Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 2, pp 283–304 | Cite as

A moral and economic critique of the new property-owning democrats: on behalf of a Rawlsian welfare state

  • Kevin Vallier


Property-owning democracies combine the regulative and redistributive functions of the welfare state with the governmental aim of ensuring that wealth and capital are widely dispersed. John Rawls, political philosophy’s most famous property-owning democrat, argued that property-owning democracy was one of two regime types that best realized his two principles of justice, though he was notoriously vague about how a property-owning democracy’s institutions are meant to realize his principles. To compensate for this deficiency, a number of Rawlsian political philosophers have tried to add institutional and policy content to the idea. While their efforts have advanced the discussion, few have criticized the soundness of these attempts. This article attempts to fill the void. I claim that, in comparison to welfare-state capitalism, property-owning democracy is both prohibitively impractical and unjust on Rawlsian grounds. I first argue that property-owning democracy is economically ineffective. Even granting the assumptions of Rawlsian ideal theory, property-owning democracies generate bad incentives and face severe information problems in comparison to more market-friendly welfare states. Further, in nonideal theory the motivations of political officials and citizens will likely be corrupted by the temptation to abuse the awesome state power at their disposal. Second, I argue that property-owning democracy is unjust relative to welfare-state capitalism. The three principles used to defend property-owning democracy—the difference principle, the principle of fair equality of opportunity and the “political liberty” proviso—do not vindicate property-owning democracy and may even prohibit it. Welfare-state capitalism does much better.


John Rawls Property-owning democracy Welfare states Economic justice Ideal theory 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bowling Green State UniversityBowling GreenUSA

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