JSI Seminar Series: Alan Thomas

30 July 2015

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Rawls, Piketty and the New Inequality by Alan Thomas (Tilburg University)

The forty year period 1970-2010 saw two developments in the USA: first, at the level of theory, intense academic interest in the egalitarianism of John Rawls. Second, at the level of practice, fundamental changes in the institutions, policies and norms of US society that have led Gilens and Page [2014] to conclude that it has become an oligarchy de facto if not de jure. A central component in that practical development is the tolerance of extensive inequality and the emergence of not merely the "1 percent", but the elevation of an "upper decile" of wealthy individuals into a position of economic and political dominance. This paper considers whether this situation is an example of American exceptionalism or the illustration of a pattern that one might expect to see repeated across other jurisdictions given the arguments of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It will also consider whether a form of economic system described by Cambridge economist James Meade - a common source for both Rawls and Piketty - offers a feasible egalitarian ideal. The paper concludes that only a structural change to society's fundamental wage setting institutions, along the lines recommended by Meade and Rawls and implicit in Piketty, will bring about the implementation of the political economy of a just society.

Educated at Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard (as a Kennedy Scholar), Alan Thomas is Professor of Ethics at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. His research interests are moral and political philosophy and epistemology and he is the author of Value and Context, OUP (2010).

Time: 6-8pm

Location: Common Room, Level 4, New Law Building (F10), Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

Cost: Complimentary, registration essential

Contact: Professional Learning & Community Engagement

Phone: 02 9351 0429

Email: 3c543d445c06202643190a3135573700296254363d632f1d