Res Publica

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 137–154 | Cite as

Public Insurance and Equality: From Redistribution to Relation

  • Xavier Landes
  • Pierre-Yves Néron


Public insurance is commonly assimilated with redistributive tools mobilized by the welfare state in the pursuit of an egalitarian ideal. This view contains some truth, since the result of insurance, at a given moment, is the redistribution of resources from the lucky to unlucky. However, Joseph Heath (among other political theorists) considers that the principle of efficiency provides a better normative explanation and justification of public insurance than the egalitarian account. According to this view, the fact that the state is involved in the provision of specific insurance (primarily health and unemployment insurance and pensions) is explained and justified by the greater efficiency of the state, in comparison with markets, in addressing market failures such as moral hazard or adverse selection. Our argument is that while insurance, intrinsically and idealistically, may diverge from a redistributive scheme, it is nevertheless difficult to deny that insurance has nothing to do with equality. More precisely, we argue that insurance may be understood as an egalitarian tool if our understanding of equality is broadened to include relational equality. Our paper aims to briefly recap the debates surrounding public insurance as a redistributive tool, advancing the idea that public insurance may be a relational egalitarian tool. It then presents a number of relational arguments in favor of the involvement of the state in the provision of specific forms of insurance, arguments that have been overlooked given the domination of luck egalitarian approaches in these debates.


Luck egalitarianism Public insurance Redistribution Welfare state Relational egalitarianism 



Authors wish to thank for their comments and support Elizabeth Anderson, Ryoa Chung, Joseph Heath, Nils Holtug, Karsten Klint Jensen, Carl Knight, Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, Jyri Liukko, Chris MacDonald, Martin Marchman, Morten Nielsen, Pedro Rosa Dias, Shlomi Segall, Daniel Weinstock. Xavier Landes was funded by The Danish Council for Independent Research, section humanities (FKK) [Grant 10-080448].


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Media, Cognition and CommunicationUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen SDenmark
  2. 2.Département d’éthique et institut de philosophieUniversité Catholique de LilleLille CedexFrance

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