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Equality of opportunity and other equity principles in the context of developing countries

  • Denis Cogneau

    ()

    (DIAL, IRD, Paris)

I propose a personal reading of some theories of social justice at a moment when the issue of equality or equity appears to be back on the ‘development agenda’. Nowadays the term equity tends to be most often associated with the equality of opportunity principle. After having briefly summarized the equality of opportunity standpoint, I review the two main criticisms that have been addressed to it inside the economic literature: the right-wing meritocratic criticism on the one hand, and the left-wing egalitarian criticism on the other. I supplement these internal criticisms with a sociological or anthropological standpoint that advocates for a more pluralist definition of justice and gives a central role to the competition between elites for legitimacy. I argue that despite its indubitable potency (even for issues like international inequalities between countries), the equality of opportunity principle is incomplete and that some meritocratic principles and some equalization of outcomes should enter into play when thinking about social justice in a given real society. Moreover, a socially relevant conception of justice should take into account cultural variations in the definition of fairness. A universalist definition of justice is better preserved when the issue of tyranny and separation of powers is considered at both the social and political levels. _________________________________ Je propose une lecture personnelle de quelques théories de la justice sociale au moment où la question de l’égalité ou de l’équité semble être revenue sur l’agenda du développement. De nos jours le terme équité semble être le plus souvent associé au principe d’égalité des chances. Après un court résumé du point de vue de l’égalité des chances, je passe en revue les deux critiques principales qui lui ont été adressées au sein de la littérature économique : la critique méritocratique de droite d’un côté, et la critique égalitariste de gauche de l’autre. J’ajoute à ces deux critiques internes un point de vue historique et sociologique qui prone une définition pluraliste de la justice et fait jouer un rôle central à la compétition des élites pour la légitimité. J’argumente que malgré son indubitable puissance (même dans le domaine des inégalités internationales entre pays), le principe d’égalité des chances est incomplet et que des principes méritocratiques et d’égalisation des résultats doivent entrer en jeu lorsqu’on réfléchit à la justice sociale dans une société réellement existante. De plus, une conception de la justice socialement pertinente doit prendre en compte les variations culturelles dans la définition du juste. Une définition universaliste de la justice est mieux préservée lorsque la question de la tyrannie et de la séparation des pouvoirs est considérée, à la fois sur le plan social et sur le plan politique.

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File URL: http://www.dial.ird.fr/media/ird-sites-d-unites-de-recherche/dial/documents/publications/doc_travail/2005/2005-01
File Function: First version, 2005
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Paper provided by DIAL (Développement, Institutions et Mondialisation) in its series Working Papers with number DT/2005/01.

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Length: 13 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:dia:wpaper:dt200501
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  1. Rafael LaPorta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes & Andrei Shleifer & Robert Vishny, . "The Quality of Government," Working Paper 19452, Harvard University OpenScholar.
  2. Collier, Paul & Dollar, David, 2001. "Can the World Cut Poverty in Half? How Policy Reform and Effective Aid Can Meet International Development Goals," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 29(11), pages 1787-1802, November.
  3. Steven N. Durlauf, 1992. "A Theory of Persistent Income Inequality," NBER Working Papers 4056, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. John Roemer & Humberto G. Llavador, 2003. "An Equal-Opportunity Approach to the Allocation of International Air," Working Papers 9910, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  5. François Bourguignon & Martin Fournier & Marc Gurgand, 1999. "Fast Development with a Stable Income Distribution : Taiwan, 1979-1994," Working Papers 99-21, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  6. Dirk Van de gaer & Michel Martinez & Erik Schokkaert, 1998. "Measuring Intergenerational Mobility and Equality of Opportunity," Center for Economic Studies - Discussion papers ces9810, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Centrum voor Economische Studiën.
  7. Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 2002. "The Inheritance of Inequality," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(3), pages 3-30, Summer.
  8. Fleurbaey, Marc, 1995. "Equal Opportunity or Equal Social Outcome?," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(01), pages 25-55, April.
  9. Hild, Matthias & Voorhoeve, Alex, 2004. "Equality Of Opportunity And Opportunity Dominance," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 20(01), pages 117-145, April.
  10. Stanley L. Engerman & Kenneth Lee Sokoloff, 2002. "Factor Endowments, Inequality, and Paths of Development among New World Economies," JOURNAL OF LACEA ECONOMIA, LACEA - LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION.
  11. Pradhan, Menno & Sahn, David E. & Younger, Stephen D., 2003. "Decomposing world health inequality," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 271-293, March.
  12. Kurt Devooght & Erik Schokkaert, 1999. "Responsibility-Sensitive Fair Compensation in Different Cultures," STICERD - Distributional Analysis Research Programme Papers 46, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
  13. Loury, Glenn C, 1981. "Intergenerational Transfers and the Distribution of Earnings," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 49(4), pages 843-67, June.
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