Skip to main content

Mr. Winterkorn’s Pay: A Typology of Justification Patterns of Income Inequality

Often, when a substantial premiss in an argument is unexposed, the argument convinces more than it would if that premiss were laid bare for inspection.

(G. A. Cohen, Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality, p. 66)

Abstract

This article develops a typology of justification patterns of income inequality by means of analysing the discourse surrounding executive pay in Germany. The case of a public debate about the record salary of the car manufacturer VW’s CEO, Martin Winterkorn, in 2012 and 2013, is identified as a rich source for a reconstruction of specific argumentative patterns and their underlying premises. The typology presents five justification patterns, (1) equality of opportunity, (2) desert, (3) procedure of salary determination, (4) harmful consequences of income inequality and (5) need. Further cross-patterns are identified. A key finding is the crucial—but often not explicit—role of factual, definitional or behavioural premises. It is argued that unveiling the structure of justification patterns of income inequality can provide a key tool in scrutinizing as well as in further analysing public debates about income inequality.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Notes

  1. Based on my master thesis (Bank 2013), available at http://verteilungsfrage.org/?p=1415.

  2. He even won an ‘image award’ in 2011 for his alleged character traits like being down-to-earth and upright (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, FAZ, October 8, 2011, p. 18).

  3. FAZ, March 13, 2012, p. 9.

  4. FAZ, May 8, 2012, p. 16.

  5. Note that by the rules of formal logic, both elements (P) and (M) are premises of an argument with the conclusion (JP). Furthermore, both tend to be normative. It is obvious that the motif (M) is a normative premise. But the ‘factual’ premise can equally be normative. In fact, (P) may well rather than (M) turn out to be the implicit normative core of a justificatory pattern, whereas (M) then ‘only’ denotes the explicit normative label that by itself does not yet mean very much. However I take it that the above made preliminary conceptual distinction is the most straightforward framework to empirically capture justification patterns for a start, as well as to further structure them in a typology that marks out the relevant normative space of arguments for and against income inequalities. A further analysis of the structure and normative content of the premises themselves and their relationship to the motif may then allow further insights, but it should not anticipate the initial step of reconstruction attempted in this article.

  6. References to each quote are provided in the “Appendix”; translations into English by the author.

  7. Note that the distinction between intrinsic values of justice and functional relation to other values collapses in the case in which realizing another value is set as the principle of justice, as with utilitarian approaches. However, even in this case, the dimension may help distinguish principles that are either valuable in themselves (deontological) and principles that only indirectly serve another value (teleological).

  8. This distinction can for example be found in Offe (1977, p. 107), who identifies an ‘unresolved dualism’ (‘unausgetragener Dualismus’) of criteria contained in the desert principle.

  9. Although Marx only seems to see this as an intermediate goal which shall be progressively superseded by the principle of need (White 1996, p. 95).

  10. Note that Honneth does not endorse but rather describe the justification pattern in his theory of recognition (Honneth 2003, p. 166).

  11. A position that has been challenged as conceptually fragile by Cohen (1995). Directed at the above mentioned ‘Wilt Chamberlain example’, Cohen also points out that it need not be so that people who voluntarily pay for a ticket agree with the distributive results, which could likewise be legitimately ‘upset’ by redistributive policies (Cohen 1995, p. 26).

  12. A discussion of the historical evolution of different concepts of equality of opportunity from formal status and equal rights at the market, replacing feudal status differences, to social and political rights, emerging with the rise of democracy and the social welfare state, can be found in T. H. Marshall’s essay ‘Citizenship and Social Class’ (Marshall 1965 [1949]). Interestingly, T. H. Marshall also illustrates in how far the two motifs of equality of opportunity and the procedural motif of Social Partnership may overlap, as well as how Social Partnership and Democracy may overlap: Marshall calls the instrument of collective bargaining a ‘secondary system of industrial citizenship’, which helps transcend asymmetries of contract between employees and employers characteristic of the ‘individualistic phase of capitalism’ (Marshall 1965 [1949], pp. 103–104; see also Streeck 1988, pp. 17–23).

References

  • Aalberg, T. (2003). Achieving justice: Comparative public opinion on income distribution. Leiden: Brill.

    Google Scholar 

  • Alvaredo, F., Atkinson, A. B., Piketty, T., & Saez, E. (2013). The top 1 percent in international and historical perspective. NBER working paper 19075. Cambridge, MA.

  • Atkinson, A. B. (2015). Inequality: What can be done?. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Bank, J. (2013). Wie werden Einkommensunterschiede in Deutschland gerechtfertigt? Eine Typologie der Rechtfertigungsmuster von Einkommensungleichheit in Deutschland anhand einer Diskursanalyse der ‘Causa Winterkorn’. Köln. Available at http://verteilungsfrage.org/?p=1415.

  • Burak, E. (2013). The social maximum: American attitudes toward extremely high incomes. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 31, 97–114. doi:10.1016/j.rssm.2012.11.003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, G. A. (1989). On the currency of egalitarian justice. Ethics, 99(4), 906–944.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, G. A. (1995). Self-ownership, freedom, and equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Dubet, F. (2009). Injustice at work (Yale cultural sociology). Florence: Taylor and Francis.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dworkin, R. M. (2002). Sovereign virtue: The theory and practice of equality. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Engelhardt, C., & Wagener, A. (2014). Biased perceptions of income inequality and redistribution (CESifo Working Paper Series 4838).

    Google Scholar 

  • Evans, M. D. R., Kelley, J., & Peoples, C. D. (2010). Justifications of inequality: The normative basis of pay differentials in 31 nations. Social Science Quarterly, 91(5), 1405–1431. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6237.2010.00738.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gijsberts, M. (2002). The legitimation of income inequality in state-socialist and market societies. Acta Sociologica, 45(4), 269–285. doi:10.1177/000169930204500402.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Habermas, J. (1971). Vorbereitende Bemerkungen zu einer Theorie der kommunikativen Kompetenz. In J. Habermas & N. Luhmann (Eds.), Theorie der Gesellschaft oder Sozialtechnologie: Beiträge zur Habermas-Luhmann-Diskussion (Theorie-Diskussion) (Vol. 1, pp. 101–141). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Habermas, J. (1999). Die Einbeziehung des Anderen: Studien zur politischen Theorie (Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft) (1st ed., Vol. 1444). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Honneth, A. (2003). Umverteilung als Anerkennung: Eine Erwiederung auf Nancy Fraser. In N. Fraser & A. Honneth (Eds.), Umverteilung oder Anerkennung?: Eine politisch-philosophische Kontroverse (Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft) (Vol. 1460, pp. 129–224). Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Höpner, M. (2003). Wer beherrscht die Unternehmen? Shareholder Value, Managerherrschaft und Mitbestimmung in Deutschland (Schriften aus dem Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, Köln) (Vol. 46). Frankfurt and New York: Campus Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jaumotte, F., & Buitron, C. O. (2015). Power from the people. Finance and Development, 52(1), 29–31.

    Google Scholar 

  • Keller, R. (2008). Wissenssoziologische Diskursanalyse. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kelley, J., & Evans, M. D. R. (1995). Class and class conflict in six Western nations. American Sociological Review, 60(2), 157–178.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Keynes, J. M. (1973 [1936]). The general theory of employment, interest and money. London and Basingstoke: MacMillan.

  • Kluge, S. (1999). Empirisch begründete Typenbildung: Zur Konstruktion von Typen und Typologien in der qualitativen Sozialforschung. Opladen: Leske und Budrich.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Krebs, A. (2000). Einleitung: Die Neue Egalitarismuskritik im Überblick. In A. Krebs (Ed.), Gleichheit oder Gerechtigkeit: Texte der neuen Egalitarismuskritik (Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft) (1st ed., Vol. 1495, pp. 7–37). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamont, M., Beljean, S., & Clair, M. (2014). What is missing? Cultural processes and causal pathways to inequality. Socio-Economic Review, 12(3), 573–608. doi:10.1093/ser/mwu011.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lazarsfeld, P. F., & Barton, A. H. (1951). Qualitative measurement in the social sciences: Classification, typologies, and indices. In D. Lerner & H. D. Lasswell (Eds.), The policy sciences: Recent developments in scope and method (pp. 155–192). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Marshall, A. (1907). Principles of economics (5th ed.). London: MacMillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Marshall, T. H. (1965 [1949]). Citizenship and social class. In T. H. Marshall (Ed.), Class, citizenship, and social development. Essays by T. H. Marshall (pp. 71–134). New York: Anchor Books.

  • Marx, K. (1970 [1891]). Kritik des Gothaer Programms. In K. Marx & F. Engels (Eds.), Ausgewählte Schriften in zwei Bänden (18th ed., pp. 7–28, I). Berlin: Dietz Verlag Berlin.

  • Miller, D. (1992). Distributive justice: What the people think. Ethics, 102(3), 555–593. doi:10.2307/2381840.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miller, D. (1999). Principles of social justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, state and utopia. London: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nussbaum, M. C. (1992). Human functioning and social justice: In defense of Aristotelian essentialism. Political Theory, 20(2), 202–246. doi:10.1177/0090591792020002002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • OECD. (2011). Divided we stand: Why inequality keeps rising. http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/dividedwestandwhyinequalitykeepsrising.htm. Accessed January 6, 2016.

  • OECD. (2014). Focus on inequality and growthDecember 2014. http://www.oecd.org/social/Focus-Inequality-and-Growth-2014.pdf. Accessed January 6, 2016.

  • Offe, C. (1977). Leistungsprinzip und industrielle Arbeit. In G. Hartfiel (Ed.), Das Leistungsprinzip: Merkmale, Bedingungen, Probleme (Uni-Taschenbücher) (1st ed., Vol. 573, pp. 102–118). Opladen: Leske und Budrich.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Osberg, L., & Smeeding, T. (2006). “Fair” inequality? Attitudes toward pay differentials: The United States in comparative perspective. American Sociological Review, 71(3), 450–473.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the twenty-first century. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Rawls, J. (1999 [1974]). A theory of justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

  • Sachweh, P. (2010). Deutungsmuster sozialer Ungleichheit: Wahrnehmung und Legitimation gesellschaftlicher Privilegierung und Benachteiligung. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sachweh, P. (2011). The moral economy of inequality: Popular views on income differentiation, poverty and wealth. Socio-Economic Review, 2011, 1–27.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schmidt, R., & Schwalbach, J. (2007). Zu Höhe und Dynamik der Vorstandsvergütung in Deutschland. Der ehrbare Kaufmann: modernes Leitbild für Unternehmer? (pp. 111–122). Wiesbaden: Gabler.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sen, A. (1980). Equality of what? Delivered at Stanford University, May 22, 1979. The Tanner Lecture on Human Values (pp. 195–220).

  • Streeck, W. (1988). Status und Vertrag als Grundkategorien einer soziologischen Theorie der industriellen Beziehungen: Habilitationsvortrag, gehalten am 12. November 1986 vor der Fakultät für Soziologie der Universität Bielefeld. Überarbeitete und erweiterte Fassung. Discussion paper FS I 88-3. http://skylla.wz-berlin.de/pdf/1988/i88-3.pdf.

  • Vrousalis, N. (2015). The political philosophy of G. A. Cohen. London: Bloomsbury.

    Google Scholar 

  • Walzer, M. (1983). Spheres of justice: A defense of pluralism and equality. London: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Weber, M. (1976). Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft: Grundriss der Verstehenden Soziologie (5th ed.). Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).

    Google Scholar 

  • White, S. (1996). Needs, labour, and Marx’s conception of justice. Political Studies, 44(1), 88–101. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9248.1996.tb00758.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank my family, as well as Julian Becker, Florian Dahl, Hannah Höchner, Frances Marshall, Conor McGloin and Reuben Saxon, for their support and helpful comments. I would also like to thank the supervisor of my original master thesis, Wolfgang Streeck, as well as my current supervisor Till van Treeck, for making this project possible. All errors are mine.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julian Bank.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Appendix

Appendix

References to the quotes in “Empirical Findings: Justification Patterns of Income Inequality in the Winterkorn Debate” section.

[1] Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) (2012, March 25). Dürfen Top-Manager ihre Gehälter an Star-Gagen messen?, p. 37.

[2] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), FAZ.NET (2012, March 27). Herr Winterkorn ist nicht gekommen.

[3] Bild am Sonntag (2012, March 25). Wir brauchen mehr Winterkorns.

[4] FAS (2012, June 3). Die Deutschen sollen gewinnen, p. 33.

[5] FAS (2012, June 5). ‘Wir in Deutschland sind verdammt gut‘, p. 37.

[6] Der Spiegel (2013, March 11). Deckel drauf!, p. 70.

[7] See [1].

[8] Der Spiegel (2013, February 9). ‘Ich werde weniger bekommen‘, p. 60.

[9]-[11] Günter Jauch, ‘Den Managern ans Gehalt – Brauchen wir ein Gesetz gegen die Gier?‘, talk-show broadcast 2013, March 10, on German TV Channel ARD.

[12] Der Spiegel (2012, April 30). Die Menschliche Gier, p. 75.

[13] FAZ (2013, January 28). Ohne schwarze Zahlen keine grünen Gedanken, p. 19.

[14]-[15] See [1].

[16] FAS (2013, March 17). Manager, haftet mit Eurem Geld, p. 37.

[17] See [9]-[11].

[18] FAZ (2012, May 5). Wir haben doch alle genug Geld, p. 44.

[19] FAZ (2012, March 14). Einsame Spitze, p. 16.

[20] FAZ, FAZ.NET (2012, April 23). Gehälter-Diskussion.

[21] FAZ (2012, March 23). ‘500000 Euro für die Bundeskanzlerin’, p. 14.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Bank, J. Mr. Winterkorn’s Pay: A Typology of Justification Patterns of Income Inequality. Soc Just Res 29, 228–252 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-016-0264-z

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-016-0264-z

Keywords

  • Income inequality
  • Justification patterns
  • Typology
  • Justice theory
  • Justifying inequality
  • Executive pay