Legal Law

Distributive justice

Ethical Problems in Business, A Philosophical Approach, 7th Edition by Thomas Donaldson, Patricia H. Werhane, and Margaret Cording. John Rawls article, Distributive Justice (p 193-203)

When I first read John Rawls’s article on the concept of distributive justice, I felt that the principles seemed reasonable and I agreed with his basic ideals. However, I recognized that the many assumptions about how people must act for the system to work could be a problem. The basic principle contains two simplistic rules. The first rule requires equality for all people. Each person has “the same right to the broadest freedom compatible with a similar freedom for all.” The second rule is a warning for when the first rule cannot be applied. It revolves around the concept that inequalities are only allowed if in the end the inequality benefits everyone. Although the article discusses the application of these rules to government, they are easily applied to businesses as well. It is this aspect of distributive justice that I am focusing on. As I delved into these principles and the effects they could have on business, I began to see some problems.

The first problem involves rule makers and rule breakers. Distributive justice defines a set of rules that everyone must follow. These rules should give everyone the same opportunity. If there are inequalities, these same rule-makers are responsible for deciding whether the inequalities are okay based on whether they increase the greater good for everyone in the long run. Whether you think about this from a government or business perspective, the problem remains the same. Who Makes the Rules? Who decides if an inequality is justified? When legislators decide what is fair, will they consider all stakeholders? Do some stakeholders take precedence over others? For example, would problems involving people eliminate the effects on the environment? We live in a world made up of many different cultures. Even within a specific culture you will find a wide range of human behaviors. Each person has their own value system and these differences can affect the importance of stakeholders. Some people or cultures may not even consider some stakeholders. Given this diversity, how do you really define what Just is?

Andrew Carnegie is an example of how these principles can go astray. Carnegie believed that private wealth should be held in trust for the public3. Carnegie also believed in acquiring this wealth purchase while minimizing his profits at his steel mills. One of the ways he accomplished this was by paying as little as possible for his work. The justification of the workers’ inequalities was outweighed by the greater good that would be achieved when their wealth was redistributed to the public. This fits nicely with the second rule of distributive justice. Inequalities are offset, as they are seen as win-win in the long run. The problem, of course, is that workers wanted a better life now, not in a future they may not live to see. The workers felt that their quality of life was below that of the slaves. Their pay was so low they could barely manage, the company controlled the homes and stores in an effort to help the employee, but it was more of a debtor prison than an employee benefit. In essence, the workers did not believe that the second principle of justice was respected. From his point of view, the inequalities were not compensated by these benefits. So we see that although Carnegie thought what he was doing was right and fair, other points of view may have drastically different views of the situation. Since rule-makers are human, their ideals will influence their perceptions of what is fair and just. As a rule maker, managers should poll as many different groups as possible before establishing a policy to minimize the chances of misrepresenting a stakeholder.

Now let’s take a look at discrimination. Today’s businesses deal with a wide diversity of employees. The possibility of traveling to any part of the world in one or two days eliminates the isolation of cultural groups or races and opens the doors to cultural mixing. With increasing diversity in the workplace, it is even more important to minimize the effects of discrimination. Since the concepts of equality for all people are fundamental to the principles of distributive justice, it must be deduced that their application would eliminate discrimination. In an ideal world this would work, but discrimination can reap its ugly head in the most subtle ways. Take an interview, for example. For anyone with the slightest idea of ​​what discrimination is, it would be obvious to know that using a person’s age, race, culture, or sex as a reason for not hiring a person would be discrimination. Rion describes the typical decision-making environment of a manager as usually done in a short period of time with only a few of the known facts. The typical interview exemplifies this situation. You are given a fact sheet about a person who may or may not be correct. You are given a very short period of time to interact with the person, and then you are asked to make a decision about your hiring. You will probably never have all the facts, and you probably won’t be able to verify most of the ones you do have.

Given this situation, let’s say you just interviewed two potential employees. The two people are on an equal footing in terms of experience, skills and education. They were both personable and made a positive impression during the interview. In essence, both are equally qualified for the position. One of these people is from a culture you are not familiar with. The other one is from the same culture you come from. The unfamiliar work ethic of another culture raises doubts in the decision-making process. What is the work ethic of this person’s culture? Will they follow your cultural work ethic? Will other ethnic or cultural issues create problems / tensions in the workplace? Given the uncertainty of another culture’s work ethic and personality, it may make sense from the perspective of limiting the unknowns to hire what you know, rather than risk an uncertainty. It would seem logical to choose the person closest to you to stack the deck in your favor. By choosing the person most like you, you will become more comfortable with your choice, as you have removed some of the unknowns from the situation. The person who can put aside all his prejudices is rare. People are made up of likes and dislikes, biases and prejudices. Even if they tried to minimize these decision effects, eventually you will have to make a decision. Even if a person could be 100% objective in dealing with discrimination issues, a manager’s decision methodology could still result in a discriminatory decision.

Distributive justice also discusses social minima, but for all the good it does, it also has a dark side. For the most part, social lows are a great thing. They help to raise the standard of living of all people, regardless of their income or financial situation. It has a system in place to deal with unemployment and help those who are temporarily economically disadvantaged. But what happens when the system provides a social minimum that exceeds the lifestyle that could be afforded through work? There is a study by Martin Feldstien that has a section that analyzes a group of people who, due to dysfunctional lifestyles or personal choice, choose to live in poverty. They use the system established by the social minimum to get ahead. He goes on to describe a problem we have in this country where an increase in social benefits, combined with inflation, has exceeded the value of some people’s wages. In effect, the message the government is sending is that you can live a better life if you don’t work and live off the system. If low-wage jobs don’t allow for a life better than the social minimum, what is the incentive to work? How do you motivate low-wage people to work hard when the alternative would be a government-provided social minimum that exceeds what you can earn at work? There is a part of the population that chooses not to work, since they are happy with the lifestyle that is provided to them through the social minimum. Is it correct to foster a system that allows and even encourages this antisocial behavior to some extent? A behavior that is counterproductive to the necessary assumption that all people want to improve themselves and the communities in which they live.

This setup becomes a problem for any manager who works with people in this low-wage range. Your workforce will likely be made up of people who are at a stage in their life where they can afford the salary, but will be moving soon, such as high school or college students. Some part will work hard because it is conscientious. And some are unmotivated and just want to get a paycheck. A high turnover rate and constant training will be required as new employees come in, making it difficult to train well-trained staff. If the job does not have a clear path to better positions, what is the motivation for a person to work hard? Through social lows, we can damage management’s ability to hire, motivate, and maintain a workforce, thus creating a long-term undesirable situation.

Distributive justice is a strong ideal that can provide a strong backbone for creating a system of ethical behavior that takes into account the diversity of human morality and ethical behavior. If followed, its utilitarian approach should raise the standard of living at all levels of society. By its very nature, it can adapt to take into account changing times and new information. Applying the principles of Distributive Justice to a company would be a good step to make a company adopt a more responsible behavior. By thinking about the implications of its actions and the effects, and adhering to the principles of justice, a company can move forward in a responsible and socially conscious manner. The first step in solving any problem is to identify it. Distributive justice is one way to discover these problems.

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