Transition towards a Just World

Some progressives include trade restrictions in their toolkit of policy instruments for bringing about a just world. I will argue that trade restrictions have become a less valuable tool for pursuing progressive aims, as a result of ongoing changes in global trade. One change in global trade is that the multilateral forum of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is becoming less important in comparison to regional, bilateral, and unilateral sites of decision-making. A second change is that ethno-nationalist populism is an increasingly prevalent motivation for foreign policy decisions. These changes to the liberal internationalist order make it more difficult for progressives to implement their proposals. I also argue that progressives who support trade restrictions run the risk of unintentionally cooperating with political groups who aim to dismantle multilateralism and impose costs on foreigners. This paper contributes to debates within political theory about the appropriate means for agents to pursue political change. It also contributes to the global justice literature, by identifying particular positions that should be a priority for progressives in current political conditions, rather than the long run.